seeing what's important in our lives
research with Jim Hollan

Students are constantly finding trouble fitting in their passions that will grow them into great leaders because of their crazy schedules. How can we create great leaders by reminding them of their "whys", of what drives them, of what their passions are? How can we help students with inconsistent and crazy schedules stay motivated to achieve their goals?

We believe that Timeline will help students see what's important in their lives, and therefore help them prioritize and manage their time better. Students will hopefully make better decisions about what to pay attention to next by quickly knowing the priority of their events through Timeline, no matter the length of time. As a better visualizer on the importance of their events, the Timeline serves as quicker and better reminders of the important events in students' lives.

Deliverables: Final Presentation


Kaitlin Garriott, Nick Gibson, Melinda Chu, Dan Lenzen, Michael Lee


Only 8% Achieve Their Goals

Studies show that true innovation and great leadership comes from believing in something, and having a passion for it. Students (specifically college) are some of the biggest dreamers, since this time is used to start thinking about their careers, and they have the ability to start taking specific actions to start achieving their goals. However, a study has shown that only 8% of people actually acheive their goals. So how can we help more people become great leaders, driven by their passions, and achieve their dreams, starting with students?


We wanted to better understand what the patterns of students we could help achieve their long term goals more easily-- what did they struggle with? What are their motivations? What were they like? How can we ultimately help them?

Our Findings

Crazy / Inconsistent Schedules

One type were those struggling with inconsistent and crazy scheduling. Students who have big dreams often have inconsistent schedules with numerous activities-- different meetings from sororities and clubs at different times, meetups with friends in the middle of the day, midterms and finals on different weeks. It's hard to find a consistent time to work on their goals.

Urgent over important

Their priority is always what is next. However, their dreams may suffer in place of the many things coming up next. Even if their dreams are important, they can't neglect the responsibilities they had taken on-- that would derail their goals even more!

Lack of motivation

Even when the students find extra time, the craziness of everything else leaves them feeling tired and unmotivated to take extra steps towards their goals.

Next Steps?

Another type of student were those who did know what they wanted their end goal to be, but weren't sure what the next steps should be. They also felt unequipped with the right tools and opportunities to get to their next steps, or felt hopeless from the high competition.


What We Learned

We saw that students struggled with prioritizing and being motivated by what's personally important and what they're passionate about in their lives with their crazy schedules. While there were a few problems we found, we wanted to focus on the students who had inconsistent and crazy schedules. For those that weren't sure what the next steps were, an attempted solution could be more available mentorship provided by the school. We wanted to explore 2 options:

1) Suggest Available Times

Suggest times to work on their goals based what they put in their schedules. This would be dependent on them putting in everything they do in their lives-- meetings, friends, parties, etc.

2) Visualize Importance

Current digital calendars offer more visual importance due to its color and length of time, but not its content. Our hope was that visualizing importance may allow the student to see the events in their day in a new light, and to focus on the important things rather than just what's next.

Focusing on a Solution

One easy way to check which product vision/solution to go with was to see how diligent students were in putting in their events. As we found, students were not quite as diligent in putting in all their events. Although those with the more inconsistent schedules were already more diligent on their calendars, they mainly put in the events that they could not miss-- meetings, interviews, etc.

We also decided to focus on visualizing importance because people with physical planners were already creating this affordance. We noticed people were also trying to highlight importance over length of time-- they would put stars, write in caps, and highlight the important events so it stuck out.


We had played around with the idea of a full calendar, complete with suggesting times. However, we decided to keep it simple, knowing that it would be a feat to start suggesting times, knowing the inconsistency of their schedules. We also noted researching which product direction to take, that people were not diligent in noting everything. Therefore, we focused the product on simply visualizing importance.

*prototypes done by Melinda Chu


Based on preliminary user research on our wireframes and the limitations of the current calendar, we found what was important to users regarding their schedules.

Rid of Pointless Empty Spaces

Large empty spaces on calendars left users confused

A huge pain point with some mobile calendars is that large empty spaces when there are no events often leave the user confused about what's going on. With our use of relative time** (see below for an example), not every hour may not be represented by a set amount of space.

  • time breaks of 8 hours or more will be indicated by a zigzag line or a block with the date for new days
  • max 5 events on the screen at a time to keep from information overload

Visualizing Free Time

Users need to easily and quickly see how much of their time is free or busy

Our solution was to use FIXED TIME** between events, where the set amount of space was determined by duration even though we included relative time for large empty spaces. Every hour is shown when there is fixed time, and users can accurately visualize the duration of events and time in between.

Showing Time Length

Users need to visualizing duration of events to see how long an event is for scheduling around it

Our solution was to use a colored tailed for each event to give a gist of how long each event is, with less emphasis on the end time because the focus of our product is visualizing what's important.

Using Size to Indicate Importance

Visualizing what's important in an easy and fast way that will make a difference for the users

We decided to indicate importance with SIZE, so the user would see this event first. We attempted to use color to show importance, but it was not as good an indicator, and it made the design more convoluted.

** Relative vs. Fixed Time

testing success & value

It's Different-- Testing for Time and Memory

We tested the differences between Timeline and the traditional calendar in what value each bring to people's lives by having users complete tasks after viewing one. Our ultimate hope was that someone could make better decisions on prioritizing what’s important to them, therefore we hoped they would

  • notice the improtant things first to prioritize
  • remember the improtant things the most

We used time (how long each task took) and memory (what they remembered) as ways to quantify value.

People remembered the important events more on Timeline

Our participants were more likely to name the important events when we tested them on what events they remembered from either Timeline or the traditional calendar.

Scheduling events took longer on Timeline

Due to the design of Timeline and our focus on importance, it was more difficult for the users to picture when to schedule an event. We found this to be the main downside to Timeline vs. the traditional mobile calendar, but we feel user research had led us to see a true need for seeing importance.

personal takeaways

Exploring Time and Data Visualization

This was a great way to further explore the subject of time and information visualization in the Cognitive Science realm. In the end, we presented our final presentation to Don Norman, Jim Hollan, and Scott Klemmer, and we got feedback on what each of them thought of this new idea. It was also great to see the intricacies with long term projects, and working together with a team.