Enhancing Sleep Through Technology

This summer at Fuzzy Math, we are exploring the impact and interactions of wearable technology as each member of our team participates in a three-month-long project to explore the ins and outs of these devices. This endeavor will be broken down into three phases: 1) first impressions and getting to know one’s wearable device, 2) empirical evidence and applications for it, and 3) design principles for each category of devices. This summer-long study is comprised of three separate category groups for the sake of tracking and analyzing data and findings. These groups are activity, awareness, and sleep. For more information, read our introductory post on this project and follow @fuzzymath on twitter, hashtag: #fmwearable.

Sleep Group Devices and Goals

Each night during our #FMwearable trial, we utilized our devices to track our sleep and interacted with the data being gathered through mobile apps or the web. Two of the three devices we chose for our trial don’t have to be “worn” on the wrist exclusively. The Misfit Shine has a round, smooth medallion and the Withings Pulse O2 has a small rubberized domino; these act as tracking apparatuses that can be placed in a pajama pocket, while the Fitbit Charge HR must be worn on the wrist in order to track sleep. Additionally, we tested tracking sleep via motion using mobile phone accelerometers over the same period of time.

You can read more about each device by visiting our initial wearables writeups. We have included here a brief summary for each user’s intent: Brett looked for a highly-rated sleep tracking wearable with an above average app design (read his full Fitbit Charge HR post); Rachel’s Misfit Shine overview noted her initial interest in sleep pattern data relating to stress and migraines; Isaac selected his wearable – the Withings Pulse O2 – with the hope, in his words, “to explore the factors in [his] life that affect [his] sleep, and also to explore what data is valuable about this mysterious one-third of our lives that we live with our eyes closed.”

The Focus of Sleep Wearables: Tracking & Data

Since sleep tracking is possible without just physically wearing a device, we aimed to compose more broad design principles. We naturally found that two different types of experiences were fundamental to sleep tracking: the physical device that was tracking sleep and the waking experience of the user engaging with the sleep insights.

For tracking of sleep we noticed that nearly all of our insights could be easily expanded into general wearable design principles (see below for a teaser principle). Ultimately, the most important part of the experience was that the tracking device should be trustworthy, easy to use, incorporate as many meaningful metrics as possible, and only track the sleep of one specific individual (to avoid tracking anyone else sleeping nearby).

Considering the variance in sleep habits is one of the challenges of any sleep tracking device. Benedict Carey reflects this sentiment in his book How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens:

“Just think of how dramatically sleep habits differ from person to person. Some people thrive on as little as three hours a night, while others feel helpless without eight; some function best awake all night and out most of the day; others need their daily nap. A truly comprehensive theory of sleep, then, would have to explain such differences.”

In addition to the variance in sleep habits, paying attention to the diversity of sleep data was important. Engaging with sleep data happens within the mobile app or desktop dashboard for each device manufacturer. The raw data was also accessible through download or within iOS HealthKit to other mobile apps and services. As we compared the data with the additional mobile apps that used a mobile phone accelerometer, we were able to define principles for the experience of engaging with sleep data.

Gathering Insights

Starting with our notes on sleep during the trial, we generated many notes on what we liked, didn’t like, wanted, and needed from sleep tracking and sleep data. Then we synthesized these together into insights that we could gather as themes. These themes fell into the category of the physical device (tracking of sleep) and the digital interaction (engaging with the data).

We think the most notable insights relate to how we engage the sleep data. Since people can’t use their conscious awareness of sleep to validate or disprove the data, most of our principles ended up related to how we later engage with the data once we’re awake, and how it gives us insights into our unconscious nights. Among them, it was important to make it clear that the sleeping experience was intimate (obviously) and private. For instance, the experience of engaging with the sleep data should allow the user to control how they want to share their information, make it clear how their data is being used, as well as what options users have, and to offer meaningful comparisons to similar people and provide a customized first-time experience to build a useful sleep profile. This ended up relating very strongly to an overall design principle that relates to privacy which we explain next.

Extending Insights into Design Principles

Besides just our group’s design principles, our company as a whole synthesized principles across wearable categories.  We believe it’s always important to focus on how users interact with a design beyond just its touchpoint. So besides just our group overview and process of discovery, we have one teaser principle to share from that broader set of design principles, which appropriately relates to the intimacy of sleep. We recommend using it as a starting point as you consider what makes a strong user experience for all wearable devices.

Teaser Principle:

Ensure privacy is transparent and configurable

For any wearable device, and especially ones with active data tracking, ensure that users have a clear understanding of what data is being captured, where it’s going, whether or not it’s visible to others, and if so, to whom it’s visible. Provide easily accessible controls for changing privacy settings to ensure that users can decide what to share, and with whom it is shared. Consider the intimacy of the data when creating defaults, and in any situation where it might be questionable, default to greater privacy – it’s much easier to share something later than it is to unshare once it’s out in the wild. Beyond smart defaults, include guidance on privacy as part of the user onboarding process, ensuring they’re not only oriented to the social capabilities of the device, but also that they are aware and in control of their data from the very start.

In conclusion

The sleep group’s insights were just a start, of course, for how to build measures for a product or service’s experience, and ours was just in relation to sleep analysis. Two other groups (Activity and Awareness) also used their wearable experience as a basis for insights. We’ll share those insights later this week as we gear up to release the report that includes our full set of design principles for wearable technology. Newsletter subscribers will be the first to receive these principles in their email inbox.

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