Project Overview

Executive Summary

This is a project I completed in my Interaction Design 1 class taught by Dr. Michael Lahey. The goal was to learn Goal Directed Design and then create an app using that methodology. I was the team leader for the project and worked with two students to create a mobile application that helps users organize and complete their work. The inspiration for the app is the Pomodoro Technique by Francesco Cirillo. This technique emphasizes daily organization and focused work sessions paired with short breaks to improve productivity.

Challenges

  • Navigating through the chaos caused by the Coronavirus pandemic and the abrupt switch to a completely online workflow
  • Converting the paper based Pomodoro Technique to a digital structure
  • Distinguishing our app from all other productivity tools
  • Improving student productivity and focus

Duration

February 11th, 2020 to May 1st, 2020
2 months and 21 days

Team Members

  • Ridge Liggin
  • Stephanie Epeagba
  • Erica Hester

My Role: Team Leader

As the team leader, I was responsible for explaining the initial idea, keeping everyone informed, and submitting final products. Thankfully, my team members were absolutely exceptional and we never had major disputes or work imbalances.

Regarding project tasks, I focused on researching and explaining the Pomodoro Technique, designing the persona document, illustrating our pedagogical agent, creating micro-animations, and managing the entire high-fidelity prototype.

Important Documents

I explain these documents later on, but they are here for quick access.

The two gray buttons will open PDF files. The blue button will open our Figma prototype.

Goal Directed Design

Explanation of the Design Process

This class, Interaction Design 1, is built around Goal Directed Design. I will briefly explain the process to viewers that are unfamiliar with the process.

Goal Directed Design is a user-centered methodology developed by Alan Cooper. We used the fourth edition of his book, About Face, to learn and implement the entire process. This process cab be roughly divided into the six phases seen below.

This design method provide a strict, systematic process to bridge the gap between research and a final design. This is done with techniques from ethnography, stakeholder interviews, market research, detailed user models, scenario-based design, and core interaction principles. Every decision must be clearly supported in the comprehensive research. Design is not guesswork.


By thoroughly implementing this process, solutions are found that meet the user's needs and goals while also addressing business, organizational, and technical imperatives.

Benefits of Goal Directed Design

  • Clear definitions of user goals and needs are created and supported by extensive research
  • The final design is built to support the user without disregarding business constraints and motivations.
  • Concrete citations are available for every design decision when presenting the final product to stakeholders

The six phases of Goal Directed Design

My Original Idea

Idiomatic Note Taking Tool

My original idea was not for a time management app. It was originally a note taking tool. I spent hours developing a comprehensive pitch presentation and concrete ideas for the project. When I pitch an idea, I treat it like I'm presenting to investors that have to be convinced of my idea's feasibility and viability. I want to prove to my audience that I have a plan and am capable of leading a successful team. I devote this amount of rigor to a pitch because I would expect the same out of a group leader that I might work with. You can see the details I cover in my original pitch presentation through the button below.

My idea was chosen as one of about ten projects in the class. Every student voted on the project they want to work on. My project won votes from two classmates; Erica Hester and Stephanie Epeagba. I had never worked with them but knew they both were competent designers.

A Big Challenge Early On

In my pitch presentation, I didn't specify a device size. I thought that we could choose mobile or desktop. However, Dr. Lahey later told my group that it had to be a mobile app. This was a killing blow for my original idea. The fundamental purpose was to take complex notes and supporting nonlinear thinking. This absolutely could not be done on a phone. Therefore, I had to scrap this idea and come up with something new. I was frustrated that I had to throw out hours of planning, but I had two students counting on me to come up with something that's equally compelling. As team leader, it was my fault for not confirming the form factor and my responsibility for coming up with a new idea. Thankfully, I was able to successfully generate a great idea in a couple days.

The problem statement for my original idea

My creative process for formulating my original idea

The Pomodoro Technique

My Introduction to Pomodoro

I was first introduced to the Pomodoro Technique by Professor Leslie Hankey in my Productivity and Tools class. She was showing us a variety of productivity tools and I immediately loved the Pomodoro technique.

Summary of the Process

The Pomodoro Technique is designed to help users organize their responsibilities and work in focused sprints throughout the day. At the core of the technique is a personal timebox, or brief 25 minute burst of focused activity. This is covered in the tracking section of the 5 stages.

But there is much more than simply timing yourself as you work. Users follow a chronological process to identify, filter, and prioritize activities.
The majority of this information comes from the book, Pomodoro Technique Illustrated, by Staffan Nöteberg. The author is a friend of Francesco Cirillo, the creator of the Pomodoro Technique. I read the entire book to learn the original process in detail and apply it correctly to our app.

As of Summer, 2020, ORO would be the only app on any marketplace that applies the Pomodoro Technique as the creator Francesco Cirillo intended. Every other Pomodoro based app we reviewed failed to apply the process in its entirety.

The three core pages of ORO are based on the Pomodoro Technique

A flyer covering the simplified steps of the Pomodoro Technique

5 Stages

  • Planning: Write down everything you have get done. This list is called your activity inventory. Every day, extract the most important tasks from your activity inventory. Put these items on another list called to-do today. By placing tasks on this list, you are making a promise to yourself that you will complete everything on this list by the end of the day.
  • Tracking: Once you've decided on your activities for the day, set a timer for 25 minutes and start working on the first task. During every 25 minute timebox, called a pomo, collect basic process metrics. This could be the number of distractions or the number of pomos you complete in a day.  After each pomo, you take a 5 minute break to relax and see the bigger picture. Several pomos make up a session. Sessions are generally composed of 3 pomos and 2 breaks.
  • Recording: At the end of the day, you file your daily observations on the records sheet. Any process metrics are placed here.
  • Processing: After recording, you convert the raw data into information. You may calculate how many interruptions you get in an average 25-minute pomo.
  • Visualizing: Finally, you organize the information in a way that helps you see how to improve your process. This is like a daily retrospective where you consider how to make your workflow more efficient.

1. Research

Purpose

The goal of research in Goal Directed Design is to absorb as much relevant information as possible to inform our design decisions. The majority of data collected is qualitative because this provides the most insight into participant behaviors and goals. This qualitative data will be condensed and used for the rest of the process. Getting research right the first time makes everything else easier. The deliverable of the research phase is an extensive research report.

Steps of The Research Phase

  • Kickoff Meeting
  • Literature Review
  • Competitive Audit
  • Stakeholder Interviews
  • Subject Matter Expert Interviews
  • User Interviews

A collection of covers from our research report. The full report can be seen here.

Kickoff Meeting

A Kickoff Meeting is essential to starting projects off on the path to success. In this meeting, all team members will develop a common understanding of necessary tasks, goals, and expectations. For this project, we didn't have a traditional kickoff meeting because the idea was student generated and without a company. Despite the lack of normal stakeholders, we still held this meeting. Dr. Lahey gave us a worksheet to review common stakeholder topics. You can view the completed worksheet as a PDF here.

This worksheet was created for our team to answer questions that would realistically arise in a traditional Kickoff meeting. We gather basic insight on our product, its potential users, and any challenges we may face.



Developing a Problem Statement:
Kickoff meetings always includes a problem statement. A problem statement essentially defines the purpose of the design initiative and concisely reflects a situation that needs changing. It identifies a cause-and-effect relationship that exists between business concerns and user concerns.

Topics Discussed during Kickoff:

  • Starting Assumptions: These are initial assumptions about the product domain, context, and audience. We assume that our users are 18 to 35 year old male college students taking classes on the Marietta campus of Kennesaw State University. Our product will be an assistant to help them accomplish daily tasks.
  • Aesthetic Considerations: We will be using the aesthetic and usability standards from Google’s Material Design. Behavior must be predictable, consistent, familiar, and learnable.
  • Product Functionality and Posture: Our product must include the basic features of a “to-do list” application. Users will be able to save, delete, and undo their actions while keeping track of any changes made along the way. They will be able to create categories, lists and hierarchies as well as customized their interface colors and layout. One of the main features will be the use of reminders, alerts, and timers while completing tasks.

Our brainstorming process based on my design I created for app ideation

Our Problem Statement

The current state of productivity apps has focused primarily on static lists and basic timers. What existing products and services fail to address is psychological factors to improve productivity. Our product will address this gap by consulting psychological experts to employ proven methods to optimize productivity.
  • Product Benefits: The main thing users want is to get things done. They want to keep track of their daily tasks and complete them as efficiently as possible. Perhaps most important, they want to feel good and proud which being productive. Things like poor time management, fear of failure, disorganization, lack of motivation, and stress can get in the way of this goal. Our app would battle these factors by utilizing psychology to make individuals want to use the app and want to accomplish their goals. The app will hold the user accountable for the tasks that they do or do not complete.

Literature Review

The literature review is a crucial step in Goal Directed Design because it gives us primary source information on our product domain. It taught us the right way to do the Pomodoro Technique as well as current psychological opinions on student motivation, engagement, and note taking behaviors. The literature review is also important for preparing questions for stakeholders and subject matter experts later in the research phase. I chose to conduct most of the literature review while Erica and Stephanie did the competitive audit.

Most of the literature we reviewed came from peer reviewed papers from universities around the world. By using academic papers as source material, we add validity to our design claims that are based on this knowledge.

Important Findings:

  • student engagement can be defined in terms of ‘belonging.’
  • Engaged students are those who value their relationships with peers and with teachers, and who see school as an important part of their life. On the other hand, disengaged or disaffected students report feeling they do not belong and tend to dismiss schooling.

Competitive Audit

This step allows us to gauge our competition and identify domain standards. We reviewed about fifteen apps and wrote in detail about five. We covered description, key features, weaknesses, and final thoughts. The decision on five apps was based on popularity and reviews. The largest revelation was the discovery that not a single app correctly does the Pomodoro Technique.

I'll briefly go over the common strengths and weaknesses we found. For the full overview of these apps, please check the research report.

Strengths

  • Four out of five apps had a timer and list making function
  • Tasks and lists can be tagged, renamed, and categorized

Weaknesses

  • Either too minimal or too overwhelming with the amount of features
  • No explicit psychological motivation to complete tasks

Stakeholder Interviews

A stakeholder is someone that holds authority and/or responsibility for the product being designed. In this step, we would normally conduct stakeholder interviews to gather information on the product vision, budget and schedule, technical constraints, business goals, and perception of the users.

Due to this being a class project, we did not have real stakeholders to interview, however we still recognize this information as crucial for the success of the project. In order to obtain the necessary information we would have received from a stakeholder interview, we used a worksheet provided to us by our professor. I'll go through the questions and answers from that document.

Preliminary product vision

Here, we considered the full scope of the project to make sure we all knew what we were working to achieve. What type of tasks users would be working on and why they would be working on them?

Since the age range was established to be 18-35, most users would keep track of homework assignments in college, side projects, life events, and chores. They may choose to complete these tasks to avoid failure, appear busy, pass time or relieve stress.

We categorized the methods users stay organized which included the use of both physical and electronic formfactors then weighed the pros and cons of each. This step was necessary in order to brainstorm what features would be fundamental requirements vs desired requirements.

Subject Matter Expert Interviews

Subject Matter Experts (SME's) are vital to learning the intricacies of the product domain. I was specifically in charge of this step. I interviewed two interaction design professors and one psychology professor about their students and their field of expertise.

User Interviews and Observations

Before we could begin to conduct user interviews, we had to come up with a persona hypothesis. A persona hypothesis is an assumption of likely behavioral patterns that researchers make about a user to aid in the process of selecting individuals for user interviews.
With the knowledge of the pool of candidates we had access to, we made the assumptions that our user would be a full-time student, likely male, and struggle with staying productive. We used this hypothesis as a starting point in understanding what to expect from user interviews.

Conclusion

All of this research is impossible to use without condensing it. While trying to make a quick decision, no one has time to skim through out massive research report. Therefore, the next stage of Goal Direct Design is intended to package all this data into a concise little package.

COVID-19 was Declared a Pandemic

On March 11th, 2020, the World Health Organization made the assessment that COVID-19 could be characterized as a pandemic. View the official timeline on the WHO's website.

Uncertain Times
By mid-March, all of my classes had transitioned to online. Everything froze as people accepted the reality of the pandemic and altered their lifestyles. Thankfully, my family and my team mate's families made this transition relatively smoothly.

The Pandemic's Effect on this Project
We were lucky to have finished the research phase before we had to transition to online collaboration. Research is at the core of GDD and informs every decision in the remaining phases. Since we had a comprehensive research report, we easily began the modeling phase once we adjusted to the online-only environment. Although it felt like the world was falling apart, the three of us we able to shut that out and work incredibly well together. We made a successful transition to online and ended this class with an excellent final project.

The Pandemic's Effect on Myself
I have never done well with online school, so I dreaded the transition to virtual learning. I was also anxious about having the project fizzle out or disappointing my team mates. However, the team aspect helped me overcome my online challenges because my team mates held me accountable. The three of us called multiple times a week and constantly updated each other on discord.
Looking back, I realize I buried myself in this project to avoid the insanity of the pandemic's spread early on. I grateful that I had this escape and was relatively sheltered from the barrage of bad news.

2. Modeling


In the modeling phase, we review all of our field research and interviews to identify behavior and work flow patterns. The ultimate goal of this phase is to create a composite user archetype, or persona.

What Are Personas?

Personas are the personification of research. They translate mountains of information into concise models that can be referenced during design decisions. They represent unique behaviors, attitudes, aptitudes, goals, and motivations. Our personas are based on behavior patterns observed during user interviews and observations plus recollections from professors talking about their students.

Our 2 personas

3. Define Requirements

Purpose

This stage provides the vital connection between finished personals and the initial design framework. We derive concrete needs of the product to best support the various needs and goals of persona. We use these design requirements to create the design framework.

Steps of the Requirements Definition Stage

4. Design Framework

Purpose

In this phase, we created the overall product concept, and basic framework for product behavior and visual design. This interaction framework is created through context scenarios that highlight fundamental persona needs and expectations.

Our Logo

I completely designed out logo and slogan during this stage. The name ORO is a shortened version of "Pomodoro" as well as a shortened version of "Orologio" or clock in Italian. The creator of the Pomodoro Technique is Italian and pomodoro means tomato because he used a tomato shaped kitchen timer. We wanted to use an italian word for out logo. We chose the word orologio for the time keeping aspect of the app and it also so happened to work as a shortened version of pomodoro. The radial lines are meant to represent the sound of the timer ringing. The brief slogan summarizes the purpose of the app.

Basic steps of the Pomodoro Technique and our Framework

5. Design Refinement

Overview

This stage refines and specifies details like appearance, idions, and information hierarchy.

6. Design Support

Overview

This stage is meant to accommodate new constraints and timelines. You should also maintain conceptual integrity of the design under changing technological constraints. Unfortunately, we were unable to put much work into this section because we were out of time. My team and I worked over ten hours a day for the last few weeks of this class to finish.

What I would do differently

  • Put less detail in the app. This sounds counterintuitive, but I spent too much time working on micro animations and icon design. I need to work on settling with something that's less than perfect and moving on to meet the deadline.