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A Social Accountability Task Management Tool

Graduate students found it difficult to organize and manage their own tasks. It was interesting to find in our research that 100% of the students interviewed reported that they are more likely to complete a task if they receive help or words of encouragement from friends or family. This led us to the idea that accountability partners are key. According to the American Society of Training and Development, social accountability increases the chances of accomplishment by 95% and provides a sense of extrinsic motivation. We ended up creating a task management mobile application with a social accountability feature that enables students or young professionals to achieve personal goals with sustained motivation.

How might we make graduate students feel more responsible for finishing tasks and achieving their goals?


Erika Noma, Arthi Puri, Eva Chen, Alice Chen, Changqi Yu

User research:
interviews, persona mapping, journey mapping, usability testing
UX design: sketches, wire-framing, low fidelity prototyping

Google forms, Figma, Adobe Illustration, Photoshop

Design Process

(Click the button to navigate to each section)







Insights analysis

Define problem

Ideation & Sketching

Concept testing

Low fidelity

User testing

Final Design Solution

Discover Phase

Problem Framing

🔍 Initial Problem Discovery

Students find it difficult for them to organize and manage their tasks, ranging from school assignments, personal projects, and personal life goals, to career-driven tasks. From our secondary research, there are many tools out there for task management but with a to-do list only, people have about a 40 to 50 percent chance of doing the tasks. Therefore, we brought up the question: Why to-do lists don't work for many people? Is there a better way for students to manage their tasks?

🎯 Problem

Graduate students struggle to manage various tasks
to achieve both professional and personal goals.

User Research

In order to make task management easier for students, we decided to gather more quantitive data from the survey regarding their current task management habits, like how they manage their tasks, how often they seek external help, their procrastination level in the execution process, etc., and dig deeper to identify their needs and pain points in task management from in-depth interviews. 

🔍 Initial Survey

We distributed our survey to a group of people to figure out their task management habits and asked if they would be willing to participate in our interview, then narrowed down our interview participants to 5 people who struggle with professional or personal task management. 

Example Questions:
- Do you tend to avoid or delay getting started on a new important task?
- How often do you feel unmotivated to do daily tasks?


🔍 In-depth interviews

Based on the survey results, we drafted our interview questions and conducted a series of more detailed person-to-person interviews to explore in depth their points of view, experiences, feelings, and perspectives when they manage to finish a task and understand their needs and pain points in task management. 

Participants: Mixed-gender, graduate students
Location: Zoom

Example Questions:
- Tell me about the last task you completed?
- What motivated you to start the task?
- What was your process in completing the task?


Insights Analysis

After all 5 participants expressed their concerns about task management and different perspective of view during interviews, we sorted those responses on notes and then started structuring the affinity mapping to gain some insights. 

🔍 Affinity mapping

100+ data points

2 themes

6 insights

5 interviews

From our interviews, we categarized two types of tasks:
1. Personal Tasks: healthy lifestyle habits
2. Professional Tasks: school work & assignments, career-oriented work


Theme 1: Motivation

1. 75% students are motivated by rewards such as freedom, food, and words of affirmation from friends
2. Deadline and sense of urgency 100% pushes students to get things done faster and on time
3. Feedbacks and affirmation words are strong validation to their progress and give them confidence to move forward


Theme 2: Approach

1. They will make a plan in advance of milestone deadlines, but have trouble sticking to it
2. They often find support from friends or team member are very helpful to keep focusing on tasks
3. 50% of students know the importance of prioritizing tasks, but are not sure how to prioritize suitably

💡 Insights

100% of our participants noted that:
They are
more likely to complete a task
if they receive help or words of encouragement from friends or family.

Define Phase

Define Problem

With those insights in mind, we then created an empathy map in order to help create a shared understanding of user needs among the group and help make decisions for directions. We completed the POVs to help reframe the design challenge into an actionable problem statement and persona of Sophie and Jerry to have a deep understanding of the target audience about their expectations, concerns, and motivations.

✍️ Empathy Map

✍️ Point of View

✍️ Persona


A second-year graduate student who struggles with procrastination


To be held accountable by friends to complete their daily personal tasks like exercising 


Have a healthier lifestyle



A second-year graduate student who loses motivation quickly


An easy way to contact friends for accountability in achieving professional tasks


Meet their career-oriented goals


✍️ Persona

Let's meet Sophie, a graduate student at NYU who finds it changeling to maintain a healthy habit, and also loses motivation quickly. she hopes to sustain her motivation to achieve personal goals by socializing with her friends at the same time.

Sophie Johnson, 25

Second Year Graduate Student at NYU



Sophie is a graduate student at NYU studying HCI. She is trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle but can’t seem to find time to follow healthy habits while staying on top of her schoolwork. She often works with friends for assignments. There are a lot of things she wants to do to have a healthier lifestyle but can't get herself to stick to it.   


  • Wants to incorporate healthy habits into her busy life.

  • Wants reminders and is held accountable to achieve personal goals.

  • Wants to sustain her motivation to achieve personal goals.



  • Ambitious but find it hard to stick to her plans.

  • Can't seem to find time to follow healthier habits.

  • Loses motivation quickly.

  • Simple to-do list apps or habits apps she ends up quitting after a few days.



  • Enjoys socializing but spends most of the time by herself.

  • Self care.

This is Jerry, a student who keeps procrastinating on working on his portfolio, although he finds it helpful to text his friends to keep him accountable, however, he feels bad for asking them all the time. He also feels motivated when he posts on social media about accomplishing a task and receive comments from a friend.

Jerry Lee, 26

Second Year Graduate Student at NYU



Jerry, a second-year master's student at NYU studying UX design. He wants to land a full-time job as a UX designer in tech, so he has to work on his portfolio. He keeps procrastinating and loses motivation quickly, but he tries to stay on top of the plans by asking friends to remind him. He enjoys posting stories on Instagram when he feels accomplished completing tasks and people's reactions feel like a reward. 


  • Wants to work on his portfolio, resume, and networking to achieve his career goals.

  • Wants to work with friends to motivate each other. 



  • Finds it helpful to text his friends to keep him accountable but feels bad for asking them.

  • Feels self-conscious about posting about his tasks and achievements on Instagram all the time.

  • Makes plans to finish tasks but finds it hard to stick to them.



  • Very social and always has plans with other people but forgets to carve time out for himself.

Develop Phase

Ideation & Sketching

䷴ Divergent Design

Each of us designed multiple sketches individually and then discussed which features of our designs were the most important.

Potential Features:
- To-do list
- Calendar View
- Adding friends
- Activity feed to view posts
- Reminders/ Notifications

Concept Testing

In order to test the main ideas behind our app, which is a task management to-do list app with a feature for users to have social accountability partners with the goal of accomplishing daily tasks, we decided to do concept testing. We tested two groups and told them to post to-do lists in the chat and hold each other accountable for the tasks on their to-do lists throughout the day and week respectively.

Group 1

Groups of 4 young professionals and graduate students

We put 4 people in an iMessage group chat and told them to share their to-do lists in the morning. Throughout the day, they were told to hold each other accountable for the tasks on their to-do lists


iMessage group chat

Over the course of 12 hours

Group 2

Groups of 3 NYU graduate students

We put 3 people in an iMessage group chat and told them to share their to-do lists every day in the morning for a week and observe their interactions and communications with each other throughout the whole week


iMessage group chat

Over the course of 1 week

💡 Key insights in 2 concept testings

1. They enjoyed the experience because it gave them a window into their friend’s lives

2. Throughout the day they started messaging less, which we think Nudges/Reminders would be helpful

3. Most tasks were not scheduled and did not have a time

Low Fidelity Prototype

After the concept testing, we validate our idea of bringing social accountability features into the task management app and we got extra surprise about bringing in more useful features, like having timely reminders, adding friends, and having interactions(Nudges/emojis) with friends.

Usability Testing

We did a round of usability testing with 6 students. During the process, participants were told to complete four tasks using low-fidelity prototypes and think aloud to verbalize their thinkings. 

6 participants, students

4 tasks:
- Create a new task in today's to-do list and share it with your friends
- Cross off finished task and post
- Interact with one of your friends' through unfinished tasks
- Comment on one of your friends' posts



With user testing observations, we were able to refine the user flow and iterate the interface for a better experience. These are two key feature that has been refined.

 🎯Design Rationale 1 & Key features

How can we promote social accountability through an activity feed?

In the previous Activity Feed Page, we only let users share and post after they finish tasks. However, in our concept testing, we found that encouragement from friends in the process pushes people to finish their tasks more efficiently and they prefer to send emojis to encourage each other. We then changed our design by separating the tasks into unfinished and finished categories. In the unfinished tab, the user can see both his own work and other friends’ to-do tasks and motivate others by sending emojis. Under the finished tab, the users can share and see each other’s posts.

By the way, a small detail design here, we chose carefully for the emojis shown here coz from our concept testing, we found reactions like “hearts” and “laughs” were used a lot. Therefore, we only put the most frequently used emojis there.

1. Activity Feed



From our tests, we found that increasing the supervision and interactions between friends contribute to success in finishing tasks. Therefore, we iterated the Notification page, where users can not only get notified by friends' comments but also can check on friends' tasks as well.

2. Notification



 🎯Design Rationale 2 & Key features

Parallel Iteration:
How can users share unfinished tasks on the to-do list with friends?

We did parallel designs here to explore different design alternatives for the sharing task process. For example, we tried to design a share button at the top of the list followed by a pop-up window to confirm the share, or with a share button separately on each task. Through usability tests, we found that consistency between pages is important, so we eventually decided to put a similar pattern in our activity feed, which separates tasks into unfinished and finished. And then clarify different interactions separately - sharing for the unfinished task and creating posts for the finished task.


Here, we also customized sharing setting for the user so that they can decide whether a task will be shared or kept private in their own list.

Before: design alternatives for the sharing task process

After: the final refined solution

Solution Phase

Final Design Solution

1 Onboarding

- Social accountability increases your chances of accomplishment up to 95%
- Signup/Login
-  Add friends from contacts

2 To-do list

- Simple & customizable task management
- Daily to-do list
- Track, manage, and execute all your daily tasks at a glance

3 Share unfinished tasks for accountability

- Share your unfinished tasks with accountability partners
- Change who to share them with
- Tasks will be shared to an unfinished tasks feed

4 Share finished tasks

- Share your finished tasks with connections
- Create a post and add pictures
- Posts will be shared to a finished task feed

5 Engage

- Check activity feed tab to engage in your friends'
- Remind your friends by nudging their unfinished task
- React to tasks/posts with emojis and comments
- Profile tab to edit posts, settings, and add friends

🎯 Problem Statement

How Might We make graduate students like Sophie and Jerry feel more responsible for achieving their goals?

💡 Potential Solution

Create a task management app with a social accountability feature that enables college students to achieve personal goals with sustained motivation

💡 Observation

- 3 out of 4 users split up tasks into personal and professional work
- They enjoyed the experience because it gave them a window into their friend’s lives
- Throughout the day they started messaging less, which I think is where Nudges/reminders would be helpful
- Most tasks were not scheduled and did not have a time
- Reactions like “hearts” and “laughs” were used a lot

💡 Observation

- Need a reminder to remind us to check each other’s each day task
- Partners’ Check-ins push the work to complete as expected
- It’s more motivated to respond to other’s check-in, less motivated to tell and share each other after the task is done
- For those who don’t have a habit to do to-do lists, partners help with the task efficiency
- Stickers are used a lot

💡 Observation

1. Most of our users struggled with the sharing page because the user flow was not clear enough, and functional icons were not well positioned.
2. Users don't know where to check notifications from their friends.
3. The difference between friends and partners was confusing.

1. Problem Framing
2. User Research
3. Insights Analysis
4. Define Problem
5. Ideation & Sketching
6. Concept Testing
7. Low Fidelity Prototype
8. User Testing
9. Final Design Solution
Design Process



If I had more time...
1. Complete more iterations of our design and testing to increase usability
2. Further user research on creating groups of different friends
3. Explore different ways to increase motivation and accountability (monetary,
rewards, etc.)
4. Further explore scheduling opportunities
5. More flexibility for students with different types of goals



I learned that when the direction seemed to be blurred and when we had no idea of which design would be better, it was a good time to test and talk with our users, like concept tests and usability testing. And it's never too early to do the testing to validate the design all along and get feedback for further iterations.

So happy to have all of you on this team! Great work, The cutest team ever!

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