Going into my first project in General Assembly’s User Experience Design Immersive course we (course students) were told to find a partner and discuss various aspects of our lives where we experience issues. We were instructed to pick one of our partners problematic areas and attempt to research it, synthesis our findings, explore potential solutions, prototype and test them, reiterate and present them to the class. For a partner I picked, now my new friend and co-thinker, @Freddie Vitale. Freddie shared with me several issues and scenarios he experiences often, from these, I chose the subject of time management. Freddie described various instances where in the midst of a task, he lost track of time, and all of a sudden it’s 5am and he still hasn’t addressed the rest of his day’s tasks. He explained that this would cause him to get “backed-up” by the rest of the tasks and would interfere with his original deadlines and schedule.
Following the discussion, we were asked to create guiding questions for a 30 minute interview surrounding the topic. I conducted 3 interviews with fellow course-mates regarding different scenarios they experienced, their time-management habits and obstacles they might face along the way. These went surprisingly well and from them I eventually managed to extract information that seemed interesting, relevant to understanding the different subject’s different problems, and elements that suggested reoccurring patterns or themes. After this, I proceeded to create an affinity map consisting of sticky notes with subject quotes, scenario descriptions and thoughts.
After creating the map, I gradually began to notice and document different observations and recurring themes. From these I understood the various methods my subjects most commonly use for managing their time. All interviewees described using hierarchical lists, some said they use calendars, everyone described following certain ‘rules of thumb’, some claimed they set deadlines, and one explained he prefers being more flexible and adaptable to his constantly changing environment than managing a rigid schedule.
After understanding the different methods, I began recognizing the different problems the subjects were experiencing. As described by Freddie, the first issue was losing track of time in the middle of a task, later leading to over-investment of time in one task and to him not being able to the rest on the day’s tasks, later leading to problems with the next day’s deadlines and schedules. The second issue was described by Freddie as well, he explained he often finds it hard to “break away” from one task and move on to another, even when explicitly reminded to do so. The third issue Freddie shared was that he finds certain times in the day ineffective for certain tasks, specifically performing tasks involving critical thinking in the morning.
The fourth issue was experienced by a different subject, she described a difficulty to get herself to even start certain tasks, later claiming that once she started, “things usually got better”.
The fifth problematic scenario described, by another subject, where expected deliverables changed in the middle of a project, not leaving him enough time to meet the original and expected deadline. The final obstacle, described by the same subject, was his tendency to get caught up on and obsess over minute details when he has significantly more time than required for a certain task or list of tasks. He later explained that this often leads to overthinking and self-doubt and sometimes even subsequent decreased performance.
From the various methods and obstacles described I later derived various insights, these were:
a) Awareness and understanding of different time-management methods is crucial to catering to the people that use them.
b) Even though often not easy, efficient time management is a crucial element in helping one successfully meet deadlines, make sure all important tasks get done, arrive at meetings on time and more. Obviously, these are all often pertinent to achieving success in various fields in one’s life. This renders finding a solution for easier, more efficient time-management a highly important issue to tackle.
c) The most common reason people often find time-management difficult is because that they have a hard time defining and sticking to their allotted time slots. These difficulties often arise due to personal, environmental or social factors.
From these insights, I defined design principles — These included:
a) The solution should take into account people’s various time-management methods without forcing them to change them significantly, only finding ways to enhance them and help fight the obstacles they might experience.
*wait for it…*
b) The solution should help users easier and more efficiently manage their time.
The design principles defined then lead to a design mandate:
The solution will help users organize and time their tasks. It will inform users when to start and finish tasks, as well as how much time they have left during different stages of the designated task time. This aims to help users stay aligned with their schedules.
From the design mandate and following a brainstorming process resulting in various concepts and layouts (some involving discussion with peers), a proposed solution was created: A task/schedule manager app that utilizes priority-based lists, user-designated task time slots, and give users notifications prompting users to start/finish a task and informing them of the time they have left in different stages of the task.
Soon after, I created basic sketches, which then turned into a more solid layout, wireframe and eventually prototype. With this prototype, I did several rounds of basic user-testing. The concept and interface was overall well-accepted and understood by users, but testing did eventually lead to a few new features and some small changes in layout and design. Here is the design post-iteration:
After reiterating and re-sketching the screens several times, I eventually decided to stick with the design shown above and proceeded to create my presentation about the process.
Initially, creating the presentation was a bit tough, I found thinking of how to tell a story of a whole densely packed week of researching, designing and testing in a 5 minute window a bit of a daunting task, but eventually it started to feel like it made more sense and became even an enjoyable process.
I rehearsed presenting during the time left for the weekend, and come morning, when my turn, presented.
Considering the fact that I hardly have any presentation experience, needless to say, it made me pretty anxious to present — and it sure did show.
Nonetheless, after some technical difficulties, sweaty palms, rushing through the slides to make it on time (5 minutes + 2 extra if needed) and a share of anxiety-driven and awkward moments my class and I had to persevere, I eventually managed to finish my presentation. Even though far from perfect , I consider it a success. Needless to say, I wish to improve substantially at presenting my work as I consider it an integral part of the design process.
Following was instructor and student feedback, which lead me to think about several issues in design and concept, like users having to (at least try to) estimate the amount of time needed for each task, or the fact that when stressed, focused on finishing a task, and maybe even not managing to meet original deadlines, users might not necessarily be too inclined to fiddle around with their phones in attempt to add time designated for a task and change their schedule. These would be topics I am still am still slightly perplexed by the question of how to solve them and would like to further explore possible solutions to through more in-depth research and user-testing. In addition, following this process, I would eventually like to create higher fidelity screens for a more rich prototyping experience and further testing.