This is a personal project that I decided to work on to solve the problem: How can habits such as "eating healthier" or "reading more" be formed, retained, and built upon over time successfully?
I was inspired to work on solving this problem after learning about the various circuits in the brain that have to do with learning, memory, and motivation. My goal for this project was to see how circuits can play a role in habit formation and how design decisions can guide those formations.
Tools Used: Adobe Illustrator and Sketch
Is it needed?
It has been suggested that only about 8% of people who make New Year's Resolutions achieve their resolution (source).
While this is specific to New Year’s, it shows how difficult it is for people to make and keep resolutions.
What are common resolutions/goals people have?
1. Stay fit and healthy
2. Lose weight
3. Enjoy life to the fullest
4. Spend less & save more
5. Spend more time with family and friends
Since this project is still in the early stages, I interviewed 5 people with an objective to understand the role of habits in people's lives. I kept the questions mostly open-ended so that I can gather information on how people approach lifestyle changes and what makes them successful or not.
Some examples of types of questions asked are listed below:
- Tell me about a time when you decided to make a lifestyle change. Why did you decide to make that decision?
- What were some steps you took to make that change?
- Was it successful? Why or why not?
- What was the hardest part about making that change?
After asking these more general questions, it became easier to dive deeper into the "how" and "why" specifically based on each person and the context surrounding that change. Though not everyone had the same kind of lifestyle change that they wanted to make, there were some common patterns in terms of success or failure which ultimately helped me figure out who my user would be. For people who found that a lifestyle change they had made was easy to do, when I asked more questions about it, I found out there were more distinct environmental factors that helped push the change. For people who had trouble making changes, I found that they either had neutral or negative environmental factors that led to failure.
Type 1 Example: One participant, a college student, described how he suddenly developed better study habits in college because all his floormates in the dorm were studying hard for class which peer-pressured him into studying more. His fast success was due to the more extreme conditions of being in an environment that conditioned him for better study habits.
Type 2 Example: Another participant, a young working professional, talked about how she struggled to find time to exercise more because of her new work schedule. She sits at her desk for most of the day, like many of her coworkers and by the time she gets home, she just does not want to go to the gym and would rather spend time relaxing by watching TV.
This research was helpful in identifying who my target users would be: the people in the latter group who generally have neutral or negative environmental influences. Common reasons cited for failure in this group were lack of time and an unclear plan for action, which means that my solution would have to address those issues.
I looked up articles with lists of the top goal-making/life-planning and organizing web and mobile apps to figure out which ones people are using and talking about the most.
I then wrote down notes on how the app works, the strengths, and the weaknesses through reading its website and user reviews on the app store.
Common strengths and weaknesses:
The strength: Good visualizations of goals through calendar views, progress charts, and analytics centered around these goals
The weakness: Habit formation is not usually a focus of these apps and if it does have anything to do with habits, it’s generally about habit tracking but not the formation itself
Summary of Insights
It is clear that new habit formations are not easy challenges to overcome which is what accounts for all these mobile and desktop apps that cater to user demands for a solution to this problem.
While current apps on the market have strengths in attempting to attach the emotional aspect of these habits through data visualization in terms of tracking, what they can improve on is to acknowledge the role of circuits in terms of stronger neural connectivity which means an understanding that habit formation takes small steps that gradually grow to bigger steps rather than a habit as there or not there.
Which means that the app:
Should guide users to set realistic expectations, defined habits, and improved time management
Will encourage the action of habit formation, not just tracking
Can visualize progress and circuit reinforcement
- Must tie together emotions with performing a habit task
Summary of Insights:
The desire to take on a new habit to improve lifestyle choices is not the problem, the problem is that habits are hard to retain, let alone grow
Current apps on the market focus on the tracking portion of habit formation but fail to recognize the importance of circuit reinforcement to not only retain, but build upon habits
Testimonies from the users using current apps overwhelmingly enjoy the ability to visualize their habit/goal data in an organized way
Sketches and Wireframes
Before diving into the more complicated primary interactions of the app, I wanted to get a sense of the big picture by drawing out the basic flow of the app.
I knew that the main function of the app would be to create and track habits over time so I tried out different flows to see how they would best fit into the larger scheme of the app.
Creating a new habit
From the initial research, the critical barriers to reaching a goal lies in the first step of creating the goal itself. This means that the flow for this action needs to lead the user to set up an attainable, clear, and defined goal.
While I initially sketched ideas that guided the user from a more abstract goal to a defined one, I realized that this made the flow longer and more complicated than it needed to be. So in the wireframes, I simplified this process to 2 instead of 4 steps.
Tracking a goal
From the competition research, users of other habit/personal goal apps were motivated to continue because they can easily visualize their progress over time. So the next step after a user creates a habit, is to be able to track and visualize their progress.
While existing solutions constrain the user by defining success by "daily streaks," I wanted to create a progress bar that shows habit formation as making small but meaningful lifestyle changes.
Lessons and Takeaways
The most challenging part about this project was figuring out ways to make the app more simple. Although I had a lot of ideas in my head for different kinds of features, I had to focus on designing the core function rather than getting distracted in the details of extraneous features. This is where all the research done before any of the designs became helpful as a framework for design decisions. By thinking back to the problems that were brought up during research, if the design did not aid in solving that issue, I knew it was something that I should reconsider in adding to the app.