In 2012, Holly Whitaker hit rock bottom. Alcohol and drugs were running her life, and she was ready to recover. The problem was that out of the two options available to her, rehab was too costly and the traditional 12-step program didn't fit her needs. So she set out to create the option she wished she had.
What started as a blog, podcast, and Instagram account documenting her own personal journey through unconventional recovery grew into a community of thousands. Eventually, it became Tempest, an online recovery school pioneering a refreshing and modern way to get sober.
Unlike alternative recovery platforms that draw attention to what alcohol takes from your life, Tempest focuses on what people stand to gain from a life without drinking.
When the Tempest team approached us for our design expertise, they had a clear vision in mind: honor the solid course curriculum by reducing its fragmentation across too many touchpoints. To design a unified experience that meets people where they're at in their individual recovery journeys, we spent hours with past, existing, and future students getting to know their unique perspectives and needs. This way, our journey map reflected the empathy and nuance required to adequately support students' needs.
Recovery is challenging and non-linear, with vulnerability and discomfort as the gatekeepers of progress. So how do you design an educational product for people in this mindset? To encourage momentum and minimize overwhelm, we kept tasks simple and straightforward. We designed a color palette and interface to feel warm, welcoming, and intuitive. Above all, we kept returning to our core students to guide and ground our design decisions.
Based on what we’d learned in research, it was important to help students feel less overwhelmed by the challenges they’re facing. That’s why we designed the program experience to only present students with one task at a time, making progress feel attainable at every turn. Pacing each task into bite-sized chunks — and celebrating each completion along the way — helps empower students to progress forward with confidence. When the inevitable frustration sets in, we made sure to create an omnipresent help section, available at all times for a breather or 1-1 support.
Research and design are critical to creating a calming, frictionless product, but the development process has to follow suit to ensure the experience's overall success. Our engineers worked as an extension of our design team from the start, enabling them to weigh in on feasibility, technical implications, and desired experience throughout.
Tempest was a new product, so the team wanted to both launch it quickly while allowing for future growth. This meant our development team had to build lean, and build smart.
Using Ruby on Rails, they created a back-end server to secure student sign-ups and facilitate onboarding to the course. They were able to build quickly in a language the Tempest team could easily adopt post-launch. For the front-end development, our team opted to use React so that they could build out designed components in a modular, agile manner.
When students begin with Tempest, the course asks them, "What if, in a year from now, drinking alcohol was just something you used to do?" We are deeply inspired by the students we met during this project and are honoured to have been part of helping them imagine futures free from dependency. Since launching in early 2019, Tempest has been featured in such notable publications as Bustle & Vogue, and we're excited to witness its continued success.
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