Sean Munson's Research Group Archive

The following research group descriptions are archived because they are no longer offered, the faculty member is on sabbatical, or the group is taking a break. Please contact the faculty member or an advisor to learn more about these groups.

A design space for mindfulness technologies

Winter 2019

Mindfulness can be defined as awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. Its roots lie in Buddhist traditions from thousands of years ago. Yet today, new technologies (e.g., mobile apps, wearable devices, and VR) are bringing this ancient practice to new audiences.

How can these new technologies be designed to cultivate mindfulness? For example, are ‘social gamification’ features appropriate in an app that teaches mindfulness? Which design choices require special consideration in mindfulness technologies? The goal of this DRG is to create a representation of a design space that can guide the development of mindfulness technologies.

Planned activities:

Test and evaluate a different mindfulness technology each week
Compile a library of mindfulness technologies
Represent a design space for mindfulness technologies. This could be in the form of a visualization, a Wiki, or a simple website.
Use our design space to sketch new designs/prototypes

To apply, please complete the following application form by Monday, Dec. 10: Application form.

Meeting times are Wednesdays from 2:30 - 4 p.m. in Sieg 129.

You must enroll in 2 credit hours of HCDE 496/596. Typically, we expect this effort to represent our weekly 90-minute meeting plus 3-4 hours of work outside of our meetings each week. This DRG is open to both undergraduate and graduate students.

This DRG will be led by PhD student Kai Lukoff, with guidance from Associate Professor Sean Munson (HCDE) and Assistant Professor Alexis Hiniker (iSchool).

Everyday personal tracking: an exploration through practice

Winter 2019

This DRG focuses on understanding the motivations and challenges around self-tracking and personal informatics. With the introduction of self-tracking tools, people have the possibility to learn about their own behavior and health more than ever before. However, individuals often struggle with how to interpret their data and transform it into behavior change. By experiencing self-tracking over the course of the quarter and engaging with current literature on personal informatics, we seek to understand these challenges and explore ways in which a human-centered design and research approach can offer solutions.

To inform our brainstorming and design efforts, students will track one or more aspects of their daily lives and discuss their experiences with self-tracking in class. From this, students will identify potential research questions and/or project ideas related to personal tracking for the future.


We are looking for 10 students who have an interest in learning about personal tracking and will be committed to tracking one or more aspects of their daily lives for 10 weeks. We encourage both novice and experienced personal trackers to apply.
This group is open to undergraduate and graduate students from any department and will be meeting every Thursday from 3:30 - 5:00 p.m. in Winter 2019.
We expect students to register for 2 credits of HCDE 496/596.

Please note that space is limited. If you are interested, please apply for the group by November 30, 2018, using this survey.

This research group will be led by PhD students Calvin Liang and Susanne Kirchner-Adelhardt with the guidance of Associate Professors Julie Kientz (HCDE) and Sean Munson (HCDE).

Implementing mental health strategies in everyday life

Winter 2019

Many people cope with mental health challenges. People develop strategies to cope with stressful situations and to improve outcomes for supporting mental health. In this DRG we seek to understand how people implement strategies to support mental health in their everyday life. Through a qualitative study, we will understand how people work with health providers to decide on goals to support mental health, how individuals implement solutions towards mental health goals, and how people update their goals and strategies as they try to implement them every day. 

Requirements: Students are expected to have taken HCDE 313/418/518, or have worked on projects related to mental health. 

Activities: During the DRG we will conduct an interview and diary study to understand how people implement mental health strategies in their everyday life. Students will be expected to participate in recruiting participants, conducting interviews, analyzing qualitative data, and writing up results. 

We will meet for 90 minutes weekly. The time and day of the DRG will be decided to accommodate the schedule of accepted students and research team. You can register for 1–3 credit hours in HCDE 496/596; for each credit you should expect to spend about three hours of work per week outside of meeting times.

We look forward to working with 2-3 students who have an interest in the topic who will work closely with PhD Student Elena Agapie, with guidance from Profs. Gary Hsieh and Sean Munson. Please contact Elena Agapie ( if you have questions.

How Do People Architect their Environment to Manage (Addictive) Smartphone Use?

Spring 2018

Many people express concern that smartphone use interferes with their productivity, physical and emotional health, and social relationships. Past work has focused on building new tools that support people to limit aspects of their use. Yet people are also the creative architects of their own behavior: they change their phone’s display to grayscale or leave their phone behind in the car when they go to the playground with their child. What other strategies do people use to manage their smartphone use?

In this DRG, we will interview and survey people who are concerned about and actively managing their smartphone use. We will analyze this data together as a small group using affinity diagramming and other methods. Our analysis will inform a system that recommends specific strategies to people who want to better manage their own use.

This research group will be led by PhD student Kai Lukoff, with guidance from Professors Sean Munson (HCDE) and Alexis Hiniker (Information School). Feel free to contact Kai Lukoff ( if you have questions.

Design and Development for Crowdsourcing Physical Activity Advice

Spring 2018

In this DRG, we are looking for a few designers and developers to work on the design of CrowdFit. CrowdFit is a tool that leverages the potential of people who are remote from each other to provide help for physical activity. CrowdFit enables an online helper, such as a worker from a task marketplace like Mechanical Turk, to create an actionable plan that follows expert techniques and fits the needs of the person they are helping.  CrowdFit has a client interface for the person who receives the physical activity plan and a helper interface for the people who provide the help and support.

The students will work as a team on the website redesign. Students can choose to participate in one of the two roles below, or to work on both aspects.

(1) Design roles: As part of the website redesign, students will perform usability testing, design the brand for this application, create wireframes and assets for the visual and interaction design of the website. Students should have taken HCDE 308 or HCDE 508

(2) Developer roles: Students will develop new features into an existing tool. Students should have taken HCDE 310 or equivalent. Experience is desirable with back end: Python, or Django, and front-end: Javascript, JQuery.

To apply, submit a statement stating why you are interested in participating in this DRG, and your resume. Include a link to your portfolio if you are applying for a design position. Include a link to your github or share example of your development if you are applying for a developer position.  

Managing a field study of an app for telling stories with personal data

Winter 2017

In this research group, HCDE students will help to run a one-month evaluation of Yarn, a research iOS app for writing stories of accomplishment through personal data like running data, photos, videos, and text. Yarn uses a structured writing experience to help people create content which aligns with their goals for sharing that others would find interesting. Yarn was specifically designed to support two types of stories of personal accomplisment: training for a running race or working on Do-It-Yourself projects. The app design and implementation are complete, and we will begin the evaluation in early January. We are looking for students to help recruit participants, help them install the app, send out intermediate surveys, and interview them about their experiences at the end of the study. Helpful materials, experiences, and skills include:

  • experience conducting qualitative semi-structured interviews
  • strong organization and time management
  • an iPhone and experience with TestFlight are a bonus but not required
  • experience with or excitement about the domain areas (running races, Do-It-Yourself projects) is a plus

Exploring the Use of Wearables in College Athletics

Autumn 2017

Led by HCDE PhD student Sam Kolovson

How can wearable technology (Catapult Sports, Zephyr, Fitbit, Whoop, etc.) be used to improve athletic performance? Prevent injuries? What challenges do wearables and related technologies pose to college athletics? 

In this research group, HCDE students will work alongside “subject matter experts”, UW student-athletes who have experience with competitive athletics. We will learn and practice qualitative research methods (for example, interviewing, interpretive analysis, and value-sensitive design) to better understand the opportunities and challenges related to the use of wearable technologies within competitive athletics. Wearable technology, in this context, we define as any type of sensor worn on an athlete’s body—e.g. a watch, chest strap, sensor built into a shoe, or a screen worn on an athlete's shirt. 

This course can be taken for 2 credits (~2 hours of classroom meeting time + 4 hours of additional work each week). Meeting time TBD.

Technology Design & Development for Healthier Eating

Spring 2017

Healthy eating can be challenging for a number of reasons. Busy schedules, poor knowledge of healthy dieting, and temptation are just a few factors that contribute to an unhealthy diet. In order to better understand their eating habits and work towards a healthy goal, many people to turn technology to mediate their eating behaviors. This is helpful in promoting mindful eating, which subsequently leads to a healthier diet. However, many smartphone apps, such as MyFitnessPal, rely on meticulously detailed logs of a user’s diet and daily activity. We hope to mitigate this user burden by developing an app that introduces daily food challenges as a means of engaging the user and inviting them to be more mindful of their diet.

In this DRG, we are looking for two students interested in designing and developing an iOS app who have: 1) experience in visual/graphic design, and  2) programming experience with Ionic and/or Cordova (or willingness to learn Ionic quickly) and/or web backends. Students will also conduct user testing and assist in pilot studies for the project. The first half of the quarter will focus on design and development while the second half of the quarter will have a greater emphasis on user testing, piloting the app and study materials, and refining them in preparation for launching the study.

We expect students to register for 3 credits of HCDE 496/596.

Youth mental health: a family-oriented approach

Spring 2017

DRG led by Professors Julie Kientz and Sean Munson, and PhD student Arpita Bhattachary

Teenage years and young adulthood are significant stages of transitioning through rapidly changing social dynamics, career pathways, and exposure to unfamiliar circumstances. Reduction in stress has many benefits in social and mental well-being for thriving, as well as in improving treatment outcomes for physical and mental health challenges. What strategies can help youth to cope with stressful situations and start leveraging skills and resources for developing resilience towards stressful events?  

Family members and caregivers can be supportive social resources accessible to most (but not all) youth and may also be a source of interesting social tensions for youth seeking to become less dependent. Risk taking and learning are important aspects of development, and not all events are predictable, avoidable, or can be under control of a parent.  How can stress and mental health be approached from a family perspective?

In this project, we will involve youth and their families in design activities to understand what they think should be the role of technology in helping them manage and mediate support under stressful circumstances.

Activities: We expect to sketch and brainstorm design ideas, design and conduct focus group workshops and interviews with participants, and analyze qualitative data. Readings and discussions will be based on what will help the team learn related work and relevant skills. We look forward to working with 2-3 students who have interest in the topic, have prior experience in conducting focus groups and analyzing qualitative data such as HCDE 313/418/518, and/or have worked on projects in mental health. Depending on progress, students may have the option to continue on this project after the quarter ends.

Caution: We expect study participants to describe situations and emotions that they find stressful. Students in the team will be exposed to data which may also involve narratives on adverse events or trauma. We will work together to be supportive of one another, however, if you are negatively triggered by such content, we encourage you to take necessary measures for self-care while engaging in the project.

Time: We will decide a time based on the team’s availability. All students participating in the DRG, must attend weekly meetings for 90 minutes. Work outside of the meetings will include reading, contributing to design of study materials, conducting focus groups, interviews, analyzing survey and interview results, and writing results to share. You can register for 1–3 credit hours in HCDE 496/596; for each credit you should expect to spend about three hours of work per week outside of meeting times.

Epiphany moments: Understanding catalysts for health behavior change

Co-directed by Sean Munson, Julie Kientz

What can we learn from people who are working towards or have achieved changes in their health behavior? Are there specific moments of “epiphanies” that motivated them to take steps towards positive health outcomes? Theories of behavior change and prior work suggest that many factors come into play to catalyze an individual’s process of behavior change, such as social pressure, increased self-awareness or self-knowledge, and lifestyle changes. In this DRG, we will aim to gain in-depth empirical understanding of these factors and explore if we can design technology to catalyze such motivators of behavior change for those who are not yet motivated to change.

Activities: We expect to work together on to design and conduct interviews, surveys, qualitative analysis, and brainstorming design ideas. Readings and discussions will be based on what will help the team learn related work and relevant skills. We look forward to work with 3-4 students who have interest in the topic and/or have prior experience in conducting interviews and analyzing qualitative data such as HCDE 313/418/518. Depending on progress, students may have the option to continue on this project after the quarter ends.

Designing and Evaluating Tools for Presenting Diversity Online
The Internet gives individuals more choice in political news and information sources and more tools to filter out disagreeable information. Citing the preference described by selective exposure theory—that people prefer information that supports their beliefs and avoid counter-attitudinal information—observers warn that people may use these tools to access agreeable information and live in ideological echo chambers, increasing the polarization of different political groups and decreasing society's ability to solve problems. In this research group, we design and study ways to increase people's awareness of the bias in their own reading and to help them find more balanced or diverse sources of news.
Previously, colleagues and I have developed algorithms to select for more diverse news, as well as the Balancer extension for the Chrome browser. Balancer ( reveals the lean of one's news reading and offers recommended alternative sources or stories.
In this research group, project options include:
  • Continuing to develop and improve the Balancer extension based on what we have learned so far, and possibly releasing the extension for Firefox.
  • Comparing and and improving algorithms that select diverse news content based on link, vote, or traffic data.
  • Developing new tools.
  • Studies of bias in search results.
Limited to continuing students or by permission. For this research group, you should be fairly self-motivated and self-directed. If you are interested in continuing through Spring Quarter (for 1–3 credit hours of credit/no credit grade in HCDE 496/596), please send an email to Sean Munson ( with a few paragraphs describing why you are interested in continuing in the group, any specific project, your relevant skills, and the number of credits you are seeking. Meetings are mandatory for all registered students.

Patient-Provider Sharing of Consumer Lifelogs
Many people turn to smartphone apps to manage their health and wellness information. These data have the potential to make continuous and objective data available for clinical care, but prior research shows healthcare providers rarely engage with the data. Understanding both patient and healthcare provider perspectives and incorporate them into the design of data integration may be important but under explored.
In this quarter, we will analyze results of a patient survey to understand their experiences and needs to share the lifelog data with providers. We also plan to conduct some interviews with health providers and patients in preparation for an upcoming observational study regarding how both parties interact with lifelog data in clinical visits.
Skills: interested and/or have experience in conducting and analyzing qualitative interview results, especially with a focus in collaboration and communication.
Time: TBD
Notes: Limited to 3-5 students (Note: Currently at capacity). Attendance at all meetings required. Register for 2-3 credits, though we could discuss more if you are interested in taking a more active role in the project.
Interested in applying? Please email Sean ( and Christina ( with a brief statement of your interest and expertise, as well as planned credits.

Wins and false starts: Why and how do people stop self-tracking?
Several studies have examined how and why motivated individuals and early adopters track their finances, physical activity, music choices, and behaviors. Most people do not track forever — some stop after a few days, weeks, or months — but few studies have specifically examined why people stop. This quarter, we will use surveys and interviews to study why, how, and when people stop self-tracking. Is it too time-consuming? Did their device break? Did they learn all they set out to learn? We're going to find out! More details.
Autumn 2014 Meeting time: Tuesdays, 4-5:30pm, Sieg 128.
Winter 2015 Meeting time: Wednesdays, 4:30-6:00pm, Sieg 128.
Status: waitlisted
If you are interested in participating (for 1–3 credit hours of credit/no credit grade in HCDE 496/596), please send an email to Sean Munson ( and Daniel Epstein ( with a couple of paragraphs describing why you are interested in continuing in the group, any specific project, your relevant skills, and the number of credits you are seeking. Meetings are mandatory for all registered students.

Technology Support for Health & Wellness (2013-2014)
Hundreds of applications—online, on phones, and on mobile devices—are available to help people manager their health and wellness. Despite this broad adoption in the marketplace, the extent to which they help people, and who they can most help, are not generally well understood.
In this quarter, we will continue the following projects:
  • 3GT: We are preparing 3GT (Three Good Things), an online positive psychology application, to support two online field trials. There are some minor design refinements and implementation required to prepare the application for these studies. Experience with Python (specifically Django), JavaScript, and HTML is a plus for this work.
  • A study of goal setting. Work on this project will involve supporting a laboratory study (recruiting, scheduling, and running participants) and an online field study (designing and piloting the study application), as well as analyzing and writing up the results. You may work on either the laboratory study, the online study, or both.
  • An exploratory study of how to improve sharing features in life logs. This will include formative surveys, designing prototypes, and online and/or in person evaluations of these prototypes.
Limited to continuing students or by permission. If you are interested in continuing through Spring Quarter (for 1–3 credit hours of credit/no credit grade in HCDE 496/596), please send an email to Sean Munson ( with one to two paragraphs describing why you are interested in continuing in the group, any specific project, your relevant skills, and the number of credits you are seeking. Meetings are mandatory for all registered students.

The Internet and the 2012 Election
In this directed research group, we will take advantage of the 2012 US national election cycle to plan, conduct, and review studies. Potential topics include:
  • Understanding people's preferences for accessing political news and opinion online
  • The consequences of discovering friends' political preferences through social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter
  • Processes for correcting rumors or counterfactual political information when it appears online
  • Design and deployment of new tools for political news access and/or discourse
  • [your idea here]
For some background reading, please see references at Because the quarter starts rather close to the election, participants will be expected to be fairly self-starting. The format of the research group will be weekly meetings, in which we present and critique each others' research plans and progress. On some weeks, we may also read a recent paper in this area and discuss it as a group.
To apply, please submit a *maximum* one page (single-spaced) research statement, describing a research question, motivating/related literature, and how you might study it, and a short summary of your skills and experience. You may submit this individually or in a group. This statement need not be perfect, but should give a clear indication of what you might want to study. If your proposed project requires skills beyond your own, be sure to say so. We will use these statements to form groups at the start of the quarter or earlier, and we will get going immediately.

Social Applications to Support Health & Wellness
Hundreds of applications—online, on phones, and on mobile devices—are available to help people manager their health and wellness. Despite this broad adoption in the marketplace, the extent to which they help people, and who they can most help, are not generally well understood.
I'm interested in developing applications, particularly social applications, intended to improve two primary health and wellness outcomes and behaviors. The first is general feelings of happiness and meaning. Here, I draw Positive Psychology exercises and ask how they can be made stickier or more effective by building online and/or social versions of them; one such application is Three Good Things (3GT: 3GT has faced some adoption issues, and I hope that we can improve its design before launching a broader field trial. We also may choose to develop new interventions.
The second is physical activity, which can lead to improved mental and physical health. There, I've developed an iOS application (GoalPost) that helps people set physical activity goals, monitor their progress, and share their progress with friends. It's a bit of out date, and needs some work, and then I would like to use it as a platform to test a variety of persuasive features. If one or more students with experience developing for iOS can participate this quarter, we should be able to refine the design and prepare a new version for release.