Trang Dinh's Portfolio

Apple iCal, Microsoft



Apple iCal

I worked as a researcher and recruiter in a project sponsored by Microsoft Outlook to do behavioral research around time management and to test a competitor application, iCal.  This project was part of the Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) graduate curriculum at the University of Washington. 


role: Researcher
period: Jan - Mar 2017
team: Rigo Ordaz, Nichole Kim
course: HCDE 517 Usability Studies



Microsoft dominates in most companies as the platform for planning and communicating between teams. Among college students however, Microsoft applications are barely used. Through our meeting, we identified two goals: 

  • Learn what platforms college students use and their defining features that makes students continuously use it

  • Learn what defining features exist in iCal, a competitor application, to consider implementing in the prototype



Each session was an hour long, split into two parts:

1. Contextual inquiry where participants are asked to bring in materials they use to manage their time - phones, laptops, journals, etc. 
2. Usability study where participants perform major tasks such as creating, editing, and deleting an event. 

Based on our goals, our participant criteria include: 

  • College student age 18-24

  • iPhone user

  • 4 participants using a digital platform

  • 4 participants using a non-digital platform




Synthesizing data from both parts of our study, we found the following features desired by participants: 

1. Personalization - Participants want to personalize their calendar and schedules with color, labels, font type, stickers, and even notification to help prioritize their tasks and events. 
2. Accessibility & Discoverability - Participants want to access snapshots of their schedule, their tasks and their to-do lists in a quick and visually clean manner. 
3. Sense of accomplishment and success - Consider allowing users to visually check off or cross out finished tasks and events. This empowers users and gives them a sense of accomplishment. 
4. Autonomy - Participants want to feel in control of their schedule whether the schedule is objectively organized or not. Consider allowing flexibility so that users feel empowered and organized.



Our findings led to concrete design recommendations for Microsoft's time management application, and shed light on possible future directions for the prototype. We were able to gain in-depth insights on the wants and needs of college students which would be highly valuable to the stakeholders in understanding their target demographics.

We were also invited to present our findings to 15+ stakeholders, ranging from design researchers, product managers, engineers, and product designers. 

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Things don't always go as planned. Originally, we were to test a Microsoft prototype, but back-end issues directed us to change the scope of the study and assess a competitor application instead. 

Practice makes perfect. Although we conducted a pilot before the study, we quickly realize that our script needed more adjustments the day of. Doing more pilots and practicing moderating would've helped us facilitate the session more smoothly.

We are tremendously thankful to our mentors Josh and Montine who guided us in our research process, especially when the focus shifted due to development issues. This taught us to be flexible and creative with our research strategy.