a case study

The Challenge

“A goal without a plan is just wishful thinking.”

There are plenty of goal-setting and task management approaches and methods, from bullet journaling on paper to sophisticated software, and many tools in between. Despite this — or perhaps because of this — people tend to cobble together a combination of tools and devise makeshift systems of task management to “make it work” for them.  This results in inefficient use of time and loss of information across tools, which ultimately defeats the purpose of the tools to begin with.

There are a number of popular, well-designed products, including Trello, Asana, Toodledo, and Any.do that offer people with unique approaches to managing goals and tasks. At the same time, there doesn’t seem to be a single tool that helps people to manage goals and tasks such that people first identify and set goals, then set and tasks explicitly linked to goals, and schedule time to complete specific tasks to reach a goal. 

Goalful seeks to solve this problem by providing people with a set goals with clear tasks, schedule tasks, and track their progress, so that ultimately, people can be more productive as they work towards accomplishing their dreams.

Goals

  • Develop a research-informed understanding of when, how, and why people set goals and manage tasks.
  • Understand the current challenges people face with setting goals and managing tasks.
  • Design a product that improves the user experience of setting goals and managing tasks, specifically with respect to (1) clearly defining and prioritizing goals, (2) developing concrete, time-sensitive plans of action to accomplish their goals, and (3) identifying the chronological order of activities in order to work towards achieving goals.

Guiding Questions

  • How and why do people set goals?
  • How and why do people manage tasks?
  • How do people define the relationship between goals and tasks?
  • How might we improve people’ experiences with setting and managing goals and tasks to achieve their dreams?

Process

DISCOVER

I conducted a heavy discovery phase focusing on user research to identify people’ goals, priorities, needs, frustrations, and behaviors related to setting goals and managing tasks. I analyzed the existing market of digital task management products and noted possible areas of opportunity to better meet user needs, as informed by primary and secondary research.

Define

I delivered a concise UX strategy articulating user beliefs, attitudes, needs, and beliefs for goal setting and task management. I identified core pain points people currently experience that a new product could address and improve.  I articulated a vision for how the new proposed product/application would improve how and why people set goals and manage tasks.

Prototype

I developed a clear application map and user flows to facilitate multiple user journeys, focusing on the creation of new goals, creation of new tasks, and calendar management. I designed a research-informed product prototype with key screens for common user interactions.

Test

I conducted multiple rounds of usability testing to gather user feedback on the proposed prototype. I identified sources of user error and frustration, user pain points, and areas of delight. I identified and implemented modifications to the prototype to improve the interaction design of the product.

Iterate

I implemented research-informed changes into the prototype. I developed a coherent branding strategy, including logo design. I delivered high-fidelity design composites of key screens and a UI kit.

Focus Areas

Research

Interaction Design

User Interface Design

User Research

In order to better understand user needs and behaviors for goal setting and task management, I first designed and conducted a user survey with a broad audience of people. The criteria for participating in the survey was to have had experience setting a goal. I gathered responses from ten participants, and followed up with participants who volunteered to participate in interviews to further discuss goal and task management. 

The surveys and interviews revealed a few core user needs in goal setting and task management. Overall, people reported the desire for a product that would not only help them stay organized and keep track of goals and tasks, but to be able to clearly see how tasks are related to goals, the progress they are making towards accomplishing the goals as well. 

Participants also shared a number of features of ideal task management tools:

“For work, more integration to the organization's top level goals and relationship to tiered goals that may involve multiple people.”
“I would want a system set up that could look at past goals and help predict future goals and analyze and determine tasks.”
“I need to become disciplined in the act of writing down finalized goals, and making mini plans toward achieving them.”

Coupling surveys with interviews allowed for breadth and depth in the user research process. The information gathered through surveys helped me form a “lay of the land” perspective on goal setting and task management, and interviews provided additional context for the reasons and beliefs that people hold in creating goals and tasks. Furthermore, through the surveys and interviews, two key user personas emerged — (1) the spontaneous, entrepreneurial Millennial who sets goals and tasks as needed, and (2) the project manager who has tried dozens of productivity apps and is still in search of the ideal task management tool.

After initially developing personas, I created empathy maps to further elaborate on each persona’s goals, needs, influences, pains, and gains, specifically in relation to goal setting and task management. The development of empathy maps helped highlight some core priorities of the target people — people want a tool that helps them save time, that syncs across devices, that connects tasks to bigger-picture goals, and that helps them stay organized and feel in control of what they need to accomplish.

In order to further hone in on a user’s experience in working towards accomplishing a goal, I developed a customer journey map. The journey map reiterated the pains, gains, and thoughts featured in empathy maps, and provided a visual representation of the emotions that a person might feel while seting out to accomplish a goal.

Through the process of designing a journey map, I distinguished five overarching phases of a person’s journey towards accomplishing a goal: defining it, planning it, executing the plan, reflecting on the execution, and completing the plan. Each phase contained emotional high and low points a user might experience. Developing a customer journey map was particularly crucial for identifying the pain points someone might feel — and the emotional “roadblocks” or “barriers” that one might face — in the process of accomplishing a goal. These pain points became a focal point of the design process, in that the subsequent interaction design and user interface design were directly informed by the challenges identified in the research phase. 

In addition to primary research, I conducted a competitive analysis of popular apps and tools for task management. The products I compared in the competitive analysis were informed by primary research, in that I included products that participants reported using for task management. Through competitive analysis, I was able to identify the core features of popular task management apps and develop a sharper understanding of some of the features people might expect as I moved forward with interaction design.

Redefining the Strategy

After conducting primary and secondary research, I developed a gained a better understanding of the key motivations, hopes, and needs that people have when managing goals and tasks, as well as the challenges and frustrations they face in doing so. Furthermore, I developed a clearer sense of the existing landscape of task management tools on the market. Through synthesizing the user research, I was able to revisit the core project goals and identify four core strategy points that would inform the rest of the design process.

Eliminate people’ need for multiple methods of goal and task management in order to provide a more steamlined, efficient task management process
Provide people with a system to optimize  goal and task management through scheduling, reminders, and a view of daily/real-time progress on goals
Task management needs to be clear, organized, and easy for people to adopt. There is no single tool that supports user task management right now.
Focus specifically on user experiences with setting life-cycle goals (with clear end dates) and managing tasks related to those goals

While primary research indicated that people ultimately seek a product available for both web and mobile use, I chose to focus solely on the design of a mobile app in order to stay within a feasible scope for the project.

Interaction Design

Informed by both the user needs outlined in primary research, as well as the competitive analysis of existing task management apps, I drafted an application map to explore the possible arrangement of information and features within the application.  I considered the priority features that research participants indicated as important — such as creating goals and tasks, having a calendar, and having reminders — and mapped how they might relate to one another within the information architecture of the product.

In tandem with the application map, I designed a user flow to represent some of the possible common paths that a user might take in interacting with the product. Based on common flow patterns identified in the competitive analysis, I outlined flows for signing in (and signing up,) creating a new goal, creating a task within a goal, and viewing and scheduling tasks through a calendar. Designing a user flow helped minimize the risk of designing user journeys with dead ends. It also helped me think through the possible outcomes of a given flow, based on decisions that people might make within a task.

Wireframing and Prototyping

The application map and user flow informed the key screens that I developed in the first set of low-fidelity, pen-and-paper wireframes. I sketched screens based on the content of the application flow, and I used the user flow to keep track of the interactions that I needed to include in each screen. I kept in mind some of the core user needs that were emphasized in the primary research and user personas -- namely, the desire for a simple, clean, and clear product navigation and an explicit connection between tasks and a calendar -- as I designed the first set of wireframes.

After outlining low-fidelity wireframes, I designed mid-fidelity wireframes, which became the basis of the prototypes I used for the first round of usability testing. By adding basic interactivity to the wireframes, I would be able to evaluate how people engage with the proposed screens and identify sources of user error and frustration early in the design process. Based on the user flows I had designed earlier, the prototype included the key screens needed to allow people to sign up for the first time, create a goal, and create a task associated with the goal.

Usability Testing

I quickly moved into a round of usability testing in order to gain key insights into how people would interact with the prototype. I wanted to know: would people be able to create an account, create a goal, and create a task? Where might people struggle with completing these core tasks? What suggestions might people have for improving the interaction design of the prototype in order to make it easier to navigate and understand, and to make the experience of setting goals and managing tasks more enjoyable?

The usability tests highlighted a number of priority areas of improvement. people wanted to sign up for an account by linking to their Google account. people were confused by the term “Dashboard” to represent the Home screen, and wanted the Home screen to provide some contextual information about their overall progress on goals and tasks. people wanted to be able to add reminders to a task when creating it, not as a separate activity afterwards.

“once i’m thinking about the goal -it’s a stream of consciousness and i want to put it all on the same page.”
“it’s helpful to have access to the bigger picture [in the home screen] but not so much that it’s drowning out today.”
“somehow show me the goals i’m succeeding in, the goals that i’m overdue on, or the goals I'm off track for.”

After identifying the core themes that had emerged from the first round of usability tests, I was able to make informed iterations to the prototypes, design additional screens as needed, and proceed with a second round of testing.

Iteration and More Testing

While keeping the prototype in a mid-fidelity state, I made modifications based on suggestions that had emerged from the first round of usability testing. Staying in mid-fidelity allowed me to continue focusing on improving the interaction design before proceeding to user interface design.

One major change in the user flow that took place during iteration was the consolidation of the task of creating a new task (a bit meta indeed!) The initial user interviews had revealed that people want to connect tasks to their primary calendar apps, and usability tests had revealed that people found the task scheduling feature to be beneficial. However, in the first prototype design, scheduling a task into the user’s calendar was a separate screen from that of adding a task, which caused some people to feel disoriented in the process of creating a new task. In response to this issue, I replaced the task scheduling screen with a calendar overlay that would appear when people click on the field for scheduling a task. This would later become a key flow to evaluate in the second round of usability testing.

Additionally, I updated form fields within the screens for adding goals and tasks, respectively, and added language in the home screen to provide people with contextual information about progress towards goals. With a round of iterations in place, I set out to conduct a second round of usability tests.

In the second round of usability testing, participants shared positive feedback about the additional contextual information provided in key screens, such as the Home screen. Participants successfully navigated through the core tasks and that the flows seemed clear. At the same time, the tests revealed a few additional key areas of improvement for the prototype that had not emerged in the first round of testing. One area of improvement was to replace some text with icons; people reported that doing so could ease their navigation through screens and improve their navigation speed. The second area of improvement was the addition of basic onboarding screens. A simple onboarding could help people understand the main differences between goals and tasks and could quickly teach people how to get started with using the key features of the product.

Logo and Branding

Once I had gathered user feedback on the interaction design of the prototype, I began to shift the focus of the product to its user interface design, including its branding. Until this point, the product had been nameless, so I experimented with variations on the terms “goal” and “task.”

From there, the name Goalful emerged. Goalful plays on the saying that “a goal without a plan is just wishful thinking.” The idea is that “goalful” thinking and behavior — one that centers on creating goals with concrete tasks — helps people be more productive and successfully achieve their goals.

In order to develop a logo, I solicited user feedback on images they associated with the terms “goal” and “task.” people shared images such as soccer goals, victory “V” signs, marathon finish lines, clipboards, and a mountain summit, which ultimately became the basis of the final logo design.

After reviewing my findings from the initial research phase, I observed that many of the competitor products have predominantly blue color palettes and evoked a sense of simplicity, informality, and friendliness. I experimented with color palettes and typography that would convey some of the same values and characteristics as competitor products, but would also convey reliability, productivity, efficiency, and organization — all of which, according to initial user survey participants, are key for tools that support task management.

In order to narrow down the choices of possible color palettes, I went back to people to gather their input and found that people had the strongest preference for the palette that incorporates green, yellow, and purple. From there, I further refined the specific hues of the chosen palette in order to better reflect a sense of vibrance and affirmative energy.

The logo design was also informed by the target audience, both through initial user research findings and through preference tests during the branding process. The arrow represents the emotional and motivational ebs and flows that people experience when working toward a goal, which was a key finding in the initial user research. The upward arrow intends to convey a sense of progress and productivity in working towards goals, and the circle that encompasses the mountain intends to further evoke the product brand’s friendly and helpful tones.

The Final Designs: Bringing it all Together

After gathering user feedback on the mid-fidelity screens and identifying interactions that created some user frustration and confusion, I modified the key screens. I then incorporated the proposed branding, color palette, and typography in order to produce a set of higher-fidelity composites.

One of the key iterations was the incorporation of icons in order to reduce text content on screens. I replaced “due date” with an clock icon, and replaced “edit” with a pencil icon. I also eliminated instructional language in the “My Goals” screen that said “tap to add a new goal” and instead re-introduced the “add” button from previous flows. By doing so, I was able to simplify the screens and reduce the amount of reading that people would have to do, both of which were priorities that people had shared in both the initial user surveys and in both rounds of usability testing.

Another key finding from usability testing had been that people wanted clearer feedback from the product about their progress within a task. By adding clear pop-up windows to indicate the creation of a goal or a task, and by using color differences to indicate varying states of buttons, the iterated screens helped address this key user need.

Key Takeaways

This project is only the beginning of a larger, longer design process, and there is plenty of further research, iteration, and design to improve the usability and viability of Goalful. It would be important to design the screens or multiple user states and journeys in order to better understand the quality of interactions that people might have with the product, and to further evaluate how well the product meets user goals and needs. While this initial design process focused specifically on the flow of a new user who was creating a goal and task for the first time, it would be critical to design screens that show multiple combinations of goals and tasks. It would also be critical to design onboarding screens to represent the ways that the product helps people learn its features and functions.

Future iterations of Goalful also need to include the additional features proposed in the initial application map, including the standalone Calendar feature, the My Tasks screens, the Trash and Archives, and the Settings.

Furthermore, it would be important to consider the design of Goalful’s desktop-based counterpart app. Although this project was scoped to mobile app design, the majority of respondents of the initial user surveys had reported that they specifically seek goal setting and task management products that can be synced across devices and work fluidly on both desktop and mobile devices. Thus, in order for Goalful to meet a core user priority, it would be necessary to design a desktop version in the future as well.

One lingering question for future exploration is the question: Can a digital task management product replace, or otherwise emulate, the satisfaction that people report experiencing when physically crossing off items on a paper to-do list? While many people in the research phase had reported using apps and other digital tools to keep track of goals and tasks, others reported that their preferred modes were analog, including sticky notes and bulleted lists. As Goalful evolves, it seems critical to further explore the reasons people continue to prefer analog task management methods, and to develop a clearer understanding of how a product like Goalful can complement, if not take the place of, more “traditional” goal setting and task management on pen and paper.

Finally, it is critical to solidify the language used to market Goalful. As defined in the initial problem statement, Goalful essentially seeks to provide people with a new way to approach task management. It seeks to explicitly connecting tasks to bigger-picture goals and encourages people to schedule time for completing tasks, rather than just offering people a space to create lists of tasks. By forcing people to think about and set goals first, and by only allowing people to create tasks that are related to goals, Goalful challenges one conventional definition of productivity — one that says productivity is the completion of to do lists — and encourages people to prioritize tasks based on the goals they truly want and need to accomplish.

At the same time, this begs the questions: Is Goalful a goal-setting app? Is it a task management app? Is it both? Is it neither? It seems that the marketing language that is used to communicate the value proposition of the product is just as crucial to the potential success of the product as its design. Thus, further clarification of how we talk about Goalful — what it is, how it uniquely, positively benefits people, and why it does what other existing products can’t — is a core priority of future iteration.

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