A Dose of Smartwatch Innovation

Industry Healthcare
Two smart watches with the NurseGrid Logo and app screens on the faces
NurseGrid logo


Extending the functionality of the NurseGrid app involved:


Defining clear strategic goals and prioritizing critical app features


Designing for a smaller screen real estate without sacrificing too much brand identity


Mitigating development snags with innovative approaches that benefit everyone


The challenge

As the largest social network and scheduling platform for nurses, NurseGrid empowers healthcare professionals (HCPs) by giving them more control over their schedules, careers, and social connection with colleagues, all in one app. NurseGrid’s success as the top-rated app among nurses attracted the attention of HealthStream, who acquired NurseGrid in 2020 to support their mission to serve healthcare organizations through software.

Since many nurses are unable to have their phones with them during their workday, it was clear NurseGrid needed to explore a new way to improve the lives of the HCPs NurseGrid serves. That’s when Apply Digital clocked in to expand the popular mobile app to a new device — the smartwatch.

A person wearing a smartwatch with the NurseGrid app on screen


A strategy worth watching

Primed and ready to work in the world of smartwatches, we started with a strong plan of action.

Navigating evolutionary growth at NurseGrid, along with a quick turnaround time, meant a lean but well-thought-out strategic approach was essential to deliver the best results. We collaborated closely with NurseGrid’s team to identify their goals and objectives, define the project scope, and prioritize which features to adapt for a smartwatch design.

One of our key aims was to ensure this smartwatch app made NurseGrid’s product more accessible and integrated seamlessly with a nurse’s day-to-day life. It needed to extend the mobile app’s features as closely as possible, but on a scale fit for the wrist and better matched for on-the-go users.

A smart watch with NurseGrid shift swap screen next to scheduling blobs

Because of the intrinsic constraints of smartwatches — like smaller screen size, less computing power, and shorter battery life — watch apps are synonymous with simplicity. We knew we couldn’t bring every mobile app feature to the watch, so we utilized user research, insights, and data collected by NurseGrid to help us prioritize the most relevant and appropriate features to adapt. We focused on popular tasks, like viewing weekly schedules, checking open shifts, and receiving every notification delivered right to their watch.

Designing for a smaller scale

When it came to designing the smartwatch app, we needed to balance NurseGrid’s branding with smartwatch best practices and emphasis on clean, simple design.

Both Apple’s watchOS and Android’s Wear OS recommend keeping the interface highly glanceable and making the best use of screen space by omitting certain visual assets. So we trimmed down on space-hungry design elements while still incorporating branding elements like brand colors, iconography, and custom loading animations. This allowed us to leverage the familiarity of the mobile app and maintain cohesiveness with the NurseGrid ecosystem while adhering to smartwatch design principles.

The NurseGrid mobile app next to its smart watch app counterpart
NurseGrid Android smart watch home screen interface
NurseGrid Apple smart watch home screen interface

We also had to ensure our designs were compatible across all types of watch sizes and shapes. Finding the right solution involved flexing our creative brains.

While Apple Watches come with a consistency that allows for a standardized layout and user interface, Wear OS watches do not. We opted to design the Wear OS version on a circular watch face. And by center-aligning content, we optimized the design for square or rectangular watch faces to avoid potentially cutting off features and designs.

Developing solutions fit for the future

We took a modern approach to application extensions by introducing new frameworks while navigating within NurseGrid’s existing tools, technologies, and infrastructure. Though there was some overlap in how we structured the code, developing for watchOS and Wear OS comes with their own unique set of complexities. Our team had to get inventive.

For instance, scaling back on certain heavy functioning app features — or omitting them altogether — allowed us to conserve computer power and battery life. This resulted in an app enhanced for users who work long hours and are always on the move.

Another critical part of our design are carousels users can swipe through. While building the watchOS version on SwiftUI, we encountered a snag in tab views with embedded navigation — a common challenge for all watchOS developers.

We mitigated this by writing a solution from scratch that prevents the carousel screens from bouncing back to the previous tab after a user swipes away. Not only did we identify a solution, but we also solved a problem experienced by many developers, and solidified our processes for future smartwatch projects.

And when it came to QA (Quality Assurance) — a crucial step in all of our projects — we developed a workaround for the complexities of testing a smartwatch app. For example, the authentication required for mobile and smartwatches meant we couldn’t use an emulator. So instead, we found that the optimal solution was testing on a physical device. This meant live demoing the app or recording the testing process in order to test our designs and functionalities, as well as identify bugs.

Three smart watches with NurseGrid app interfaces


NurseGrid’s smartwatch app successfully launched in Q1 2022 and the active user count and engagement metrics are consistently on the rise.



Weekly active users increased



Engagement rate



Conversion rate

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