SeeSaw — an app for work-life balance

by Hydrochloric Acid


One of the most challenging times of a student’s life is their time during their post-secondary education. They’re trying to do it all, from making new friends, finishing their assignments, attending lectures as well as finding themselves. Needless to say this type of lifestyle proves quite a challenge if students want to achieve a healthy work-life balance.

Our app SeeSaw aims to solve the problem of undergraduate students struggling to achieve their desired work-life balance. More specifically, our app aims to help students balance their schoolwork with other areas in their life, such as doing a relaxing hobby or spending time with friends. Through conducting user interviews some common pain points we have determined are coping with lifestyle changes as a freshman, the unique difficulties brought on by remote learning, and balancing social lives with school. This topic is personally motivating because we too face the challenge of balancing school and life and would make use of the proposed solution ourselves.

We constructed a value proposition diagram in order to get a better understanding of how our app can identify the needs, wants and pain-points of our users. Our proposed solution is an all-in-one app that provides users the full set of tools they need to balance their lives. Some important aspects are modern and customizable UI with an easy onboarding process so users can quickly derive value and maximize their productivity gains from the app. The app specifically targets students and addresses their unique pain points. Our solution adds structure to the user’s life so that time usage can be optimized, maintain time for both work and personal life, and allow users to feel satisfied with their life despite hardships. The solution also helps users perform well academically without feeling overwhelmed or that the personal/social aspects of their lives are compromised.

Empathize & Define

Value proposition

To start out, our team reflected on our own personal experiences as students striving for work-life balance, and identified our wants, needs and fears. Some important wants included the want to feel productive, in control, and satisfied by how we spend our time. There were also more practical needs, such as passing in school and maintaining physical/mental health. Meanwhile, the key fears surrounded the possibility for an app to add more mental clutter.

From here, we defined some key things a product should accomplish, which include providing structure to one’s life in a non-disruptive manner, and provide clarity that one is meeting their goals.

Personas & empathy maps

In order to best advocate for decisions on behalf of the user, we needed to understand and prioritize the needs of our users. In order to build our understanding as a team, we used personas and empathy maps to collaboratively visualize and articulate our knowledge.

Freshman Freddie
Freshman Freddie is a 1A student who’s just started his journey at the University of Waterloo (in a world where school takes place in-person). He’s excited to make new friends and is striving to get a good start to his undergraduate career. However, he’s shocked by his new workload, and is struggling to balance his desire to make new friends with his schoolwork.

Persona and Empathy Map for Freshman Freddie

Online Olivia
Olivia is a remote student, who highly values grades but also wants to stay social. Online school is new to her, and she feels overwhelmed and lacks structure in her schedule. As a result, she spends most of her time alone in her room working, and is struggling to find time to spend time with her friends.

Persona and Empathy Map for Online Olivia

Partying Pat
Pat is an undergraduate student who lives on campus. He’s very extroverted, and loves spending time with his friends and going to parties. However, his inability to turn down invitations has caused his grades to slip. He’s worried that he’ll fail some courses this term, but wants to make sure he can still keep up with his buddies.

Persona and Empathy map for Partying Pat

Exploratory user interviews

To better understand our target users, we conducted a questionnaire & user interview with a few users representing each of the personas.

First, we had participants complete a quick questionnaire to understand their current state of work-life balance, and their attitude toward work/leisure activities. These questions included:

On average, how many hours a week do you spend on school work?

How many hours a week do you think you should be spending on school work?

What productivity apps have you used in the past?

Next, participants underwent a user interview. The goals of these questions were to probe further into what “work-life balance” meant to them, and to understand how they approach it during a school term.

These questions included:

What does work-life balance mean to you?

Walk me through the last time you felt you had great work-life balance. How did you feel? What about it made it so great?

Walk me through the last time you felt you had poor work-life balance. How did you feel? What made it so poor? What strategies did you take (or wish you took) to address it?

From the exploratory user interviews, there were three main themes:

  1. Participants struggled to find a balance between staying organized, and having a spontaneous lifestyle.
    Participants identified organization as key to productivity, and used apps & tools to achieve this. Meanwhile, they felt some unpredictability made life fun.
  2. Participants value staying connected with their loved ones, but differ on whether this counts as “work” or “life” time.
    Some liked to incorporate time with friends into their “work time” (ex. study groups, school clubs), while others felt there should be a distinct separation of time between work and life.
  3. Participants held conflicting attitudes on how much time they spent studying.
    Some noted that they felt overworked and were stretching themselves thin, but also weren’t spending enough time as they should. Despite recognizing the negative impact of stress and burnout, participants expressed that they felt guilty when not working, and that they could always be working harder to succeed.

Affinity diagram
Based on the insights from the exploratory user interviews, we built an affinity diagram to summarize the user goals, needs, and pain points.

Affinity board from exploratory user interviews

Task analysis

Next, we conducted a task analysis to identify opportunities to improve the current experience of optimizing one’s work-life balance. We identified four common needs from the user interviews:

  1. Users need to have productive study sessions
  2. Users want to plan their time in advance
  3. Users need to maintain their mental and physical well-being
  4. Users want to have meaningful and fun interactions with their friends
Task analysis for completing a study session
Task analysis for creating a weekly schedule
Task analysis for performing a daily physical health routine
Task analysis for going out to meet friends

An important insight from the task analysis is how the solution can ameliorate the user’s day-to-day life, without being intrusive or unnatural. For example, when people go out to meet their friends, the app can’t physically bring the user to their friends. However, it could help the user stay organized and be mindful of how they’re spending their time.

The analysis also helped understand the steps that can be combined/streamlined to make a task more fluid and straightforward. For each of these activities, there can be a heavy cognitive load on the user to focus on the task at hand (with all the subtasks that go with it), while keeping track of all their other commitments and responsibilities. It would be helpful for the app to help decrease this cognitive load, and make each activity of the day more efficient and enjoyable for users.


During the ideate phase of our app, we first engaged in a brainstorming phase to generate potential features that would address the goals and pain points of our users as previously outlined, taking care to cover all the personas we previously identified.

The provocation and voting step of this design activity

From this activity, we identified five features that we wanted to further explore:

1. A gamified way to keep a user and their friends accountable for productivity

Many of the interviewees identified distractions and lack of productivity as a barrier to work life balance.

2. To do list that helps users prioritize tasks based on an algorithm

Since interviewees expressed that a major obstacle to achieving their goals is a sense of being overwhelmed due to a lack of organization, this can add structure and prioritization to their workload to make tasks feel more manageable.

3. Calendar integration with to-do list and lecture notes

Interviewees highlighted that they often felt they had poor work-life balance because they were overwhelmed by the amount of tasks and deadlines they had. A calendar integration provides a visual platform for users to feel organized and allow them to stay on top of deadlines in a way that involves minimal manual effort from their side.

4. Journaling feature to promote reflection

Allows users to consistently engage in reflective and introspective thought which allows them to feel more fulfilled and less overwhelmed.

5. Activity timer

Interviewees noted that even when not working, they felt guilty and worried that they were falling behind in work. A timed reminder feature aims to offload the mental drain of worry/stress from users during their leisure time, and holds users accountable to their plans.

User Stories

Our team then identified user stories for each of these features, taking in feedback to ensure that a clear reason was accompanying each user story.

  1. A gamified way to keep a user and their friends accountable for productivity

2. To do list that helps users prioritize tasks based on an algorithm

3. Calendar integration with to-do list and lecture notes

4. Journaling feature to promote reflection

5. Activity timer


We then created storyboards for each of these features to highlight a user’s struggle and how the feature on our app helps the user resolve their problem.

1. A gamified way to keep a user and their friends accountable for productivity
2. To do list that helps users prioritize tasks based on an algorithm
3. Calendar integration with to-do list and lecture notes
4. Journaling feature to promote reflection
5. Activity timer

Sketches & User Flows

In order to brainstorm various possible layouts for our features, we engaged in a Crazy 8’s activity and then voted to choose one layout for each of the five features. We then individually drew sketches for one of the app features, keeping in mind signifier, affordance, constraints, feedback, discoverability, mapping, consistency of the interface

  1. A gamified way to keep a user and their friends accountable for productivity
Crazy 8’s Activity
Screen Sketches
User flows

2. To do list that helps users prioritize tasks based on an algorithm

Crazy 8’s Activity
Screen Sketches
User Flows

3. Calendar integration with to-do list and lecture notes

Crazy 8’s Activity
Screen Sketches
User Flows

4. Journaling feature to promote reflection

Crazy 8’s Activity
Screen Sketches
User Flows

5. Activity timer

Crazy 8’s Activity
Screen Sketches
User flow

Prototype and Test

Low-fidelity (paper) prototype and evaluation

After going through ideas upon ideas, we were finally ready to move onto the prototype and test phase of the design process. At this point, we decided to narrow down the scope and select two most feasible features that would achieve the user’s goals and motivations for work life balance. Our group decided to proceed with the journaling feature and the Pomodoro-like timer feature.

The next step was to create simple paper prototypes for these two features. The purpose of this is to quickly and cheaply create a working prototype for each feature that allows us to gather user data as soon as possible. Conducting user evaluations on the effectiveness of functionality only requires an extremely basic prototype, making paper prototypes a good choice here.

Paper prototype for the journaling feature.

The journaling feature prompts the user to rate their mood and discuss what went well or poorly throughout the day. At the end of each week, we want to provide the user with a weekly summary of their mood based on past journal entries.

Paper prototype for the Pomodoro-like timer feature.

The timer feature is an activity timer that mimics the behaviour of a Pomodoro timer, except that it can be used for both leisure and work activities. When each activity is over, users can either continue on with the rest of their activities, or they can choose to “snooze” and continue with the current activity for a bit longer.

After creating the paper prototypes, we conducted user evaluations with two target users. During these evaluations, we would explain the functionality, define a backstory for using the feature, and then give a series of tasks that the user would complete. Throughout the process, we asked questions such as:

“What do you think this screen is trying to achieve?”

“Where do you think this button will lead?”

“Do these options make sense to you?”

The findings of our user evaluations were quite surprising. For the journal feature, participants felt that there was much left to be desired. Participants were interested in seeing analytics or trends about their past journal entries, and wanted to see actionable recommendations based on their mood.

For the activity timer, participants reported a great amount of confusion about the flow of the feature, and lacked understanding on the purpose of the feature. Participants also felt guilt tripped by constant reminders of their remaining tasks — something that we did not expect.

Based on the feedback from our user evaluations, we had a lot of improvements to implement in the next stage. Participants experienced a lot more confusion than anticipated and we would have to redesign with this in mind.

High-fidelity prototype and evaluation

At last, we have arrived at the very last stage of our design process — creating the final, high fidelity prototype! It was now time to decide high level details about our app, such as our app name, theme colours, fonts, and a logo.

The name (and logo) that we decided to go with for our app is Seesaw.

A seesaw represents balance but also acknowledges the ups and downs of life, which is exactly what we believe work life balance is about.

We chose a minimal colour scheme that focuses on the colour purple as an accent.

Purple represents wisdom and reflection.

It can represent ambition and wealth, but also peace and independence, serving as a reflective colour that is a balance between different characteristics.

After incorporating feedback from our paper prototype evaluations, we created our first draft of our final high fidelity prototype:

First high fidelity prototype for SeeSaw

Finally, we completed our final user evaluations — a heuristic evaluation, and a cognitive evaluation. A heuristic evaluation involves identifying key heuristics in which we want to test our app against and allowing the user to evaluate how well our app follows these heuristics. We identified these heuristics to be key to our app:

  • User control and freedom — i.e. allow backward steps, undoing
  • Match between app and the real world — i.e. information is presented similar to user’s everyday language and experiences
  • Recognition rather than recall — i.e. minimize cognitive load by showing only relevant information
  • Flexibility and efficiency of use
  • Aesthetic and minimalist design

Overall, we found that our app met most of the minimum requirements for each heuristic, but participants had many UI suggestions for how each heuristic could be further improved. This is a good first step for our app, but we can see that there is much to be added in order to take our app to the next level!

The purpose of a cognitive walkthrough is to assess if our feature is cognitively straightforward enough for the user to walk through it autonomously. This consists of providing the participant with a task to achieve, and then asking a series of questions throughout each step. At each step, we ask the participant a series of questions:

Will the user try and achieve the right outcome?

Will the user notice that the correct action is available to them?

Will the user associate the correct action with the outcome they expect to achieve?

If the correct action is performed, will the user see that progress is being made towards their intended outcome?

Overall, we found that the participant had positive results with the cognitive walkthrough. For almost every step in each task, the user was able autonomously navigate with minimal confusion. This was a huge improvement from our previous paper prototype evaluations.


Overall, iterating over the design process has allowed SeeSaw to come a long way from the basic idea we started off with. Through the empathize step, we were able to better understand our users, their pain points, and where we could deliver value to them through our application. This gave us direction in our design. In the define step, we tried to drill down into the specific needs and tasks of our users to determine which flows we could build to benefit them. This gave us focus. In the ideate step, we envisioned user stories and storyboards to visualize what our users wanted to do, and brainstormed ideas. This made our designs come alive. Finally, we iterated through the prototype and test steps repeatedly to actualize our design and improve it based on user input. We were able to polish our app and come up with a refined final product. One big takeaway was that the design process is not linear: it requires iterating, reiterating, and improving previous steps based on feedback.

All that said, the design of our application is not perfect. Because we have only completed the full design process and built the hi-fi prototype for one feature, the activity timer, SeeSaw is nowhere near a complete app. It is important to remember that as new features and flows are added, they can change how previous flows interact, requiring us to reconsider the design process for the activity timer. Moreover, we’d like to engage in more user testing once additional features of the application are designed to ensure that user flows are cohesive and consistent. The design process is never complete! Overall, we are proud of the work we were able to accomplish, and believe an app like SeeSaw could deliver real value to students in a way that has not yet been explored.



Team projects in CS 449/649 — Human Computer Interaction — at the University of Waterloo

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