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Humanized External Regulation for People with ADD/ADHD

  • CHI Student Design Competition
  • | Team of 4
  • | 4 months (09/2016 – 01/2017)

This project uncovered the problems faced by people with ADD/ADHD while managing their daily life and designed a smartwatch to help them work efficiently and achieve their goals. Finally, our team communicated the outcome with a 6-page paper, a poster and a 4-minute video.

User Experience Researcher
  • Conducted background research, competitive analysis and affinity analysis
  • Recruited interviewees, drafted interview protocols and the testing plan, conducted 3 interviews and 1 user testing
  • Built personas and scenario map
  • Brainstormed and sketched the solutions
  • Wrote a 6-page research paper
  • Led, planned and traced the project schedule

Problem: Lack of an internal cue

People with ADD/ADHD need an external cue to keep track of the time and follow plans because they lack internal regulation. However, most tools available are not designed for individuals with ADD/ADHD.

I can’t tune out distracting things or the inside stimuli. If there's a flexible and personalized thing that reminds me of my goals. It will be very helpful.

— interviewee with ADD/ADHD

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What we did in the 4 months
Process: research, design and evaluation


How we got the insights

Goals & Methods

This research aimed to create a deeper understanding of the problems faced by people with ADD/ADHD while managing their daily activities and life. Our primary questions and methods used were:

Why is it a big problem worth solving?
  • Background Research: ADD/ADHD symptoms and statistics, habit-forming, visualizing goal and increasing motivation
How do people with ADHD do self-management and get external support?
  • Contextual Inquiry & Affinity Analysis
Why do current solutions fail to regulate users effectively?
  • Competitive Analysis: digital calendar & sensing the passing of time

Highlight: Contextual inquiry

Contextual inquiry was chosen to help us understand the gaps between what people actually do and what they say they do so as to provide a closer fit to people’s lives, further encouraging its use.

Process: Contextual Inquiry - Planning, Conducting, Analyzing, Results

Challenge: No connection with people with ADHD

Participant recruitment is challenging within this population

We finally found participants through 3 recruitment medias:

  1. Local non-profit organization and community
    • Attended a Meetup event “Ann Arbor Area ADHD/ADD Support Group”
    • Visited “Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living”
  2. Mailing list
    • UMSI open mailing list
  3. Referral from interviewee's personal network
    • Asked for referral at the end of the interview
An “Ann Arbor Area ADHD/ADD Support Group” Meetup event.
Website of Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living.
An “Visited Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living
Recruiting email
Visiting non-profit organization & recruiting messaging

Interview Question Examples

From an ambiguous goal to specific questions
How do people with ADD/ADHD do self-management and get external support?
  • Life change
    • How did your lifestyle or working habits change after diagnosed?
  • Process
    • Walk me through the last time you arranged your daily schedule and prioritize tasks?
  • Motivation
    • How did you motivate yourself to stick to your plan, like rewards or punishment? Why?
  • External support
    • What are the things that you hope others can support your works and learning?
    • How do you feel about the techniques that you currently use on arranging schedule?
User interviews
User interviews
Affinity analysis was used to organize our data and to identify key themes
Affinity analysis was used to organize our data and to identify key themes
Analyzed and interpreted data
Analyzed and interpreted data

Key Findings

Insights, surprises and opportunities
external support
Rely on technological cues, no matter what tools they used
the sense of time
Often engage in tasks and be overoptimistic on time estimation
ambiguous goals
Can’t establish a goal in one’s mind and envision the future
distracted easily
Hard to manage their attention and try to block distractions as possible
real conversations
Literature reviews showed that people value notifications from people, instead of a system


How we translated insights into solutions

Design Goals

These findings suggested that the solution must remind people with ADHD to stick to their plan as an external regulation.

  1. With minimized distraction
  2. Suggest users' goals, the importance and urgency of tasks
  3. Show remaining time of a current task
  4. Assist in habit-forming and making future planning adjustment
  5. Integrate with existing tools or follow users' habits
Scenario Map
Scenario Map (As-is/To-be)
An “Initial sketches
Initial Sketches

Design Solutions

Visual design by Stephanie Kuo
Image of Time Visualization
Time Visualization
Shows the task's name, the current time and the time left for a task
Image of Humanized Reminder
Vivid Reminder
Uses the event owner’s picture, customized messages
Need some food substitutes.
Fewer Distractions
Introduces a reminder watch to send users notification
Don’t know the name of ingredient in English.
Working Pattern
A mobile app to change the settings and review data


How we evaluated & iterated the solution

User Testing

These were one-on-one structured, task-oriented user testing. The testing lasted about 30 minutes. For each round, a summarizing findings were reported.

How do users use REMINDer watch?
  • Can users check the current task, the time left?
    • According to the schedule, you synchronized with the app REMINDer, you have an hour writing the final report. You would like to check how long the time left to write the report.
  • Will users use "Complete" or "Snooze" features?
    • You realized you only have 10 minutes left and speeded up to finish the report. You keep writing it and then the watch vibrates and shows “Time’s up!”
  • Do users understand the meaning of the report?
    • A week after using this app, you receive a message “Check your phone and see how you perform this week!”
Paper Prototype
Prepared the paper prototypes to examine our design.
Michael Ho developed a digital prototype.
Check out the code on Github.

Testing Findings

These mockups show the latest changes
Image of Time Visualization
Can't check the to-do list and upcoming event
Fixed by: a to-do list & the next event
Image of Humanized Reminder
Can't understand the achievement rates
Fixed by: a line on achievement status
Need some food substitutes.
What if users don’t finish a task in time?
Fixed by: reschedule notifications
Don’t know the name of ingredient in English.
Misunderstanding the meaning of icons
Fixed by: icon labels


The participants appreciated the time visualization feature, and they thought it really helps them to sense the passing of time. The choice of designing on a smartwatch is also a benefit.

I’m often distracted by mobile while checking the time, but this watch can block the distractions and help me focus on the current task.

— interviewee with ADD/ADHD


What I've Learned

Make sure to stick to the goal

Outside of the UX works, as a project manager, I prepared meeting agenda before every meeting to make our meeting productive. I also followed up with members on their tasks and prevent our discussion from going off-the-track. As a result, we took full advantage of the specialized skills of each member to have an outcome greater than the sum of the parts.

Weekly meeting agenda
Gantt chart Followed up with members

Lessons learned

  • Make backup recruiting plans and be flexible: user recruitment is challenging within this population. We also need to minimize the observer effects by building trust.
  • Start small and then apply to the general public: there is no perfect solution for everyone.

What I would do differently

  • Use diary studies to investigate processes and activities over time, and how users’ views and use patterns change with experience.
  • Further evaluate the efficacy and overhead of full-on scheduling, such as testing with a bunch of people to see how universal our solution "feels" to them.
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