Inner Circle: The birth plan for everyone else

Starting last October, Anna Krachey, Meghan Corbett and myself – James Lewis – began researching pregnancy and experiences surrounding birth. Through the research, iteration and prototyping phase we’ve come up with a product called Inner Circle: The Birth Plan for everyone else.

But, before I get into what the product is, let me tell you the story of how we got there first. We had read a New York Times article entitled “American Way of Birth, Costliest in the World” and were confounded by the following statistics:

  • Approximately 1 in 3 births are done by Cesarean Section.
  • The US has a high infant and maternal death rate for an industrialized nation.
  • The US is the most expensive place to give birth in the world. The second most expensive place is Switzerland, and on average it still costs half as less than it does here.

So we were curious – what is going on with pregnancy and birth today?


As we set off on our research, we spoke to numerous women who were pregnant or recently gave birth. They had a diverse array of experiences and backgrounds, but we came to the following conclusion: Our culture sees birth as a scary, out of control event that needs to be addressed as a procedure. With advances in medical technology, birth has moved away from the home and community and into hospitals. While there are many benefits to that movement, one of the negative impacts seems to be that birth is no longer a normal event that other women in the community witnessed and participated in. Women who are pregnant today have likely never seen childbirth in person, or even an accurate media depiction. Americans are typically shown a hyperbolized scene of a screaming, out of control woman yelling at her partner.

After speaking with pregnant women, a doula and doing secondary research our group came to see a more nuanced picture of labor and delivery. We wanted to design a product to enable women to focus on labor and delivery as a long, hard, completely do-able and natural process.



Looking back over our research we thought of the different women who had positive and negative birth experiences. We divided up these experiences across a spectrum between positive births; those that leave the mother feeling empowered by her birth, setting the tone for motherhood and negative births: where the experience often leaves the mother feeling bowled over – like she wasn’t in control and didn’t know what was happening.

We began to see a correlation between a positive birth experience and the level of assertiveness a woman expressed surrounding her pregnancy, and the labor and delivery of her child.

We spoke to a woman who had a homebirth for her first child. In getting things ready, her midwife recommended she write an email to her friends and family setting guidelines, boundaries and expectations for how they should interact with her during labor and delivery. She wrote out an email which she sent shortly before she gave birth that she kindly shared with us. In it, she said:

“We ask that everyone stay out of the house and possibly at a remote location… unless you have been specifically asked to be present.”


“I have put [my friend] in charge of keeping all close to us updated with text messages so that as we get close to the baby’s [arrival], people can make their way closer to the house.”

Inner Circle

Using what we saw from research and what we know as people with life experiences of our own, our group came up with Inner Circle: the birth plan for everyone else.

Inner Circle helps expectant mothers create a birth plan for her family and friends. It helps women make decisions about their own wishes and boundaries around their upcoming birth.

So how does Inner Circle do that? We’ve started designing the wireframes – which I like to think of as blueprints for a website or app – for our new product. We imagine the user to be a pregnant woman, who is probably in the second trimester of pregnancy. She’s gotten through the first trimester where there is a higher chance of miscarriage, and now she’s likely telling her family and friends.

The BASICS: We start off once the user has signed up for the service with a username and password, but hasn’t used the website yet. She sees a modal window, focusing her attention on five essential questions. In it’s essence, this is minimal plan she can send to her family and friends. However, what we really want is to get the basics down and out of the way. Then she can go explore some of the more thought provoking prompts our team came up with.

ORIENTATION: Once she answers the basic questions, she comes to a full screen. On it she she’s her name and a picture of herself if she’s chosen to upload one. This creates a sense of feeling that this is “her space.”

Since english speakers read left to right, the first thing she sees on the left hand side is her plan so far. On it are her answers and a prompt to explore the questions and prompts to her right under “Things to Consider.” She views some of the prompts with example quotes from other mothers. She clicks a button to answer one of the questions; In the example above it is “If you need anything during your last few weeks of pregnancy, who might be on call to help you? Select a few people »” EXPLORATION: The questions are paired with quotes from the mothers we spoke to during our research. These quotes serve a few purposes:

  • They help give context to the question.
  • They act as examples which let women compare and contrast to how they would answer a question.
  • They give social proof of women setting boundaries, showing you can be assertive and polite at the same time.
  • They reinforce the social spirit of the site: women helping other women through advice and ideas.


The user has clicked a button to answer a question presented on the last screen. Another modal window pops-up asking her to assign a few people close to her that she can call on for help. It also gives helpful suggestions, setting a friendly and helpful tone for the product.

COMPARING: After exploring questions under the categories of “Getting Ready”, “Labor & Delivery”, and “Baby Is Here”, the answers she’s given are shorted for brevity under “Your Plan So Far”. This gives her feedback of what she’s done, and allows her to compare it to the questions she hasn’t answered. Our goal isn’t to get women to answer every single question, but to compare and contrast the questions in a helpful manner which gives her pause to think but doesn’t overwhelm her.

While the user can click on any of her answers to make edits and changes, we included an “edit this plan” button at the bottom of the screen. This is because editing a document is a separate mental space from creating it. Changing questions before having to “commit” to them reinforces the goal of having her explore different options.


Shhhh… here’s a little secret! While this may change (these are only prototypes), the “edit your plan” and “schedule to send” buttons from the previous screen actually go to the same screen! Why is that? Because we want users to take this seriously – this isn’t a short text message to a friend, but a well thought out plan. During testing we often had users ask “I can edit this before I send it, right?” However, some users might not want to edit and are ready to send it out. We want to be explicit that users can send their plan without having to”edit” it if they don’t want to.

On this finalizing screen she sees her name and picture at the top of the page. All the instructions she’s written and questions she’s answered are laid out in full, in the same format her friends and family will receive it in.  She can change and edit her answers, and write an personalized introduction and conclusion to her letter. This part of our product is still in it’s infancy. We’re going to iterate and test out a few versions during the fourth quarter to make sure we get it right. When the user is finished with her plan, she clicks a button at the bottom of the screen to “select contacts & send.” Our team still has to take these wireframes to high level of fidelity, but this part of the flow will be where she adds her family and friends contact information and decides how and when she wants to send her plan.

– fin –

Well this has been a long blog post! Maybe you’ve scanned the headlines and images, or faithfully read the whole thing. Either way, what’s next for our group? In the fourth and final quarter of AC4D our group will pilot our product. This is like beta testing, putting our product in the hands of users. However, piloting is like pre-beta testing. The whole product may not be built out, there will still be bugs to work out and things to be re-designed. In essence, piloting is just another test as we iterate and refine Inner Circle.

One last thing! If any readers out there have experience with web development, especially with programming and databases, we could really use your help! Any advice, suggestions or time you might be able to donate would be a huge help to our group. Please drop me a line at or tweet me at @jamesLdesign.