Course: INFO 4400 Advanced HCI

My Role: UX Researcher, UX Designer

Design Tools Used: Sketch, Invision

Team Members: Grace Song, Ezra Truneh, Ryan Curtis, Shauna Cheatham


Our project is focused on how college (specifically, Cornell University) students keep track of their tasks and manage their time in order to complete their obligations. We have found that generally, students do not have an enjoyable experience managing their time and workload. For our project, we worked towards creating a design solution able to help college students manage their workload in such a way that would lead to a productive and balanced lifestyle. Our app processes the student’s assignment and event data from multiple sources. Then, it generates a suggested breakdown of time to be spent on each task with a suggested schedule for that day, and allows them to modify or adjust the proposed schedule to more closely fit their needs. In pursuit of our goal, we conducted multiple user research studies. In our diary study, we learned a lot about how students keep track of their tasks on a daily basis and how they feel about completing different kinds of tasks. Using the collected data, we formulated ideas for a potential design solution and created a prototype which we tested with our second user research method, a User Enactments session. We incorporated the students’ insights and suggestions into our final prototype.

Identifying the Problem Space

We have found that generally, students do not have an enjoyable experience managing their time and workload due to busy lives, with a lot of commitments and tasks to do. While it is impossible for our project to reduce workload, we can have an impact on how they go about completing their work. Ask any college student and they will tell you that they have infinite workload. However, task management and the way students use their time can play a substantial role in how students feel about their workload. To change workload directly would be a truly wicked problem.

Research Question

How can we improve the task management process for college students?

In looking at how to help manage tasks we hypothesized that a personalized smart assistant would be useful to send friendly reminders and support the student throughout a variety of contexts. We also considered the importance of having a GUI rather than just a voice interface. More importantly we wanted to look at ways to help students manage tasks in a way that removes some of the stress by introducing assistive technology to make a more enjoyable experience.

User Research

In order to better understand how students manage their tasks and schedules, we conducted two different types of studies: Diary Studies and User Enactments.

Diary Studies

The diary studies were conducted over the course of three full days, and students would log an entry every time they either planned or completed a task. They would log entries using a Google Form that they were all given a shortened link to. We performed introductory and exit interviews to gather an extra layer of detailed data before and after the study.

In addition to our main information retrieval purpose, diary studies also captures the participants’ feelings about how they felt in the moment about completing different types of tasks.

Though the diary studies, we found that users complete nearly all tasks that they plan. Each of the tasks our users entered into their diary study ended up being completed. We also found that students had a negative feeling about having to complete academic tasks, but felt positively about social tasks. We found that social tasks are planned more impromptu than formally planned. We also found that our participants use different planning methods based on the task type; there was no one universal method for planning all tasks. For example, a user may plan academic tasks by writing them in their planner, but social tasks by adding it to the calendar on their phone. Users feel positively about completing a task, independent of what the task was and how they felt about having to complete it. This shows us that users like the feeling of getting tasks done. We also found that users enjoy planning social tasks.

This is what we found out through our introductory and exit interviews.

Initial Design Concept

Based on our diary studies, we were able to create an initial design concept to solve the problem space.

Our initial design is an app to help students budget their time throughout the day in order to be more productive, organized, and to help students fit social activities into their daily schedules. The home screen showed an hourly breakdown of the day where students could see their activities and budget their time by hour. In the settings, students can sync their app with their calendars and Cornell scheduler to automatically have their tasks in one place. These are apps that users told us they use to plan tasks. The app also had a pie chart coded by color that showed students a breakdown of their day. Larger pieces of the pie represented activities that would take up more time during that day. This was to help students think of time differently, tasks being pieces of their day, instead of linearly, and to see a visual breakdown of where they should be spending most of their time. The chart changes each day depending on the student’s tasks for that day. Students can also add recurring activities so that the app will remember their plans for each day. The app pairs with bluetooth devices, like earbuds and headphones so that a voice smart assistant can remind you of your tasks, when to take a break, and add tasks that you tell it to add. This is meant to mimic a human personal assistant that can remind you of things and keep track of your activities to make your schedule feel more manageable.

User Enactments

After developing an initial design prototype, we conducted user enactments with 2 participants to test the design in various settings.

During the user enactments, the participants were given a brief overview of the design and had a paper prototype of our app along with an earbud they could use in place of the fully functioning smart-earbud prototype. They were asked to enact a variety of pre-written scenarios that would take place in various contexts around campus or at home. The scenarios and earbud responses were written to study the fit and reactions of participants to the different features and uses of the system as well as different contexts because it is important for our solution to be adaptable to different situations. The goal of the study was to understand they interactions the user has with the system through the mobile app and through the earbud and which features work well and which are out of place.

The most significant finding was the overall dislike for the smart assistant earbuds because they found it annoying and unnecessary. We also found the parsing of data from multiple sources to be helpful so that the users can be assured they have accurate information rather than having to manually enter all of their deadlines and assignments. We also found that having a rigid schedule wouldn’t necessarily improve the experience because the users felt less likely to follow it but prefer more flexibility in planning to be able to make impromptu plans because of the unpredictability of their lives.

Final Design Concept

Based on our user enactments, we made a few changes to the initial prototype. We completely removed the personal assistant component and made it entirely a mobile app. We also changed the default screen to be the summary that shows the breakdown of the suggested schedule because we wanted to focus on users’ time budgeting. We also added more functionality to sync from external data sources, like Blackboard and Canvas, so it creates a more seamless experience from the Cornell user and they only have to manually add deadlines when necessary. Additionally, we decided to add emphasis on flexibility in the suggested schedule so that it is easier for users to stick to a schedule and have it adapt to their lives. The users will be able to move around the suggested schedule to cater to unexpected events or to allow users to decompress and take a break from their schedule. The modifications to the design help students budget their time according to their daily schedules, while incorporating flexibility, so that the users feel more in control of their schedule.




Cornell ’19 | Cornell Computing and Information Science ‘20

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Grace Song

Grace Song

Cornell ’19 | Cornell Computing and Information Science ‘20

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