My team and I designed Links for target-focused self-trackers. Links is a tracking platform comprised of a customizable, modular band of individual sensors and informational links that track progress and offer relevant suggestions.

By combining multiple sensor types and learning from diverse data streams, Links can provide targeted reminders and suggestions customized to the individual tracker.

Wearable prototype rendering

Wearable prototype rendering

Notifications and user interactions on the Links band

Notifications and user interactions on the Links band

A Golden Age of Self-Tracking

Since the first Fitbit tracker was released in 2009, startups and large corporations alike have developed devices, apps and wearables. With the Apple Watch and Health app announcements in September 2014, Apple became the latest entrant to the health-focused, self-tracking device industry.

Articulating User Needs & Defining the Market

In Quantified Self Research with Kim Erwin's previous work with the self-tracking community, IIT Institute of Design students identified four user modes of self-tracking: target-focused, performance-seeking, life mission, and experimenting. My team and I wanted to develop a future tracking solution for target-focused trackers, so we analyzed this research for design principles to guide our ideation and idea refinement.

Target-focused trackers aim for key numerical targets as a means of achieving goals; defining their active lifestyle by achieving a daily goal of 10,000 steps. These trackers typically begin tracking health-related goals with one or two tracking devices, focusing on metrics that they know the devices can easily manage. Target-focused trackers aren't interested in lengthy setup processes or manual data entry because tracking is just a means to an end; they don't draw joy from the act of self-tracking.

The health-focused wearables market is surprisingly homogenous.

Research shows that these devices offer a "one-size fits all" solution focused on a narrow set of health metrics. Trackers have unique personal attitudes about self-tracking, and technology is broadening what can be tracked. The right kind of self-tracking device for a tracker's mode of tracking can encourage adoption and generate more meaningful insights.

Pain Points in the Self-Tracking Journey

In the process of selecting a device, tracking metrics and achieving goals, we see many opportunities for failure. At the time of our research, current solutions do little to keep target-focused users on the right track.

At key transition points, devices provide little assistance to keep trackers on the path to success.

  1. Target-oriented trackers focus only on the metrics that they can easily track. So they ignore other metrics that might have a significant impact in reaching their goal. If they can't track it, they can't change it.  
  2. Trackers are deterred if setup, data syncing, or tracking itself takes a considerable amount of time. They won't track manually, tackle technical issues or take time away from their families or careers to track.
  3. Data visualizations are limited to trends and medals. Trackers are encouraged to focus solely on the daily numbers -- not the overall trends or context. 
  4. If there's no progress in the bigger goal, then tracking might be seen as pointless. If users reach their daily step counts, but don't lose weight, they may lose all incentive to track or change their behavior.

Daily metrics served as representatives for larger, more complex goals. For example, target-focused trackers focus on their calories consumed and weight in order to make it a habit to eat less. By committing to a habit of eating less, these trackers feel closer to achieving their big goal of losing weight.

While reaching numerical targets motivated target-focused trackers, it pushes these trackers to ignoring metrics not tracked by these devices that may be very important to their original goal. The devices encouraged a piece-meal approach and short-term goals. My team and I believe that these trackers needed to shift their attitudes from reaching 10,000 steps every day to achieving behaviors that are part of an active life. We believe that a longer view is a healthier overall attitude toward healthy living.

A New Self-Tracking Platform: Design Principles

By considering trackers' pain points and weaknesses in the current wearable devices in the market, we were able to extrapolate design principles that could be used in refinement of our concept.    

  1. Provide a way to track multiple goals at once

  2. Show data dependencies as they support goals at multiple levels
  3. Support the need to see quantifiable metrics while encouraging a more holistic view  
  4. Encourage daily use by integrating the device into day-to-day activities
  5. Offer meaningful and actionable advice at key moments

Links: A Customizable Self-Tracking Platform

Our final solution, Links, is a tracking system that users customize to their goals. Links combines modular sensors and informational links on a wearable chain with a smartphone companion app for deep data analysis.

Links Wearable & Sensors

Links comprises of a wearable with modular sensors.

Links comprises of a wearable with modular sensors.

Connected sensors can holistically track goals by connecting users' big goals to measurable tactics.

Daily metrics are the tactics that target-focused trackers use to measure their habits. These habits, or sub goals, work together to support a overall vision, or big goal, that trackers are trying to achieve.

The counting sheep charm set captures both sleep quality, environmental factors, schedule and caffeine consumption.

Links tracks metrics through sensors, third-party apps and data exhaust to create a holistic picture.

Links is comprised on links that track and notify trackers of clusters of related metrics. Links provide notifications through a unique interaction language including vibration patterns and LEDs. Link sensors can be purchased individually and assembled into sets on the wearable band. The band provides metric progress, metric alerts and suggestions through a small screen embedded into the band.

Links Smartphone App

The smartphone companion app provides rich data visualizations with embedded suggestions and tips. Trackers utilize the same navigation model as they would on the Links band to review individual data sets or combine diverse data types into a single visualization. Tips provide their own context, referencing commonly accepted scientific research as justification for the recommendations.


Key Roles

Communication Design, Product Design, User Research