Sunny is a smartwatch and mobile app concept targeted at graduate students to help them audit and manage energy levels and provide periodic reminders to take micro breaks to recharge themselves.


Sep 2015 - Dec 2015


User Interviews & Surveys

Empathy Maps

Persona & Scenarios

Sketching, Prototyping


Wan-Ting Lin

Xin Zhang

David Cheng

Fei Zhao



Problem: How might we help graduate students recognize and overcome tiredness?

Solution: Track energy levels of users continuously, and provide context-based periodic break reminders and suggestions to help prevent exhaustion and manage energy.

My Role: I led the user research initiative, managed the project, ideated and sketched solutions, streamlined the UX design and developed a cohesive presentation of the solution.



As a team, we came up with different ideas related to personal informatics challenges we were interested in. Some of the areas that were discussed included:

  • Mood tracking, energy and tiredness monitoring, posture improvement, physical therapy, habit formation, injury prevention, and stress management. 

  • As graduate students, we could relate to having a busy schedule and managing  our energy levels throughout the day and challenging ourselves to balance accomplishing various goals without burning out. So, we decided to focus on energy tracking and tiredness prevention.

Brainstorming areas to focus on for the project

Brainstorming areas to focus on for the project

Rough framework for the idea to monitor and prevent tiredness


Our team’s background research included:

  • Review of papers and articles on tiredness

  • Research on devices used for tiredness monitoring

  • 10 user interviews

  • Participatory Design Exercise





We organized the notes from the 10 user interviews we conducted using an affinity wall and also created  an empathy map to better understand our user group - graduate students. Some of the major findings were:

  • When they were tired, they felt anxious, desperate, low and frustrated

  • Tiredness affected their ability to focus

  • Doing tasks that they did not enjoy made them tired.

  • They relaxed by taking breaks that included biking, walking, talking naps, exercising, talking to friends, spending time on social media



Sample Personas for our target users

Our empathy map guided the personas we created for our design. The different scenarios were based on the typical activities a graduate student would perform on a given day.

Image Source:

Image Source:


We decided to adopt the behavior change strategy proposed by Dan Heath and Chip Heath that comprises of:

  • Directing the Rider 

  • Motivating the Elephant 

  • Shaping the Path

Our user research led us to consider the idea of suggesting periodic breaks to help graduate students relax from time to time to prevent exhaustion and improve productivity. 

We considered creating a smartwatch and mobile app to help track energy levels and alert the user to take breaks at regular intervals.



Choosing an indicator for measuring energy level and tiredness was not straightforward.

We considered several potential indicators such as muscle tension, heart rate, reaction times, posture, time spent on social media and dilation of eyes.

Eventually, we decided to rely on

  • User self-reporting as the primary measure of individual energy level.

  • Leveraging Estimote Beacons to monitor time spent without significant movement or activity within a given context.

  • We assumed that the user would have access to a wearable such as a smartwatch for tracking biometric data.

Bluetooth based Estimote Beacons; Image Source: Estimote Website

606 Sketches.jpg


We came up with some initial sketches that represented a typical use case for a user using the Sunny app.

A user would get a notification from the app if they failed to take a break within a specified time, say 50 minutes with suggestion for break based on their location and type of activity they are involved in.

At the end of the day, they would be able to reflect on the activities they did, their energy graph and the number of breaks they took / missed and how they felt.


We developed concept prototypes and presented our design solution at the end of the semester.

Our design concept and presentation was well received. Here is the feedback from our instructor:

"Overall, great work on a compelling, well integrated presentation. The live demo using the Estimotes/iBeacons was particularly useful as a better way to grab context and track ... I like the focus on micro breaks for renewal - it's a sharp, focused idea that aligns really well with Heath and Heath's idea of directing the rider."


  • Engaging the user was a core challenge. So, we decided to keep the solution light and fun.

  • It is necessary to mindful of a user's privacy and the amount of effort required from their end when striving to influence behavior change.

  • As we worked on the project, we became more aware about the challenges in developing a measurement strategy that yields a fairly accurate tracking of intended measures and outcomes while balancing the amount of time and input required from the user.

  • We realized that it is key to keep questioning the validity of our approaches at every stage of the design process.

  • It is prudent to leverage proven behavior change frameworks when developing behavior change solutions. The Heath and Heath framework helped and guided us as we strived to build an approachable solution.