Student / Personal Project
After reading an article about the negative effects extended social media usage can have on young adults, I wanted to find a way to influence behavior toward healthier, more conscious social media usage.
Along the way, I discovered the problem wasn’t all about time tracking, it was about how we display and contextualize data. I also took it on as a personal challenge to stretch my data visualization, coding, and physical computing muscles.
How might we nudge Gen Zs and Millennials towards a more thoughtful daily navigation of the the social media space?
Young users have trouble reconciling their multi-faceted experience of the social media universe with the binary success and failure metrics of existing time and productivity tracking applications. This makes sticking with solutions and long-term behavior change more difficult.
Millennials and Gen Zs looking to move towards healthier social media use
Three weeks + Ongoing
Orbit is a mobile application and physical hub that help users to contextualize their social media use and gain perspective to counteract its sometimes negative effects.
1. Display the right data in a way that that shows quick, clear, personal impact.
2. Encourage small, daily changes that make a difference in the moment and over time.
3. Replace binary “success” and “failure” cues with a spectrum of achievement.
“I really liked the idea of being in ‘orbit.’ I didn’t feel bad when I went out [of orbit], it was just an opportunity for me to realize that it might be time to take a moment to focus on myself.”
— User Feedback
Under the hood
The hard-working process under the solution
There is currently no “just right” solution for managing social media behavior change.
The Problem Up Close
Most screen time and productivity applications would have users believe the quality of their social media time is equivalent solely with its quantity. They give data dumps — a gargantuan dashboard of which users have to make sense.
Data without context cannot prompt meaningful, informed action, and current data visualization trends don’t speak to complex feelings about social media.
What’s so bad about social media? Often, nothing at all.
Whether we perceive a positive or negative social media experience often comes down to how we use and contextualize it in our lives.
Recent journal studies reflect this, showing that negative emotions from time on products like facebook, twitter, and instagram use aren’t just tied to time, but also to how we interact and perceive others while there.
Traffic-light color coding tells them whether they failed or succeeded in a one-dimensional way. This was stressful to users, and often resulted in abandoning behavior change attempts.
Surveys, interviews, scientific studies, and popular literature review all helped to inform my process.
Research & Synthesis
To learn more about how users perceive social media use and existing behavior change solutions, I did interviews and a survey along with a literature review of more academic and popular sources.
Ideation & Prototyping
This project challenged me to prototype both screens and hardware. I took the step to see how data might flow to a physical device using an existing API from RescueTime and an Adafruit Feather Huzzah. I’m still working on the hardware interface and UI, stay tuned!
Iteration & User Testing
This project went though, and continues to undergo, many iterations. What started off seeming simple to me grew and changed enormously to its current state with a steady stream of user input along the way.
Up in space and down to earth.
I wanted the visual language of the app to feel light and playful, but also intelligent. Moving away from harsh angles and colors like bright red, yellow, and green that often signify success or failure. Rather, I used more organic shapes and earth-toned colors to communicate natural ebb and flow.
Orbit was a balance of keeping things simple while using visuals to communicate a metaphor.
Orbit aims not to draw too much attention away from the real world, but rather to elegantly use just enough color, shape, and movement to communicate what it needs to.
What lies ahead
Looking back to move forward
Orbit takes one small step towards helping users to better understand the effect too much time in social media can have on them. The metric of time isn’t wrong, but there were ways to share that data that allowed users to perceive more, and at different times of day when they were more amenable to receiving it.
Hurdles & Learnings
One of the biggest challenges with this project was breaking away from standard data visualization norms. Using a familiar metaphor was a huge breakthrough that helped make the product unique and desirable.
We are inundated with data. Going into this project, that wasn’t my key starting point - I actually wanted to see what it would be like to communicate screen time off screen, but I learned a lot about the benefits of multi-approach user experiences and how we can shape digital experiences to be less intrusive, and more helpful.
I’d want to continue with the design of the physical hardware and further test it to see which interactions are most useful, and to test with more people to discover when the interaction breaks down, and when it’s most valuable. Especially, I’d like to do something along the lines of a diary study to see how using these product long-term affects behaviors towards social media.