Decluttering Assistance App
Secondary research shows that Americans spend $1.2 trillion annually on nonessential goods, resulting in approximately 300,000 items in the average home. Studies also indicate that the average American home has nearly tripled in size over the past 50 years, yet 1 of every 10 Americans rent offsite storage.
The problem is that people are accumulating more than they need. Some reports say that we consume twice as many material goods today as we did 50 years ago. This leads to excess waste, environmental impact, loss in potential savings, and stress.
Current solutions to this issue include renting self-storage space, which could cost upward of $1000/year in rent, or hiring a home organization consultant, a business that has grown at a rate of approximately 10% per year since the early 2000s to become an $8 billion/year industry.
But how can we clear all this clutter and curb our consumption? Setting goals, identifying the bad habits and motivations that contributed to the clutter as well as staying encouraged is crucial to success. Both education and strategies that aid to prevent the accumulation of more unnecessary items during the process and in the future are also essential.
As part of Springboard’s User Experience Design certification program, students are required to identify a problem, propose and design a solution that works to resolve that issue. Conquering the overwhelming task of decluttering was the problem I set out to solve with my capstone project.
Emotions, particularly happiness and the pursuit of happiness, were revealed to be the root of all consumption and accumulation behaviours among Users. The positive feelings the participants associated with specific items were the primary driver for both buying and accumulating an excess of nonessential items.
The challenge was to create a product that could help Users tackle the overwhelming feelings they experienced when decluttering, as well as the emotional barriers keeping them from conquering their clutter.
For this project I worked independently on all elements, meeting weekly with my Springboard mentor to touch base and keep the project on track. During the course of the project, I was responsible for completing the following tasks:
User Research and Personas
Research planning and studies, usability heuristics analysis, generate personas, empathy maps, and user stories
Content Strategy and Information Architecture
Content strategy with special focus on designing for mobile, determine MVP features, conduct open card sort, create sitemaps and user flows
Sketching, Wireframing, and Prototyping
Create sketches, workflows, and wireframes, develop a medium-fidelity interactive prototype, revise and produce a high-fidelity clickthrough prototype based on user feedback
Build an appropriate and effective style guide, logo design
Plan and moderate usability testing sessions (remote and in-person)
Help the User separate their emotions from their objects as well as identify their specific goals, break them down into specific and manageable tasks is crucial to the success of their decluttering journey.
It was determined that the app should contain plenty of customization options as limiting a Users’ ability to adapt their course of action may be discouraging, especially if they feel as though they have gotten off-track or failed.
The app’s simplest core feature set that would allow it to be deployed and still deliver customer value were determined to be the ability to create and customize lists, track their progress, sync tasks to the calendar, and share tasks with their friends and family.
Research was conducted in order to identify the fundamental motivations, habits and behaviours of individuals who need assistance in conquering clutter, and controlling excessive consumption and accumulation behaviours.
The following are the primary characteristics of the study’s participants:
Homeowner or long-term renter (in current residence at least 2+ years)
Identified an excess of items in their home
Expressed interest in learning more about decluttering and reducing nonessential items
Uses mobile apps multiple times per day
SUMMARY OF RESEARCH FINDINGS
Of the 38 individuals surveyed, 34% of respondents reported having been at their current residence between 2-5 years, while 29% and 26% of people reported being in their current living situation for less than two years, and over 10 years respectively. The infographics below explain additional participant demographics.
Participants were asked to rate the tidiness of their homes, with 58% of respondents rating their home as ‘good’, with most items put away and only a few areas where items tend to pile up. Whereas, 29% of respondents felt their home was disorganized and admitted to having trouble finding items. While 8% of people confessed that they were too embarrassed to invite people over as a result of the ‘terrible’ state of their home. Only two responses considered their home to be ‘immaculate’, with every item having a designated place.
In addition to rating the perceived tidiness of their homes, Users were asked about the amount of items in their home, with a total of 74% of all respondents indicating they have "too many items" in their home.
Feedback gathered from six interviews showed that emotions, particularly happiness and the pursuit of happiness, were the root of all consumption and accumulation behaviours among those interviewed for this report. The positive feelings participants associated with specific items were the primary driver for buying and accumulating an excess of nonessential items.
Difficulty detaching the sentiment on things
The desire to attain new items outweighs the desire or time Users have to use them
Unable to invite friends and family over to the home due to clutter and excess items
Portions of the home cannot be used for their intended purpose because they serve as storage for unnecessary items
Defining the Users
Based on feedback from the respondents, both the reason for acquiring and keeping unnecessary items were emotional. The emotional connection to the items, as well as the fear that the item will be needed in the future were the biggest challenges faced when trying to discard excess items. Others indicated that they felt guilt when considering discarding items that were received as gifts. Respondents were also hesitant to discard items on which they had spent a significant amount of money.
Four personas were discovered during the research phase, with all participants demonstrating at least two of the aspects used to develop the personas.
Emma wants advice on how to separate actual garbage from proper keepsakes, and motivation to keep decluttering and tidying until she is able to feel at ease in her own home.
"No Time” Nick
Nick would like the decluttering process to be as organized, efficient and quick as possible. Nick would like to schedule his tidying sessions the same way that he would a work meeting or a team practice.
"What If” Whitney
Whitney needs to restrain her habit of online shopping, as well as reduce her current wardrobe to items she actually uses. Whitney has difficulty letting go of items as she fears that she will need/want the item once it has been discarded.
Mark is hesitant to discard items that he has spent a great deal of money to purchase. Mark has become more intentional with his purchases and has stopped buying items he does not need. However, he needs a plan to deal with a garage full of items he would like to sell.
Understanding the Competition
In order to gain more knowledge on how to improve the User’s experience, a heuristic evaluation of existing competitor apps was conducted.
Three apps were examined and analyzed; one decluttering-specific app (Konmari), and the other two being productivity apps, (Wunderlist, Sortly), that could be used in helping a User eliminate non-essential goods from their home.
The heuristic evaluation revealed that the primary usability problems in the competitors’ apps resided within the customization functions and visibility features. Following this analysis, I felt that the app should implement a simplistic and minimal interface, the ability to share tasks with family/friends, and the ability to fully customize lists, sublists, due dates, and reminders. This flexibility would create a more enjoyable experience, as well as a stress-free environment - both digitally and physically - for the Users.
Organizing the Information
An open card sort was conducted in order to help create an intuitive navigation system for the app. Six individuals with similar goals and motivations to those of the identified personas were selected to participate in the online exercise.
Some of the tasks like ‘restarting the decluttering process’, and saving difficult to discard items to a specific category, seemed to cause participants some trouble. Though the participants could not necessarily agree on the placement of these specific features, the competitive analysis did show that these two functions were important to Users. Some differences between the categorization of specific decluttering tasks were also noted, with some participants grouping all decluttering tasks together, and others grouping some tasks in their ‘progress’ or ‘settings’ groups.
The participants created five primary categories: Tasks, Progress, Account Settings, Notifications, and Items.
A site map was created based on the card sort results, with data from the preliminary studies being used to decide between the minor discrepancies observed in the card sort results.
Though, the terms “tasks” and “tags” came up frequently during the card sort process, these names were a source of confusion later during the usability testing phase.
As a result, the menu name was changed to “Lists”, and the “Tasks” and “Tags” headings were updated to “Rooms” and “Categories” respectively.
Helping the User separate their emotions from their objects is a crucial component of their decluttering journey. Having the Users identify their specific goals, and break them down into specific and manageable tasks is integral to their success. The app should contain plenty of customization options as limiting users’ ability to adapt their course of action may be discouraging if they feel as though they have gotten off-track or failed.
The app’s simplest core feature set that would allow it to be deployed and still deliver customer value were determined to be the ability to create and customize lists, track their progress, sync tasks to calendar, and share tasks with their friends and family.
User flows were generated for the most common tasks, which were new user registration, add a new task, and share a task with a contact.
Sketches & Wireframes
A series of basic sketches and wireframes were developed based on the user flows. As per the card sort findings, the primary categories were:
As a result, these categories were all placed in a dock menu along the bottom of the app for immediate access. Placing the menu along the bottom also makes one-handed navigation easier for the Users. Once the rough sketches were completed, the drawings were recreated and refined digitally in Adobe xD for legibility and presentation purposes.
It was also determined that the initial design of the dashboard tried to display far too much information, and was confusing and uninformative as a result. A carousel-style menu that shuffled through the User's progress, schedule, and achievements was decided to be a better choice for presenting the information
The decision was made to elevate the original low-fidelity wireframes to medium-fidelity wireframes for the usability testing sessions.
Testing the product and its design while still in a rough form proved to be beneficial for many reasons. This course would resolve any usability issues before spending lots of time on a detailed and polished prototype. Also, studies have shown that participants are more likely to provide constructive criticism and feedback when presented with design that is still in the early stages.
Content and visual elements were added to more accurately represent the final product. The prototype provided limited functionality, but contained clickable hotspots to characterize the interactions and navigation possibilities of an application.
Originally, the prototype was planned on being built in Adobe XD, but due to the software package being relatively new, and lacking in several features and functions, the design was imported to InVision for completion.
Colour & Style
The overall visual design of the app is clean, light and uncomplicated in order to represent the sentiment of decluttering. The app was named ‘Unburden’ to epitomize the act of freeing the User from their unnecessary material items, as well as the feelings of stress and guilt associated with the clutter.
Circles were prominently used in the design for Unburden due to their ability to create a sense of flow and calmness, as well as their representation of completeness and commitment. The colour choices are primarily neutral, with the yellow providing a subtle, yet sunny, pop of colour.
A feather was selected to represent the ‘Unburden’ app for its connection to freedom and inspiration, and it was turned upward to project feelings of optimism as well as to resemble a smile.
Validating the Design
Usability testing was conducted via moderated sessions with a total of four participants, ranging in age from 28 and 44, with three users being current homeowners and one user currently renting. Professions of the participants were a civil engineer, an IS specialist, and a drafting technician, and a manager. All participants frequently use mobile apps and are confident and comfortable using technology for both personal and professional purposes. Participants were asked to test a click-through prototype and complete the following tasks:
Register as a New User
Create a new room
Add a new “To-Do” task
Set a due date for the “To-Do” task
Invite a contact to help with the task
SUMMARY OF USABILITY TESTING
The majority of the feedback received from the participants revolved around the ‘To-Do Tasks’ List / ‘Do It Later’ Items Lists. Most participants felt that the task buttons were too small and would benefit from more interactivity. Another participant felt that the ‘To-Do Tasks’ list and the ‘Do-It Later’ items names were confusing. Other minor issues were that the testers found the ‘Room Selection’ page to be overwhelming, with too many unnecessary options.
No issues were observed during the “Create a new room”, or “Set a due date for the “To-Do” tasks. Participants also noted that the contact and calendar icons on the task tile indicating these fields had been set was a very helpful and communicative feature.
The usability testing sessions all went very well. Initially, moving through the tasks with the participants was a bit awkward, but having the script helped me keep the session on track. A big challenge was not explaining and defending my design. There were a few times when I wanted to clarify the reasons behind a decision, but remained an unbiased moderator throughout the sessions. Overall, the sessions were lots of fun to conduct and produced a lot of great feedback that will really improve the design and functionality of the app.
Based on the feedback and observations obtained during the usability testing sessions, several iterations were made to the design.
Menu and button sizes were increased to make navigation easier, and reduce the risk of frustration with not being able to interact effectively with small buttons. Increasing the size also allowed for changing the bullet list of tasks to clickable check boxes.
The ‘To-Do’ Tasks and ‘Do-It Later’ menus were changed to ‘Rooms’ and ‘Categories’ giving Users more freedom as the app would not require them to commit to one decluttering style. This change also eliminates need for the overwhelming ‘room selection’ screen during the registration process.
Changes were made to the Rooms menu, in order to communicate additional information behind each room tile. This was done by adding an additional line of text that specified the number of unseen tasks, for example “...plus 12 more tasks” within each room or category. This indicator would also tell the User that there is more information available to view.
These simple iterations elevated both the functionality and usability of the design, as well as improved the overall aesthetics of the interface.
This capstone project taught me how to take a UX project from concept to development. The nature of the self-paced program was significant in teaching me how to appropriately manage various project requirements and time constraints, as well as how to quickly identify the most important elements of a project.
The usability testing sessions all went very well. Initially, moving through the tasks with the participants was a bit awkward, but having the script helped me keep the session on track. One challenge I encountered was not explaining or defending the design. There were a couple of times when I wanted to clarify the reasons behind a decision but remained quiet throughout the sessions. Overall, the testing sessions were lots of fun to conduct and produced a lot of great feedback that will really help to improve the design and functionality of the app.
Specifically related to the subject matter of the design, I learned that almost all people were purchasing and accumulating of nonessential items as a way to try to increase their happiness. Items were either a reminder of a better time or a symbol of a brighter future. Both perspectives make the User feel unsatisfied with the present.
The cause and effect of our accumulation crisis were depressing, but learning how to create a thoughtful and empathetic design that focuses on the Users’ needs and gives us the ability to help others was very encouraging.
If you would like to explore this project in more detail, you can review all result reports here: UNBURDEN APPENDIX