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Family Sleep

Human Centered Design & Engineering

University of Washington

March 2016 - September 2019

In this academic research project, I collaborated with a post-doc at the University of Washington to qualitatively explore how families track health and sleep metrics. This multi-year project resulted in the initial formative study and concluded with a design, implementation, and deployment of a technology probe. In a team of 3, I assisted the lead researcher in all facets of the research.

More details can be found in the CSCW publications.

Background and Goals

The motivation behind this project centers around the concept of Personal Informatics, the use of tools to collect personal information for the purpose of self-reflection and monitoring. To date, tracking information such as health data has largely been an individual activity for adults. This research explores the often interrelated dynamics of family sleep health with young children.


Project 1 Goals
  • Understand how families with young children manage their health together, with a primary focus on sleep


Project 2 Goals
  • Design and implement a technology probe (DreamCatcher) to examine the design space of family sleep tracking

  • Evaluate the impacts of collaborative family tracking   

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Main pages of the probe (daily and weekly views)


We used various HCI methods to achieve these goals.

Project 1 Methods
  • 24 interviews with families at their homes, of which 14 were typically healthy and 10 had at least one child with a chronic condition where sleep is a challenge

  • 3 participatory design sessions with young children (7-11 y.o.)


Project 2 Methods
  • Design and implement DreamCatcher, a web app for a touchscreen tablet, using an iterative process (Angular, CouchDB, Fitbit).

  • 15-day deployment per family (10 total) with 4 main sources of data (1) semi-structured interviews at the beginning and end of the deployment; (2) answers to DreamCatcher's reflection prompts; (3) interaction logs from the system; (4) Fitbit sleep data.  

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DreamCatcher at a family's home

What We Learned

Project 1 Findings

​Families wanted to identify ripple effects between family members, include children more explicitly to distribute the burden of tracking from the parents, avoid one-to-one comparisons between children and adults, and track data related to sleep (i.e. mood). 


Project 2 Findings

​Children were active contributors and having everyone contributing encouraged turn-taking and working together. This has led to a more relaxed tracking boundary between the responsibilities of parents and children. However, there were instances where parents felt uncomfortable sharing too much with their families, especially with their children.

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Heatmap of interactions per family

(audio recordings, mood reporting, viewing visualizations)


Contributes to a growing body of research on family-centered health technologies with an empirical understanding of how an artifact is used and perceived at home.

My Reflections

  • Privacy - I often felt bewildered that families were willing to trust us with so much of their private and sometimes messy family dynamics. As this was also my first big academic research project, I learned invaluable interviewing skills including how to be sensitive to when I should probe and when I should take a step back to give them a semblance of privacy. 

  • Patience - Interacting with young children was a test in patience but still very rewarding. Their train of thoughts and interests sometimes strayed so far from what I could predict. If I had to redo this research, I would give myself (and them) more time and patience, and allow them to be as creative as they want to be.

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