Virtual People Factory Chat Interface

Improving the online virtual patient interviewing experience

Virtual People Factory (VPF) is one the Virtual Experience Research Group’s biggest projects, allowing for hundreds of medical students to practice interviewing skills with virtual patients. I was tasked with redesigning the chat interface as we migrated to a 2.0 version of the VPF system.

  •                  The original VPF 1.0 Chat Interface


We had recently redesigned VPF to version 2.0, and we had begun using it with real medical students. At the time, it was just a more modernized version of the original VPF chat interface. The primary issue was that our system was not necessarily graceful when our virtual patients failed to respond, and we didn’t have a good way of guiding new users on how to effectively interact with our virtual patients.

Working with my colleagues at the Virtual Experiences Research Group, I came up with various designs for new features to improve the user experience and reduce user frustration with the system. 


  • Experience needed to help user’s when they got stuck
  • Experience needed to explain new concepts concisely
  • Educational objectives of virtual patient could not be compromised just for new features.

Design Process

I came up with 19 different designs for various features to help reduce user frustration, improve the user experience, and more effectively guide the user through a virtual patient interaction. I thought a lot about how video games motivates users to progress and also push users in the right direction when they get stuck.

I also leveraged current patient interview literature by looking how a patient interview are structured and tried to incorporate those components into the design.

Narrowing down the designs

After coming up with a bunch of designs, I requested my colleagues to indicate their preference for each design. The results in the graph below helped us narrow down to four designs.
From there, I motivated the designs with quotes that would indicate why this new feature would be beneficial from the user’s prospective. We held a fun meeting in which everyone was given five M&Ms for each idea and had to place those M&Ms on the quotes that seemed the most important.

Here are the results: 
  • "I will learn concepts specific to each scenario" - 8
  • "I'll be more aware of what to expect in an interaction" - 5
  • "I can learn as I go" - 12
  • "I will get more accurate responses" - 8
  • "I will be less frustrated" - 1
  • "It will make me use the system correctly" - 11
  • "I will know how far I've progressed." - 9
  • "I'll know when I'm done with a topic" - 9
  • "I will be less frustrated" - 7
  • "I will know how well I did." - 5