Connecting two friends on the topic of their long-term goals through a playful tangible device
and goal management application.
Imagining an Experiential Approach
In the final year of my Master’s degree I took the challenge to conduct a five month investigation that holds both personal and professional significance. My thesis research titled The Goal Buddy System: Imagining an Experiential Approach to Long-Term Goal Management through Playful Interaction, responded to my interests in interaction design, experience design, tangible interaction and tools for personal growth.
I began my preliminary research by studying how timekeepers such as clocks, calendars, and datebooks help manage and guide people’s lives. I was particularly attracted to ancient cultural calendars, which called people to times of rest, celebration, reflection, and most importantly to connect with one another. When contrasting the ancient timekeepers with the 21st century digital calendar, I wondered if there was a way to build a different kind of life management tool. How might a tool guide us to manage the quality of our lives, not just the quantity? This led me to an interest in the management of long-term goals.
I conducted an audit of existing goal management tools and found that every tool had a slightly different way to motivating users. All had an aspect of community but some leveraged that aspect more than others. I was left wondering, “Can I create a tool that is more about ongoing inquiry and daily ritual than efficiency and compressing the experience of time?” Through my research and design, I wanted to understand what the emotional experience of that kind of system or tool could be like. To guide that search I investigated the following researchable question: “How might the design of playful interactions within a long-term goal management system encourage the process of goal achievement?”
The GBS builds an ongoing connection between two friends over the topic of their unfinished goals. At the simplist level the system encourages and tracks progress. At a deeper level the system sustains commitment through accountability while creating social and playful interactions.
Parts of the System
Two friends, called goal buddies interact on a weekly basis with a a handheld tangible device that is linked to a compatible desktop widget or mobile app.
Using the System
They meet weekly or bi-weekly to discuss their progress. At each meeting they commit to a task that they must complete before the next meeting. Buddies also pick out a challenge. The challenge is a playful or reflective goal-oriented activity that is revealed to the goal setter as he or she makes progress.
A Way to Manage Long-Term Goals
During my preliminary research I conducted a series of informal interviews to understand people’s time management habits and behaviors. I found that most people had a long list of tools they used to manage their short-term goals, but few people had tools to record and manage their long-term goals. It was out of this discovery that I devoted my attention to building a tool for long-term goals.
The Value of Long-Term Goals
A goal is an aim to achieve a particular state, condition, status, knowledge, or skill. A long-term goal is an intrinsically motivated aim that requires commitment over an extended period of time. Consider your short-term and long-term goals, while both types of goals can hold personal importance, our attention is often devoted to the ever-pressing day-to-day commitments. The daily grind leaves little or no time for long-term goals. However, researchers have found that the more time we spend engaging in self-affirming activities, the happier we will be (Thompson and Bunderson 2001, 24-25). This makes an excellent case for the importance of long-term goals. These are the types of goals that make us dream big, push us to work harder, and remind us of who we truly believe ourselves to be! The actions we take towards our long-term goals are often our innermost values, incarnated.
Thompson, J. A., and J. S. Bunderson. 2001. “Work- Nonwork Conflict and the Phenomenology of Time: Beyond the Balance Metaphor.” Work and Occupations 28 (1): 17-39.
|How does the system frame the goal setter’s progress?||Progress is measured by meaningful human interactions instead of quantitative measures of time. The device frames the passing of time in relation to the next time they meet with their buddy. Physical changes in the device, such as variations in: color/light, shape, pattern/texture, or visibility, signify the point at which the goal-setter is within the cycle. The device also frames progress through the mastery of challenges. This is not archived within the device, but earns the goal setter bragging rights with their buddy during meetings.|
|How does the system manage goal setter progress?||Moving forward in the goal-achievement process requires the goal setter to take physical action. Progress is managed through a physical device. Goal setters use the device as a boundary object to talk about their progress that is replayed through audio, video, or a text-based screen. They then speak, write, or type a single task they will complete before their next buddy meeting. During the week the device acts as a physical reminder to complete the task. If the task is completed there is a physical change in the device and a reward upon meeting the other goal buddy.|
|How does the system motivate activity and keep the goal setter committed?||Things are much easier with social support and remembering that your trying to do something you love. The system keeps goal setter’s motivated through two means: by using a face-to-face relationship as a motivation to stay committed and by integrating playful interactions throughout the process. Both of these elements give the goal setters moments to enjoy the process and remember why they are pursuing their long-term goals: It is something they are doing because they want to not because they have to.|
After moderating interviews through the use of an uninspiring five-page questionnaire I developed a Participatory Toolkit. Elizabeth B. N. Sanders, Eva Brandt and Thomas Binder describe Participatory Tools as activities which facilitate a conversation between individuals and a designer. My goal was to create a series of open ended, interpretive, participatory games to cause interviewees to offer reflective and inspirational information about their habits, behaviors, and beliefs surrounding the use of timekeepers and time management. The toolkit generated interesting discussion, led me to an interest in accountability, and caused me to notice a gap in people’s use of timekeepers.
The system map was developed to demonstrate the relationships between the various touchpoints within the system. It helped me understand how and why the users would interact with the each of the touchpoints.
I developed a user journey in order to understand the comprehensive experience of the two goal buddies using the system over time. The user journey brought up questions such as “What happens when a goal buddy doesn’t complete a challenge?” and “What interactions should the handheld tangible device control and what information is found within the app/widget?” This exercise helped me realize that the system was too complicated and needed to be reduced down to a few simple actions. While I did address this complexity during my research through the creation of a refined Goal Buddy Cycle the functions of the system are still too complicated. I am currently working to build a simplified version of the GBS.
The quick sketches were a series of exploratory scenarios displayed through photographic storyboards. Building from a set of personas, they helped me explore the emotional experience a goal setter could have with smart objects. The purpose of each scenario was to find a different way to design a playful or game-like interaction. This exercise revealed that different users have different needs. It left me wondering how the features of the physical device would respond to those needs.
This study was an independent research project structured by multiple rounds of research proposals, public presentations, and formal written documents. The process included the following phases:
Phase 1: Preliminary Research
This phase included the production of: Workbook, Participatory Toolkit, Interview Results, Researchable Question, Research Proposal, Preliminary Presentation
Phase 2: Identifying Principles of Goal Management
This phase included the production of: Personas, Concept Map, Goal Assessment Questions, Goal Management Audit, Workflow Comparison Chart
Phase 3: Designing the System
This phase included the production of: System Map, Goal Buddy Cycle, Sample Challenges, Levels of Gamification Map
Phase 4: Designing the Interface
This phase included the production of: Design Investigation: Browsing Challenges, Design Investigation: Recording/Recalling Task, Interaction Timelines, Rough Prototypes & Sketches, Wireframes, Sample Scenario of Use
Phase 5: Documentation of Research
This phase included the production of a final presentation and research booklet following the complete process.
Also included in the book, here is the one page abstract.
A chronological description of my thesis research can be found at this wordpress blog.
Full resolution video coming soon!
Thesis Prep Presentation
Thesis Prep Presentation Video
Thesis Prep Documents