Digital wellness: app design

Designing a non-addictive UX


"Distractibility isn't a human problem; it's a design problem."

-Don Norman

The Challenge

Phones are incredibly useful and convenient-- except when they are terribly distracting and undermine your attention. As a solo project, I designed this app for anyone who struggles with managing their phone usage. My primary role was UX designer.


“We want to have a relationship with technology that gives us back choice about how we spend time with it, and we're going to need help from designers.”

— Tristan Harris, design ethicist and founder of the Center of Humane Technology


The Process

The original inspiration for this project came from hours of observation in the District, the downtown hub of Columbia, Missouri. The initial concept began as an urban intervention to diminish phone use and amplify the uniquely in-person experiences within the District's brick-lined blocks. 

Using public data from the District, the city of Columbia, Yelp users and Yelp reviews about restaurants in the District, I developed a "lite persona" named Taylor (one of the top ten American girl's names of her birth year). I fleshed out Taylor's relevant likes, dislikes and details with a pop-up book to help bring her to life while honing my skills for future paper prototypes.


Testing with users

With a user in mind, I took pencil to paper and began sketching designs. I developed a paper prototype of a new user's experience with the app with simulated mobile interactions. As I tested the prototype with volunteers, I was able to identify areas where I could clarify the design. Testers also responded positively to the concept. 


Key decisions

With this feedback, I continued iterating with increasing-fidelity wireframes in Sketch using iOS Human Interface Guidelines as my UI component inspiration. The wireframing stage is where I worked through the gestural interactions, collected feedback from peers, and began making color and copy iterations.


I decided on a minimal visual design with a small but bold color palette. Since this app is designed for breaking habits, not softly bending them, I chose a powerful red color and high contrast typography to emphasize the no-nonsense personality of the design. The tone of the copy is friendly but not comforting, like a fitness coach that will warm you up but still put you through the paces. 

Mid-fidelity wireframes made in Sketch

Mid-fidelity wireframes made in Sketch



It was difficult to break myself from using the design patterns optimized for the intents of increased engagement, higher sign-up rates, etc. My goal was to add just enough interest and smoothness to make an app easily adopted by users while not adding to the list of phone addictions. If a user were to say this app is as useful as a calculator, that would mean I'm on the right path of clear functionality and usefulness when needed. 

Around the same time I created these designs, both Apple and Google announced digital wellness features on their spring 2018 device and system updates that reflect many of the same concerns and thoughts that led me to develop this concept. I continue to see thoughtful design, appropriately crafted with consideration to the user and the context in which the user engages, as an important design principle.