Bonding Beyond Screens: KeepInTouch as Digital Glue

CSE 440 Staff
5 min readDec 5, 2023

Zage S.P., Michael L., Josua B.

Link: https://wallhaven.cc/w/qdj5rl

Problem and Solution Overview

Have you lost contact with an old friend? Or a family member? Do you want to reconnect, but find yourself pressed for time or unsure what to say? The fast-paced nature of modern life causes many hard-working individuals to inadvertently neglect regular check-ins and consistent communication with family, friends, and other invaluable connections. We propose KeepInTouch, a mobile application whose central role is to send you personalized soft reminders to contact your loved ones, serving you in strengthening and fostering your connections.

Stakeholders and Participants

KeepInTouch is focused on individuals who ambitiously foster their self-development and work to succeed in their careers and life at large. Central to this is sustaining personal connections. Research has shown that social connections are vital for physical and mental health, reducing the risk of various health issues including heart disease, anxiety, and depression. Since our goal is to help these individuals keep in touch and be happy with their connections, our secondary stakeholders are also the connections that our users are trying to stay in touch with. Throughout our design research, we pursued students and new professionals between the ages of 15 and 30, our primary stakeholders, as we had the greatest access to current graduating university students and graduates who have just recently entered the workforce.

Design Research Goals

We used focus groups and a survey to collect data. Focus groups allowed us to better understand the thoughts and feelings of individuals who struggled with keeping in touch with family and friends. We were especially interested in how people can relate to each other on the topic and build off each other’s thoughts to gain greater depth of insight. A good ol’ fashioned group rant about pain points and problems was what we aimed for. Focus groups yielded more qualitative opinions. On the other hand, conducting a survey allowed us to gather concrete and quantitative facts from as many people as possible, such as the last time they called their grandparents and their typical work hours. We facilitated two focus group dialogues consisting of three randomly selected participants each. Our survey garnered 72 responses, with anonymous participants ranging in age from 15 to 56. Our survey was spread by posting it on UW CSE student boards, messaging and reaching out to young professionals on social media, and emailing student groups with members with international backgrounds.

Design Research Results and Themes

The key insights we gathered from our survey and focus groups regarding obstacles, strategies, and opinions on maintaining consistent communication in relationships were:

  1. Communication preferences and dynamics: Participants are interested in a communication-facilitating app. They like the idea of gentle reminders to stay engaged with others. Participants find time zone differences very tough to deal with and schedule around. Also, participants and their connections often prefer different apps, forcing them to switch between apps to reach common ground.
  2. Friendship significance and communication: Friends are very important to participants, fueling a persistent desire for increased closeness despite frequent texting. Participants cherish their time with friends on the phone or in person. They view it as extremely meaningful.
  3. Acknowledgment of difficulty in maintaining relationships: Difficulty in sustaining connections is something that is met with acceptance, with some participants embracing the inevitability of growing apart from some individuals, balanced with a strong desire to try and maintain contact and a greater appreciation for whatever time they have.

We found that large respective majorities of 62.5% and 72.2% of survey participants wanted to be closer with and see their grandparents more often. Our findings also suggest that participants view themselves as inadequately keeping up with their grandparents, with a majority rating themselves either a 5/10 or lower. None of them rated themselves as a 10/10!

Unlike with their grandparents, 82% of participants said they are close with their friends, rating themselves as 7/10 and above, with many being self-identified 10/10s. 61.1% are able to text their friends daily, yet 66.7% want to be closer and 65% want to reach out more having not seen their friends in a long time. It seems to us that texting is a strongly entrenched habit among students and young professionals in the face of busy schedules and physical distance.

Proposed Design

As corroborated by our research, in today’s world, a significant portion of communication occurs through mobile devices, encompassing phone calls, text messages, and interaction on various social media platforms. So, we have chosen to develop KeepInTouch as a mobile app. Plus, our target audience for this app — busy students and professionals — are more often than not quite tech-savvy. Additionally, there is a demand for simplicity and minimalism in the app’s design. Users want it to be easy to learn, use, and understand, without causing unnecessary complications in their daily routines.

A possible user experience is outlined in the image below:

  • The first panel shows a personal device receiving a KeepInTouch reminder, which would be set and customized prior to the scenario shown.
  • The second panel condenses statistics on the user’s overall communication habits with Hannah into a flower-themed graphic. The app’s central flower display symbolizes the weakening of the relationship, signaling the need for some revitalization, having revealed no communication has happened for 3 weeks.
  • The app suggests nearby activities for a fun and spontaneous meetup. After selecting the “Message” button in the third panel, Hannah’s preferred communication channel is launched in the fourth panel, presenting the user’s most recent chat with her. This streamlined process facilitates ease in reaching out to her and fostering interaction.

Conclusion

Overall, participants expressed a strong desire for subtle nudges revolving around consistent reminders to call and text friends and family, preventing weakening social connections and those awkward “left on read” moments. In our survey, 61.1% of the participants said that they would use an app to fulfill this need. Moreover, during our focus group discussions, the challenge of juggling different time zones emerged as a major pain point. Many with family around the world in London, France, India, and China shared their struggles in coordinating schedules and bridging the gap between time zones. So, as we continue to develop and finalize our app design, we plan to focus on highlighting these major features: personalized reminders and scheduling video calls and chats across time zones. Not only do these tasks resonate the most with our research, but also present unique opportunities for forming the foundation for developing a standalone app.

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CSE 440 Staff

University of Washington Computer Science, Intro to Human Computer Interaction