Clear App — A Case Study

I’m Adam Marcus, a User Experience Designer in San Francisco, and I love lists, plain and simple. They allow me to keep track of the things I need to accomplish and they give me a sense of satisfaction when I get to cross something off as complete, or in this case, “clear” it from a list. I first downloaded Clear a few years ago because I wanted to check out the interactions I had heard and read so much about. You see, at that time those types of swiping and pulling interactions were new and revolutionary. I was switching from being a graphic/footwear designer to becoming a UX designer and this was one of the first examples of good UX our instructors at General Assembly had shown us. I was blown away by the beauty and simplicity of these interactions and the straightforward functionality they can provide.

Add new items to your list by pulling down from the top of the screen or by pinching between two items.
Complete or clear the item by swiping right / Delete them by swiping left / Clear your completed items by pulling up on the screen.

The app is not only simple and engaging, but has a charm that’s further enhanced by addition of inspirational quotes on blank list screens:

And humor for error messaging:

These guys love Back to the Future!

One of the things that I love most about Clear is that it’s an app I use actively. I open clear at the beginning of the day and am constantly checking it to see what I can clear next. I truly feel that using Clear actively instead of passively is what makes it so fun and addicting for me. I’ve developed a daily obsession to see how much I can “clear” off of my list. It’s this active (and addictive) participation that helps me to be so productive when I’m using it.

Since I’ve started using clear the biggest change the developers have made to the app is to add reminders for list items.

Adding a reminder for a list item.

I’m not saying that list item reminders are a bad thing but I think it could change an active user’s behavior to that of a passive user. So what do I mean by active vs passive? Now with calendar reminders I can choose to no longer have to keep the app open and constantly check for what I can complete next. I can now just passively wait to until the reminder tells me to take action. I’m no longer playing the game of seeing how much I can accomplish, I’m simply waiting to be told what do. I’m no longer proactive but rather reactive. I know reminders can be set for individual items so yes, you could still use Clear actively by only setting reminders for certain items, but then what’s the point of having the reminders if you’re using actively anyway? All that does is create a redundancy. By using it actively and setting reminders I’ve now created another notification to distract me from whatever I’m doing. Now don’t get me wrong, a reminder here and there can be helpful. Sometimes we get busy and a little nudge is nice, but the interactions in Clear and using them actively is what makes the app so engaging and productive for me.

So now that we’ve established I’ve got opinions, you’re probably wondering what I think would improve the app. Well I’ve got just the suggestion, the ability to automatically repeat list items on a specified schedule. For as much as I love Clear there is one thing that drives me nuts about it and that’s the time spent creating my list everyday which can range from a few seconds to a few minutes. Of course I understand that each day will have a new set of tasks, but for each new task I add there can be also numerous tasks I repeat each day. In my current life I make coffee every morning, walk my dog, meditate, read, study Spanish, spin poi, and have 15 physical therapy exercises for my hip all of which I do daily. Being the obsessive compulsive that I am of course I need to “clear” each and every one of them. Adding new tasks can take from a few seconds to a few minutes each time and while that doesn’t seem like a lot, the time can add up. There is a cumulative effect going on and this feature could greatly reduce the time spent adding items. Once items are cleared there are two ways to add them back:

  1. If you have yet to Clear the completed items (pull up from bottom of the screen to remove the completed items) you can right swipe them back onto the list which is quick but not always efficient because you could have other items you don’t want to add back and will spend time sorting through the list for the ones you want. Just to add back my daily items I described above took me 20 seconds (average of three attempts) (20 sec x 7 days = 2.33 minutes per week, 9.32 minutes per month, and 111.84 minutes or 1.86 hours per year) and this is when they are the only ones on the list. If I have to sort through a larger list of daily and one time tasks it takes 30 seconds (average of three attempts) (30sec x 7 days = 3.5 minutes per week, 14 minutes per month, 168 minutes or 2.8 hours per year)
  2. If you have already cleared your list of completed tasks the time to add the items back daily takes even longer. Just typing them in with a list in front of me (average of three attempts) takes me 1 minute and 8 seconds (1min 8sec x 7 days = 7.93 minutes per week, 31.73 minutes per month, 380.8 minutes or 6.34 hours per year) . Doing it from memory (avg of three attempts over the course of three days to insure the list was not fresh in my mind) took me 3 minutes and 58 seconds (3min 58sec x 7 days = 27.76 minutes per week, 1.85 hours per month, 22.2 hours per year).

So as you can see from above having a repeat item feature would daily, weekly, and annually save users a ton of time and effort they could be spending elsewhere. By giving users the ability to automatically have to-do items added back to their lists they could save anywhere from 1.86–22.2 hours per year depending on how someone uses the app. That’s a lot of time that can be spent doing other things.

Another annoyance this would curb (at least for me) would be adding an item only to complete and clear it right away. Sometimes I don’t remember to add a daily item until I’m performing that particular task. Yes I do this because I want the satisfaction of completing a task and removing from the list. It may be a little OCD, but as I said, that’s how I am. I find that this takes away from the experience and sense of accomplishment I get from clearing an item off my list. The ability to have my list half or even fully populated when I wake up in the morning would hand me back minutes daily and hours monthly and annually.

So what would this new functionality look like? Let’s explore…

A repeat button has been added when creating a new list item.

Because a repeat function can range from being simple to complex , I’ve designed this to have a sentence structure to insure the user always understands what they are setting up. As user makes their selections the sentence grows to include further options. Should the user decide to stop at any point all they need to do is click “Done” and the repeat will be set as is. If a user wants to go back and change options they can simply click on the red box containing the selection they wish to change and they will be brought back to that screen. Below are examples of what daily, weekly, monthly, and annual repeat functionality could look like.

A daily repeat function:

Daily Repeat

A weekly repeat function can range from repeating weekly on the day it was created to any number of weeks on specific days:

Weekly Repeat

A monthly repeat function can range from monthly on the day it was created to any number of months on specific dates:

Monthly Repeat

And an annual repeat function which can range from annually on the day it was created to any number of years on specifics days of a specific month:

Annual Repeat — steps 1 and 2
Annual Repeat — steps 3 and 4

Once the user has set up their repeat function, the list item would look like this:

Repeat added

To keep things simple on the main list screen, an item with a repeat function would only indicate Repeat Daily (Weekly, Monthly, Annually). If a user wanted to see their repeat function in more depth or to edit they can simply click the list item to re-open the repeat function.

As you can see, my suggested repeat item feature could elegantly be added to the app and provide the user with real time savings. So between repeated items and reminders which is the best user experience? Well that depends on the user and as I’ve gone through this exercise I’ve come to realize that a repeat item feature shouldn’t replace but could be a nice complement to the reminder feature. Imagine the additional time savings of having repeated list items WITH reminders automatically added each day, week, month, year. Below shows what combination of a repeat function and reminder would look like on the main list screen:

The combo repeat and reminder indicates the frequency of the repeat along with the time of the reminder.

I still advocate using Clear actively and not passively but I’ve come to appreciate how they could work well together and even the benefit of the occasional reminder. I’ve even set a few reminders and although I still use the app actively I can absolutely see how they would be useful if I were busy or distracted. So to the reminder feature, I apologize and appreciate you. Had it not been for my initial disappointment with your addition to Clear I would have never gone through this exploration. I was not only able to see how my initial impression of you was wrong, but got to explore one of my favorite and most used apps on deeper level than I ever thought I would. As UX practitioner these are the “ah-ha” moments we live for so thank you for showing me the error of my ways and allowing me to learn something new along the way.

And to the folks at @realmacsoftware @UseClear who have cleverly designed Clear, when will the repeat feature be ready? I’m available to consult so reach out and say hi.

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