Designing Goal-Oriented Systems

How to properly leverage motivation with wearables and social networks

Spring is here, and, if you’re anything like me, you’ve already given up on multiple New Year’s resolutions. Whether it was getting back into shape, learning new skills, improving relationships, or any other noble pursuits, the hard truth remains that most resolutions aren’t realized. Often the individual can be blamed for his or her failure, but, ultimately, the culprit is more likely the system (or lack thereof) on which the individual relied.

As mobile designers, it is our responsibility to create systems (plans) that help the individuals or organizations using them meet or exceed their goals. Often at IBM those goals include increasing revenue and customer satisfaction, but, whatever the goal, influencing individuals’ behavior at the right moment is critical. Luckily, the world we live in is full of smartphones, smartwatches, and ubiquitous connectivity that empowers the Internet of Things and other “magical” technologies.

However, our futuristic present-day has its friction points. The relationship between services and the people who use them is currently mediated by artifacts (physical products, i.e. phones, tablets, watches, computers). In a perfect world, the service would integrate with a user without the need for hardware, but we’re not quite there yet. Since we must have these artifacts as links, it is critical that we know how to design the interactions with them effectively to avoid creating disconnect between the user, their motivations, and the service as an effective tool. This is the root of why I spent my time in grad school establishing a set of guidelines to help designers understand the relationship between artifact and service and how we can craft them to create an effective goal-oriented system for the user.

The following guidelines, recommendations, and precautions lay down a framework with which designers can create effective, goal-oriented systems by harnessing the power of automation between a service and its artifact. It is my hope that you, the reader, will find them useful.

Guidelines for the Artifact

Artifacts are connected, monitoring devices that are always within close proximity to the user (i.e. Apple Watch or FitBit). An artifact properly designed for a goal-oriented system will:

Serve as a real-time link between a user and the service.

The artifact should be a reporter rather than a statistician. Use it to provide the user with feedback such as notifications, status updates, and progress, and leave more complex tasks for the service component. Consider the most appropriate ways to provide motivational nudges based on a user’s current context (locations, time, routine, etc.)

Provide tangible and/or observable status indication.

Observable or tangible phenomena provide a real-world connection between the service and the user. This can be achieved subtlety (i.e. color changes, vibration, push notifications) or drastically (i.e. alterations of the physical form).

Have an appropriate form factor for its purpose and use.

Consider the context in which the artifact will be used. The environment in which it exists should play a large role in its formation (i.e. material choices, sensors, style). Strive to minimize friction points so that the artifact enhances, rather than complicates, its intended use cases.

Consider the most current technologies and the possibilities they present.

A designer should be aware of what technologies are currently available and what will soon be arriving and plan accordingly. This includes using existing and proven technologies in new and exciting ways. Think outside the box, but make certain that what you use is appropriate and relevant to the needs of the users.

Use abstractions and metaphors to present data in a useful and meaningful way.

With limited screen space and a glimpse-driven interaction model, designers should explore ways to present the most relevant information in a way that is easily digestible.

Guidelines for the Service

Services act as the access point for information and analysis for the system (i.e. a website, app, etc.). A properly designed service for a goal-oriented system will:

Be as easily accessible as possible.

If a service is hard to access and interact with, then the user will likely stop using it. Create an access point to the service through whichever means is closest and most convenient for the user. Presently, it seems that the quickest way to access a service would be a smartphone app, but it is ultimately up to the designers to judge for themselves what is most appropriate for the use case they are addressing.

Provide a more-detailed look at the information gathered by the artifact

Computer screens, smartphones, and tablets will likely have more screen real estate than the artifact. Therefore, it is wise for designers to locate more complex tasks within the service rather than the artifact. This includes device setup, analysis of data, and in-depth social interaction.

Establish and encourage connections and accountability

Encouragement from teams or other users is a powerful motivating force. Use social interactions to build a safety net that will catch a user if their motivation begins to falter. Since motivation comes in waves (see B.J. Fogg’s research regarding his Motivation Wave), having others to help oneself pick of the pace rather than free falling into failure is a necessity.

Use gamification strategies when, and only when, they are appropriate.

Achievement awards, such as badges and trophies, are excellent tools for marking progress. However, it is important for designers to implement awards in appropriate amounts and increments. Over-rewarding users can result in disillusionment and apathy, rendering them useless.

Structure challenges in a way that fosters healthy competition and rivalry.

A service’s gamification strategy should structure rewards and achievement to highlight similar competitors. This allows the users to see who their peers are and fosters the formation of rivalries. Rivalries, as shown in sporting events and throughout history (i.e. the space race) can lead to faster results and exceeded expectations.

Provide an area outside of the competition for helpful interaction with other users

Alongside competition, there should be a neutral space within the service that helps foster supportive and connected interactions. This will foster empathy and provide motivation by allowing users to share in each others triumphs and support each other through their struggles.

Design Recommendations

A designer of a goal-oriented system should:

Consider communication between and integration with other services.

By allowing other existing services complement and integrate with their own, designers can reduce the amount of friction users encounter. Open APIs could be a great way to accomplish this.

Consider allowing for specialization of competition.

Allowing users to specify who they want to compete against can make their competitions more relevant. For examples, some individuals might prefer to only compete against their age range, skill level, or gender. By allowing the user to set these parameters, he or she will be less frustrated and more willing to compete.

Consider including features that allow for product consolidation.

If an artifact will resemble an existing fashion accessory or technological device, it would be wise for the designer to include some, if not all, of the functions that its precursor provided. For example, if an artifact will be worn around the wrist, it would be wise for it to include a clock. In addition, a designer should take into account the context in which the artifact will be used and include features to enhance its usefulness. For example, if the artifact will be worn by runners, a timer would be a valid and useful feature.

Be aware of fashion trends and history and design accordingly.

If an artifact will be worn prominently, then it would be wise for the designer to understand the current trends in wearable tech and fashion. If an artifact makes a user feel embarrassed or if it simply clashes with current fashion, then the chances of it being purchased or worn are slim.

List of Precautions

As with any attempt to influence an individual’s behavior, effort must be taken to ensure the safety of the individuals involved. In order to ensure a safe environment for a system’s users, a product team should:

Ensure that users’ identities and private information are protected.

While anonymity is an effective forces at encouraging online interactions and competition, interacting with strangers always carries an inherent element of risk and uncertainty. it is imperative that a system protect its users’ private information in order two protect them from any strangers who might mean them harm.

Consult with professionals in the field that the system will reside.

Before creating a system that exists within a certain field of work or study, it is important for the designer to consult with professionals within that field to ensure that the methods the system will employ are safe and appropriate for the target user base.

Understand that these guidelines to not guarantee results for all users.

The vast complexities and varieties of human personalities, interests, preferences, and psyches guarantee that, no matter the methods used, some people won’t responds will to a system. If a majority of users is responding well to the system, then it is successful. However, a designer should always respectfully listen to feedback form users and analyze users’ progress to determine when and what changes, if any, need to be made.

If you found this helpful…

…and you want to dive even deeper, you can find my full thesis here:

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