EDU Live and Pedja Klasnja Discuss App Design and Consumer Engagement

Pedja KlasPredrag “Pedja” Klasnja is an Assistant Professor in the School of Information at the University of Michigan. He works at the intersection of Human-Computer Interaction and Health Informatics, investigating how new technologies can help individuals to effectively manage their health in everyday life. On September 29th, Pedja will be on the Health 2.0 stage as part of the Health 2.0 EDU Live Workshop to discuss the importance of design in developing health technology.

EDU: “Designing Consumer-Health Technologies: The Devil is in the Details” focuses on this idea of technology psychology, or the study of the way users interact with their technology. What about this most excites you?

PK: The focus of the course is on the process of translating psychological theory into concrete technical artifacts that people can use in their daily lives. What really fascinates me about this topic is just how messy this translation process is and how much more needs to be understood, on top of what psychology and behavioral sciences teach us, to make the translation successful. Take a very simple theoretical construct like goal-setting. There is an extensive literature in psychology and health sciences that demonstrates that performance goes up when people set specific (rather than vague) goals, when the goals are challenging but reachable, and when individuals can get ongoing feedback about how they are progressing toward their goals. (The goal-setting theory has a number of other intricacies, but this is the basic idea.) So, it would appear that implementation of goal-setting would be relatively straightforward: you ask people to set goals, you check on whether they feel the goals are feasible, and you provide them with feedback about how close they are to reaching their goals. But things get tricky very quickly. Say you are designing an app for encouraging physical activity, something like Fitbit or Jawbone UP. What kind of goal should you ask people to set? A daily goal? A weekly goal? A goal that only includes steps (the activity that these sensors are tracking) or other activities as well? How many goals should the person set? Only one? More than one? How and where should the feedback on goal progress be displayed? And so on. Psychology doesn’t help us with answering such questions, but the answers to them are important for designing a system that people will enjoy using, that will help them be active, and that they would be willing to use over the long-term. So, I am fascinated with figuring out how we answer such questions and with developing methods that can help us answer them in a more principled way. The hope is that, over time, we can build up a knowledge base of design principles that, along with our knowledge of behavioral theories, can help us design effective technologies in less haphazard ways.

EDU: What design features do you feel are the most effective? And why?

PK: I don’t think there is a set of features that are “most effective” in general. Design is all about creating finely-honed solutions for specific problems and specific contexts. What will work best will depend on the population being targeted, the goals that a technology is trying to support, and the specific situations in which target users live and work.

EDU: What are the biggest trade offs developers face in terms of app design vs functionality?

PK: Again, this will vary from project to project, but a common trade off that has to be made is between user burden–how much work you are asking users to do–and the value that they are getting back from the application. Take something like tracking of food intake. This is a really hard problem. There are no good automated solutions to accomplish this, and manual journaling can be extremely laborious, especially if the user is being asked to track every single food and drink that she consumes. If an application is going to use such detailed journaling–as many do–it’d better be providing value from the data that is extremely compelling to the users and that cannot be approximated with a more lightweight journaling strategy. None of the people I know who have tried to do this type of detailed food journaling managed to stick with it for longer than a couple of weeks. It was just too much work and they didn’t think they were getting enough in return. There are a bunch of different versions of this tradeoff in the design of health technologies, including, for instance, how much privacy users need to trade for the functionality offered by a system.

EDU: What are you most looking forward to about lecturing at the Health 2.0 EDU Live workshop in Santa Clara on the 29th?

PK: As most academics, I spend most of my time talking to other academics. It’s great to have an opportunity to do a course for a non-academic audience and hear what kinds of things people who are designing commercial health technologies are struggling with. I am sure we’ll have a great conversation.

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