Busy social butterflies need an app to help them take control of their time… Or do they?
If you are presented with the challenge of delivering a behaviour changing app that delivers control to a persona who is very much online but also is not scared of disruptive start-ups, how extreme would you dare to be?
A case study in field work for my UX-design course.
Meet Ben Anderson. He’s a busy, social guy who needs a behaviour changing app that delivers control.
Ben reminds me of myself and a lot of my friends. Having experience with quantitative survey studies, I’m aware that response rates for surveys and interview requests dwindle for every year that passes. I thought that having access to a large community of people similar to Ben through Stockholm’s nightlife scene would certainly help me gather quantitative data as well as find great people to interview.
Reflection: Should I jump into a project by choosing a persona because I can relate to them or should I choose one that I think is interesting and can learn more about without preconceived notions? As I wrote above, I decided that my own experiences could help guide me rather than be a hinder.
To get the process started, we used a kick-off canvas in order to start thinking about the target group.
Who is this person and thus our target group?
What types of needs do they have? What kinds of problems and obstacles do they need to overcome?
The three needs I thought were most important were plotted along two axes so I could determine how important I thought they were as well as how much knowledge I had about them. Previous knowledge might have been acquired if this was an existing product going through an iteration for example. Since I didn’t really know anything, everything basically ended up in the unknown area.
Three needs now become three hypotheses.
- Our users need more time to do all the things they think will be fun.
- Users need help prioritising events and social activities.
- Users want to feel free from outside distractions while they are at social activities.
How do we know if our hypotheses are correct?
By reframing the hypothesis as a statement beginning with “We will know we are right when” we have an easier time thinking about what types of open and closed questions could illicit this response, open questions in interviews and closed questions in the survey.
- Hypothesis 1: Our users need more time to do all the things they think will be fun.
We will know we are right when they claim to not have enough time for everything they want to do.
- Hypothesis 2: Users need help prioritising events and social activities.
We will know we are right when they say that it is difficult to prioritise what to do in their free-time
- Hypothesis 3: Users want to feel free from outside distractions while they are at social activities.
We will know we are right when they say that they have a hard time focusing on the event they are at because of outside distractions (work, social media, other events etc).
Time to collect some quantitative data as well as find people to interview!
My questionnaire wasn’t very extensive as I was worried that including too many questions could scare off respondents. I’m already targeting a group of people that I believe have a scarcity of time!
Aside from the questions below I felt that 3 basic demographic questions were important: age, if they live in or near a city or not, as well as wether they have children. The idea that having children living at home most likely affecting one’s free time hit me after I had already gotten 9 responses in so I added that question in a little later (that’s the Null category in the demographics overview graph below). Better late than never!
69 respondents is not enough to break down by age, and certainly not by dividing parents versus non-parents, but I have done so none the less in the following compilations of my survey data, mostly to give an idea of how one could break up the respondent’s answers had there been more of them. In all of the breakdowns by age I’ve excluded the three respondents over 50 as this was not part of my target group to begin with.
Reflection: It’s a bit tricky to talk to be about being way too busy and how do you juggle having so many choices concerning events and social activities during a pandemic and accompanying restrictions. I tried my best to get respondents to think back to how their lives were before the pandemic.
Respondents were pretty evenly split along the scale of plenty of time to not enough time with the majority, 39%, saying that they have plenty of time or enough time. Those between 41 and 50 years old feel they have less time. This may have to do with the fact that half of them have children living at home, the parental status of another three is unknown (the Null answer mentioned previously).
One fourth of the respondents would go to social activities or events two days a week. One person would go seven days a week! Having children obviously puts a limit on how many days per week one can go out. As I mentioned, half of the 41–50 year olds have children living at home which could explain why this age group goes out less, or they might just be tired of the busy life that Ben Andersson enjoys.
Most people said that time management for them was pretty simple. However, just over one fourth said that they considered it difficult or very difficult. Those who considered it difficult and claimed that they didn’t have enough time were prioritised for interviews. More on that later.
One fourth of the respondents said they use their phone constantly while at events or social activities. It seems as though the younger we are, the less we focus on our phones while out. Having children likely plays a role but I’m not sure in which way. Are they staying in touch with family while out? Are they documenting so they can share it with their family later? Are they using their time away from the kids also as catch-up time on the phone? Again, there were only seven parents total so we don’t need to read too much into this.
FOMO sucks and there’s a pretty general consensus around that. Two out of four said that it made them stressed and approximately another two out of four found themselves somewhere in the middle.
Reflection: due to time constraints, I performed interviews while I was still collecting answers from the survey. The survey results were thus compiled and analysed after my interviews. Ideally they could have been used as a foundation going in to the interviews had this not been the case.
I interviewed 6 people who said in the survey that they felt like they don’t really have enough time to do all the things they want to do in their free time, as well as having a hard time managing their time.
- Peter, 30 years old, Stockholm Sweden. Studying to be a teacher. No children.
- Maya, 35 years old, Visby Sweden. Works in a hotel. No children.
- Kitty, 33 years old, Stockholm Sweden. Works as an administrator for a governmental organisation. No children.
- Benny, 35 years old, Stockholm Sweden. Works as a bike messenger. No children.
- Cindy, 35 years old, Berlin Germany. Works as a freelance journalist. No children.
- Sten Stone, 34 years old, Ekerö Sweden. Works as a restaurant chef. No children.
It was important to remember to ask as open of questions as possible, not to try to ask leading questions, and possibly most important: remember to shut-up! Another great tip was asking about the past rather than how someone thought they would behave in the future as that can very likely be an idealised vision of what one thinks they will do. Since I asked everyone to try to think back to how their life was like before the pandemic this was relatively easy to remember.
I used a semi-structure interview approach which centered around the questions below.
- Learn if users are stressed about their time.
- Learn what a user’s typical week used to look like.
- Learn how having multiple events/activities to choose from makes them feel.
- Learn how users prioritise their free time.
- Learn what techniques or tools users have for prioritising their time, if any.
- Learn why it is difficult for users to manage their time.
- Learn if users have a need to “go offline” while at events.
- Learn if users feel like they need to be able to focus on the event they are at and ignore the outside world or not.
- Learn if users feel that outside distractions stress them out.
Reflection: We got the tip of avoiding mmhmms and similar interjections during the interview process. This was tricky at first, especially in a remote setting, as I was worried that if I gave no response the interviewee might think there was a network problem or something similar. As soon as I reviewed my first interview after we were done I understood why I should be avoiding this behaviour. I was accidentally cutting off my interviewee who possibly had more to say but thought that by me mmhmm-ing that it was time to move on the next question.
Synthesising interview responses
Afterwards I realised that I had taken great notes during the interviews which I was thankful for after having six interviews around 40 minutes each to potentially sort through. I tried out a transcription tool called Trint but felt like it was more time consuming to listen through all of the audio and edit the transcriptions rather than just read through my notes and try to find patterns. In some cases I reviewed the interview recordings to make sure I hadn’t missed something where my notes where sparse or to reconfirm some quotes that I had written down.
I copy/pasted from my notes for each interview different quotes concerning each hypothesis into a document that gave a better overview and from this tried to confirm or not confirm my hypotheses.
1: Our users need more time to do all the things they think will be fun.
There was no absolute consensus around wether they had too little time and I would say that this hypothesis was neither confirmed nor rejected.
“I would like to have more time but compared to a family with small children I have lots. I’d like to have more time because I’m an extrovert and I also suffer from FOMO.” — Maya
“I don’t really have a lack of time, rather I feel that I’m not effective with the time that I have because of prioritisation and procrastination.” — Kitty
“I don’t feel like there’s enough time. (Comparing now to before the pandemic): I’m not as stressed now that I don’t have to do stuff all the time.” — Benny
“I had a lot, enough time, before the pandemic. (Concerning stress before the pandemic): I guess sometimes, it’s time consuming to meet friends while living in a big city.” — Cindy
“My free time was limited before the pandemic, it’s always been a puzzle. It’s extremely hard to make it all go together.” — Sten Stone
2. Users need help prioritising events and social activities.
Everyone has different ways of prioritising, it depends on the person and the situation. Half of my interviewees don’t have typical 9–5 jobs which makes time management a different type of task compared to others and also makes the amount of free-time, and what they can do with it, vary from person to person.
Almost everyone said that having fun and meeting friends were their priorities when choosing events, and that for larger events they use Facebook events to help them prioritise and thus it seems unnecessary to try to replace that behaviour.
I don’t think that this hypothesis has a lot of room for development.
“Prioritisation has a lot to do with how much time I have and how much motivation I have.” — Peter
“It is was it is, if it’s not something big then I’m spontaneous. I feel more alive when I’m spontaneous.” — Maya
“It’s complicated more by the nature of my job, not because i don’t have enough time to do things.” — Cindy
“Before corona I worked 5 days a week and longer hours during the weekend, my partner however works regular hours. If I want to go out after work, it’s after 12:30 AM. I live far from the city center which plays a big role, during the weekends I can’t be out later than 12:20 because that’s when the last bus leaves. Often times I crash at friend’s houses if I go out.” — Sten Stone
3. Users want to feel free from outside distractions while they are at social activities.
This became an interesting topic because while many said that they didn’t necessarily feel distracted while they were out and didn’t receive or care about push notifications, if they did use their phone while out, they frowned upon it, and they looked down on those who did constantly use their phones. They also had a lot to say on the matter.
Concerning their own phone use while out:
“I’m careful about not using it while I’m out.” “It sucks to use it.” — Peter
“I like it better when I don’t look at it that much. It’s more fun when you realise that you haven’t looked at it all night. It feels like I prioritised correctly, that I was in the moment, more mindful.” — Kitty
“Now and then, when I need a break, to be alone a little. I definitely do it.” — Benny
“I’m so into everything that’s happening, it doesn’t matter where I am. I don’t see any reason whatsoever to pick up my phone.” — Sten Stone
Attitudes towards others who are constantly on their phones:
“I think it’s super irritating, it’s not ok.” “It’s most annoying in club environments and where you go to dance, it turns it into a totally different experience and I have to adjust my behaviour to that and think ‘oh ok, now someone is filming the dance floor.’ There’s a sense of attention that disappears, a sort of nerve in the social atmosphere that disappears. Or maybe I’m organising a poetry reading and someone is sitting with their phone, then they aren’t contributing to the feel of us creating something together.” — Peter
“If it’s a person in my group it can ruin the situation because you’ve made time to spend time with someone and they should respect that.” — Maya
“It doesn’t look very good.” “I feel like people aren’t experiencing things properly. It’s the same situation when you are at a concert and people stand there with their phone from start to finish and then you think that they are missing the point. I think that they are only filming because they want to show other people that they were at the concert, it trumps having a fun experience.” — Kitty
“I feel bad for them. It becomes a sort of limbo where you are neither with those you are with physically nor with those you’re with digitally, I don’t think it’s very fulfilling.” — Benny
“I find it annoying, if it’s my friends it’s annoying because it’s rude.” “There is a connotation of people not being comfortable on their own and going into the phone as a means of being comfortable with being alone… I think the phone is changing social interactions and changing people’s relationships with themselves, it divides people from themselves, distracts them from themselves and the real world and actual people around them” — Cindy
“I don’t know what to say honestly, they’re so absent in a way. I don’t understand why people live their lives through their phones nowadays.” — Sten Stone
So, hypothesis 3 looks promising!
From the different responses that formed a pattern we can draw an insight, which can then be used to decide on a principle — a rule that we must adhere to or avoid. At that point we need to decide how confident we are and what the next steps to take would be.
I’m pretty close to 100% sure that users want a way to not use their phones while they are out. Everyone I talked to echoed the same ideas and most said that as long as they’ve met the people they planned on meeting they’d enjoy not having to look at it again until they were done with the event or gathering.
The next step would be to find out how far they would go in avoiding phone use. Do they want to be completely offline? Why don’t they just put their phone on airplane mode? How much control are they comfortable giving up in order to keep their itchy little fingers off their screen? I’d suggest a follow-up survey as the next step, more on that shortly.
We can be 100% confident that users don’t want their friends attached to their phones while they are out, and they also look down on anyone using their phone non-stop. “It just doesn’t look good.” A few people (I only thought of asking 3 of the 6) said they would love for their friends to also put away the phone.
Next steps would be to find out the extent that people would want their friends to join them in their offline adventures. How do users present that idea to their friends? I would suggest some focus group interviews with groups of friends to find out.
Why bother waiting to find out how people feel about being forced offline when I already had the contact info for a majority of my survey respondents?
I sent out a follow-up survey with 3 questions which suggested the following scenario…
… and then asked three questions.
- How would you feel if you went to an event or social activity and once you met everyone who you planned to see there, you went completely offline for the duration of the event? (Scale of 1: I would love that, to 5: I would hate that)
- Would you also like it if your friends who you were at the event or gathering with you also went offline for the duration of the event? (Scale of 1: I would love that, to 5: I would hate that)
- What types of features would you want to have in order for you to feel comfortable using this or to make it more enjoyable? (With 10 feature suggestions as well as a free-text other option.)
Is it paradoxical to develop an app or phone feature that ultimately, at least during a limited period of time, means that you have access to zero apps?
27 people helped out with this follow-up survey. Almost all respondents, 90%, said that they would love to go completely offline while they were out at an event or social activity, and 78% responded that they would love for their friends to join them. 70% said that they would like it if they had a way to respond to someone who tried to contact them several times in a short period of time and this was the most popular suggested feature. Some respondents said they would be interested in letting the organiser of the event send them into offline mode without them even doing anything. As for how steadfast they wished to remain to their offline goal during the night, 30% said they would want the app, or whatever it is, to be easy to turn off, only 11% said that they wanted it to be impossible to turn off before the event was over.
So, Ben Andersson, here’s an idea for a behaviour changing app that delivers control, by giving you limited or no control over your phone, so that you and your friends can enjoy yourselves while you are out.
Is that disruptive enough for you?