"Cloudkeeping" Game Product Concept


The challenge

Digital waste, or data created that’s never used or visited again, has material impact on the real world. I partnered with a peer designer who's also interested in this problem space to propose a design solution. We focused on targeting digital waste on the cloud that resulted from individual-level, day-to-day activities and defined our project goal as: How might we promote awareness of digital waste and resource exploitation in cloud computing, and help people develop sustainable habits in the digital space?

The solution

We proposed a product ecosystem, Cloudkeeper, with multiple touch points that work together to create a cohesive experience extending beyond the screen. It includes a core component of a digital game, discovery channels of pop-up exhibits and educational materials, as well as a retention channel of a browser extension.

Group academic project in an interaction design studio course at CMU
March - May 2022
Shelley Tao
Tsai-Ling Lei
User research, concept development, storyboarding, concept video production, project presentation


Taking the project goal (HMWs) that we determined earlier, we considered what we already know and what we need to know, in order to define research objectives. We then crafted the research protocols that allowed us to achieve them.

Through desk research, we aimed to:

  • Understand the magnitude and consequences of digital waste, and
  • Find out what might constitute sustainable habits.

We also invited 6 participants to conduct guided tours of their cloud storage accounts, followed by a brief interview. 3 of the participants identified themselves as actively managing their cloud storage whereas the rest did not, so we could understand both ends of the spectrum. These sessions allowed us to:

  • Learn about people’s current behaviors and workflow in the cloud,
  • Understand people’s perception of the potential impact of their behaviors, and
  • Find out what external incentives and internal motivations might lead people to adopt sustainable habits.

Barriers and motivations of sustainable habits on the cloud

We synthesized the collected data from the guided tours and interviews into an affinity diagram to help form insights and brainstorm design ideas.

Affinity diagram

What this means for design ...

Among all barriers that we discovered, the notion of cloud storage being virtual and invisible stood out to us the most. Thus we wanted our concept to help the audience attach physicality and visibility to it, potentially by proposing analogies that users resonate with.

In terms of motivations, we need to bring to users' attention external incentives such as life milestones and monetary values. We should also create internal emotional benefits for users to develop/maintain sustainable digital habits, i.e. making them feel a sense of achievement and productivity while interacting with our concept.


Design principles

If our solution is successful, users will:

Based on research findings, we also refined our target audience from any cloud storage users to university students and young professionals, as they are more likely to reach transitional milestones.

Ideation and storyboarding

Before brainstorming ideas, we went one step further from the design implications and principles to decide on some general directions. One of these was to attach physicality and visibility to the virtual cloud space and invisible digital waste by analogizing them to something that's universally considered physical or representing them with actual physical objects.

To raise awareness and motivation, we also wanted to visualize the process of making a cloud storage space more organized in a hands-on experience. Then we went ahead and dropped our ideas on Figjam and discussed them together with a peer designer with fresh eyes.

The "house" concept was born.

As shown in the storyboard below, this concept invites users to discover a branded desk decor in stores or see targeted ads online, both of which introduce users to the main component, a digital game. In the game, each user owns a house that represents their cloud storage accounts. They are then guided to organize and clean up their cloud files to maintain a tidier house.

A fundamental logic behind why we focus heavily on organizing files is that an organized cloud storage space is necessary for unwanted files to be visible to users. Only after that can users begin to clean up digital waste. The “house” concept guides users through different steps of the journey from naming and filing newly added files to organizing existing files to cleaning up unwanted digital waste.

Storyboard v1

Evaluation and iteration

Two rounds of critique sessions with our peer designers and advisors helped us refine the different components of the concept and make sure they were well-considered to manifest our design principles.


Key takeaway 1: Users get discouraged if the state of the house doesn’t reflect what they think is “clean” and “organized.”

People have varied perceptions of what's clean and organized. It'd be very discouraging for them to see their "house" still look the same after they have spent time organizing the cloud. This means that the game has to recognize user behaviors in the management of cloud storage and facilitate them.

Therefore, when users first join the game, we will have a standardized mechanism that translates the state of their cloud spaces to the state of their houses in the game. This initial state serves as the baseline for the user.

Then, the game will recognize and reflect users' individual behaviors to create a personalized experience for users with their house. This will be achieved by the game's file analysis functionalities that recognize whether files are put into folders, 
detect duplicate documents & similar images, review & suggest meaningful file names, 
and provide document summaries for review.

Key takeaway 2: The beyond-screen component is part of a system whose components complement and reinforce each other.

Proposing a beyond-screen component as part of the project prompt was challenging. That's because we didn't want to create physical waste while tackling digital waste; and we also didn't want to propose a physical component for the sake of proposing one, like the physical model in our storyboard v1, which might easily end up being a marketing gimmick.

After consulting our advisors, we decided to have this component address the discovery phase of the user journey and make it an opportunity for education. So we propose pop-up exhibits for our target audience to learn and play in an immersive environment and get access to join the game.

Concept branding

Once we have nailed down the details of our concept, we moved on to giving it a proper brand. The main themes that emerged were "cloud," "house," and "clean."

Branding ideas

We eventually settled on "Cloudkeeping" and "Cloudkeeper" that embrace the metaphor of housekeeping in the game. This also helps bring the idea of house tidiness together with the impact of managing cloud storage.

Our tagline, "keep your cloud fun and waste-free," aims to capture the essence of the game.


Cloudkeeper: Keep your cloud fun & waste-free.

Cloudkeeper's mission is to tackle digital waste on the cloud. It raises awareness among people and motivates them to develop sustainable digital habits by offering a series of touch points across the user journey. Together, we'll reduce carbon emissions and energy consumption from cloud computing.

Discovery channels

Pop-up exhibits near university campuses invite users inside to learn about cloud computing and digital waste in an immersive environment, take home educational materials that they can share with others, and discover the Cloudkeeper game.

Core interaction: Cloudkeeping game

Each user owns a house in the game that reflects the current tidiness/messiness of their cloud storage accounts. The cloud is mapped to the house like this:

  • Rooms Cloud storage accounts, such as Google Drive, iCloud, OneDrive, etc.
  • Shelves/cabinets → Folders
  • Boxes→ Sub-folders
  • Books/papers→ Files

Any action taken by the user within the game or directly in their cloud accounts will immediately update the state of the house.

Then the game analyzes the house and gives the user bite-size or batch-processing challenges to manage it. Once a challenge is accepted and completed in the game, the user will learn the quantitative impact they've made and earn rewards to customize their house.

There's a community aspect to the game as well. Users are challenged to invite each other over and welcome Non-Player Characters (NPCs), which motivates them to up their cloudkeeping game.

Retention channel: Browser extension

Our browser extension sends notifications to users to keep them stay connected and motivated. An example message could be: "You have 2 duplicated files in the iCloud room. Trash one or both of them to save some cloud space!”

Concept video


This was a very exciting project navigating through the uncertainties in a relatively unfamiliar problem space and letting our research guide us in design. I really enjoyed the process of conducting research and turning insights into a branded product ecosystem.

Making the concept video was a challenging but fun experience. We spent just one week making/collecting assets (in Adobe illustrator and Blender), recording voiceover (in Adobe Audition), shooting and editing live footage (in Adobe Premiere Pro), and making animations (in Adobe After Effects). Although proud of what we have accomplished, I would love to further refine the video in the future.

Next questions

Because Cloudkeeper is an early-stage concept, many details of how things actually work were left open. 

For example, some participants in our evaluative research expressed concern about the size of each room in relation to the size of the corresponding cloud storage space. A proportional relationship would seem to unintentionally encourage people to purchase more storage in order to have a bigger house, whereas standardizing room size might not accurately reflect the amount of information stored. How digital files are mapped to physical objects in these rooms also needs to be worked out next.

Something else that we need to consider is the technicalities of the game, such as how it accesses and manipulates information on users’ cloud accounts while ensuring users’ privacy and whether its powerful analysis functionalities are feasible. 

What’s next?

I'm open to
UX, product, interaction design opportunities
in 2023.

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