Clue app redesign

When redesigns go wrong: what’s happening with Clue?

Clue is the first app I loved. So much so that when they released a premium version in 2015 the decision was instant. I remember that it wasn’t cheap, something like $50 a year which at the time I thought was high but to me it was worth it.

If you’ve never heard of Clue, it’s a period tracking app. Clue was the pioneer in the now billion dollar ‘Femtech’ space that includes health software and tech-enabled products. I believe it was Clue’s founder, Ida Tin, who actually coined the term.

Why Clue?

I’ll admit that I knew very little about the menstrual cycle when I started using Clue. The learning didn’t happen over weeks or even months, it happened over years. In the eight plus years since I started using it, Clue has been a partner in the process of menstrual self-discovery, dotted with (pun intended) more than a few “oh that’s why” a-ha moments along the way. In hindsight, some of the things I’ve learned about myself seem so obvious that I can have a silent chuckle to myself. It really has been a journey and few apps can say they can be a part of that. This is better than any board game.

What is the menstrual cycle? (Image via Clue)

Clue’s early tag line, “your body is not a clock” is engrained in memory. The matter-of-fact and to-the-point messaging appealed to many. And the simplicity of its design, devoid of pinks, pastels and other pretty things was refreshing. It put science first and succeeded at making the mundane but most important daily task of logging symptoms simple.

For many years now, app updates have been incremental. So when the latest version was touted as “our biggest update to date”, I was intrigued.

It’s not uncommon for a product to start strong and fizzle out and this is what the latest release has me I’m wondering, has Clue lost it’s way?

Redesign promises

Clue’s redesign announcement highlighted enhancements and new features in five areas. Let’s take a look. 🔍

40+ science-based tracking options

For an app used primarily for logging symptoms, adding more options seems like a natural evolution. In this update Clue’s added three new categories (leisure, PMS, spotting) and a bunch of additional symptoms to existing categories. To the exercise category there are now additional workout choices like walking, pilates, and rest day. In the feelings category there are more feelings to choose from etc.

What makes less sense is why other tracking elements including, but not limited to the following, were mysteriously removed. 🧐

  • Birth control – the ability to track all types of contraception
  • Temperature tracking – the ability to track basal body temperature (BBT)
  • Custom tags – previously, users could create custom tags to track things not included in the default categories, the ability to add tags is gone.
  • Ability to see custom tags on calendar – the ability to see your custom tags for dates in the past is gone. Just gone. 🤯

You can imagine the problems removing these options could create for women, especially going into the holiday season where stress levels peak and routines get chaotic. Most of these items seem critical to the mission, if you will, so it’s hard to even speculate how these decisions were made.

New Languages

The update added three new languages, Dutch, Indonesian, and Swedish bringing the number of languages supported to 17. This is of course amazing and so great to know that Clue is being used by women in so many countries.

Fresh, sleek, seamless design

‘Sleek’ feels like a word that should be reserved for talking about cars and tech gadgets but that’s just me. From Clue’s press release on the redesign aspects…

Tracking icons are now more colourful, with a people-friendly design and the same straightforward, factual approach that’s synonymous with the Clue app. Completely redesigned screens make navigating the app easier, so you can find what you need, when you need it. 

While a new icon style appears to have been introduced, this appears to be in addition to the existing icon styles they’re currently using. I’m not a designer but it’s a bit confusing as to how having both styles in necessarily an improvement to the experience. In my view these are harder to read at a glance mostly just visual clutter.

original vs new design icons
Example of original design icons (L). The redesign keeps the existing icons and introduces a completely new round style (R).

But a more significant issue is the changes introduce to the symptoms logging flow. The original flow allowed you to make many inputs from a single screen.

original log symptoms screen
Logging flow before, everything on one screen.

The new flow introduces several new steps to log just a single symptom.

new log symptoms screens and flow
Logging flow after, multiple screens and too many steps.

There’s now an additional screen with all the categories to scroll up and down. Once you find your category there’s then a scroll left and right to fine your symptom, then multiple taps to actually save the symptom. On top of this you can only add one symptom at a time.

It’s also now impossible to review calendar data at a glance, which I’ll bet was likely the the second most used feature after logging. What was once a process that took seconds now takes minutes but feels like hours.

I was relieved, however, that the tabs in the global navigation were still in the same place and that Clue’s now iconic cycle circle was still the home screen.

More Accessible Features, Premium Customer Care

I’m not an expert but accessibility is certainly table stakes so no complaints here. As for Premium Customer Care I suspect they are getting put to the test.

What else?

From a quick review of other users feedback other features removed include:

  • Clue connect
  • Pregnancy mode
  • Post-partum mode
  • NOTIFICATIONS!

I can’t imagine being half-way into a pregnancy then realizing one day that all my data is gone. Or relying on app notifications for birth control reminders and then realizing (too late) that they’re gone! 🙈

What was the plan?

In an email on December 6th Clue outlined the main changes to come and mentioned that some features would become temporarily unavailable.

There were also couple of articles on the website that provided some more detail here and here.

In both, however, the messaging was not comprehensive and did not address even remotely cover all the features that would become unavailable. They also buried the most critical info lower down on the page where it’s unlikely anyone would scroll to find, let alone take the time to read.

email and article announcements
Messaging that some features would no longer be available was not comprehensive and buried.

Customer support response: adding insult to injury

I don’t think Clue’s customer support team was prepared for the initial public reactions and in some cases this added more fuel to the fire.

Responses to usability feedback

In response to users who reported basic concerns around usability, the responses repeatedly reiterated that the design was vetted extensively via their internal beta testing community.

While I don’t doubt there was some community feedback process, I felt that these responses devalued the input of users who were taking the time to ask questions because the changes have negatively impacted them in some way.

usability and design feedback

Responses to missing features

In response to the status of missing features it was clear that this was part of the plan, it was just news to us users. There was no context or justification provided though on why they had to be removed, just that they would be coming back soon.

missing features feedback

Response to timing

For features that customer service was able to confirm would be back, there were assurances that the team was hard at work. However no details were shared as to actual timing.

feature release dates feedback

Customer service is such an important part of a great experience and in this situation they’re clearly doing the best they can but were ill prepared to handle the volume of inbound feedback. That all of this is unfolding over the holidays when many people are away has probably not helped.

The one more thing

In addition to all the changes mentioned, it seems like Clue timed this release with making account creation mandatory for all users. Up to now, non-paying users were free to use the app anonymously and save their data directly to their device. There was also the option to add a passcode for additional security.

I know that Clue was messaging that accounts would become required as early as June and probably earlier but it’s another one of those things that no one really pays attention to until it happens.

In light of the decisions regarding Roe this year this year I think the reactions that have ensued could have been anticipated with more preparation on messaging and logistics of messaging.

While I’ve seen some attempts to provide more explanation on social media, a more comprehensive one-pager with relevant content and FAQs that customer service could direct people to might could have been helpful to help get the most common questions answered.

To their credit, Clue has certainly shared their stance and commitments to data privacy early on.

So may questions

I suspect that many users now are trying to get whatever information they can to help them decide what they’re going to do. Try to get an export of their data and find another app or wait and see.

I can only speculate but could the vagueness on timeline be an intentional play by Clue to keep people in the dark in hopes they’ll hang in there?

How is it possible that the ‘community’ they keep referring to all unanimously agreed that the new design is an improvement when it’s clearly not?

What kind of rationale was behind the decision to deprioritize critical features like birth control tracking and reminders during a time when schedules get crazy and they’re needed the most?

Why would Clue remove critical features and not have a clear timeline to share on when we should expect them back?

What next?

If I could make a recommendation it would probably go something like this…

Update from the co-CEOs
  • Cam you acknowledge the feedback and provide your assessment of the situation?
  • What has Clue learned over the past few weeks following this update? Has this led to any changes or was this all expected? If priorities have changed, how have they change and what are the top ones now?
  • Consider using short videos in addition to long-form content to communicate your message would get it to a larger audience.
Update from the Head of Product
  • Who is the beta feedback community? Was there really months of interviews and testing? What was the process used for testing? Is there a way someone can join the feedback community to get involved?
  • In one of the announcements reference was made to “modernizing the foundation of the technology”, were there technical reasons why certain features had to be removed temporarily?
  • Can you commit to some frequency of updates on progress. If there’s a way to give us a peek into how design decisions are made it might help people understand that the decisions made were in fact the best ones all things considered.
Share high-level road map and key dates
  • There’s clearly a roadmap but we’re in the dark on what’s coming back and when. Is there a way you can share what we can expect to come back and when? We hear you that it’s ‘soon’ but is this days, weeks, or months out?
  • What are the plans for all the Clue Plus features? On the website many of these are noted as “back soon”. Some customer service responses have alluded to pregnancy users being a small group. Is there a possibility this is being phased out? Should women planning to use Clue for their pregnancy be making plans to use a different app?
  • Share the living roadmap somewhere publicly for reference so there’s a place for customer service to direct people to when they have questions.
User data and refunds
  • For all users who had accounts with data on Clue servers, provide a way for them to export their data.
  • Provide a way for users to delete their account and outline the steps you’ll taking to assure them all data will be erased from servers.
  • Issue refunds to Plus users to ask. For any plus users who stick around maybe a discount for the next renewal. 😉

I’m almost positive that all the decisions made would make perfect sense if we were on the inside track on everything that’s going on at Clue. I don’t think anyone needs (or wants!) every single detail, just a little bit more transparency and assurances to help us understand what to expect.

Am I leaving Clue?

Heck no. As confused as I am about this update I’m not ready to throw in the towel on something that’s been consistently great for so long. I also wouldn’t bother to write this post if I was just going to delete the app. Making a great app is hard and trying to balance growth, new features, customer feedback, tech debt and general business considerations makes it all the more challenging.

I’m hoping Clue will use this experience as an opportunity to come out even stronger and keep building on all the progress so far.

I’m rooting for you Clue! ❤️


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