Early Alarm Clock

Trying the UX Ninja Exercise

I recently read Molly Inglish's article on the Whiteboard Design Challenges done at Tradecraft. I perceived the 20-minute exercise as an effective means of fleshing out a product concept or a design solution quickly. 

I chose to test the technique out on Early, the alarm clock app I began to dream up a few months ago. Perhaps this exercise was a chance to resurrect and refresh the idea: 


A snapshot of the design exercise done in my sketchbook. Doing all of this work in 20 minutes removes any intimidation. I can now use this work as a base for breaking the remainder of the project into bite-sized action items. 

Annotating the sketches was an effective way to track thinking while maintaining brevity in the process. 

Surprisingly, the exercise propelled me to sketch out wireframes right off the bat: 


These wireframe sketches represent the general flow of the alarm app. It's not perfect, but it's certainly a start.  

Designing an Alarm App: Part 1

We are not ourselves when we wake up. Each time the alarm goes off, we become irrational creatures with one desire: to stay in bed as long as we can. Our noble goals for the day become secondary, and, without the right triggers, they are not enough to make us leap out of bed. Often enough, this "creature" blocks our path to self-betterment.
For the past month, I fought back. I read dozens of articles about rising early and applied suggested techniques to pull myself out of the covers. I also tried several apps for the iPhone. These included  ones that measured my sleep cycle, employed sound waves, and even forced me to do physical activity. After weeks of experimentation, I experienced mild success. Still, nothing I tried addressed the primary problem:  I couldn't remember why I was waking early in the first place. 

The most effective solution I found was one of the most rudimentary. After setting the alarm on the built-in iOS Clock app, I'd plaster my phone with sticky notes. These notes range in content. One may mention the first task of the day. Another may tell me of an event I can look forward to, or challenge me to remain standing for 30 seconds. These triggers jog my memory and help awake my true self. 

These notes are yesterday's helpful reminders for waking. 

My success with this technique inspired a project to remind others of their waking ambitions. I began to wonder: How can I help people battle their wicked morning "creatures," so they can do all the good things they plan to do?  And if they did those things, could the world be a better place? 

I think it could, but it'll take some elbow grease to find out. Here's the start of the journey: 

I performed an exercise to form initial questions and personas. I also documented the unique features of competing alarm clock apps. 

The exercise yielded three potential approaches to the problem. Due to its focus and level of achievability, I chose to pursue a concept that reminds users of their reasons for waking up. 

Once settled on the concept, I sketched out a user's flow of actions within the app. My first sketches used verbs only. I integrated visuals into later iterations.

I further refined the flow through paper prototypes. In these beginning stages, I find paper inspires a variety of different ideas and allows for delightful discoverability. I also appreciate the feeling of tangibly crafting the product from the start. 

Quickly testing a layout's ergonomics is another advantage of paper prototyping. These artifacts will prove useful as I move into the digital renderings of the product.