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.

Project Theme

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

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 design insights can help go beyond simple data fetishes to support 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, and how they might gain meaningful value from 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
  • artificial intelligence

Any problem where people gather or seek value in personal data introduces opportunities and challenges in designing for effective interaction around that data.

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. Design is rarely for "everybody", but instead generally more compelling with a more clear focus. 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.

Finally, the project theme requires your proposal present some opportunity for self-tracking and everyday interaction with personal data. But you will ultimately follow your design process where it leads you, which may or may not emphasize self-tracking or personal data. 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.

Milestones and Deliverables

This is an individual assignment, consisting of three milestones.

Assignment 1a - Individual Brainstorm

Due: Thursday, January 4, 8:00pm

Assignment 1b - Group Proposals

Due: Monday, January 8, 8:00pm
Revision Due: Thursday, January 11, 8:00pm

Assignment 1c - Finalized Proposal

Due: Monday, January 15, 3:00pm