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Type: Team project, 3 members Role: UX Designer
Timespan: 3 months Course: Pervasive Interaction Design
This project focused on designing and prototyping an intervention with "visionary" ideas, that technology may not support just yet. This advanced interaction design class requires the use of physical, hardware prototyping to demonstrate a proof of concept.
Self-reflection is not emphasized enough
Initial research, in the form of interviews & literature review, indicated that students and young professionals want to take more time out of their day to self-reflect more, but it falls to the wayside in the face of daily work and school-related pressures.
It came down to the fact that people simply are not aware of their own shortcomings, and modifying habits can be difficult. However, this time for self-reflection and mindfulness can be very important, since it has been shown to improve mental health and focus.
Old Habits Die Hard
In order to understand how to design a solution for this gap in self reflection tools, our team researched the science of habit loops.
What makes people who journal do so? What makes people repeat the same mistakes over and over? How do those who have broken habits and "improved" themselves done so?
We found research related to habit loops and discovered their structure worked as below:
After studying habit loops, we realized that it was not enough for our intervention to simply exist as a mobile application. This requires new habit formation, which can be intensive and prone to drop off.
Our solution was had to be pervasive, or blend into the user's everyday surroundings and environment seamlessly. This is so that the cue that triggers the routine is discoverable.
How do people perceive themselves and define reflection?
In order to understand how people perceive their level of awareness and how they define "reflection", our team wrote and sent out a survey. We received 32 responses. As shown below, people perceive themselves as generally self-aware:
What if we got people to reflect for awhile - our way?
The next research method we did to scope the problem is use a cultural probe paired with follow up interviews to understand how people reflect currently and how they would like to reflect in the future.
Timespan: 7 days
Participants: 8 participants
Cultural probe kit: We intentionally provided the participant with limited material (just a notebook, pencil, and smartphone).
Directions: The participants were instructed to create an "artifact" related to their self-reflection once per day. This can be in the form of a voice note, journal entry, or whatever they find most comfortable. We indicated the actual reflections would not be shared.
So...why a cultural probe? This method was ideal in that reflection occurs over time, so one interview would not get the information we are looking for on how people aggregate their thoughts about experiences that occur over time. We also were able to use the kit below to provide some guidance, yet not having to completely control the user's reflection practices. Finally, the follow up interviews gave insights into how the user's felt about the process, as the reflection material itself is not actually the important part!
Reflection is actually very demanding
From this study, we found that current self reflection practices can be very demanding - in terms of time and emotional impact.
Some high level findings were:
-People may not be aware of their many thoughts until they slow down.
-People often mix goal planning and reflecting together.
-People more readily share harsh truths with themselves, rather than with friends & family.
-People like the idea of self-awareness, but only if the process of reflecting is not too demanding and fits into “deadspace” areas such as riding the bus, chores, etc.
Brainstorming with tradeoffs in mind
After our initial research phase was complete, our team followed a converging-diverging ideation approach:
How do these ideas fit into users' lives?
Once ideation was complete, we decided to draw storyboards in order to understand how each solution fits into a user's daily life, if at all. Does it solve the problems and design criteria we identified from our research?
Shower tiles, augmented notebook & a desk overlay
Our top three concepts were the following:
So this begs the question - how did we prioritize and decide between these solutions?
Conducting user enactments to narrow solutions
In order to narrow these three proposed concepts, we went through user enactments, where users enact pre-defined scenarios we created. We created scenarios based on wanting to get the extremes of the two dimensions: directedness and interruption.
Directedness is defined as how guided the self reflection practice is (are there prompts, or is it free reflect)?
Interruption is defined as how "seamlessly" the process fits into a user's schedule - does the intervention fit into the user's day without stopping them from normal activities?
We tested with 5 users and had them each enact 9 scenarios, which included all 3 of our top concepts.
We found that user needs and comments fell into a desire for a solution that addresses one more more of the following aspects:
The mighty desk overlay achieves all three
Based on our user needs, we decided that the desk overlay solution addresses all three of those user-defined aspects: play for being able to have tactile shapes, viewing critical, actionable information in a separate portal, and planning for goals using links.
So...how does it work?
The desk overlay consists of abstract, magnetic shapes that snap to a grid. The kit comes with predefined shapes that users would most likely need that represent certain portions of their lives (emotions, events, goals, progress bars). The users link all of these shapes and create relations that are meaningful for them. Based on the positioning of the shapes, the smart overlay can gain actionable insight and provide this to the user.
Why the overlay?
-Sits on your desk, so you always see it, and no one knows what the shapes mean except you! If you forget which pieces mean what, you can always log into the companion portal.
-Has a companion online portal so you can glean information over time from your progress.
-Has a syncing LED indicator that blinks to show when the shape positions have synced to the cloud.
-Is tactile, so you can get the joy of touching & moving real pieces.
Building the physical prototype using Wizard of Oz techniques
Once our solution was narrowed, we began using a magnetic board, a laser cutter, and a Photon for the physical prototype construction. We used a lot of "Wizard of Oz" prototyping techniques to get an authentic look & feel. For instance, we layered magnets so they were a little harder to move and paired this with a dot grid design, in order to emulate the "snapping to a grid" feeling in our architecture.
We also cut our own shapes to get the experience a user would have when defining their own pieces, and laser cut a mandala into the wood covering to imply relaxation & creativity.
The companion portal for the desk overlay
After the physical prototype was done, we began designing ideas for what the companion portal may look like. Based on user feedback, we added in a section for user notes, so the user can keep track of anomalies in their schedule or other things they would like to document.
Users always wanted to feel as if they're moving forward
After testing the initial overlay with users, we found that they liked the idea of the progress bar component, but were worried about feeling guilt and shame when progress was not being made. Other users brought up similar points with tools they have used. Once you do not follow through, what happens?
In order for the user to keep interacting with the board as a routine, to keep the habit loop intact, we introduced a modification. Now, even when the user does not fulfill the intended progress, they still put down a bar (just of a different color). This reinforces continuous interaction.
We hope people can get to know...themselves?
There's a lot of value put on making the right connections in the world, but often not so much on connecting with yourself. We're hoping that tools like Reflexa can help people to reconnect with themselves, in a fun and productive way.
Watch the video below to get a quick overview of Reflexa!
Thank you for reading!