Integrating UX into the Internet of Things

Preliminary user interviews and observations with students and professionals in the UC Berkeley area revealed that a majority suffered from poor productivity skills, which failed to efficiently accomplish short-term goals.
During my time at UC Berkeley, I co-led an interdisciplinary team of fellow M.Eng. students (Lee Hamstra, Billy Frese, Daniel Lim, Oscar Segovia, and myself) to apply human-centered design methods towards the development of an Internet of Things (IoT) system of devices. We also identified the product opportunity space, conducted market analysis, user studies, concept prototyping, and user-testing and validation.

The team began this project by individually conducting user interviews and observations to take an initial sample of user needs to identify common pain points. Upon synthesizing our interviews, the team determined that an overwhelming number of interviewees struggled with low productivity resulting from failure to manage time efficiently. This failure resulted in a range of problems: inability to do laundry, binge-watching Netflix, or failure to achieve diet goals by binge-eating snacks, etc.

The team’s ideation cycle led us to develop a push-button device connected to a computer via USB. Team member Daniel Lim built the prototype pictured. An initial press of the button would begin a time management technique known as the Pomodoro Cycle.

We chose the Pomodoro Method because it seemed like the most flexible general solution that could be applied to various use-cases. The Pomodoro technique is a time management technique used to improve productivity and focus. To accomplish this, a user sets a 25-minute timer. This 25-minute window is reserved for focus / productive time; once the alarm sounds, indicating that the allocated focus-time has expired, the user then sets a 5-minute timer for dedicated relax-time.

Users should use this five-minute window to do anything of their choosing (i.e., YouTube clips, walk outside, etc.), as long as it is not related to ‘productive’ work. The team decided to move forward with a concept of efficient productivity, a cycle of work and play, to integrate into the prototype.

I led user testing, which uncovered use cases that we had not considered; we also learned that some users felt that the act of pressing a button was still relatively intrusive. Other users commented that they preferred a different type of music than the playlist we had selected (Brian Eno’s Music for Airports).

Incorporating initial user feedback and first-hand experiences, we wanted the experience of using our device to be as minimally intrusive to a user’s flow as possible. We created a simple single-press button that began the segment of “focus / productive time” mentioned above. During this time, ambient music would also begin to play through the user’s computer. Once the 25 minutes have ended, instead of a jarring alarm as per the usual pomodoro experience, the music’s volume would instead slowly fade to zero.
This allows the user to maintain flow naturally; once the user becomes less focussed in their task, however, they will realize that the music has stopped, which acts as a natural indicator that it is time for a break.

To identify the opportunity space, we generated 2X2 frameworks to gain insights into what solutions already exist in the market and what work-arounds users have been employing contrasted with perceived levels of success.
The biggest challenge that we faced was deciding what IoT product space we wanted to explore as a team. It took us longer than anticipated to finalize our direction towards Health & Wellness. Although this initially delayed our schedule by a week, we were able to get back on schedule and complete the semester with an alpha prototype, as initially proposed.

Further research in architecture journals revealed that light wavelength, environmental variability, and nature views are for emotional and cognitive wellbeing. I developed a “Living Wall” concept. This concept used a large-scale ambient display technology to display fractals, abstracted elemental hints of nature, that studies have shown can improve cognitive and emotional health in the same way as actual views of nature.

I developed a low-fidelity "Living Wall" prototype. This concept would use a large-scale ambient display technology to display fractals, abstracted elemental hints of nature, that studies have shown can improve cognitive and emotional health in the same way as actual views of nature.

This Living Wall concept is intended to be dynamic, able to respond (and, eventually anticipate) user stress states. In order to sense user stress states, I also built a GSR (galvanic skin response) sensor, controlled by an Arduino UNO, to measure a user's stress levels. The Living Wall would also adjust its display light spectrum according to the time of day in order to mitigate any negative impact on users' circadian rhythms.

Although popular, traditional open-office environments are designed to reduce overhead expenses rather than create an environment truly conducive to promoting individual worker productivity.
We thus reframed the problem and shifted focus towards creating a smart-office environment to improve employee productivity by targetting user emotional and cognitive wellbeing through the different senses.

Final Design Principles:
1. The system shall be multi-sensory.
2. The system cannot rely on being directly connected to a computer.
3. The elements of the system need to be customizable to each user’s preferences.
4. The system shall be non-intrusive and improve the experience of a space for a group of users without impeding or negatively impacting others’ experiences.
5. The system shall be intuitive, allowing the user to override and customize automated system interactions.