Optiscreen: A More Positive Screen Wellness App

General Information

Authors: Matthew Kevork (40063824) and Ian Phillips (40055973)
Presented to Dr. Marta Kersten-Oertel
SOEN357 mini-project, Concordia University, Winter 2021

Understanding the Problem

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the average person’s daily screen time usage has increased dramatically. On top of the time already spent in front of a screen before the pandemic, many tasks, interactions and parts of everyday life that used to be done in person are now performed digitally, such as schooling, work and social gatherings. OptiScreen has tasked us with designing and building a prototype of a new app that will help people attain healthier screen habits, reduce overall screen time, and use their technology more mindfully, on their own terms.

Our first step in designing a solution is to fully understand the problem at hand, as well as to develop a strategy for the design process. This will include user research, analysis of research data, creating user personas and empathy maps, defining user goals, and finally creating visual mockups and prototypes of the app.

User Research and Analysis

As the first step in our process, we conducted a survey in order to gather data on potential users and later analyze it.

Our goal with this data gathering was to gain a better understanding of potential users, which includes different user types, user expectations and their previous experience with screen wellness apps. This knowledge will allow us to understand the user’s thought process, develop user personas, and eventually feature set that will satisfy their needs. The questions and possible answers on the survey were the following:

  1. How old are you?
    * <18
    * 18–24
    * 25–30
    * 31–40
    * > 40
  2. What is your gender?
    * Female
    * Male
    * Prefer not to say
  3. What is your employment status?
    * Student
    * Full time
    * Part time
    * Other
  4. On average, how many hours of sleep do you get per day?
    * < 5
    * 5–7
    * 8–10
    * > 10
  5. How would you rate the quality of your sleep?
    * 1 (very bad) — 5 (very good)
  6. When do you most use your screen?
    * Morning
    * Afternoon
    * Evening
    * Before bed
  7. What are your most used apps?
    * Social Media
    * Communication
    * Productivity
    * Streaming
    * Games
    * Mix of everything
  8. How much do you desire an app to help reduce screen time?
    * 1 (don’t) — 5 (a lot)
  9. How would you describe your relationship with your screens?
    * 1 (unhealthy) — 5 (healthy)
  10. What do you desire to change about your relationship with your screens?
  11. If you have used a screen wellness app in the past, how would you describe its effectiveness?
    * Effective
    * Slightly Effective
    * Ineffective
  12. If you chose effective, what did you like about the app?
  13. If you chose ineffective, what did you dislike about the app?
  14. What features would you find useful in a screen wellness app?
    * Screen time limiter
    * App blocker
    * Health reminders
    * Daily task scheduler
    * Brightness limiter/blue light blocker
    * App blocker during certain hours
  15. How would you say the COVID-19 pandemic has affected your screen usage?
    * 1 (worsened) — 5 (improved)
  16. Do you have any other comments/suggestions?

All respondents were in the 18–24 age range, 50% male and 50% female. 75% were students, and 25% were part-time workers. The respondents were also split equally between 5–7 (50%) and 8–10 (50%) hours of sleep per night. The majority, 58.3%, rated their quality of sleep as a 4 out of 5 [Figure 1]. 50% use their screen mostly in the evening, with another 41.7% mostly in the afternoon, and for the remainder (8.3%), mostly before bed.

Figure 1: Question 5 Survey Results

As for most used apps, a majority of respondents selected Social Media (41.7%), with the remainder split almost equally between Communication (16.7%), Productivity (16.7%) and Streaming (16.6%), with a small amount selecting Mix of Everything (8.3%) [Figure 2].

Figure 2: Question 7 Survey Results

The most illuminating results came from the second half of the survey. 33.3% responded that they did want an app solution to help reduce their screen time, and 50% rated their relationship with screens a 2 out of 5. The answers to question 10 mostly spoke to a desire to reduce a dependency on screens, or break bad screen habits that arise out of boredom or procrastination.

The respondents who had used a screen wellness app in the past were exactly split between choosing Ineffective (50%) and Slightly Effective (50%).

While the few answers to question 12 were not surprising, just mentioning that the app had limited or blocked their screen time, the answers to question 13 shone a light on the respondent’s frustrations with their previous experiences.

Two major themes in the user’s frustrations were clear. Firstly, most screen reduction apps are too easy to work around or disable, and therefore are not effective in helping the user change their behavior. Secondly, most screen reduction apps rely on the user setting their own limits, which is ambiguous and unhelpful to the user, even those who are doing their best to change. This also ties to the first theme because it’s tempting to change the limits to be extremely lenient, or just delete them altogether.

The features that users selected as their most desired in a screen wellness app illuminated not only the frustrations that were previously discussed, but also potential alternatives to explore. Health reminders (91.7%) were the most selected, followed by Daily task scheduler (58.3%), and Brightness limiter/Blue light blocker (58.3%). Screen time limiter (33.3%) was the least requested feature, followed by App blocker(50%) [Figure 3].

Figure 3: Question 14 Survey Results

We believe that screen time limiters and app blocking is an ineffective way to reduce screen time, because although the initial decision to put in place such limitations comes from the user, when the limit is imposed the user is in a much more passive role. Instead of taking an active, mindful and self-aware approach to changing unhealthy screen habits, these automatic limitations force the user into a position where they are unable to make the decision for themselves. Also, users are often unable to choose the correct limitations on the first try, which causes friction when an app is blocked or their screen time is limited at the wrong moment. This forces the user to revisit the apps settings, and gives them the opportunity to over-compensate with lenient limitations.

This is reflected in how the respondents chose which features they desire. Health reminders let the user keep their individual responsibility and agency, while giving them the opportunity to make the ‘right’, screen-healthy decision, because they are reminders as opposed to impositions. We imagine health reminders to take the form of device notifications, that appear at either user-defined, or at the minimum medically recommended, intervals. They could be customized according to user preferences, but the default notification would be a randomized call to the user to perform a small task or physical exercise, or display a statistic or metric of the user’s screen usage.

This kind of feature is also more likely to produce long-term, positive and healthy habits as the user learns to make these micro-decisions at regular intervals, instead of either being unaware of their screen usage behavior, or having their agency taken away by an automated blocker.

Question 15 demonstrated the validity of the general reason for this case study, as all respondents rated the effect of COVID-19 on their screen usage a 3 out of 5 or worse, with the majority (50%) rating it a 2 out of 5 [Figure 4].

Figure 4: Question 15 Survey Results

The last question was optional and had only one answer, which was a feature request already incorporated in the analysis above.

Given the responses from our user survey, we were able to construct three different personas to represent our various user archetypes.

Karla is an outgoing part-time student who seeks to better manage their time, to reduce screen-usage and get in shape.

Thomas is seeking to maximize productivity, but often forgets to take care of himself. He wants to build healthy screen habits so that his wellbeing isn’t affected by the amount of work he does.

Dominic wants to waste less time on his devices, and avoid bad habits such as doomscrolling, or opening and closing the same apps repeatedly. He’s had no luck changing his behavior with other screen wellness apps, and wants an all-in-one solution to meet his needs.

We decided to build an empathy map to further explore one of our user persona’s thoughts, actions and feelings. Karla has had ineffective experiences with screen wellness apps in the past, so this colors much of what she says and feels, even though she still consciously thinks about improving her screen habits.

Our archetypal user has had previous experiences with screen wellness apps with little luck, and has specific complaints and frustrations concerning their relationship to their screens and their attempts to improve that relationship.

User Goals

Using our research analysis and tools such as user personas and empathy maps, we were able to find three user goals our app will accomplish.

Set and receive healthy habits reminders.

  • Create custom reminders or choose from a list.
  • Set the time interval during which to be reminded.
  • Receive audio/screen notifications.
  • Remind users when screen usage exceeds a set amount.

Control Daily Task Schedule

  • Add tasks to the task list.
  • Set daily tasks and special priority tasks.
  • Set task reminder time interval.

Screen Settings Control

  • Adjust blue light filter for screen
  • Adjust screen brightness limit

UI Design

Figure 5: Final UI Design

The design we settled on was a three screen app, with a taskbar at the bottom allowing the user to quickly switch between views. In the Health Reminders screen, we display the list of user defined health reminders and allow the user to add and edit the list, as well as configure each individual reminder (time interval and apps it applies to). In the Tasks screen, the user can add and remove tasks from their daily schedule. In the Blue Light Filter screen, the user has control of the physical light output from the screen, such as diminishing the blue light emitted or the screen brightness.

UI icons made by Freepik from flaticon