Flow— A productivity app case study

What’s Productivity and how can we help improve it?

It’s that kind of day again: you have your laptop opened in front of you, the morning murmurs of your colleagues chatting and the clinking of the teaspoons amid the aroma of coffee. You looked at the screen in front of you and… you just don’t know what you should work on first.

You started chatting with your colleagues, looked through your emails, popped on your headphones, but you are still not going anywhere.

There is always this kind of day for everyone. But how do we get around it?

Based on the definition from an official source:

Productivity (Noun); The effectiveness of productive effort, especially in industry, as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input. 
— Oxford Dictionary

Everyone has a different definition of being productive. Similar as each user’s definition may be, everyone has their own little rituals to get about the productiveness. No one individual has the exact same method. And that was where I directed my user research on.


The Challenge

The brief simply put, is to define a problem based on the selected topic — which is Productivity and find a solution that can be solved simply and effectively with a mobile app.


The Approach

Consumer insights & ideation

Through few rounds of user interviews, I uncovered valuable insights to drive the ideation phase.

Experience strategy & vision

Simplicity, focus and utility was considered as the new proposed solution and prototype was created to share the vision and content strategy.

Here and beyond

If we had to improve productivity, finding ways to simplify and integrate platforms or services would create a more intuitive and polished product.


Consumer insights & ideation

User Research

The discovery phase was a quick, high‐intensity effort that allowed me to get a broad overview of the topic. I wanted to discover how people:

  1. Define productivity
  2. Manage their productivity level
  3. Manage their daily life

To quickly identify opportunities and gaps, I delved into understanding user needs, behaviours and pain‐points when managing productivity. I also kicked off a competitors discovery phase to understand the superiority or constraints of existing apps.

I prepared a script with a series of questions and scenarios that I would post to the interviewees. The questions were framed in a way that you asked about facts and past behaviour and always keeping it open ended.

“Improvisation is the key to discovering user behaviours”

The questions drafted in my script helped to kickstart the conversation. Throughout the seven interviews I had, the conversations never stayed as scripted. What was important is to always be curious and improvise and ask open-ended (this is very important) questions. My learning from this is that, simply having a script is not enough. It would be more helpful if we write down a few key pointers that we are interested in. This would better help during the interview than having to always refer back to the script of questions.

Interview session with Tom

Primary Findings

The interviews findings were dissected down onto individual pieces of paper, arranged and grouped together by the context/behaviour/pain points.

The research revealed that the concept of managing work-related productivity is different to users and organisations, hinting the interview to move towards a more personal level than organisation level.

“Every company has their own set of rules to follow and we can’t use any collaboration tools we like.” — Wilson, 31
  1. Each organisations has their own set of applications/tools to enhance collaboration and productivity
  2. Simplicity is what get things done quicker
  3. Good planning is important to kickstart a project
  4. Bad planning or unforeseen tasks creates chaos and stress
  5. Many of them has a clear distinction between Work and Play
“I feel the most unproductive when there is no proper planning of the tasks or when I procrastinate” — Jasmine, Visual Designer
Affinity mapping

Synthesising behaviours from our research served as a lens through which we could consider not only what the app should do, but also how it should make the user feel. I believed this would be the difference between delivering a good experience and a great one. Thinking about emotional design early on can help our consumers address problem deeper than surface level. This led me to identify these three key takeaways:

Experience strategy & vision

Prioritising is the key to improve productivity.
Some tasks may be forgotten and some may not be completed. Individuals need a way to allow flexibility when it comes to organising their schedules.
  1. Setting priorities allows us to decide which tasks we really need to focus on and which need to be rescheduled, ignored or assigned to someone else. If the project isn’t explicitly laid out, it’s easy to spin your wheels or procrastinate.
  2. Unforeseen tasks breaks the momentum. Unclear goals break the flow. If one have to stop working to think about the strategy, it is context switching and adding unnecessary mental fatigue.
  3. Forgetting is not an excuse, it is a root cause of our productivity issues. Humans are terrible at multitasking and when one is overwhelmed with work, they tend to forget the less urgent matters.

The Proposed solution

A streamlined, fluid experience was designed to make managing and prioritising current or new tasks an ease.

The gesture to drag and adjust the schedule simplifies schedule planning and allows the flexibility of adding new tasks to the flow. Unfulfilled tasks are also seamlessly brought over to the next calendar day, reducing the effort to input it all over again. A timely reminder, recommended/nearby places, countdown timer add to the efficiency of the app.

After identifying the solution, I got down to my user flow before translating them into mid-fi prototype.

User flow — Default scenario

User flow — Adding new task(s)

Mid-fi prototype

The crafted solution is a digital strategy that not only addresses immediate needs, but reaches beyond and into the other needs of the user.

Future development

  • Syncing Flow app with Google calendar, reminders, etc
  • Health/motivational reminder add-ons
  • Geo-location reminders

Final Thoughts

Productivity resonate with people on a rational and on an emotional level. An app can be 100% usable and logical to the end-user, but people may still have no interest in using it. Sometimes we think UX is all about finding a direct solution to the most visible problem. But we can’t underestimate the irrational side of people, the emotional and the unnecessary external factors.

It is easy for new UX designers to forget scalability at work. We focused too much on finding the best solution for the current problem, not so much for how the product will grow in the future. Hence, we wouldn’t put much efforts on the lifecycle of a product, figuring out how it evolves as time passes by. Having the opportunity to do usability testing will help to make us think more and do further evaluation of our solution.

After working in the advertising industry for 5 years, it is hard not to use my art director’s frame of thought. As an art director, you always focus on the aesthetics and wants people to remember how beautiful they look. It still takes mental reminder daily to stop myself from focusing so much on the visible part of things.

But as a UX designer, our best work will be invisible. The best part of what you do will be everything that takes place behind the scenes, where nobody will ever see it.

Till next time.