In deciding what sort of mobile app I wanted to design, I kept coming back to one thing: I already spend too much time on the mobile apps I have, particularly Twitter, Instagram, and other social media. Most of that time isn’t time I’d consider “well spent.”
That got me thinking: maybe the most necessary app was one that would help users get away from their most addictive apps, particularly social media apps and sites. I knew there were plenty of productivity apps around, but what about one that wouldn’t just address the time users spend on social media, but also the negative emotions users tend to feel after spending time on social media?
I started with a series of assumptions about users’ experiences with social media, productivity, and mindfulness apps.
I started with these lo-fi screens, thinking about what kind of data the user would need to input, and what choices they should be offered.
A few iterations of the first screen in the "activity" flow, requiring the user to tap the button that best describes their mood after their allotted time spent on social media. I removed some of the options to make the process less overwhelming; added a personalized greeting, and removed the app's name from the header, while keeping the amorphous shape but in a contrasting color.
It quickly became clear that the dashboard would be the most challenging piece of the project: I needed to decide which elements it should and shouldn’t include, then figure out how to present them in an easily comprehensible but still visually pleasing way. I also wanted the user to be able to start a mindfulness exercise directly from the dash, but it took several iterations to find the clearest way to do that.
The first draft of the dashboard featured a labeled "Start" button, but its placement didn't make much sense, and it didn't jump out enough. A revised version featured a "start" button that wasn't clear enough as a CTA, and was crowded with too many data visualizations. The third is more recognizable as a CTA, with a clear placement and an eye-drawing color.
Armed with this information, I assembled a list of features the app should have in order to address users’ most pressing needs. From there, I started a combination wireframe and lo-fi prototype, focusing on three processes: onboarding; the “intervention” (the point at which the app redirects the user from their social media browsing); and the mindfulness activity. I also started thinking about a dashboard/home screen, and what features it should include.
1. People feel they spend too much time, and want to spend less time, on social media.
2. Spending time on social media engenders negative emotions like anxiety, envy, and dread.
3. People tend to feel judged by, and therefore annoyed by or resentful toward, apps that track healthy habits (e.g. screen time, step counters, food logs).
4. Some people will want an incentive for a particular behavior, whether it’s gaining “levels”; earning tangible prizes like money or product discounts; or competing against friends (gamification). Others will be turned off by an incentive structure.
I conducted a survey to validate these assumptions. 24 people, ages 18-75, completed the survey. Here’s what I learned.
1. People feel they spend too much time, and want to spend less time, on social media. True! 60% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I would like to spend less time on social media.”
2. Spending time on social media engenders negative emotions like anxiety, envy, and dread. True. When asked the open-ended question “What emotions do you tend to feel after spending time on social media?”, only 1 respondent replied with only positive words. 12 respondents replied with all negative words, and 11 used a mix of positive and negative. Terms like “anxious,” “depressed,” and “disappointed in myself” came up multiple times.
3. People tend to feel judged by, and therefore annoyed by or resentful toward, apps that track healthy habits (e.g. screen time, step counters, food logs). True. When asked how they feel about the statement “Seeing how much time I spend on screens/particular apps causes me to feel negative emotions.” 72% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed. Only 24% said tracking apps help them change their behavior.
4. Some people will want an incentive for a particular behavior, whether it’s gaining “levels”; earning tangible prizes like money or product discounts; or competing against friends (gamification). Others will be turned off by an incentive structure. Technically true, but only 12% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they’d be more likely to use a tracking app if it included an incentive structure.
When asked to what activities they’d like their attention to be redirected after an allotted amount of time on social media, meditation & breathing exercises, short physical exercises, and articles & essays were the most popular responses.
Two-thirds of respondents currently practice mindfulness. Of those who don’t, 41% would like to get back into it.
When asked how they feel about the statement “It feels impossible for me to spend less time on social media,” most—72%—disagreed or strongly disagreed. There’s hope yet!
Some other takeaways:
TESTING + REVISION
After iterating a few times on the prototype, it was time to start testing. I conducted three interviews over Zoom, in which respondents received the prototype and shared their screens with me. They completed various tasks, answered questions, and provided feedback. With their permission, I recorded the interviews so I could review them in depth.
Tapping any field expands it, showing more information. For instance, to see more about the feelings they've recorded, the user just taps the button listing their "main feeling."
To view the notes they've made, the user just taps the relevant button. This addresses the issue, flagged by several interviewees, of how the user can access the notes they've entered before or after mindfulness exercises.
The updated dashboard reflects the user feedback by offering a more succinct summary of its contents: instead of being confronted by graphs and charts right away, users can tap a particular field and expand it to see more detailed information. They can also tap to view the notes they’ve entered while using the app.
I was pleased to learn, from the tests, that all three respondents found the onboarding, intervention, and activity processes quite intuitive. I was concerned that they would chafe at the “intervention” moment—that is, when they are automatically removed from a social media app after the designated amount of time; in the testing prototype, this moment takes place automatically, without a push notification or alert—but while none of the users predicted this turn of events, they all said they liked it. “If there were a notification, I’d probably just ignore it,” one respondent said. “And that would sort of defeat the purpose.”
After the user's allotted amount of time on their selected social media apps is up, UnScroll automatically opens, without a notification.
A few concerns did come up across the interviews, all of which were helpful in my constructing a revisions roadmap. One issue all three respondents mentioned was where their data—the emotions they selected, the notes they recorded—were going. This was both a privacy question, and a technical one: would the app have access to, or sell their data? And shouldn’t they be able to access their notes?
Some other issues came up around the dashboard as well. Two respondents had questions about the graphs I’d initially included; they weren’t clear on units of measure, or what the graphs were really showing. I realized the data visualization I’d put in place looked nice, but wasn’t communicating enough actual information. I needed to rethink the graphs, make them clearer and more communicative.
The third respondent didn’t take issue with how to interpret the graphs, but she was troubled by their presence there in the first place. She pointed out that having reached the dashboard after completing a meditation exercise, the last thing she wanted to be presented with was her “stats”—she wanted to stay in the moment, not fret about how many times in the past week she’d been anxious, how many times she’d been envious, etc. Some users want to see this information, others don’t. It should be easy to find, but require an action to view it.
Users weren't clear on how to interpret the graphs on this version of the dashboard. One user didn't want to see this information at all.
Most of us spend too much time on social media, and it’s not just a question of it interfering with our productivity: it’s interfering with our mental health, too. I wanted to design an app that would not only limit the user’s time on particularly addictive apps and sites, but also redirect them toward a task that would improve their mood and sense of wellbeing. The usability tests I conducted were invaluable in improving the design of UnScroll, and toward the creation of a useful, usable productivity and mindfulness mobile app.
UnScroll is an iOS app I designed to address users’ negative feelings associated with prolonged social media use.
Users decide which apps they want UnScroll to monitor their usage of, and how much time they want to be able to spend on these apps before UnScroll intervenes with a mindfulness activity like meditation, stretching, or breathing.
Lead and solo designer— discovery, user research, design, testing
Once I’d worked out some basic flows, I started experimenting with UI designs. I wanted the app to feel clean and modern, but still warm and approachable, so I settled on a lilac and navy blue color palate with pink accents, and a neumorphic design approach.