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Humanized External Regulation for People with ADD/ADHD to Better Manage Their Life


REMINDer is a humanized watch serving as an external regulation for people with ADD/ADHD. Instead of pure text, this watch visualizes time and goals with a human tone and pictures of a person related to their life so as to remind them the goals effectively. Besides, users can review achievement rates and track their working patterns through a REMINDer mobile app.


As a project manager, I led a team of 3 other School of Information students where I was primary responsible for user research and interaction design. I conducted background research and competitive analysis. I drafted interview protocols and testing plans, and assisted other team memebers in recruiting users and conducting interviews. I conducted 3 in-depth interviews and 1 user testing. I also sketched design ideas and wrote a research paper for the competition.


CHI Student Design Competition
4 members
09/2016 – 01/2017 (4 months)
Ann Arbor, MI, USA

Contexual Inquery
Affinity Analysis
Competitive Analysis
User Testing
  • Keep our project on the right track
  • Make sure research findings are translated into design solutions


Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a complex syndrome of brain impairments that results in challenges with inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity. People with ADD/ADHD subsequently fails to keep track of time and stick to their goals. They have the following problems:

  • Lack the internal regulation
  • Lack the sense of time
  • Not able to envision the future
  • Get distracted easily


How we get there

Process: research, design and evaluation
This schedule lays out the planned project.


Background Research

Why it is a big problem worth solving?

  • What are the ADD/ADHD symptoms & problems?
  • How many people are affacted by this problem?
The symptoms of ADD/ADHD negatively affect 11% of school-age children in the United States [11] , 75% of whom continue suffering from the disorder in their adulthood.
Key Takeaway
Despites various tools are available to organize people’s activities, most of them are not designed for individuals with ADD/ADHD.

Contextual Inquiry & Affinity Analysis

How people with ADD/ADHD do self-management and gain external support?

  • What are the problems caused by ADHD?
  • What tools and techniques they use, what problems they face, and how they solve them?
  • How they interact with others?
  • How does the coach help them overcome challenges and adjust their suggestions based on clients' personal differences?

Contextual inquiry was chosed to address above because we wanted to explore users’ current understanding and behavior. Therefore we could uncover opportunities for the solution to expand into and provide a closer fit to people’s lives, further encouraging its use.

Recruiting Users

  • Attended an “Ann Arbor Area ADHD/ADD Support Group” Meetup event.
  • Interviewed 3 individuals with ADD/ADHD: 1 student, 1 employee & 1 entrepreneur.
External Supports
  • Visited “Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living” and interviewed a consultant.
  • Interviewed 2 ADD/ADHD adult coaches with 6+ years of experience in assisting adults with ADD/ADHD.

Interview Scripts

For people with ADD/ADHD
  • How did you change your lifestyle or working habits after diagnosed?
  • How do you arrange your daily schedule and prioritize tasks?
  • What are the things that you hope others can support during the works and learning?
  • How do you feel about the technology that you currently use on arranging schedule?
  • For coaches
    • Would you show us the last time how you helped them with time management?
    • How to know what is the best or suitable plan for this client?
    • How do interact with people around your clients, such as family, friends, social workers?
    • Could you show us the last time how you use technology to assist people with ADHD?
An “Ann Arbor Area ADHD/ADD Support Group” Meetup event.
Website of Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living.
An “Interview
An “Visited Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living
Affinity Wall
Affinity analysis was used to organize our data and to identify key themes

Key Findings from Affinity Analysis

  • Finding 1: Need external regulations.
  • Finding 2: Lack the sense of time.
  • Finding 3: The goal is ambiguous.
  • Finding 4: Need to block distraction.

Competitive Analysis

Why existing solutions fail to regulate users effectively?
Competitive Analysis

We conducted this analysis to find out what will work or not work and thus where to focus your energy.

Analysis 1: Digital Calendar

Most of the common mobile calendars like Apple Calendar and Google Calendar sent a system default notification for upcoming tasks, however, four shortages were identified:

  • Reminders are only for upcoming tasks, but not for remaining time of a current task.
  • Don’t keep reminding the goal of tasks and highlight the importance and urgency.
  • Users get distracted easily by other mobile applications.
  • Users are not able to trace their status of sticking to the plan.
Analysis 2: Sensing the Passing of Time

Regarding other available products, like Watchminder [1] and Time Timer [10], they tackle the problem of difficulty in perceiving time, lack clues regarding the goal.

  1. Manual setting

    Required to set up several reminders manually. Lots of decision making cost energy.

  2. No integration

    No integration with user current daily time management habits.

Key Takeaways From Research

Goal: Remind People with ADD/ADHD to Stick to Their Plan

No matter the types of planners, people with ADD/ADHD already used digital reminders, however most of these tools are designed for them.

Design Philosophy
  • Need proper external regulation, but also block distraction
  • Remind remaining time of the current task
  • Assist in estimating required time of future tasks and evaluating performance
  • Constantly remind the goal, tasks and its priority


Where does inspiration come from

Target User

People with ADD/ADHD who…
Have goals to achieve but can’t follow their plan.
Have goals to achieve but can’t follow their plan.
Familiar with technology
Familiar with technology
Used to use digital reminder.
Used to use digital reminder.
Busy with a non-regular schedule.
Busy with a non-regular schedule.

Design Goals

Assist individuals with ADD/ADHD in sticking to their plan
Messages are important than system notificaion
Differences in the importance of notifications and how users value notifications from messaging apps as well as notifications.

- Sahami Shirazi, A. et al. [9]

Persona - we turned previous research insights into fictional characters in order to understand the needs of different users.
Scenario Map
Scenario Map (As-is/To-be)
An “Initial sketches
Initial Sketches

Design Highlights

Time Visualization

Interface of Time Visualization

Shows the task name and visualizes the time left. When the time is almost up, the color of the timer changes to indicates the urgency.

Design Rationale
  • Lack of sense of time: I keep working until my hands got too tired, my cat ask me to feed them.
  • The goal is ambiguous: They are easily distracted and forget their goal.
  • Competitive reminders are only for upcoming tasks, but not for remaining time of a current task.

Humanized Reminder

Use the event owner’s picture and the customized message conversation to make users take the reminder seriously and implement their plan.

Design Rationale
  • Conversational design: people care more about notifications of real conversations from messaging apps over system notifications.
  • Use avatars as emotional design: current reminders don’t highlight the importance and urgency.

Less Distractions

The watch send users notification, so they do not have to check their mobile phone. As a result, the system can remind users, but it does not take so much time or cause serious distraction.

Design Rationale
  • Wearable device: users need to be remind constantly.
  • Not to use exsiting smart watches: I leave must-have apps on my mobile’s home screen and put all distracting app in a folder on a different screen so as to avoid the possibility of being distracted.

Identify Working Patterns

  • Chose perfered tone of chatbot: angel vs. devil
  • A mobile app to change the settings of the smartwatch and review data of user’s accomplishment rate.
Design Rationale
  • Users prefer different style of interaction with others.
  • Users are not able to trace their status of sticking to the plan.

User Testing

How we evaluate the solution

How do they use REMINDer watch?

  • Do users understand the count down of current task?
  • Can users check the name of current task, the time left and next task?
  • Will users use "Complete" or "Snooze" features?
  • Do users understand the meaning of setting up characters and report?

These were one-on-one structured, task-oriented interviews. The interviews lasted about 30 minutes. Audio recording was used as supplements of handwritten notes. For each round, a report summarizing findings were prepared before next team meeting.

Paper Prototype
Paper prototypes were used to examine our design.
Digital prototypes (Github) were used to test the feasibility.

Testing Results

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.
  • 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 smartwatch is also a benefit.
  • Concern 1: How to check the to-do list and uncomping event without checking mobile phone.

    Fix: Add to-do list & more Up Next events.
    We added checking to-do list function by swiping left. The to-do list will be ordered by its importance. Add to-do list & more Up Next events.
  • Concern 2: Not sure about the explanation of report.

    Fix: Modify the visualization of daily report.
    We added a line to present accomplishing task on time, and we used two colors to differentiate completing earlier or later than the expectation. Modify the visualization of daily report.
  • Concern 3: What if they are not able to complete on time.

    Fix: Add reschedule notificaiton.
    Although users expressed their wish to reschedule, we still decided not allowing users to reschedule the task to reduce its complexity. But the system will send a notification to remind users to find another time to complete the task.
    Add reschedule notificaiton.
  • Concern 4: Misunderstanding the meaning of icon

    Fix: Add label to each icon.
    Although we think icon without label is much clean, users may understand the icon in unexpected way. Hence, we chose to add a label under each icon to improve the usability. Modify the visualization of daily report.

Future Recommendation

  • Allow others to set reminders for individual with ADD/ADHD: assistances from people are also important.
  • Approach larger potential users: our design probably fit the needs of individuals without diagnoses present they have similar difficulties like ADD/ADHD symptoms.


What did I learn


  • Recruiting users is harder than expected.
  • There is no perfect solution for everyone.

The most surprising thing

People's attunement to real conversations.

If I had more time, I would ...

  • Use a higher-resolution approach for user tesing might be more informative or use diary studies to investigate processes and activities over time, and how users’ views and use patterns change with experience.
  • Do further evaluation on 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.
  • Consider the possibility of having an intelligent assistant that accompanies the ADHD persona throughout their day.