User Experience Design project
A lot of people I know, including myself, struggle with time management not because of laziness or unwillingness to be good at it, rather, these days it is very easy to get distracted because of the amount of information that is available at our fingertips. Observe how many times you glanced at your social media in the last hours? How many times you wished to learn a new skill online, but couldn't find time to do it? How many times you were stressed because of your workload?
This is the age of the internet and we are bombarded with information which brings a feeling of lagging behind and not able to do enough with our time. There is always something we should be doing instead of what we are doing right now. We as individuals are collectively overwhelmed by our workloads.
Two hours is a project that aims to solve this problem and tries to improve the collective ability of humans work effectively and efficiently. The core idea behind the project is simple. Do something for as little as two hours but do it consistently and you will improve focus and do more.
However, the idea was drived from extensive research user interviews and diary keeping to create a user experience which is both usable and desirable.
With the above pain-points in mind I embarked upon a design thinking process to build software product which not only will help its users to focus but it will also show them how they can do more and be less overwhelmed.
The best software product are inclusive. They tend to cater for users from every walk of life. Instead of narrowing down their scope best products expand their horizon and care about what everyone feels.
Interviews and surveys
For this reason I conducted some interviews with the goal to understand how people manage their time, how long is their limit to sustain focus for while doing an activity and how many different activities do they perform everyday. This helped me decide where and how someone spend their time and how long is their focus limit. I also chatted with them about a time when they got late for something important.
Being late and maintaining focus are two questions that go hand in hand because focusing and time management are interlinked. If you can find out why someone get late, you will know how they manage their time. And once you know how someone manage their time, you will understand where, how and why they lose their focus. Once the focus is lost it causes stress because without focus things pile up and you get overwhelmed by the workload.
These interviews helped me articulate how can someone use use a productivity application to help them improve being on time, keeping their focus intact and doing more in their day without feeling overwhelmed.
The interviews can be read here.
Surprisingly, majority of the interviewee were "late" for an event because they over slept the night before. Why did that happen? I asked and the reason people over slept was because they were working late the night before. People work late at nights because they couldn't finish their work on time. Work that should have been done earlier. This show an important insight; doing work at the last hour is not beneficial.
As a user experience designer what can I do to help them avoid this situations?
Consistency over intensity.
It is well known fact that being consistent in doing your work is much more beneficial versus being intense and trying to finish things in one sitting. Meaning, if you do your work for a little amount of time but do it everyday it will be more beneficial than doing something for longer hours but right before the deadline.
Consistency develops routines and builds momentum. It forms habits that become almost second nature. It develops discipline and self-control. It builds a higher level of trust. It will create accountability. It will help you stand out or be noticed. There are many other benefits of consistency. If a productivity application can help its user to be consistent it can be ground breaking.
People like labron james became who they are because of consistency. He use wake up at 6 am in morening for 36 years. He had a routine that he followed consistently for 36 years. Now why people like you and me struggle with consistency? Because we forget. So if there is an application that can remind you to perform an activity at a specific time to maximise consistency it can be ground breaking.
So the question then becomes how long should people spend working on an activity where they can maximise their productivity and maintain focus and be willing to consistently do it everyday?
The majority of the participants noted they can sustain focus for a maximum of 2 hours while being productive. After two hours everyone said they either take a break and recharge or completely stop working and do something else.
Which was interesting because when I undertook a public polls asking the same question majority of the people agreed on the fact that two hour is their focus limit and this is limit when they are the most productive. Later, I researched and found, great scientists like Einstein, Darwin, and Nietzsche spent two hours to focus on important tasks. Not to mention, time management techniques like Pomodoro enforces two hour rule to focus on something. I theorised this to be the limit of human focus. There must be something magical about this number.
In the interviews, the only person who proclaimed to focus on a task for more 6 hours in one sitting was the same person who admitted to be poor with time management and often got late.
This made sense. If you are bad with time management you are generally procrastinating, and if you're procrastinating you tend to push things right at the end of the dead-line, and if you push things at the end of the dead-line then you work for longer and late hours often in the evening and naturally get late in the morning.
The conclusion was simple.
- If you are poor with time management you should try and work on things in advance and not push at the very end.
- Being consistent in doing your work is much more beneficial versus being intense and trying to finish in one sitting.
- If you are late for one thing the lost time almost always snowballs and chances of you being late are drastically increased, so plan in advance.
- 2 hours is the golden time limit that human like to keep working on something with complete focus with most productivity.
Empathy mapping and Thematic analysis
Using these interviews as insights I prepared an empathy map which encapsulated what the participants felt, said, thought and did in a visual manner. This helped form a base from which the problem and its solution were later derived.
From these empathy maps, thematic coding and thematic analysis were undertaken to better understand the user and their needs in a high level fashion.
The application theme was getting clearer:
- Time management, Day plan, Day schedule
- Advance planning, Tasks and sub tasks, Important plans, Sleep schedule
- Stressfulness, Focus, Motivations, Overwhelming
Using the data collected from the interviews and thematic analysis, it was evident that there are two kind of people who struggle with time management and always feel overwhelmed by the things to do.
- The work-o-holic. Someone who wants to do it all. Always have the next thing ready to do and struggle with focus and stress.
- Procrastinators. Someone who keep pushing things at the end of the dead-line. Who are interested to focus only when its too late. And struggle with focus and stress because of it.
Using this insight, two personas were created who will be the early adopters and benefit the most from using the application in their daily life.
User Journey Diagram
A user journey diagram was drawn to have a visualisation of how the application will be used. This diagram will help reduce the cognitive load on the designer and help them make better design decisions in later stages of the project.
Now that I have a feeling of the pain-points of my early adopters and how they look and behave, it was time to decide the application features and will can be the most helpful and suitable to be included in the app as features.
Brainstorming and Design Epics
To begin ideating, I decided to brain storm and write design epics to better understand the user and their need in terms of application features.
- As a [professional with a lot to do] I want to [focus on one thing at a time] because [I want to reduce my stress level and maximize productivity]
- As a [person who struggle with time management] I want to [be on time for important meetings] because [I want to excel at my career and life]
- As a [self motivated individual] I want to [do more things in my day] because [I want to improve myself]
- As a [busy person with a lot on mind] I want to [be able to see my days schedule at a glance] because [I want to keep on track without distractions]
- As a [user with alot on my mind] I want to [focus on one the thing which is the most important for me] because [I want to be on time, dont get distracted and work towards it]
- As [someone who likes to do more] I want to [find time to pick new habits and activities] because [I want to improve as a person and professional]
- As a [procrastinating individual] I want to [understand why constancy is better than intensity] because [I struggle with time management]
- As a [user of the application] I want to [reschedule my activity without any cognitive load in case of an emergency] because [sometimes things get out of control]
- As an [already overly stressed individual] I want to [get help on how my day schedule should look like] because [I don't want to waste time on the application writing things down]
- As a [social human being] I want to [post my progress and days schedule on social media] because [I want the world to know what I am doing]
- As a [highly focused individual] I want to [use the application as little as possible (only in the morning/and evening) and I want the application to be least invasive] because [I don't like distractions at all]
Lets be honest, there are so many applications uploaded in the app stores today that you will definitely find at least 5-10 application that already exists in the category of your idea. What sets you apart is how you treat your users and how better you understand them. However, it is always better to find what others are doing that people like and dislike to avoid and ideate based on your potential users.
There are hundreds of productivity application and I installed some of the very famous one that I personally enjoyed using. However, focus and time management applications can be divided into two simple categories.
- The applications which incorporates the Pomodoro technique for focus management. I picked PomoDo! for extensive use.
- The applications that lets you schedule daily tasks and activities. I picked Productivity Wizard for extensive use.
Both of these applications have plus point and negatives. I interviewed a friend who used the application PomoDo! for a week to see what she liked and disliked about this application. Here is what she said.
- In a few words... the Pomodoro technique is a time management technique where you break down all of your tasks into 25 minute focused blocks. Pomodoros of time followed by 5 minute break.
- I was finding it difficult to stay focused on my work, so I gave the Pomodoro technique a try. No emails. No phone calls. No checking social media. No procrastination. No meetings. No distraction at all. The first day felt too good to be true.
- On Tuesday, I decide to take this technique seriously. I used an app called PomoDo! - much better than the apple timer. first I created a list of tasks I wanted to accomplish. Then, I estimated how much time it would take for me to accomplish each task.
- On Wednesday I worked on a project that invoked design skills. The estimate for that task was 12 Pomodoros and it was right! I felt 25 minutes was just right and I file like I was accomplishing a lot of small success during a day.
- On Thursday, I started to work on a big project that involved a lot of research, planning and meetings. The project was too complex and unpredictable to be split into Pomodoros. So I decided not to apply the technique in these long-term projects.
- On Friday, I decided to split that big task into sub-tasks and for each of them i estimated a flexible number of sessions. Eg research = 12-18 Pomodoros). Suddenly, the system become less overwhelming and more manageable.
- Would I do it again? Yes, but I will break the rule when needed. Chatting with colleges, calling clients, scrolling through social media, stakeholder meetings. All these things are part of my work and cannot be estimated with accuracy... much less with a kitchen timer!
It was evident that she (and generally people) don't like rules. We like to have freedom and when applications like PomoDo! put a time constraint that you have to obey, it causes more anxiety and frustration than it should. However, it was also very evident that breaking tasks into small chunks do help in keeping your focus intact and reduce the stress level in the long run.
I decided to note the points I want to include in the application for creating a better user-experience that encourage focus without increasing the anxiety levels.
- Give user freedom to do anything they want.
- Divide the day into 2 hour time slots.
- Don't put a time constraint or a timer that ticks and increase anxiety.
- Make it evident that consistency is better over intensity. Which means do something for as little as two hours, but make sure you do it again the next day.
Next I spent a week using the Productivity Wizard application. I studied it's customer reviews throughly to figure out what the customers like and dislike.
This application lets you add tasks for the day in shape for morning, evening and day routines. The tasks can be recurring or a non recurring. You can set your Goals and are reminded to work on them. Here is what the customers said:
- It needs to be able to easily prioritise different items on a scale instead of a simple binary choice: high or low
- How easily you can reschedule tasks to other dates.
- Specially love the journal section and the fact that I can track my mood and thoughts.
- Game changer in terms of scheduling, organising and tracking your mood and progress.
- Morning and evening journal prompts are so helpful to stay on track.
I found the customer reviews were great however, not alot of people were using the application. I concluded the reason behind this is the user experience.
- The user experience of the application was very cumbersome. It lets you did too many things and most of the nicer features were behind a paywall.
- To add new tasks and activities, the questionnaire was very non user friendly. Where you simply put in what you want in text fields. This can be improved from a user experience prospective by making it more intuitive and emotionally interactive.
- The user interface was bleak and not very modern. These days people expect applications to be visually attractive and easy to use.
- There was no explicitly available analytics that tells you where you lack and what you should be doing.
- Too many options. You can add your own questions. Set timer. Reminders. Calendars. Schedule routines. Add new activities. Set new goals. Write diary. Take notes. Sort things. Doing one thing and doing it right is important for a user experience to be successful.
This brings me to a conclusion that because the competition is so intense and the expectations from the users are sky high, there is a need to focus on how the user feel more than what they want. The best way to do this is include emotional and game design in the core user experience.
Have you ever noticed that games dont need to exist? There is no user need when it comes to game design. There is nothing user want that a game can provide. However, game designers are obsessed with how the user feel. If you can make your user feel in a certain way your product is sure to be successful.
There are certain things that comprise a game. For example, goals, control, cycle, interaction, pace, a tutorial level. It was evident from competitor analysis that the application need to have game like qualities. On the surface the application will be a productivity tool but underneath there should be an immersive game experience which provides the user a sensation of flow. That they are achieving their goal and moving forward in their quest of self improvement.
- Show only what is necessary, be least invasive.
- Show what is next at a glance and not let any thing else happen.
- Have a sense of goal and controls.
- Start with tutorial level, its easy to play.
- Give a sense that day is passing by, cant edit previous or current task.
- Can shuffle next tasks. Or add a new one to a empty slot. Or add sub-tasks to upcoming tasks. Or see subtasks of ongoing tasks or previous tasks. But not edit.
- Nothing is missed. Nothing is due. Nothing is ticking. You are free to do what ever you want, this app is to show you what is next and why consistency matters more than intensity.
Prototypes and feedback
What is more important for an application is to have a flow. A narrative that is inter-connecting then created to understand and optimise the flow which gives user a sense of belonging and a sensation of joy.
Understand whats important, give a feeling to user that their important activities are important to us.
- What is the most important to you?
- What is a new thing you want to learn?
- What is the thing you want to focus on?
- Is there anything else you spend your time on? Write as task
- What is your goal
- What is the habit you want to build?
- How do you want to relax and have fun?
Morning and evening routine.
- When did you wake up yesterday?
- Choose tasks that you do in morning
- Choose tasks you do in evening before sleeping
Show users day schedule at a glance without any overhead.
- User can press on a task and add sub-task.
- User can be reminded for the sub task or half way there
- If there are empty slots ask: what do you want to focus on?
The app in regular day is to just see what is coming up next. Editing will be done either in the morning routine or evening routine.
- Before next day starts, ask what trouble did the user had, and what are critical activities for tomorrow, from that suggest how the new day should look like
- User is prompt to check the application for their morning routine
- Layout the tasks on main screen, to make sure user do these tasks again to be consistent
Before sleeping in evening routine, prompt user to journal their day, how it went, ask about every task... will they want to do it again tomorrow?
Low fidelity prototype
After intensive user testing on the low fidelity prototype and generating feedback on things the user liked and disliked about the application concept a conclusion was drawn.
The questions from the user testing survey and the results are as following:
What is your overall impression of the prototype?
50% It was alright, 50% Positive.
What is the one thing that you remember from it?
Good way to implement a healthy routine.
Quite broad options for planning schedules. Lack of positive reinforcement and reward.
How was the overall design from a user experience perspective?
50% cognitively draining, 50% very intuitive
Can you explain why you think the design was cognitively draining or very intuitive?
Reminded me of the apple interface . What I would improve though is the tick shouldn’t be in the upper right corner but more in the lower half underneath a task in form of a button because your eyes are following from up to down and then are confused if you have to go back up again to continue.
The UI is a bit too cluttered. Consider using less info and more screens.
If you had to select one reason, why would you use this product in your day to day?
50% be more consistent, 50% keep track of activities
It is personally difficult to read all Capital characters. I find it difficult to read. It may look good but I cannot focus on it. I think all capital can be the headline but should not for the body text.
More. Flexibility to overcome the uncertainty
Not really but another idea is to reward someone if they stick to their routine.
Include elements of gamification to reward your users. Naturally users will drop off from these apps because it becomes too demanding to constantly update them.
The overall sentiment for the user experience of the application from the conducted survey was positive. People find the application will help them save time, do more and be consistent.
The interface was found to be intuitive and user friendly, although, the design was somewhere in between intuitive and cognitively draining.
Keeping these problems set in mind to improve the design, a third high definition prototype with better color scheme and typography was created.
Through analysing the user feedback, the following design decisions were made to improve the final design.
- A better color scheme was chosen to make the UI less cluttered.
- Less information was displayed on the main screen to make the main screen more usable.
- Onboarding screens go-next button was moved to the bottom of the screen to make it more reachable.
- A profile and rewarding screen was added to make the experience more personal and give the user an incentive to use the app.
- All capital characters text was changed to be normal characters for readability.
- Activity progress was redesigned to be a progress bar on the activity card instead of displaying on top of the whole activity.