iOS Screen Time Redesign Concept

Be present, engaged and focused when it matters most


Feeling the need to be connected with the outside world, I carry my phone with me all the time. I check email when I’m walking, I read news when I’m eating, and I chat with friends when I’m taking Uber. However, while the phone keeps me being informed of the things, it also zombified me. Have you ever closed your social app just immediately open it up again a second later for no reason? Have you ever sticked to your game for an hour when you really need to get things done before the deadline? I have. So I have been a fan of all kinds of time control and production apps for a long time.

When ScreenTime was released by iOS 12 this fall, I was thrilled to see how it works to help people manage the phone addiction. However, several weeks later of trying this new feature, I find out it doesn’t really help. Feeling the sense of empathy and holding the belief that Screen Time could be a more powerful and wonderful tool, I decided to redesign it at here.



How does Screen Time work?

To start off, I first did secondary research online and analyze the current experience to understand Apple’s goal and the features it provided:



So what’s wrong?

To understand the problems from users’ perspectives, I then conducted interviews with 6 people who use iPhone with iOS 12 system and have already activated ScreenTime feature for at least 3 weeks (this time frame is to ensure they have received 3 weekly reports and relatively familiar with this feature).

Questions I asked:

  • Do you use Screen Time on your phone? Why or why not?

  • Do you feel that you spend too much time on your phone (addictive)?

  • What apps do you use most and when?

  • What problems have been caused because of overusing your device?

  • Do you think ScreenTime helps solve your problems? Why or why not?

  • What are the frustrations (if any) you felt when using ScreenTime?

  • What are other solutions you use to decrease screen time? Do they helpful?

Digest the findings:


Who am I designing for:


So why people can’t control themselves?

I decided to be focused on the class at the beginning, but often times, only 15 minutes later, I feel so bored and can not be concentrated anymore. I just can’t control but opening my phone to check Facebook and emails.
— 20 years old, College Student

Here I visualized what he said as a graph to help me better understand the problem:


Then I realized that the problem is:

There is a gap between the amount of willpower when you make decision and when you give up. When you decide you want to stay away from your phone for an hour, you are exhibiting high willpower at this point. However, when the blocks actually kick in, you already lost all of your willpower — and without any help, you may just decide to give up.


Develop the concept

control and time_1.gif


Ok so… What if?

What if we let the users set the time limits when they have the highest willpower and try to leverage the willpower level when they consider giving up?


I redesigned the above flow and here are the two essential changes:

  • Let users set AND start the downtime when they want to be focused.

  • Prevent users from giving up after they start the downtime session.

Then I started sketching…

Sketch_Flow 2.png

However, while this flow helps people to take action at the same time when they make resolution, it still failed to solve the problem that people can just click ‘Give Up’ and ignore the downtime. Then everything remain the same again and people soon get tired of using this feature.


How can I prevent users from giving up?

Comp 1.gif

This addiction use case reminds me of a drowning scenario in which the sea represents the digital world and the drowning person represents a additive user. Here I use this drowning metaphor to guide my brainstorming: How can I save a drowning person?


Then based on these 3 directions, I kept the personas that I created earlier and their contexts in my mind to sketch on the paper. Finally, I came up with 7 ideas with key screens below:


Pick an idea

To pick an idea, I reached out to the users I interviewed earlier to ask for feedback. I introduced the user contexts as well as the problems and then showed the sketches to them. Generally speaking, from talking to people, I realized that the 3rd idea is the most popular one among all the ideas. I also got some key insights below to help me generate the final idea:

pick ideas insights.png

Based on the insights and tried my best to find a balance between flexibility, ease of use, delightfulness and the appropriate strength of block, I finally decided to combine the 2nd and the 3rd ideas together:


Explore different flows

Base on different use cases


Then complete the user journey


Finally, craft the design!

1. Before the Downtime:

Set the time with ease

A01-1 Set downtime_Control Panel.gif
Flow A.png

2. During the Downtime:

Achieve an appropriate strength of block

Take a break

B01 Take break.gif
B01 Break Time.png


Quit the session

B02 Give up.gif
B02 Give Up.png

3. After the Downtime

Bring the delightfulness and encourage the further use

A small delight


How can I design a delightful experience when users finally come to the end? Even though gamification might be too much here, encouragement is worth trying. It occurred to me that the up and down of the hourglass can have their own meanings:


Exploring the animation, it can be something like that:


The flow

Comp 3_3.gif
C01 downtime finished.png

The whole wireframe

whole wireframe v.2.png

Final Thoughts

This was a super fun and challenging one-week project for me and I learnt a lot during the process. One thing to keep in mind for design challenge is: Narrow down the problem space as specific as possible and pick an idea as fast as you can! Personally, I love spending more time on the ideation and exploration process. However, it may just take too much time with time constraint. Also, without real contexts (concrete user needs, business goal, and technical restrictions ) and measurable metrics, it can be super hard to pick a “better” idea.

Next Steps

  • Design Validation

    I didn’t have a chance to show my final design to others so far. If I have more time on this project, I will validate the design with user testings. To measure the success of design, here are the metrics that I would love to set: feature discoverability & usage, downtime session’s failure rate, number of friends sharing, etc.

  • Iterations

    Even though I haven’t test the design with users ,I have several concerns in my mind:

    • The community. How to pick friends to share? How many friends can users pick? Also, sending push to friends can be annoying and disturbing. Digital wellbeing should be built for everyone.

    • The granular time setting. How long would people usually set on different use cases? Can I provide a ‘quick action’ version to let users start the downtime session immediately without setting the time (like default time)?

    • The ecosystem. The discoverability of this feature can be a problem. Is there any opportunity in the Apple’s eco-system to onboard the new users intuitively while ensuring the consistency across different platforms?

All the paper sketches during the design

All the paper sketches during the design