During 2015 as a final project of bachelor studies I had an opportunity to make a human-centered take on the question - How might we help people to change? This project led me through dozens of psychology papers on behavior change, shock bracelets, Baymax from Big Hero 6, chatbots, personas, bunch of concepts and high-fi prototypes.

Role

I was a one-man band responsible for user research, interaction design, prototyping and UI design.

Research

There are many myths and half-truths about habits circling around. Good example is the 21 day myth spread by innumerous blogs, gurus and coaches. One of the goals of the project was to rely on valid insights and sift through noise that was prevalent. To do this I started by reading a bunch of research papers on behavior change, habit formation, willpower, ego depletion and related subjects.

Learning to drive

Mental resources like attention and willpower are limited. In order to function, we learn subconscious routines that free the resources for more valuable and urgent situations. Remember your first driving class (If you’re driving an automatic, you won’t relate much to this story, but please imagine the pain of manual gears) - Using one hand for the wheel while switching the gear with another one, while pressing the clutch with your foot, looking at three mirrors, road, signs and listening a driving instructor. It was a sensory overload. Brain can’t handle so much information at a same time, so we learn discrete procedures and internalize them:
  • If I’m turning, turn on the indicators
  • When I turn the car off, I should pull the handbrake
  • After I turn the engine on I need to turn on the lights, etc.

Uncertainty and change

One of the most overlooked insight about behavior change is that the bigger the uncertainty is, harder it is to achieve change. Thus, per Steve Wendel’s model from Designing for Behavior Change, in order to do some action, a person needs to notice a trigger, react to it, find the activity worth doing, have everything available to do it and have enough time for it. Only if all conditions are met, person will perform the activity.

Competitor analysis

There are many products related to habit tracking, and even more focusing on specific routines, like meditation and running. They all use different strategies and cover a different ground. Some are focused on tracking, and work as repeating to-do lists using the don’t-break-the-chain method, some use professional coaches and rely on social aspects, or even electroshocks.
Several groups emerged:

General coaches

Focused on motivation, gamification and support

Habit trackers

Strong gamification, reminders and quantification

Specialized

Focused on motivation, gamification and support

Interviews and personas

Once I had some background info, I was able to conduct open-ended interviews. This lead to formation of primary, successful, and anti persona, based on strategies and tools they used to cope with change, new habits and achieve their goals.

Vanja - Primary persona

Natasha - Successful persona

She sees herself as a person who works out, and that’s the basis of her motivation, she wishes to be the best version of herself, and she’s actively working on it. Her boyfriend provides necessary support and they rely on each other.
We want to help Vanja by providing her with a support system similar to Natasha’s, and help her build the similar attitude.

Goran - Anti-persona

And there’s Goran, with his unruly two jobs, no free time routine. His plans are known only few hours in advance, and this kind of solution is a bad fit for him.

Principles

By synthesizing knowledge gained with research, basic principles were formed:
  • Remind of the goal
  • Teach me
  • Be patient
  • Motivate me
  • Support me
  • Don't punish me
  • Prevent mistakes
  • Appreciate my time
  • Reduce unknowns

Mapping the journey

Changing the behavior is a big quest for Vanja. For the start, she needs to pick a habit, adopt it and then maintain it. Once it’s stable, she can build upon it and use it as a trigger for further progress. In some time she will have strong routines build of chain of simple habits - routines that are aligned with her goals.

Building a story

What’s the most effective way to help Vanja change? Calendar, app, wearable, online course, personal trainer, a guide?
Before deciding on the platform and format it was important to understand the story of Vanja’s day, how it unfolded, what were the obstacles, how would this “helper” fit her day, how it would respond to unforeseen circumstances and distractions like unexpected call from Dad, drinks with friends or such.
Telling the story in this way made it clear that the solution requires to be interactive, transportable. Desktop, print and others were dismissed, mobile phone and smart watches came into the view.

Evolving the flow

A lo-fi  prototype was made from sketched screens. This was a cheap and effective way to validate ideas, find problematic flows, and improve them.

Branding and visuals

Visuals had very important role - they needed to guide Vanja through many unknowns, help her overcome her fears, overcome barriers and be a guiding hand on the path to self-improvement.
Visuals had very important role - they needed to guide Vanja through many unknowns, help her overcome her fears, overcome barriers and be a guiding hand on the path to self-improvement.
Once we had the metaphor, we needed an actor - a mascot. Koala bear was chosen for its natural slowness and charm. This slowness was crucial as it aligned with one of the main principles needed to successfully form a habit - constant work with sustainable effort, instead of sprinting and getting burned as a result. This went hand-in-hand with mountain climbing, and foundation of branding was formed. Once this was decided, other elements fit together - positivity, peace and accessibility, and a name to tie it all together - Achiever.

Interface and flows

Finally all required pieces could be assembled. The final prototype consists of several main flows:
  • Personalization
  • Onboarding
  • Reminders
  • Course adjustment
  • Contextual companion

Personalization

Everyone had different goals and abilities, and they change at different speeds. This provided an interesting challenge - every activity needed to shrink and grow based on Vanjas time, abilities and needs.
Achiever offers a “configurator” that helps to build a routine - to pick an intensity, trigger, and schedule. It also tries to guide Vanja by locking intensities that are considered too advanced for a current situation, and unlocks them once progress has been made.

Onboarding

We needed to guide Vanja through the role of the application, help her set up an account, explain how will this help her, find out her preferences and aptitudes, define a goal and start with a first commitment. Step by step wizard was a natural way to achieve this without overloading her with too much questions before anything valuable was provided in return.

Reminders

To build a habit, opportunity, desire, and conditions need to be aligned. Reminders are the key point where all of this is integrated. The activity and duration are communicated, in a moment when the proper trigger is present, in order to increase the odds of Vanja actually doing the required thing.

Adjusting the course

One of the worst kind of apps are those who don’t tolerate mistakes. Achiever tried to be the opposite, by offering ways to slow down if it detected becoming a burden, offering to check-in for previous days if she forgot or didn’t have time, and level-up if it became too easy and boring.

Contextual companion

The need for contextual awareness, quick access and minimal interaction provided a good case for wearables, and a companion app for Android Wear was designed.

Outcome

This concept was validated with multiple prototypes that resonated well with users and in different discussion and presentations. Similar patterns and ideas started emerging in parallel, in apps for working-out, savings, investment and other. Some of them, different in execution but similar in guiding psychology and principles got large communities of users, won awards and provide a proof that there’s large untapped opportunity for this kind of apps - that use the knowledge of behaviour change not to addict and exploit users, but to help them achieve best version of themselves.

Featured case study

Helping cancer researchers understand a sea of data

On how human-centered design and qualitative research improved  scientific research tool.

Send an email, or find on Linkedin, Twitter.

© Pavle Jovanović 2018

It's better on desktop, pinky promise