The user experience of self-tracking - pt.1

by Alf on 9 October 2013
Day after day, we are becoming more self-aware of our relationships with our bodies, spaces, resources and social connections. Ubiquitous computing (including mobile and wearable devices, mesh wireless networks, etc.) is fuelling a self-tracking revolution by providing an ambient intelligence that can sense, anticipate and change the way we live and record our lives, perform our tasks or manage our resources. However, and no matter how personal, data itself is not self-explanatory and compelling enough to motivate people and keep them committed to their resolutions such as saving energy, losing weight and so on. Additional support is needed to make sure these technologies are human friendly enough to engage their users and manage their expectations. As a result, effective self-tracking solutions must address the following aspects:

Generate meaningful feedback users can relate to

Data should be translated in ways that can be measured in user's goals (e.g. energy savings should be translated in cost savings or reduction to personal carbon footprint).

Present feedback against achievable and customisable goals

Feedback itself should indicate the user's distance from the set goal to encourage change or to help maintain current achievements (e.g. it's not important how much I'm consuming, but how close my current consumption is to my goal or the optimal level for my circumstances). Users should also have the option to set their own goals and see them represented in the data they receive.

Provide comparative, contextual and practical information to facilitate the achievement of goals

User's performance should be presented in order to show its relationship with the following aspects:
  • Progress / distance from the set goal
  • Contextual information on the user's personal situation
  • Comparative information on other users with similar profiles or equivalent periods of time

Deliver timely but not intrusive feedback

Feedback should be always available without disrupting personal routines or generating a too high cognitive overload. Notifications should be delivered only for goal related events and to flag when significant changes occur. In this post, I’ll focus on energy monitors only as they've been around for quite a few years now and recent research confirmed their usefulness in promoting energy saving behaviours. Let's look at 4 ways these principles have been applied to consumer's electronic and digital monitoring services:
  • Feedback can be provided in £'s rather than KWh as the main user's goal is saving money:
  • Feedback can be presented to show how current usage scores against a set or suggested goal:
  • Comparative information helps user understand how well they are performing against users in similar circumstances:
  • Deliver timely but not intrusive feedback:
Although data can be checked online, having a dedicated energy monitor spares customers the need to log in / log out their accounts to quickly check the costs of their consumption. Energy monitors area only a small cross section on self-monitoring devices. In the next posts, I’ll illustrate how the above principles can be applied in other popular monitoring areas (e.g. health, nutrition and fitness or banking).

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