Study Buddy

In this research based course, our team had to discover a method for presenting gaze tracking technology in the context of a useful product instead of an Orwellian tool. It was an exercise in user research techniques as well as an exploration of the ethics of design.
My Contributions
UX Research, Videography

Class Project
September – December 2016

Forming a research question

In order to further define our problem space, we looked at existing uses for gaze tracking, other capabilities of eye based biometrics, and the psychological effects of surveillance. This lead gave us insights into feasible sizes for hardware, and how pupil size and movement can reveal mental states, such as levels of attention. When paired with a readily available research demographic, we formed the question:

what is the relationship between college students' social media use and focus towards school?

With web survey we recruited nine participants varying in their amount of social media use and their involvement in school.


Next, we interviewed participants about their attitudes towards school, study habits, and social media use within and outside the context of school. Questions were aimed to yield explanations of  the participants' placement of cards.

In order to separate participants' expressed opinions from their actual behavior and level of knowledge in regards to our research space, our method of inquiry consisted of a card sorting activity followed by an interview.

First, participants were asked to rank cards with various social media services or their corresponding data requirements by placing them in a circle of trust that decreases from its center. Services and permissions were on separate cards, to allow for contradiction.

focus = rhythm

While participants' individual habits varied, they focused best when they could take short breaks regularly. Social media was valued for it's ability to take participants' mind off work while not generating enough interest for a long period of time.

tracker users want a simple goal

Those who had used tracking apps often lost interest because the data seemed meaningless in retrospect. The most valued use of trackers was for short term goals with simple inputs.

desirability comes before security

Peer pressure plays a central role in determining if a social media service is worth the data it collects. Participants use media that connects them with their friend groups, but also relate services' popularity to the security of their own data.

Principles and concepts

From our primary research insights, we created four design principles for gaze tracking products used by students:

  • be approachable and desirable
  • be transparent and establish trust
  • simplify collected data
  • allow for flexibility of use

Each team member independently created several design concepts based off these principles, elements of which were then combined in our final solution.


The end result uses gaze tracking to monitor and encourage students' focus when completing screen based tasks.

The primary interface functions as a to-do list desktop widget. Students can quickly add tasks throughout the day.

Starting a task in the list activates gaze tracking along with a timer for the task's duration.

When a task is completed, the widget compares how much time was actually spent focused and how much was not. It also allows quick access to messaging at this point in order to avoid the larger distraction of a web browser.

A desktop view shows long term patterns in the user's focus habits. As well as focus, gaze tracking also shows which sites and activities were visited during focused or distracted states.