Plant Pals is a playful to-do list app that encourages a healthy work-life balance.
This project aims to change the behaviors of college students who are stressed due to poor working habits & task management, though a to-do list system that nudges users towards taking breaks and a virtual pet plant that provides motivation for users to complete both their tasks and breaks.
I helped conduct user research and worked on low- and mid-fidelity prototypes, visual design, and some motion components.
The app works by incorporating a virtual pet with a task list. Upon entering a task, the app also adds a suggested break that is paired with the task. If the user completes the task, their plant grows, and a reminder pops up that shows them what accessory they can get for their plant if they also complete the suggested break. At the end of each day, users get a summary of what they accomplished that day (or if they didn’t accomplish much, a positive message of encouragement). Users also get a new plant each month, to let them look back and track their progress through their past plants’ growth.
01 — research
How can we address stress culture among college students?
We began the project by conducting primary and secondary research into our problem area, through a literature review, a survey, and interviews with our target audience. We wanted to understand what psychological principles and similar, pre-existing examples could inform our work, as well as how our target audience currently managed their tasks and breaks.
We conducted a literature review on relevant areas such as task & goal completion, effectiveness of breaks, and use of distancing and virtual pets to inform healthy behaviors to gain a better starting point for our exploration. These findings helped inform our design decisions throughout the process.
Virtual pets can help encourage healthier habits
Break activities that are social and low-stress positively affect well-being
Daily reflection on goals can create a positive feedback loop for self-affirmation & growth
02 — survey & interviews
Through the survey and interviews we realized that, though there were many different ways students managed their tasks, there were some key insights we could use as we began designing the app.
Primary research insights
Users were very specific about what they did or didn’t want in a task management app, and no two respondents were alike.
User retention is a key problem with apps. Users forget to use an app or only start using an app if they have too many things to keep track of mentally. Users mentioned that they would continue using apps if they had effectively managed their tasks while previously using an app, though.
Most users do not take intentional breaks, though many take unintentional ones (e.g. going on social media while working). Those who do take breaks tend to do them after completing some sort of goal or checkpoint in their task.
We should allow for multiple ways users could enter in tasks & use our app.
User engagement & making the app both fun & engaging to use as well as effective for task management is key.
Integrating implicit breaks into a to-do app has a lot of potential for encouraging users to be more mindful of breaks, while working with a system of taking breaks some people already use.
03 — initial sketches
Based off our research, we began sketching some initial wireframes for our app. We explored ideas on how the app should be structured, as well as concepts for the virtual pet and the playfulness of the app to gain better feedback for our idea.
04 — low-fidelity prototyping
We then began creating low-fi wireframes based on our sketches & initial feedback, including the main to-do section, a section for the virtual pet, and a “garden” section where users would be able to check on their friends’ plants.
From user testing, we found that users liked the ease of adding tasks as well as the options to add date/ time information and categorize. Users also preferred having the application suggest specific breaks rather than time-based breaks, which went hand-in-hand with our literature review findings. Additionally, some aspects of how we designed the task/ break/ reward system to work were confusing to users, who weren’t sure how their plant would grow or how they would get items for their plant.
05 — mid-fidelity prototyping
Based off this feedback, we created higher-fidelity versions of the screens in our app to gain more in-depth feedback, particularly on how our task/ break/ reward system would work.
User testing feedback revealed that while the new task/ breaks/ reward system was clearer (after completing a task, the plant grew, and after completing a break, the user received an accessory for their plant), but the reminder pop-up was confusing. A lot of other feedback revolved around customizability of the app (such as whether you can edit or delete suggested breaks and whether you only received random rewards), as well as some navigation and readability concerns.
06 — final prototype
We refined our last iteration based on this user feedback, and created a more fully interactive prototype of the app to gain final feedback & demo our idea.
I also created some sample animations of how the plant might behave in the app, as some users mentioned that they would appreciate if the virtual pet was responsive or had “idle” actions to keep them engaged.
07 — final thoughts
Though this project was for a class, it was relatively unstructured. This forced our team to set our own deadlines and deliverables, and was particularly insightful for me when we had to decide to stop ideating and move on to another portion of the project.
This project also had a slightly different start than other assignments in that it initially drew heavily from theories on user behavior, and I appreciated being able to start understanding the difference between starting from established theories versus starting with a concept and then seeing how users reacted to it.