top of page

Working from Home

Human-centered design research project examining how to navigate a healthy work/life balance for remote Carnegie Mellon students. The final deliverable is a poster displaying our problem space, research methods and conclusions, and our speculative final solutions.


Open source illustrations from DrawKit





Zimmy Kang, Daniel Zhu, Eric Zhao


User research, visual design, conducting interviews and collecting survey responses


Figma (worked remotely due to Covid-19)


3.5 weeks (Fall 2020)



With limited social interaction due to the current pandemic, many students use applications such as Facetime and Zoom to maintain personal relationships and find company in completing work together. Nevertheless, the formality of a “Zoom” call, often associated with meetings, lectures and class time, often destroys the casual and spontaneous charm of face-to-face conversation. Remote students work from home instead of a school environment, facing difficulty in socializing as well as having an environment conducive to productivity.

Through this project, we hope to help students navigate balancing their work and life by creating more accessible and approachable communal digital workspaces to support social accountability
and collaboration.


  1. How do remote CMU students navigate work life balance when living with their families?

  2. Is there a difference between their current and ideal work/life balance?

  3. How can we help improve the quality of their work/life balance?



Made available to any remote CMU student

General questions surrounding satisfaction with work/life balance, living conditions, and 
time management


An opt-in exercise mentioned in the survey

Participants submitted images of their work and living spaces, accompanied with some notes.


An opt-in meeting mentioned in the survey

15-20 minute individual, in-depth conversations regarding physical spaces, motivation, personal relationships, and health.



16 students answered our survey, we found that an overwhelming majority of remote students cite a lack of motivation as an obstacle to improving their work life balance. Additionally, 56% students used methods such as a planner or designating spaces for work and leisure activities. This helped us understand, generally, what the major problems students had trying to solve their work-life balance.


Some students participated in our follow-up activity and sent us images of their workspaces. With these photos, we were able to visualize and analyze students' work environment, location, and whether they worked with others or alone.


After conducting interviews with 6 students, we created a collection of four personas to better understand the variety of needs, wants, and  challenges of our research participants. 


Peer Relationships

  • Being away from campus eliminated a sense of “casualness” in social interactions; reaching out to peers outside a close social circle feels too formal and forced.

  • First year students are finding it difficult to form meaningful friendships with those on campus, as group chats aren’t always active and zoom meetings hold a formal connotation.


  • Almost all participants noted a loss of motivation in either the survey, interview, or both, due to the combination of online classes and lack of social accountability.

  • Being in an environment where other people are working tends to increase work ethic, even if it means just video chatting or calling a friend.

Time Management

  • The use of a planner or To-Do List was commonly mentioned as a way to keep track of tasks and divide up the time spent between work and life.


Key Elements

Lack of physical separation between work/life spaces

Social isolation from friends and peers

Interviewee demographics: mostly Design/CFA students

Social isolation universally cited as the biggest detriment to work/life balance.

Solution Leverage

Solutions for influencing physical environments posed too many limitations and uncontrollable factors, and required us to make many assumptions about students' financial situation, family dynamics, etc. Therefore, we decided to focus more on how we could navigate and alter the digital environment.


Because there are already so many video and messaging applications that we use everyday to attend class and stay connected with classmates, our solution isn’t a new app to download but rather a guide on how to restructure and organize community applications such as Discord to afford easier and more casual conversation and collaboration.

Key elements we needed to afford and replicate in our solution included: a casual atmosphere, social accountability, and time management.

Photo of the sidebar of our class Discord featuring various voice channels (similar to "rooms" in Zoom).

Social Accountability & Time Management

  • We created text channels for each students "desk area." Here, other students could pop in and chat, drop images, memes, etc. Students can also upload images of what they're currently working on in their desk text channel and receive feedback, ask questions, etc.

  • The presence of other students provides a sense of social accountability

  • Putting plans and schedules in a public space  adds social accountability, encouraging students to keep to their schedule.

Photo of how we restructured our Design 2023 class Discord to afford for more casual conversation and remote collaboration

Creating a Casual Atmosphere

  • Created various voice channels that allow for social interaction without scheduling and transparency of who is currently online, allowing for more casual interactions so students can just "drop-in" to the voice channel.

  • Channels are labeled based on our conversations that normally take place in the studio: "Working with Company, Silent Study, Hanging Out, Gaming, etc."

(left) Holly writes her to-do list of the day in her text channel (right) Dan uploads images of his in-progress model to receive peer feedback.


We didn't create a new product for our solution, but instead focused on how we could improve existing platforms to facilitate social accountability and spontaneous conversation to encourage a healthier work/life balance. The foundation for how we restructured our own class Discord to connect remote and in-person students uses a variety of features and functions to facilitate sharing of work and ideas, and we hope that our findings can open up new opportunities for other applications to improve their collaboration functions.

If we were to continue this project in the future, it could be interesting to prototype plug-ins and other add-ons for applications such as Discord based on our findings.

bottom of page