Design Exploration into Daily Journal App

I had an idea for a unique journal keeping app. This is a case study of my design process for that idea.

1. Problem

I was hiking across a canyon and taking in a stunning view when I had a realization.

I realized I have experienced a lot of things in my life, but only remember a very limited amount.

I don’t take a ton of photos and I am not a huge social media sharer, so a great chunk of my memories go uncaptured. I also felt this was applicable across my group of friends.

One possible solution for this problem was the idea of keeping a journal.

My next two thoughts were:

Why don’t more people keep a journal?
Could I think of a different journaling concept that could be turned into a successful app?

Why don’t more people keep a journal?

In my opinion, there are three reasons people don’t keep a journal:

  • Lack of value — People feel that keeping a journal isn’t worth the perceived amount of effort associated with journaling on a regular basis.
  • Time-Consuming — People perceive that keeping a journal involves taking a large amount of time out of their day.
  • Issues of Consistency —It is easy to an entry for a day or two, which turns into weeks, which ultimately turns into abandonment.

Could I think of a different journaling concept that could be turned into a successful app?

I chose to focus my efforts on the idea that keeping a journal was too time-consuming. Focusing on finding a solution that took less time and effort allowed me to:

Increase the value of journaling by lowering the barriers to action

Consider the equation Value = Benefit — Cost.

While I felt that increasing the benefit (people’s desire to journal) would be a difficult task, I did believe that lowering the cost (amount of effort required) could be a possibility.

2. Initial Research

I spent a few hours looking through existing journal/diary keeping app and web products.

After a while, I came away with a key realization:

All of the existing journal apps attempt to increase the ease of journaling by improving the medium for journaling.

Some journal apps added additional features such as photo and voice recording attachments. Other apps offered the ability to create journal entries from multiple channels such as text message and email. Other journal apps focused on providing as clean and simple of an interface as possible.

None of the competitors I researched actually directly address the problem that writing a journal entry is perceived to take a significant amount of time.

3. Features Conception

What can we do to reduce the overall perceived effort and time required for journaling would lead more people to do it on a regular basis?

Character Limit

Two ideas for features that could directly address the amount of time perceived with journaling included:

  1. Limiting the amount of time each user has to make a journal entry
  2. Limiting the amount of characters each user has to make a journal entry

I worried that adding a time constraint would be an added burden for first-time journal keepers. A character limit seemed a much simpler concept, especially with the prevalence of Twitter.

I immediately tested this by writing an entry for my current day, limiting myself to 100 characters.

I immediately realized that this fundamentally changed the way journal entries are made because I was forced to use keywords and short phrases to summarize my day.

These keywords acted as psychological anchors that would allow me to remember the rest of my day.

Social Component

My research had led to an unforeseen result: I believed that my “keyword-style” entries had entered a fun, new territory for journaling. I felt my entries were still quite personal, but I would be open to sharing some of these entries to my closest group of 4–5 friends.

Most journal apps are designed as “a place for user to keep their secret and private thoughts.” Instead, I thought this app should be designed with the idea of “an app to help you remember the details of your life” first — with the notion of protecting private thoughts secondary.

Given the change in mindset from “harboring secrets” to “remembering more things,” I felt that adding a social component would be appropriate and help increase engagement.

4. Customer Validation and MVP Testing

At approximately 2/3 the length of a tweet, I believed the concept would give off an impression that this would be extremely easy to maintain on a daily basis.

The next big question was: Does keeping a journal in this manner actually provide enough value?

Before I spec’ed out the app and hired an offshore developer (Read: tried to beg my developer friend to build this with me), I wanted to first test and validate that keeping daily entries of 100 characters actually added value. I wanted to test:

  1. If people would read their own past entries and say, “Wow, this is pretty useful.”
  2. If people were able to make entries quickly and consistently.
  3. Would people be willing to share their personal entries with their closest friends.
  4. Whether or not their closest friends would find their entries useful/cool/interesting.

In order to test this, I contacted a few friends to give them an overview of my idea. I then asked them to use the “Notes” app on their iPhone and record daily their:

  1. Date
  2. Location
  3. Summaries of their day using keywords and taking up three lines of text. (Three lines served as a close proxy to a 100 character limit.)
Screenshot of Notes App Entries

I asked them to set up a daily Google Calendar alert to remind them to make a daily entry. I also told them they could keep their journals private if they wanted, but I would be interested in reading their entries if they were willing to share.

5. Low-Fidelity Wireframe and App Quotes

After several weeks of testing the concept, I heard from my friends that:

the entries were fun to share and look back on — and that the journaling itself was easy to do each day.
Catching up with one of my friends who agreed to test this journal concept

I’ve built iOS prototypes but I knew I did not know enough to build the social component of this app. I wanted to see how much it would cost for an external developer to build this app.

It took me about an hour to get a basic wireframe down. I did the bare minimum to help put together the essential features and ideas of the app so I could start receiving cost estimates from developers on Upwork.

Crap.

Even developers at $10/hour were quoting me a final project cost upwards of $2000. I was hoping for something closer in the ballpark of… $500?

6. High-Fidelity Wireframes

I went to a non-coding Hackathon called Protohack as a single-person team. I figured this was a great excuse for me to block out some time and make a high-fidelity version of my wireframes.

While I didn’t win the hackathon, I was able to complete the majority of my app’s wireframes. Here’s a link to my presentation from that Hackathon. (Keep in mind I was only allowed 90 seconds of presentation time)

Conclusion

I began my research trying to figure out why more people don’t journal on a regular basis. Initial testing showed that reducing the effort for journaling did indeed lead to increased usage overall.

People commented that these journal snippets could easily become part of their daily routines. They enjoyed that the daily journals helped them remember things they would’ve otherwise forgotten — and they equally had fun reading their friends’ entries each day.

I see many use cases for this app. People could use it to help remember several details about their day they would have otherwise forgotten or to simply keep in touch with their friends. I can even imagine someone looking back over their entries to help them write a memoir or just to tell a funny story to their grandkids.

So what’s the next step for the app? This was a small concept that I had fun exploring and have now set aside. But if you happen to know any developers who would be interested in partnering on this project, feel free to send them my way. ;)