top of page
Untitled_Artwork 5.png

Health Hippo Paywall Project




My Role:

Health Hippo

Four Weeks

Jamie Smuckler

Cathy Chan

Avery Vox

Noel Kat

Domain Research

Competitive Analysis 


Data Synthesis and Analysis

Design Principles


User Testing

Client Meeting Facilitation

What's Health Hippo?

Health Hippo is a Chicago-based, consumer-facing medical information publisher website that aims to revolutionize how people gain access to medical information that is traditionally only available to physicians.

This is what the condition report page looked like when we were first introduced to the website

What's the Task?

The company brought our team on to design a paywall to stand between free content and the product. The CEO was open to ideas and methods and looking to us for a path forward. 

The Challenge

We needed to figure out the sweet spot to place the paywall- too little information on the front end will push the user away while too much information on the front end won’t incentivize people to move forward.

Living in Ambiguity

We had lots of options- some might say too many options. There wasn’t a way to be clear about the scope of this project right away, so we had to be comfortable walking forward trusting things would become more defined as we went on.

Initial Questions

1. How do we keep the user interested and motivated to move forward?

2. How does the user gain access to the product in the fastest, most efficient way possible while building a relationship with the site?

CA Faded .png

Looking at the Competition

Because there isn’t much out there in terms of Health Hippo’s business model, we got creative with our domain research. We conducted a competitive analysis looking at existing paywalls on TransUnion and The New York Times, subscription models on The New Yorker and Bon Appetit, and medical information providers such as The American Journal of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Key Insights

  • Most successful companies offer free content up front to draw the user in

  • Conscious effort to inform user that content is up to date and accurate

  • Multiple call to action locations and ways to proceed further into the site or to subscribe

  • Prominent progress bar through any kind of form


We hit the (metaphorical) streets and asked real people what they thought.


Survey Responses


Informational Interviews


Through affinity diagraming, we discovered the following findings:

  • Users are willing to pay for access to better features and exclusive content

  • An intuitive, reliable and enjoyable user experience convinces users to become committed, paying customers

  • Free content availability builds user's likelihood to invest in product

  • Users are inclined to continue subscription after the relationship they've built is threatened to be lost

  • Need to communicate the value of the product/service before the user is willing to pay for it

  • Users don't want a long term commitment to services that are new to them

Defining the Problem Further

After listening to our users we heard three distinctive patterns of characteristics start to formulate: 

  • We heard from several people interested in preventative care, who were excited about information and research. 

  • We also heard from people caring for loved ones who needed help understanding information about the conditions and treatments. 

  • Lastly, we found a pattern amongst people who didn’t necessarily want to spend time researching their new-found health condition, nor were they interested in medical information at all. These three groups informed our personas which helped focus our future designs.

In our commitment to user friendly, empathy-driven designs, we highlighted the patterns of needs mentioned by our interview participants. These needs lead us to build design constraints to keep our solution focused and ultimately beneficial to users. 

Design Principles

  • Build trust through transparency in pricing, funding, content, and medical partners.

  • Establish value through curated and concise writing with citations and a number of tools and methods to verify the credibility of the presented information.

  • Increase usability for customers by being a reliable and consistent resource with seamless paywall access to premium content.

Problem Statements

A health-conscious individual needs a reliable online source for clear health information because they want to be able to make informed decisions and advocate for their health at doctor visits.

An individual with a personal motive needs a way to understand and verify medical materials online because there is a lot of pseudo-science and inaccessible medical language.”

There are many different touch points through the user flow. This diagram shows the places we needed to give attention along the user's journey.

The Pivot Point

There was a moment after we synthesized the data when we realized our task was going to have to be more than just plunking a paywall in the already existing flow and moving on. It was clear that the process influenced much more of the site. We broadened our scope to touch every part of the user’s experience, not just the paywall.

Pushing Back When Necessary

We had to push back against the brief to be able to take other parts of the website into consideration. We were advocating for the user’s experience throughout the entire site, not just one little piece.

Putting Thoughts on Paper

We started with some paper sketches to communicate our ideas to each other as a team. This was an easy way to highlight specific features and ideas without spending too much time and energy, just in case the ideas weren’t winners. 

After sketching numerous ideas, we settled on three divergent concepts to develop into low-fidelity drawings.

We conducted 5 usability tests on these sketches to understand flow and cognitive load.

After those conversations, these things were clear:

  • Edition-based vs. Condition-based: micro-transactions for the most current edition of each condition report instead of a one-time payment for unlimited condition report access 

  • Newsletter: Having a newsletter that users can subscribe to can be an opportunity for the business to establish trust

  • Clarity: users want clarity on value proposition and product to know what they are purchasing 

Some of our basic paper wireframes

Our biggest takeaway from this set of usability tests was 100% of user exited the paywall before completing payment because they didn't understand what they were buying. 

This piece of data gave us leverage with our client to make some more holistic changes.

Time to Focus

Then we narrowed our focus even further onto one concept with three different styles. There were still many different paths we could take, and we wanted to make sure each design choice was data-driven and intentional.

We ran a mixture of usability tests and dot voting. We showed three versions of each screen to see what elements worked well and what didn't.

Aligning our Priorities

We plotted potential features that came from our tests on a Venn diagram priority matrix to figure out which were going to be overall the most beneficial to the trust, value and usability of the site. We used these findings to move us forward onto our next iterations of wireframes. 

Our Findings

  • We need to be considerate of different user entry points by establishing context in multiple screens

  • Having a lot of call to action buttons for users to navigate to the product page will help drive users to the paywall

  • Combine preferred elements from each concept into the final product.

  • The product page should have a detailed description of the toolkit contents.

Our Solution

We designed a solution for Health Hippo customers to efficiently gain access to credible health information with confidence to help them make more informed decisions and to advocate for their health.

Measure Solution Against Design Constraints

We used the problem statement, design principles and personas to make sure our solution was answering the problems of the users, which was validated through testing. 

What's the Moral of the Story?

Each project makes me a better designer. The more I experience, try, experiment, fail and get back up again, the stronger I become in my work. This project further supported these principles into my head: 

  • Trust your gut

  • Embrace ambiguity 

  • Let your users guide you

bottom of page