Fall 2023
UX Design, design thinking


Intently is a proposed mobile app designed to help college students beat negative social media habits, like mindlessly scrolling without purpose. Intently encourages using social media in a more productive way, letting students set goals for each session and blocking distractions.
This design proposal was a team project created for a Design Thinking class at NYU.

Time spent

4 months.

My role

Primary and Secondary Research, Solution Ideation, UI Design, Prototype Development, Proposal Presentation
view prototype
An image of a phone displaying the app prototype.

The Challenge

This project was created for an NYU class called Design Thinking for Creative Problem Solving. The class was divided into teams, and each team had the task of finding a problem they were interested in and finding a potential solution using the design thinking method. It was a simple task, but not an easy one, and it was to be a semester-long project.

My team was composed of 4 members: Sahithi Lingala, Heloise Wu, Aaron Bliss, and myself. It was a diverse group -- we were all from different majors at NYU and had different nationalities, backgrounds, and hobbies. But we soon found we had an interest in common....

Our Focus: Social Media Addiction

After a few team discussions, we all realized we were interested in social media, and more specifically the negative effects in can have on its users. As college students and members of Gen-Z, we were all well acquainted with this social issue, and wished there was a way to lessen this negative impact. We decided this should be our focus for the semester. After all, if you want something to exist, you have to make it yourself!

We decided to start by researching a broad question: How might we encourage healthier social media habits? From here, we would narrow down our question as we obtained more user data.

An image of all the team members of this project: Blanca, Sahithi, Aaron, and Heloise.

The Project

Our final proposal was a design for an app called Intently. This app would allow users to take back ownership of their time, by eliminating distractions, breaking habitual cycles, and fostering awareness. In short, it would help users approach social media with intent.

Below is a walkthrough of how the app works!

1. Onboarding

The first time a user joins Intently, they are asked to connect the app to a social media platform that they want to use in a more productive way. A quick and easy onboarding screen explains the process to users. In this example, a user is connecting Intently to Instagram.

2. Connect

Now, every time they open Instagram, the user will see Intently pop up on their screen. Before they can go inside Instagram, Intently will ask the user what their goal is for the session — so what do they want to focus on right now.

3. Find inspiration

One goal that users can set is to focus on a particular topic of interest for the session. Let’s say Claire here is a graphic designer, and she wants to go on Instagram to find inspiration for her designs.She can choose the “focus on a topic” option, then select tags that she’s interested in, like design thinking, and then go on to Instagram. Her feed will now be curated with design thinking posts, so that she can get straight to her intended use.

4. Chat with friends

Another option is to set a goal to chat with friends. A lot of our interviewees said this was one of the uses of social media they saw as healthiest. Notice that the arrows are greyed out— this means users won’t be able to exit the DMs, so they can just focus on that and not get distracted or start scrolling aimlessly.

5. See friends' posts only

Users may also set a goal to only see what their friends have been posting, as a way of catching up with the latest news in their circle. As before, the other features are locked, and only the home screen is available.

6. Wait to access the unrestricted app

What if users just want to use Instagram for fun, without restrictions? They can absolutely do so, but they will have to wait for a 5-second timer to go by. Then the “just take me to the app” function unlocks. This is designed so users can take a “breather” moment, to reflect on why they’re choosing to go on social media, and whether there is a more productive action they could be pursuing instead.


As a team, we began by researching existing studies and articles on social media addiction. We found that social media leads to many negative outcomes for students, such as poor academic performance, poor mental health, stress, and sleep problems. One alarming statistic we found was that college students who use social media for over 5 hours a day drop one letter grade on average. Additionally, one in three college students feel like they're wasting their time on social media. This gave us a better understanding of the wider problem, and motivated us to find a solution.

Before starting to narrow down our problem, it was crucial for us to understand how students define "healthy" social media use. To do this, we interviewed fellow college students at New York University.

Surprisingly, we learned that, for our interviewees, healthy social media use was not defined by the amount of time spent using it. Instead, it was related to how social media was used. Healthy social media use meant having genuine, human interactions on it. It meant only consuming the content that one was looking to consume, and not getting sidetracked. It meant finding enriching experiences, such as creative inspiration or conversations with friends. This was an especially important finding for us, as it helped us narrow down our problem statement.

Some of our students also told us that they had attempted different methods of using social media less, but had eventually relapsed. They also mentioned that they felt less productive when they spent their time "doomscrolling", and that this would take time away from their academic and social lives.

An image explaining three key findings from the research, based on the text above the image.

Current state journey map

As part of our research process, we created a current state journey map, exploring users' experience and feelings when interacting with social media.

In the current state map, we imagined a user scouring social media for Halloween costume ideas. The user enters social media and mindlessly scrolls through different pages. Occasionally they find something inspiring for their costume, which sparks a moment of happiness, but still they ultimately get distracted with friends' posts or the For You page. Crucially, as users scroll, they are aware that they have other tasks to do, but they still choose to continue scrolling. Other negative emotions also appear, such as a feeling of missing their friends, envy of others' lives, boredom, or frustration. By the time they exit social media, they have wasted a lot of time, and they feel stressed and regretful.

User personas

Based on the research, we created two personas of our user base. The first type of user was a creator who turns to social media to find inspiration for their projects, but is unaware of the time they spend getting distracted and not being productive. Our second user is a student who shares everything on social media but has become too obsessive and dependent on it. Social media has a negative effect on this user overall.

Revised problem statement

After conducting our research and understanding the problem more deeply, we narrowed down the scope of our problem. We realized that the focus should be on helping help students who struggled with a lack of awareness of how long they stay scrolling mindlessly on social media. The goal would be to help them use their time more wisely, in order to create that enriching and genuine experience that users categorized as "healthy".

Our problem statement thus became: How might we encourage college students to change their social media habits, so that they utilize it for more enriching purposes?

An image describing the revised problem statement: "How might we encourage college students to change their social media habits, so that they utilize it for more enriching purposes?"

Solution ideation

With the new problem statement, the team began to ideate solutions. We used the Crazy 8s technique to come up with potential ideas. We came up with some ideas like a social challenge that encourage people to stop using social media, but we struggled to come up with an experience or incentive that would be compelling enough that people would choose it over social media.

One of the ideas that came up was, in fact, suggested in one of our interviews. When asked what their ideal social media app would look like, they suggested a "tunnel vision" feature, which would ask users what they had come to the app for, and only show them the part of the app they chose. For example, if a user wanted to just see their DMs, the app would direct them to that section of the app. This would avoid getting distractions and doomscrolling. We were interested in this proposal and decided to test out its potential.

Physical prototype

We designed a quick physical prototype to test out the basic idea of the app. We grabbed some bubble wrap and glued it to a round sticker, then we stuck the sticker over testers' phones, on the spots where the Explore and Reels pages are on Instagram. We chose to disable those features because they typically lead to distracting content. We wanted to test if people would still like using Instagram, and also if they would be on task more and spend less time.

We were only able to do two quick rounds of testing, but people expressed curiosity around the idea. Users said they were encouraged to open up sections of the app they didn't usually open. For example, one user said they opened up their DMs for the first time in months. However, the user also said that they would not use this feature, as it  "takes all the fun away from social media". Based on this feedback, we realized it was important that our design didn't feel restrictive, and that users could still gain access to all the features of social media if they so chose.

Future state journey map

We revisited our old journey map and created a future state journey map, to conceptualize the path that users might take through our new app and the emotions that accompany each step.

The new journey looked more promising than the current one. When the user opens social media, they come across the new app. While the user may have been slightly annoyed at being blocked from direct access to social media, they are forced to take a moment and think of their next step. In our example of looking for Halloween costume ideas, they choose to look for inspiration on social media. As they enter the new curated feed, they find ideas quickly, and find the process inspiring and delightful. When they exit the platform, they feel a sense of accomplishment and pride at having done their task. They may even feel excited to start trying costume and makeup ideas right away.

First digital prototype

Now, we set out to create a more detailed prototype of our app using Figma.

We decided that our app would primarily focus on user statistics. When users entered the app, they could select a goal to set for the day on social media, such as finding inspiration, chatting with friends, etc. Alternatively, they could simply track their screen time.

As users perused social media, the app would send notifications informing them of how on-task they had been so far. The app could analyze what activities the user was engaging in on social media, such as the content of the posts or the features that were being used (Reels, DMs, etc). Based on that data, the app would estimate how on-track the user had been with their set goal. The app featured a statistics page where users could see information for their daily progress.

Lastly, the app included a rewards page, which incentivized users to remain on task through discounts and gift cards. The goal was to gamify the experience.

Click here or on the image to view the prototype!


We tested this early prototype with 5 users.

The main insight we discovered was that the app was confusing to use. It was overly complicated, and people needed an explanation of the stats system, as well as the notifications. We realized that an onboarding process would be necessary for first-time users. Additionally, the app may need to be simplified.

Another discovery was that users felt the app was too invasive. They felt uncomfortable at the idea of an app that tracks what they do and can see what types of content they consume -- they felt observed. With this in mind, we knew the app had to wok differently.

Additionally, users appreciated the "just relax" option, as it was not as restrictive as other regulatory apps. However, they felt the feature was counter-productive, as many users would likely just end up choosing that option every time without thinking. We decided that we needed a way to encourage selecting the other options instead, while also not completely restricting access to the full social media platform.

Redesign and second prototype

Based on the insights from the first round of testing, we redesigned our first prototype. Our main goal was to simplify the app as much as possible, and to make it easier for users to understand how it worked.

In order to avoid the experience feeling invasive, we opted for removing the statistics and the tracking system entirely. This reduced the functionality of the app, but it also made it easier to use and understand. We also added a few onboarding screens at the beginning for first-time users.

To make the process of using the app more seamless, we decided that the app would open whenever a user tried to enter social media, and appear like a popup. This idea was inspired by apps like Screen Zen, which display a timer when users try to enter apps they've restricted.

From Screen Zen we also got the idea of using a short timer to keep users from impulsively accessing social media. We decided to implement this feature for the "just relax" option of our first prototype, which we renamed "just take me to the app" for clarity. In the new prototype, users would be able to access all the goal-setting options instantly, but if they wanted to access the unrestricted app, they would wait 5 seconds. This would allow them to rethink their choice and perhaps set a goal instead.

You can view the prototype here, or scroll back up to see the walkthrough again.

Visual identity

In order to make our new prototype look more realistic and professional, we crafted a simple visual identity system. We designed a moodboard, from which we selected a few colors. We wanted it to look youthful, fun, and uplifting. We also created some posters to show what promos of our app might look like. We used these in our final class presentation and hung them around NYU's Tandon building.

Testing & next steps

We tested the prototype again with 5 users, and the results were more positive than the first prototype. Users acknowledged the initial feeling of restriction when using the app, but saw how it would help them stay focused. They felt that, with continued use, they would become less addicted to social media. Testers also appreciated that the process of moving from Intently to social media felt seamless, with little waiting time to enter social media.

We also found some opportunities for improving the app design in the future.

For starters, users found the rewards system from the first prototype very compelling, and didn't like that it wasn't there in Intently. We realize that having rewards is a good way to keep users motivated and incite them to use the app. Because of this, in the future we would like to figure out an easy but compelling rewards system, whether it's monetary rewards or just game-style badges and trophies.

Many users also expressed a desire to customize their goals. They would like to set their own goals, for example, looking for news. Perhaps we could incorporate a way for users to add their own goals or customize the level of restriction of the goals.

Lastly, the prototype currently only works for Instagram, so it's very specific to that platform's features. In the future, we would like to explore what Intently could look like for other apps like TikTok, Twitter (X) or Snapchat.


What worked?

Overall, I think this project turned out to be quite successful. My team and I created an app that I feel proud of, and which I genuinely think would be useful if it were real (I have found myself wishing it was real!). I think we were quite thorough in our process, and we were not afraid to change our prototype when our initial ideas weren't working. This allowed us to keep our goal and the users' needs in consideration, and I think that made for a successful final product.

What could be better?

Our design process was quite scattered and messy, partly due to the structure of the class and partly due to the diversity of Design Thinking experience within the team. We tried our best to produce an adequate and high-fidelity solution, but we could have done a better job in planning a more organized path from problem to solution. I think this would have allowed us to achieve a successful prototype earlier, and to work better as a team.