HCI & Design at UW
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HCI & Design at UW

Original photo by Max Charping

What can we learn from period tracking?

How we did it

  1. We looked at reviews from the most reviewed smartphone apps in the marketplace, such as Clue, Glow, and P. Tracker. All in all, we read 2,000 different app reviews from the Apple App Store and Android Market.
  2. We posted a survey asking people why and how they track their periods, and how they feel about the tools that they use. We got responses from 687 people, who we recruited from our Facebook and Twitter networks and a post to the r/teenagers subreddit.
  3. We found survey participants who had unique experiences and talked to them in more detail. We did follow-up interviews with 12 survey participants who were part of a minority in our dataset (racial, gender, or sexual minorities), or had an otherwise unusual experience tracking (like a health issue). We did this to hear perspectives which might not have shown up in the rest of our data.

A note about ethics

A note about limitations

Why people track

  1. To be aware of how their body is doing
  2. To understand their body’s reactions to different phases of their cycle
  3. To be prepared
  4. To become pregnant
  5. To have better conversations with healthcare providers

“my mother just taught me [tracking] was the thing you did. I don’t think there was ever any real explanation for why.”

“I didn’t really think much about it. [tracking] was almost like a routine.”

Body Awareness

it’s a huge help in really getting to know your body.

Understanding Reactions

sometimes I’m really emotional and irrational and I can look at my tracker, see that my period is due in a week or less and chill out and realize I’m PMSing instead of having real feelings.

Being prepared

I can literally plan my vacations and excursions around my time

I also plan alone time with my husband based on when my period comes… i.e. hotels without kids”.

Becoming pregnant

when I was younger I used to just remember. When I started trying for a baby, it became important to know my fertile times.

Inform conversations with doctors

it’s great because it lets me record unusual symptoms and then I can remember them for my doctor visits.

How people track

  1. Smartphone apps
  2. Digital calendars
  3. Writing in paper diaries
  4. Following cues in their birth control
  5. Noticing symptoms (like physical sensitivity or cramps)
  6. Remembering
A table showing the percentage of respondents in each age group who said that they used each tool. Overall, 47% of respondents used a phone app, 12% used a digital calendar, 8% used a paper calendar, 12% used their birth control, 7% cued off of early symptoms, 19% remembered, and 11% did not track at all.

Phone Apps

my memory is awful, so I like keeping track using a dedicated app

I used to use a calendar when I was a teenager…, [I] started using the app soon after I got a smartphone

Digital Calendars

I use Google Calendar for other appointments, so this made sense to keep everything tracked together.

Paper Diaries and Calendars

In the 90’s it was the only option. [I] got used to it. I’m too lazy to search for an app.

my mom uses this method and she recommended it to me.

Following Hormonal Birth Control

when my pills are gone for the month, I know my period is coming.

the approach of the [placebo] brown pills signal the approach of my period.

Noticing Early Symptoms and Physical Changes

from the onset of soreness I give myself a few days, and then I’m on high alert.

I get depressed and moody a few days before I start… I am able to recognize these emotions as a period coming.

Remembering

I just remember the date when my last period started and count ahead ~25–30 days

I try to remember what I was doing the day it started the prior month and extrapolate from there.

Not Keeping Track

“[I] keep tampons at home and in my car all the time”

“I do nothing at all. It leads to quite a few ruined pairs of underwear.”

Why this matters

Acknowledgements

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Stories about research and teaching from the Design Use Build group at the University of Washington. http://dub.uw.edu

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Nikki Lee

Designer, engineer, maker-of-things. Product manager building a better government at 18F.