Preventing and Recovering from Autistic Burnout Through Energy Accounting

Posi | Full UX/UI & Branding Design for Mobile App

Overview

My team and I were given the opportunity to design for Posi, a mobile application that aims to assist neurodivergent individuals in preventing and recovering from autistic burnout by providing a daily energy management solution.


Our team was entrusted with the considerable task of bringing Posi to life from the ground up. With no prior product or branding guidelines, and only the founder's vision for Posi, we were able to deliver a final mockup of the app's core functionality, along with a fully developed style guide and working prototype within a three-week turnaround time.

Team

Eric Houng

Natalie Woo

Nolan Golden

Yoon Han

Timeline

January 2024 | 3-Week Sprint

Tools

Figma, FigJam, ChatGPT

Project Brief & Spoon Theory

In our first client meeting with Posi's founder, the team was presented with the app's purpose — assist adults with autism in preventing and recovering from burnout by teaching energy accounting. In providing a method of monitoring one's energy patterns over time through a simple tracking system and visual tools, Posi would promote self-care and a healthy lifestyle for the marginalized demographic of people exhibiting neurodivergent traits.


The essence of Posi's energy accounting system was derived from what is widely known as "spoon theory" in the chronic illness community. Spoon theory, developed by Christine Miserandino, serves as a metaphor to highlight the struggles of people with disabilities who begin their days with limited amounts of energy. In this framework, the term "spoons" symbolizes the finite energy needed for different activities, requiring those with chronic conditions to meticulously plan out schedules in advance to properly manage energy levels.

Research & Building Empathy

Here are all of the research methods that were utilized when gathering data for Posi:


  • Literature Review

  • User Interviews

  • Surveys (posted on applicable Reddit forums)

  • Comparative & Competitive Analysis


With literature review, the team was able to develop a firm understanding of autism and neurodivergence through the studies and findings of professionals within the field. User interviews and surveys gave us personal insights into the daily lives of neurodivergent individuals. Comparative and competitive analysis helped us visualize what features Posi might offer and how the app might look in its final stages.


Here are some key insights and trends derived from research:


  • Users often do feel a lack of energy or even burnout at the end of the day and though they are aware of what drains them, the feeling gradually creeps up on them and they are unable to realize that they are in an energy deficit until it's already too late.

  • Accessibility is always something to keep in mind when designing for the neurodivergent community because these individuals can often experience sensory overload.

  • Desire for accountability and the concept of community are intertwining trends that feed into one another. Users want to be held accountable to self-care, and through a community bound together by a common struggle, they are motivated to stick to a healthier lifestyle.

Ideation & Synthesis

Although Posi's energy accounting system was inspired by spoon theory, the design team eventually came to the decision that the app would be tracking an energy point metric that could scale up to a total of a hundred points rather than counting the number of spoons a user might have. This decision was motivated by a few different factors.


First, we wanted to avoid any confusion that the term "spoons" might bring to the userbase. When Miserandino was developing the concept of spoon theory, spoons were arbitrarily chosen to represent the energy cost of everyday tasks while the writer happened to be explaining her experience with Lupus to a friend at a restaurant. Heuristically, spoons have never really had any correlation with how the general population evaluates energy, so it felt like a natural transition for Posi to switch from counting spoons to measuring energy points.


From a branding perspective, the design team wanted to incorporate the concept of visualizing a user's aura that would reflect their energy status. We felt that the idea of an observable aura shifting and fluctuating according to the user's energy level could serve as the cornerstone of Posi's brand identity. As an added benefit, the aura would act as another signifier for the user's energy reserves along with the displayed numerical values and energy meter. The team concluded that the aura visualization would feel the most organic and intuitive to the user experience if it performed as an illustration for energy points rather than spoons.

The sketches and wireframes above demonstrate Posi's core functions and how these ideas made their way from paper to Figma. Presented from left to right are the dashboard, onboarding, insights, and community pages.

Dashboard

With the concept of energy accounting being at the heart of Posi, we placed this feature on full display where users would be interacting with the app the most. Representation for the user's current energy level was designed in the form of a circular meter that fills and empties as tasks scheduled for the day are marked as complete. Although not displayed in the mid-fidelity wireframe, the user's aura emanates from the center of the energy meter all the way past the circle's perimeter. The dashboard is also where users are able to view and edit their plan for the day. When adding a new task, users are asked to name the entry and assign how many points Posi would add or subtract from their current total when completed.

Onboarding

The primary goal for Posi's onboarding was to keep the process concise while still obtaining and providing all of the necessary information the app and its users would need for a productive user experience.

Insights

The insights page provides users with a history of task entries along with statistics and trends that Posi derives from previous data. With the insights provided by the app, users are empowered to continually improve on building healthy habits.

Community

The community page is driven by the concept of an "Aurbit" (a clever mashup of the words "aura" and "orbit"). An Aurbit is created when a group of users come together with accountability in mind to support one another's energy goals. Aurbits can also participate in group challenges to reinforce a sense of community and belonging for a neurodivergent audience that often finds itself feeling alone in a world catering to neurotypical individuals.

Mockup

Directly above are the mockups of the previously mentioned wireframes. Posi's style guide was also finalized in conjunction with the design of the mockups. During this time, we made the decision to utilize a dark theme rather than white, keeping in mind that a significant portion of Posi's target audience will express sensitivity to bright lights and colors.

Final Thoughts

Looking back at this project, the research phase out of the entire process was arguably the most critical; not only for the app's development, but also for my own personal growth as a designer. It's common knowledge in the design space that conducting proper research on the target audience and market is a paramount (and often underrated) aspect of creating a great product, but while working on Posi, I felt that I was building a deeper empathy for the people I was designing for, more so than on any of my previous projects.


It was within the first few days of working on Posi that I had gone out for coffee with a friend who works as an occupational therapist for children with autism. As part of my initial research, I wanted to ask her a few questions about her experience engaging with neurodivergent children. She had mentioned the social model of disability which proposes that disability is not solely an inherent trait of an individual, but rather a result of societal barriers, discrimination, and the lack of accessibility, emphasizing the need for social and environmental changes to promote inclusion and equality. This idea reminded me of an excerpt from Don Norman's "The Design of Everyday Things" where the author urges that "human error usually is a result of poor design." Rather than blaming users for incorrectly using products, designers should find fault in their designs and strive to create things that account for and minimize human error. In the same way, the world has been "designed" to fit the needs and desires of the neurotypical mind, unintentionally putting obstacles in the way of the disabled community. Instead of "fixing" or "curing" the conditions of people with disabilities, the world should work to empower these people by providing the resources and services they need to succeed. Just as products need constant reiterations of design to best serve their users, society seemingly is in need of a redesign to help the people suffering in its margins. My experience with Posi has taught me that, as a designer, I hold a certain amount of responsibility and ability to advance these necessary changes.