Congrats, You Didn’t Do It!

One day, my co-worker and I were chatting about food and she mentioned how well she was doing at sticking to her diet. Her food plan was designed to incrementally add different types of food week by week and starting it, with the bland, basic foods, had been a drag. But, I haven’t had chocolate in 4 days, she says. Sounded horrible to me, but she sounded thrilled. Needing to participate, I tacked on, I didn’t buy Chik-fil-a yesterday. I shrug casually. Saved 7 bucks.

And right as I’m thinking about how I’ll probably spend that money on overpriced chicken salad I could have easily otherwise made myself, my co-worker jokingly says, Well, you didn’t save money. You just didn’t spend it.

…I was saving the money, right? She was saving the…calories? (I suddenly had a flashback of not eating dinner but enjoying a piece of cake, where calorie intake had, obviously, evened out or whatever. It’s fine.)

Okay, maybe we don’t “save” as much as we think we do. But resisting those behaviors is still a good thing. She didn’t eat the chocolate. I didn’t spend the money. We’re very grown-up. Or, in my case, my inner Adult-Voice belongs to my mom, who is a very responsible lady.

But our accomplishments were disappearing into the void of Never Happened.

Usually, if you want to track your accomplishments, you track behaviors you have done. Walked 10,000 steps. Cooked and ate a healthy meal. Paid into my 401k. Good job, you. But how do you count a non-occurrence? A pitfall responsibly avoided?
I want, as a friend who recently bought buttered popcorn to reward herself for switching to diet soda said, the credit. I’m mom’ing myself all the time — where’s my treat?

When the capstone course for my Design Interaction class started, the idea to reward myself for not-doing-something had been floating around my head for awhile. I thought I might start keeping tab of money I didn’t spend on fast food (I’m no cook, so this is a big deal for me) — these are approximate dollar amounts, sure, but still a handy way to show myself how good I was being. I had a post-it on my desk, and so did my co-worker, and we were partners in recording Nothings. Felt good.

Our capstone assignment was to create a prototype app designed to address one of three briefs: interacting with Time, providing information at a Glance, or facilitating Change. I was eating less fast food; that’s a change. Coursework, meet Real Life.

Turns out, measuring the negative, the non-, the nothing, the Never Happened, isn’t that intuitive.

When I envisioned using my phone to record not-doing-something, my imaginary storyboard had two panels. 
Panel 1: “Hey, phone!” 
Panel 2: “I didn’t spend $7!” 
And then some magic would add everything up. Maybe my mom would just know, by some maternal instinct, and call me to praise how great I was doing. I suppose it’s the measure of current technology that this seemed, to a first-timer, like a completely realistic thing to design.

Luckily, the course takes first-timers through the steps needed to build an actual realistic prototype. I got to explore the needs of my interviewees and expand beyond not-buying-fast-food to not-buying-shoes, and even to a friend’s goal for her daughter, not-wetting-the-bed.

Trying to storyboard an interaction with my app that encompassed all types of goals forced me to think of the logical flow of a person’s interaction and especially the big picture organization of how to log and track these goals. Suddenly, I knew what choices I needed to make available in my menu. And, that I needed to create a menu.

Integrating these ideas into a paper prototype provided an interesting experience for comparing my ideas with the expectations of others. Labeling screens and buttons was difficult. I thought the easiest strategy would be to follow some general UX advice: make things as people expect them to be (*cough*copy*cough*). I’ve used apps to log positive tasks I’ve completed and their structure usually includes goals, logging instances of these goals, and seeing your progress.

Using the word “instance” fit expectations for tracking goal progress too well. When I showed a fellow classmate the paper prototype for my app even repeated explanation couldn’t get across that the “instance” recorded was not a behavior performed. He would switch the goal, Didn’t buy fast food and here’s how much I haven’t spent, to a more physical goal, I bought fast food and it’s adding up badly for me — that fit his logic.

So he finally gets it, and then Progress-tracking comes up. This is how much you haven’t spent, I say. You could save it, but it didn’t automatically go into your savings. It’s only tracking that you’ve at one time decided not to spend this much money. But even when I explicitly referred to it as Money-Not-Spent, the total amount still registered to the user as Money Saved. The expectations of the task and implications of what “progress” really means had to start earlier.

Before I presented my next prototype version I decided to link pictures more closely to potential goals and better emphasize that goals are both logged and tracked.

If I showed an icon with a picture of a ringing alarm clock, which was less likely to be construed as something good to track, then the notion of tracking not-doing-something would be easier to grasp (goal: I did not hit the snooze button this morning). My next two users caught on much faster. They had suggestions for even more components of tracking a non-occurrence, such as breaking it into smaller goals (not doing something doesn’t really have an end, unfortunately, but we still like to be rewarded), and really highlighted the different ways people attempt to accomplish a task.

For the next round of prototype revisions I created redundant ways for users to access screens. While I hadn’t gotten the chance to add specific new capabilities my previous users wanted, redundancy went a long way to creating ease-of-use for my next users. The app seemed more responsive. Their comments focused less on the clunkiness of a prototype mock-up and more on the app’s potential. Plus, I got a nice lesson in catering to all types of users.

This final round of users rounded out the first stage of this app prototype. I now have a better idea of what facets of the design can remain for the long haul and the gist of how other features could fit into the overall organization.

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