Designing Personal Informatics Technologies for Meaningful Engagement with Experiences During Everyday Life

Barker, Matthew (2021). Designing Personal Informatics Technologies for Meaningful Engagement with Experiences During Everyday Life. PhD thesis The Open University.



Responding to calls for more flexible personal informatics (PI) technologies, this thesis explores the design of experiential logging technologies, with which users can engage with the meaning of their subjective experiences during everyday life. The research it describes focused on questions concerning flexibility, minimalism and reflection in this context. It produced two prototypes to investigate these questions with users in the wild.

First, using a technological probe with the first prototype, SpriteCatcher, the research observed that users found value and meaning through the act of expressing their experiences through colour data. Further, it suggested the need to explore whether unstructured, expressive manual logging can prompt reflection-in-the-moment. This informed a second prototype, Chromatize, which supported three different minimalist logging methods. Chromatize was used in a larger-scale, 6-week longitudinal study to better understand how flexibility and minimalism support logging and reflection, and to characterise more precisely how users reflect when using such devices.

Together, the two studies showed that minimalist, highly flexible PI technology designs provide the means for users to dynamically engage with the aspects of life that are meaningful to them from moment to moment. The expressivity and directness of the logging interactions, and the simplicity and physical presence of the device affect when and how users engage. Drawing on substantial background literature about reflection, the thesis distinguishes between hard and soft reflection. It characterises how users might reflect when they use PI technologies, pointing to the significant role that soft reflection through manual logging can play. It concludes that the field of PI needs to expand its treatment of reflection, placing greater value on short-term, momentary day-to-day insights.

The thesis finishes with nine design considerations that distil broad insights from the research. These can inform the design of PI technologies for meaningful engagement with experiences during everyday life.

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