Helping users maintain a healthy level of smartphone usage and guide them towards maximum satisfaction and productivity


Theresa Allen, Vishal Rohra, Ivanok Tavarez

Human-Computer Interaction class project at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

January 2018 - May 2018

September 2018 - July 2019

For my Human-Computer Interaction class, we were to work on a group project that focused on the theme of health and wellness. My group members and I related to excessive smartphone usage the most, and found that it was a widespread issue that impacts both physical and mental health, especially for students. The challenge was that we had to create a solution on the device that causes the problem itself - a smartphone application.

The Problem

Before thinking of any ideas, we started with thinking about a problem to tackle and came up with something that was widely present in our lives as college students: excessive smartphone usage. We saw that excessive phone usage hurts productivity and mental stability, but there is a lack of awareness about the problem's severity. Although it may seem ironic to have a smartphone application to fight excessive smartphone usage, we realized that an important factor to combat the issue is that individuals need to go at their own pace. They need an approach that suits their needs & desires to solve it, but current tools follow a "one size fits all" premise.

The Challenge 🤔

How do you help excessive smartphone usage with a smartphone app?


We began looking at the problem by interviewing 4 different students at our university. Talking to people allowed us to explore motivations for smartphone usage beyond what appears on the surface.  It was interesting to see how each of our interviewees were all somehow aware of excessive smartphone usage, but had different attitudes about it. One has taken many steps to hinder excessive smartphone usage; another just accepts it, sees it as the way things are, and doesn’t care; another is disciplined about his usage and is able to detach from his phone fairly easily; while yet another seems to focus more on the positives that he gets out of it, thus justifying his excessive usage.  

Processed with VSCO with a5 preset
Creating our affinity diagram based off interviews

In addition, we distributed a survey to other students and recieved a total of 115 responses. When we compared the number of daily hours spent by a satisfied smartphone user with that of an unsatisfied one, the average usage is almost the same. This helped us understand that the amount of hours spent does not relate to whether you will be unsatisfied, but rather what you spend it on and how you look at excessive usage. In further comments, several respondents presented strong feelings about how smartphone addiction is growing and is harming them and society more than its helping, however, very few have actually looked into solving this problem systematically through a process or seeking aid from a friend or an app.

In spite of admitting how smartphone usage negatively affects their productivity, health and relationships, people seem to just have accepted that they’ll have to live with it - because not having a smartphone in this day and age isn’t an option. We realized that root issues of loneliness, boredom, and self-esteem connect with addictive habits of phone usage. Therefore, our focus was to formulate a unique solution to attack the problem from the inside out.


Based on our conversations, our own thinking, and inspired by survey results, we came up with user personas to have an idea of our potential user:

According to the survey, we found that 80% of participants use their phones longer than intended. 50% of participants were unsatisfied with the amount of time they spend on their phone. Lastly, 85% of participants said that it negatively affected every aspect of their intended routine.

What's interesting to note is that we are generally self-aware about it all, except that satisifaction is independent of the amount of hours spent on the phone. Even more so, people felt that they couldn't objectively understand the severity of excessive smartphone usage, don't think there's anything they can do to help it, or even choose not to care.

Ultimately, we realized that this constant reliance and apparent ‘need’ or preference for their smartphones is reminiscent of addiction. There is a divide between awareness of the existence of addiction and the awareness of all the ways that addictions affects us.

The Solution 💡

Introducing Release, an app that follows a step-by-step program inspired by the 12-step program for alcohol addiction. 

Release allows users to learn and practice discipline over their smartphone usage at their own pace. In essence, Release is a personalized journey to improvement.


Learning from our research, it helped my team come up with several ideas to include on our app. One aspect we had to be mindful of is making the features that make the app engaging and productive for the user, or else it could end up being distracting and harmful instead. Moreover, we wanted to motivate the user to complete their journey, so applying a gamification aspect was important to us. After feedback from our professors and peers, we created sketches and eventually a low-fi prototype. 

We boiled it down to a few main features:

  • Step-by-step Course: The main function of the app, where the user must go through stages of different readings and activities to complete their journey towards a healthier relationship with their smartphone.
  • Evaluation Test: A questionnaire to define what kind of relationship the user wants with his or her phone. Based on the results, the smartphone app will tailor its step-by-step process towards the user’s desired goal of smartphone usage.
  • Phone Usage Tracker: The app will count how many minutes or hours that a user uses his/her phone per day, and similar to achieving a certain distance on a running fitness app, encouraging and rewarding messages on the homescreen will pop up after turning on a phone or not using a phone after a long time.
  • Craving Hotline:  In case the user is struggling, the user can push an emergency button titled ‘I’m craving’ which alerts the app to the state of the user. The app can then provide short notes of encouragement, remind the user to count to ten slowly until the craving passes, or allow the user to speak to a accountability partner or personal coach.
  • Challenge Yourself: Various mini games such as putting one's phone on grayscale, putting a time limit on apps, and seeing how long the user can go without picking up their phone.
Low-fidelity prototype of our Evaluation Test feature

High-Fidelity Prototype

After wireframing we created our high fidelity prototype of Release! After struggling for so long with our branding, we finally created our logo: a chain that resembles a smartphone breaking. This is to symbolize how the app can "release" someone from how attached they are to their unhealthy habits. 

Marketing Video

We created a video to promote our app, Release, and show people what they might be missing.


Based on peer feedback, professor feedback, and teaching assistant feedback, we recieved an A on our project! Some comments from our peers included that the application is well thought out, useful, and well designed. On the other hand, some critiqued that it may be difficult to attract users to use this app in the first place. Of course, there are many improvements that could be made, but to have learned an incredible amount from this experience is all I could have hoped for. 

I feel lucky to have placed in a group where we all had different skills and were able to work so well together. By working as a team, Release became much more than a class project and a grade, but a product that we truly cared about.

This project and class falls as one of the best experiences during my undergraduate career.  Before this class, I never knew the field of or human-computer interaction existed. Without this project, I would have never found my passion for user-centered design and research, and I thank this class for helping me pick a career I knew was right for me.

Interested in seeing a more detailed look at the process? 
Made withand 💗 by Beatrice Trinidad in 48.8566° N, 2.3522° E

Made with ☕ and 💗

By Beatrice Trinidad at

N 40° 30.0864, W 74° 26.8345' 

Made with ☕ and 💗

By Beatrice Trinidad at

48.8566° N, 2.3522° E