Understanding Our Virtual Homes

Soonho Kwon
4 min readFeb 1, 2018


Environments Studio IV, Spring 2018
Intelligence in Environments: Design, Behavior, and Social Interactions

Beginning Thoughts

In 2007, the first iPhone was released with iOS 1. This operating system came with something called the Home Screen.

In a time where smartphone usage is at an all-time high, I thought it would be interesting to comprehend how people design their phone home screens, and how that relates to the usage of the phones.

It would also be interesting to further understand any correlations between the home screen setup and the desktop screens on computers.

As you can see by this past week’s statistics, the screen time on my phone has been used differently for different apps.

My home screen architecture does not remind me of this distribution. Why is that?

Navigating the Home —

Swipes, Taps and Search from the base home.

Swipe, Tap, and Search make up the primary ways to navigate the mobile home environment.

How to Research —

These are some of the questions I had during my research considerations.

Morning phone routine?

Should I study the friction between a phone setup and the navigation?

Does setup even impact usage in any way?

  • Trying to use something less
  • Trying to make frequent apps more accessible.

Where is the logic in the setup process? (There is no apparent logic or intelligence involved other than the system default)

  • Some people organize by color.
  • Some people categorize.

Some of my friends can access their most used apps with their eyes closed. What does this mean?

  • It might imply that the setup doesn’t matter as much as expected?

Interesting because the first download is seemingly the only opportunity to really change the positioning the item.

Do the heuristics that guide the environment setup translate to the usage of the home itself?

Dock is the structure. Spotlight is the service. There is shear between the two. In the laptop environment, there are shearing layers between the dock and the spotlight search.

How will the iPhone home service change over time? (Conversational UI? Brain UI?)

Going to an app and not realizing why is similar to entering a room in a home and forgetting why you went there.

Metaphor: Home as Home? What does this highlight/ hide? What truth does this tell?

Could I make a xy plot on organizational chaos vs. purpose of phone.

Herbert Simon—decisions made not on optimum, but first functional model.

I collected close to 20 different “mobile home” environments during my research phase.

Conducting Research —

For my research, I interviewed 10 different people and collected ~20 phone screenshots.


For each of my interviews, I asked about the organizational logic/ heuristic behind the home screen of the owner, as well as the navigational heuristics. I asked about the frequency of reorganization, deletion and downloading of apps. I asked about how long they have had their devices, and how long their heuristics were active for. Sometimes, I asked them to draw from memory their setups.

Having people recall their setups with paper.

I also did an exercise/ test for each person where they had to navigate to several apps of my choosing whilst having their eyes closed. This tested spatial memory for apps of different levels of usage.


The screenshots were supplements to help me identify stronger patterns between organizational logic/ heuristics.

Insights —

  1. For apps of frequent usage (Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc.), the organizational heuristics did not matter after a short amount of time, as the frequency of use resulted in a highly accurate spatial memory anyways.
  2. For apps of infrequent usage, heuristics were useful for long spans of time.
  3. Many people were fine with having a chaotic home screen, as they were only seen by themselves. This is different than a home, where we often clean for the sake of others.
  4. There seem to be four main camps for organizational heuristic: categories, color, loose spatial organization, and total chaos.
  5. There seem to be two navigational heuristics: tap to access, and search to access. In my interviews, Siri is never used to access apps.