My friends and I sometimes complain about the difficulties of taking healthy breaks while working. It’s often so easy to get sucked into a YouTube vortex or to start answering texts, and before you know it an hour has passed and little progress has been made. With so much science pointing to the benefits of taking healthy breaks, it’s apparent that ignoring them altogether and powering through isn’t the best approach either.
These discussions with friends regarding healthy breaks and efficiency spurred a design question to explore:
How might we design a tool to help modern workers take healthier breaks?
I started by conducting a few casual user interviews. The people I spoke to were young students and professionals, the target audience for my tool. There were a few key insights I learned from the discussions:
These insights aligned with the issues I had noticed in my own relationship with taking breaks. Keeping these insights in mind, I did a bit of secondary research to get a more robust understanding of the issues at hand.
First, I found a bit of background on the science of breaks, and the types of healthy things people can do while taking breaks. To handle the consistency issues people were having, I decided to base the tool around the Pomodoro technique, which dictates 25 minutes of working followed by 5 minutes of break.
I also explored a few precedents, looking at other tools people used to manage their breaks. The tools include:
These tools often aid in telling the user when they should take a break, or reminding them to take one after a set amount of time, but don’t do a great job of helping to fill the break time with healthy options.
Based on my research, I began coming up with a list of potential healthy activities to execute during breaks.
After delving deeper into each direction, I ended up with about 20 different tasks to use in the tool. I divided them up into four categories:
Sorting them in this way simplifies the diverse set of activities and allows for quicker and easier understanding from the user. Instead of sticking with these names, I decided to give the category titles a bit of zing, updating them to Recharge, Exercise, Meditate, and Discover.
Next, I needed to decide the best way to present these activity suggestions to the user. In order to avoid further temptation for users to become distracted by their phones, I decided to design this tool as a physical deck of cards instead of a digital product. A physical interaction is a step removed from the sometimes addicting buzz of technology that persists around us, and helps to nudge the user into a healthier relationship with their screens.
I started sketching and created some lo-fi mockups. I focused on legibility and cut down on clutter by wording the instructions in a direct, active voice.
Once I was happy with the layout, I started building a brief visual language for the cards. I wanted to capture a feel-good and playful tone, so I colour-coded the categories using bright colours. I used the friendly, geometric Gilroy as the typeface.
Next I created a few blobby, bubbly shapes to add a bit of visual interest. I named the tool Breaktime and put together a simple brand mark to represent it.
The solution I created succeeds in its goal of improving the ability of workers to take healthy breaks. It’s a valuable step in the right direction, and if used as intended, it will likely increase the quality of both the breaks and the work done by the users.
Each card has three elements: an action prompt, two categories, and a description explaining the action. After 25 minutes of work, the user stops working, picks up a card at random, and performs the action prompted on the card. They have a total of 5 minutes to complete the action, after which time they'll get back to work for another 25 minutes.
This project really pushed me to think outside of the box about creating a good user experience for a physical product rather than a digital one.
I learned a lot about the science behind taking consistent breaks, as well as a variety of different healthy habits for the mind and body. I'm glad I took on this project for that reason alone—I hope if nothing else, people who use these cards get a few ideas about some nutrition, exercise, and meditation basics.
I think this project could be expanded upon. One particular aspect that I think would be useful would be the creation of a physical timer to use with the cards so that the user can keep away from their phones even more. I would also like to perform some user testing with the cards in order to find any pain points or areas to improve in the design.
Overall, I'm pleased with how Breaktime turned out. I learned a lot and I feel confident that the result would help to make people's relationship with work a little healthier.