Assignment 1: Project Proposal


You are to propose a problem and an approach that could form the basis of a project for this course. Successful projects will observe the need for good human-centered design in an interactive computing system, analyze the needs and opportunities in the problem, explore potential designs, and propose a compelling solution.


This is an individual assignment, consisting of three milestones.

Project Theme

The theme for projects in this course is self-tracking and everyday interaction with personal intelligences.

People have long sought to better understand themselves, but continuing technology advances enable new approaches. Students will examine problems people encounter in gathering and gaining value from personal data, then explore how a combination of design and machine intelligence can help go beyond simple data fetishes to help people in using personal data as part of reaching their goals.

Understanding and designing for self-tracking is also known as personal informatics:

Personal informatics systems are systems that help people collect personally relevant information for the purpose of self-reflection and gaining self-knowledge.

Self-tracking and personal informatics are related to the Quantified Self movement, which describes itself as:

Self-knowledge through numbers.

Instead of limiting self-tracking to dashboards for an isolated self-analyst, consider the many different ways people might gather and interact with personal data, together with how machine intelligence might add meaningful value to these activities.

Tracking can therefore take many forms:

  • wearable sensors
  • phone and watch applications
  • appliances and other artifacts in the environment
  • hybrid and multi-device forms (e.g., mobile capture with later annotation or review)

Tracking can include many social contexts:

  • people seeking help from peers (e.g., social sharing, support networks)
  • people seeking help from experts (e.g., health providers)
  • co-located relationships (e.g., families, friends, co-workers)
  • remote relationships (e.g., families, friends, co-workers)
  • communities organizing (e.g., people in a building, community volunteers)

Tracking can explore new forms of interaction:

  • conversational interfaces
  • tangible interfaces
  • ubiquitous computing interfaces

Any problem where people gather or seek value in personal data introduces opportunities and challenges in designing for effective interaction around that data. It can also present opportunities and challenges in how integrated machine intelligence can provide meaningful value to that individual.

Thinking Big

Your proposal must go beyond a technology-centric proposal of a website, phone application, or interaction. Instead think about the problems that people face in their lives, how we can approach those problems, and the role for interactive computing. This first assignment is your opportunity to think broadly about identifying a problem. Subsequent assignments will provide opportunities to focus on designing a specific technological solution to a specific set of tasks.

You should identify and consider goals and activities that are important to people. Potential domains include:

  • living a healthy life
  • managing finances effectively
  • managing time effectively
  • reducing environmental impact

Activities within personal informatics can include:

  • planning to track
  • helping remember to track
  • the actual act of tracking
  • identifying activity patterns
  • sharing accomplishments with friends and family
  • deciding to abandon tracking

Do not start with a focus on concrete one-time tasks (e.g., logging into your bank account). Instead identify problems in long-lived activities that span many different social or technological contexts. If you want to help people manage their money, do not immediately propose a website that addresses one specific task. Instead consider the range of other opportunities (e.g., personal mobile devices, shared family computers, point of sale systems).

Focus on creating or improving a specific application or service that addresses the issues of specific people. You must be able to create and evaluate a design within the timeframe of this course, so consider whether you can reasonably gain access to the necessary people.

We encourage you to think big, expanding your thinking to include new ideas for interaction techniques or technology platforms. Do not feel constrained by current devices or immediate implementation, but instead aim to explore an exciting design that could potentially motivate the development of new enabling technology. Projects from prior offerings can also help you be comfortable thinking beyond immediate implementation:

Finally, the project theme requires your proposal present some opportunity for self-tracking and everyday interaction with personal intelligences. But you will ultimately follow your design process where it leads you, which may or may not emphasize self-tracking. Focusing on problems and opportunities, rather than specific design features, will leave room for your design to emerge and be refined in the course of this project.

Going Forward

The course staff will select a subset of submitted proposals for sponsorship. Sponsored proposals will be posted, and students will then bid on the projects they want to pursue in this course. Your proposal is thus an effort to convince both the staff and your classmates that a problem is interesting, tractable within the timeline and constraints of this course, and worthy of investigation.


1a: Proposal Brainstorm

Due: Uploaded Thursday, January 9, 2020.

The goal of this milestone is to help get you started in thinking of some ideas for potential project proposals. Friday's section will then build on these in brainstorming additional potential directions for project proposals.

Propose three starting points for brainstorming domains, problems, and goals that might be supported via self-tracking.

By domain, we mean an aspect of life. Domains that are already common in self-tracking include:

  • finances (e.g., tracking spending, a budget, investments)
  • wellness (e.g., tracking physical activity, sleep, weight)
  • health (e.g., tracking for post-surgical pain management, allergies or other personal triggers, major weight loss)
  • mood (e.g., tracking mood, identifying depressive symptoms)

Be sure to focus on problems and goals, not potential design solutions. One way to help yourself identify a hierarchy of problems and goals is to ask "why?". For example:

  • Why is a person using Mint?
  • Why is a person tracking their spending?
  • Why do they want to know how much they spend on leisure activities?
  • Why do they have a goal of saving for a major purchase?

Each idea should be a single sentence, identifying the domain and the problem or goal. At most one of your ideas may come from any of the domains above. Your other two ideas should be from domains not in this list, in order to broaden the brainstorm. Also ensure your ideas are significantly different, not small variations on the same idea.


Ensure your name and section are at the top of your submission.

No more than one page of text in PDF format. Submit via Canvas here:

If you are still attempting to add, or otherwise unable to access the submission system, submit via the staff email address.

In section, be prepared to contribute your initial ideas as part of a larger brainstorm.


This milestone will be graded on a scale of 3 points:

  • 1 point for each unique proposed idea (i.e., do not submit small variations on the same idea).

1b: Project Proposal

Due: Uploaded Monday, January 13, 2020.

The goal of this milestone is to propose and analyze a problem that could form the basis of a design project for this class.

In one paragraph, describe the design problem and motivation. This description should convince the reader that this is a difficult and interesting problem, worth spending a quarter considering. State what the problem is and why it is a problem, or describe a new idea and why it will enhance an existing application or practice.

In another paragraph, analyze the problem or idea to give more background and context. Do not just focus on the negative aspects of the current situation, but also identify some positive aspects that may be beneficial to retain. A few salient examples from existing systems or practices could be used to support those claims. If appropriate, you may conduct this analysis by describing a scenario that illustrates how someone might encounter and resolve the problem.

Ensure your report is appropriately clear and easy to read. This includes:

  • text should be clear and concise
  • use section headings as appropriate
  • include images in the body of the write-up with appropriate figure numbers and captions
  • refer to the figures in the body of your text
  • check for typos, spelling, and grammar errors

Be sure your presentation looks good:

  • choose appropriate colors, fonts, and styles
  • make liberal use of whitespace

Samples from Prior Offerings

Note these samples are intended to illustrate a variety of approaches, none of which is intended to be ideal or exemplary. Also note that details of assignments may have changed since prior offerings, so these samples may not completely correspond to the current project. Be sure to understand and carefully consider project requirements and feedback from the course staff in the context of your own work.

Samples from prior offerings include:


Ensure your name and section are at the top of your submission.

No more than one page of text in PDF format.

Images do not count against your page limit, and are therefore effectively free. You should embed images throughout your PDF, keeping them near the text that references them. The limit applies to the approximate amount of text you would have if all images were removed.

Submit via Canvas here:


This proposal will be graded on a scale of 10 points:

  1. Problem and Motivation: (3 points)
  2. Analysis of Problem: (3 points)
  3. Novelty and Creativity: (2 points)
  4. Clarity and Presentation: (2 points)

1c: Project Bid

Due: Submitted Wednesday, January 15, 2020.

Review the sponsored projects and course staff comments regarding those projects:

You will submit a bid on projects and potential partners. Course staff will use your bids to assign projects and groups.


Submit your bid on projects and potential partners here:


Submitting a project bid is a requirement for proceeding in the class.