A case study exercise

As part of the course “ and Emotional Design”, we were asked to design for one ‘bad ’ that an assigned fellow student (user) wanted to change or needed help with. After getting to know Kiran’s (name changed) list of bad habits, I decided to help him with his bad that he needs help the most —  .

Understanding the user and their context

Majority of the people have to wake up between 6AM to 8 AM, for which they must at least sleep between 10 PM to 12 PM. Unfortunately it does not happen in the case of most students. After talking to Kiran (and also my own experience 😉 ), I realised that sleeping late and one’s routine are tightly coupled. Kiran sleeps late due to his lack of everyday routine. Sleeping late further messes up his routine. It is a vicious cycle. Kiran believes that by sleeping on time, he would be able to wake up early which would motivate him to exercise in the morning and hence make him productive and energetic throughout the day.

To understand more about habits of sleeping, I interviewed 10 people — mostly students from age 24–28 and a nursing mother of age 27.

Following are the questions asked in the interview

  1. Do you have the habit of sleeping late?
  2. When was the last time you ended up sleeping late?
  3. Why did/do you end up sleeping late?
  4. In couple of hours before your sleep what happens?
  5. How do you wake up?
  6. Are you able to complete your sleep hours of 7–8 hours?
  7. Does sleeping late affect your routine next day? If yes how?
  8. What is your motivation to sleep early and rise early?
  9. Have you tried to form the habit of sleeping early and rising early? Did it fail or succeed? Can you describe your attempt?
  10. What is stopping you from sleeping early and rising early?

After the interviews were done, I analysed the feelings and beliefs of the interview participants. The ones marked in red are the barriers to sleeping on time and the ones marked in green are motivations or triggers to sleep on time.

Identifying motivators and barriers

From the beliefs and feelings of the participants, I derived common motivators and barriers for building the habit of sleeping early and waking up early. This helped me in identifying the blocks that I need to weaken, and which motivators I should strengthen.

Motivation to sleep early and wake up early

  1. Healthy lifestyle
  2. Exercise in the morning
  3. Follow a routine
  4. Productive and focussed
  5. Feel good, feel energetic

Barriers to sleep early and wake up early

  1. It’s a habit, I can’t change it— Your body has adjusted to the routine of sleeping late and you think you can’t change it
  2. Lack of routine — You didn’t get everything done yet
  3. No trigger for sleeping — You’re lacking proper signals to keep you aware of the time.
  4. Sleeping in the afternoon — You feel tired and think afternoon nap will balance out the sleeping hours
  5. Procrastination — You realise that there is whole night to work and procrastinate your tasks
  6. It’s my relaxation time — You feel entitled to having extra time at the end of your day
  7. Browsing Internet and watching videos

Habits can be difficult to change. In The Power of Habit (Duhigg 2012), Charles Duhigg explains how habits are formed and he connects cues, routines, and rewards.

When someone has formed a habit, there’s a cue that triggers the habit, then there’s the routine of the habit that is automatically carried out, and that’s followed by a reward that has to do with the purpose of the habit. The reward strengthens the habit and sets it up to happen again the next time the cue appears. — Susan Weinschenk on Chales Duhigg’s explanation of habits

In case of many participants I interviewed including Kiran, the only trigger to sleep is fatigueness. When I was a kid, I would sleep after I pack my school bag. Packing my school bag acted as trigger for me to sleep. One of the interview participant a nursing mother puts her baby to sleep by following a specific routine — sponge, feed, lullaby and that sequence becomes a trigger for sleep for the baby. You begin to associate turning off your computer, brushing your teeth, drinking warm milk, saying your prayers, writing in your diary, listening to music, reading or whatever else you do before bed with sleep. Those previously neutral activities (triggers) tell your body that it’s time to relax.

What changed when we grew up? We were on our own, our priorities changed, it is okay to binge watch Netflix and sleep until my eyes hurt — My life, My rules. We do not follow our bedtime rituals any more.

Design Direction

Points to consider

  • Can we use triggers to condition the mind and say “Hey it is time to sleep”
  • Make the change gradual

What if I could induce sleep by conditioning the user with a trigger?

Some of the common triggers to sleep that came up in my interview are turning of the light, reading, writing journal and listening to music. While thinking about trigger I wondered about how somebody’s yawning triggers yawning in me. Yawning is the natural signal of from one’s body trying to say “Hey it is time to sleep”.

Make the change gradual

If you’re currently going to bed at 2 am, don’t decide that tonight you’re going to get to bed by 10 pm. When you’re making behavioural changes, instead of trying to jump all the way to the finish line right away and then missing, you should aim to take smaller steps to build up to your bigger goal.

It’s also important to give your body time to adjust as you start shifting your bedtime.



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