Product Design • Black Dog Institute

Most people are familiar with the concept of your “personal values” but in Psychology, values have a specific clinical meaning. In the field of “positive” psychology, a burgeoning field specialising in improving quality of life, rather that treating issues, values refer to the principles that act as a guiding light in your life. Studies have shown that people are overall more satisfied with their life the closer they live up to their values. But, annoyingly, values are very hard to pin down, and even harder to define alone.

The Black Dog Institute wanted to create a mobile app that would help people to self-discover their own values in a more concrete way. With this collection of the things most important to them, they would be in a better place to make life choices that would make them happier.

They could find their Spark.

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Working with Researchers and Psychologists at Black Dog, we established a series of personas that this app would target. While the demographic range was large, targeting people between 25 and 55, it was more tightly focused on their mental state, targeting people going through major life changes.

Researching past value discovery techniques, especially those of Dr. Shalom Schwartz, we found solid grounding for models of the spectrum of values, but also discovered that the test felt simplistic, and not very personalised. Additionally we discovered that values have a tendency to change over time and after major life events.

The Theory of Basic Human values, developed by Shalom H. Schwartz

The Theory of Basic Human values, developed by Shalom H. Schwartz

The first step was to create a model that represented the full range of values, and indicated the unique mix for each person. We devised the “spark” which modified the relative positioning of some of Dr Schwartz’s original map and indicated their relative strengths. Additionally, we discovered that if a person had values that were closer together, it made it easier to live a life where all of your values were being well met. However, it’s still easier to live with quite separate values than it is to actually change the things that are important to you.

This spark diagram became the namesake of the app.

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We decided that our app would need to work in two distinct halves, a reflection phase, where people would answer personal questions that challenged their world views, and an analysis of their spark, getting a stronger understanding of the values that held.

To make reflection more engaging and fun, we made the relationships of the answers that people gave, and the values that they represented slightly unclear. The more questions that are answered, the more the underlying algorithms can get a sense of the relative weight of each of the different values.

Once a person's Spark is fully charged, they can explore it in detail, examining the relative values of different domains and the individual values within. Testing with actual users showed that this discovery was a great “wow” moment, but that people still found it hard to put their Spark into practical terms.

By dynamically generating descriptions of how each person's values will affect different areas of their life, like work, family and their personal life, we can guide them into a better understanding of their values.

With this set of features, Spark has now entered a clinical trial. Thousands of users will be required to give a good statistical model of how accurate the underlying algorithms are, so this may take some time. While this is being done, upcoming features are being planned that will help people act on their Spark once they have discovered it

Matthew Delprado