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AUG - DEC 2017

My Fall 2017 HCI design class was structured as a semester-long group project to design a product that helps a community. My team and I decided to build a solution to help smokers to kick their habit. Here's what we came up with.


Cornell HCI - Fall 2017

A team of 5 designers


Student UX Designer


User Research, Persona-making, Rapid Prototyping, User Testing


We conducted interviews with members of the smoking community to better understand their motivations to either quit or continue smoking, and why certain quitting methods do or do not work. The interviews took place in locations where our users usually smoked - on their porch, outside the library, at their favorite bar - to give context to the situations in which our customers would be using our product. Our team then gathered the raw data from our interview notes and organized it into an affinity diagram to identify key trends.


Key Takeaways


They smoke for a variety of reasons, such as for socializing, school-related stress, or just simply to occupy idle hands.


Health was their primary quitting motivatorThey wanted to avoid the long-term consequences, or mitigate the negative health effects they were already experiencing.


Scare tactics don't work. As one of my interviewee's noted, "I already know that it's bad for me. I need someone to acknowledge that it's hard to quit, not someone to tell me I'm going to get lung cancer if I don't."


Support networks were most effective for long-term quitting.

We synthesized these common qualities into a persona to guide the design process of our solution to meet users' most important goals.

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Based off of our interview findings, my team produced over 100 different design ideas to meet our customers' needs.


Out of this ideation session came the initial concept of the LockBox - a cigarette container that only dispenses one cigarette at a time upon completion of a short brain game on a partner smartphone application.


With our initial design in mind, we developed storyboards to further understand how users may interact with and use our solution in context before developing a physical product.

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The first full iteration of our system was a paper prototype that we used for proof-of-concept testing. It included the following core features:

  • Maze game to unlock the pack - Creates a barrier to access cigarettes, and provides an enjoyable mental and tactile distraction for stressed studiers and thumb-twiddlers.

  • Motivational quotes and facts - Deliver immediate encouragement to users when they may be  feeling discouraged during their quitting journey.

  • Daily and long-term goal tracking system - Allows users to quantify and visualize their progress with cigarette consumption and health statistics, inspired by  popular fitness applications to fit the mental model of health and wellness.

  • Social area - Provides a platform for support networks between smokers.


Using this prototype, we conducted user testing interviews with a set of Cornell students who smoked.

What went well

Users felt that their cigarette and health statistics were the most encouraging feature, and they would like to see more metrics.

Room for improvement

Users appreciated the concept of the maze puzzle, but were afraid that they may be annoyed by the feature in certain situations. Although only a handful enjoyed the current social area, all users felt that it had the potential to fit their needs if we made some adjustments to the kinds of interactions available.

Mixed reviews

While the goal-related facts were received well, the motivational quotes were hit or miss with our participants.

Based on this feedback, we created a low-fidelity interactive version of the system in Balsamiq, fleshing out key UI elements, adding more statistic elements and a more detailed onboarding process for improved goal-tracking, and developing a more substantial social section, which included group chats based on users' personal quitting goals. Ultimately, we decided to nix the inspirational quotes due to the varying opinions on them - we did not want any users to feel that the app was frivolous or trivializing.


We did a heuristic evaluation of the low-fidelity prototype using Neilson's heuristics. Based on our assessment, we developed a high-fidelity prototype, integrating our highest priority design changes, such as improving navigation between pages, adding instructions to the puzzles, and creating a more relevant lock screen notification. 

We also felt that we needed to further address the primary purpose of the system: to get users to smoke less. We added in a game completion screen to display links to the app's additional features, such as social chats, users' current goals, and personalized smoking facts, all before the option to unlock the pack. Additionally, we created more game features, including a live chat and social groups for games, as well as a puzzle leaderboard. We expected this to redirect users' attention to exploring these non-smoking activities long enough for their cravings to pass, and ultimately have the users opt to keep the pack locked.

My team and I conducted usability studies using our high-fidelity interactive prototype. We asked users to complete various simple tasks, such as messaging a friend after playing a game, getting a cigarette, and checking the game scoreboard and their smoking metrics. Although users were able to easily and quickly complete these tasks, our testers consistently told us that the app focused too much on the brain games to the point that it took away from the intent of the app. People were confused by the game-related chats, were unenthusiastic about the scoreboard, and overall felt that the game shouldn't play any part other than being an extra step to getting a cigarette. Clearly we had missed the mark.


Based on our usability study results, we made the following improvements do our designs:

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Removed all gameplay-focused social features to refocus the product back to the quitting goal.

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Replaced hiding with showing - Originally our strategy was to conceal and distract from options that let users open the pack to smoke. I suggested the idea to instead show users the consequences for their decision to either open the pack or not smoke at the most pivotal moments.


Removed direct messaging other than talking to a support specialist, as users preferred a group feed.


Added a badge section where users could show off their quitting achievements for their chat profiles. This keeps the enjoyable competitive spirit that social games and leaderboards provide, while still keeping the focus on quitting.


Added more quitting metrics since these were popular motivators among the testers.


The final prototype makes for a more empowering user experience, while still offering relevant social features for support. This project won the Most Impactful Project award at the final project showcase. The most common note my team received from our peers was to expand these designs to include helping students quit e-cigarette use, as these were starting to become prevalent on campus.

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