• About:
    PopUpBreak is a well-being desktop app with an emotional Virtual Coach (VC) that helps users in maintaining good practices for sedentary workers, as well as teaching new ones and keeping track of them. The VC can be customized by the user and, through a pop-up notification on the computer screen, it reminds them to do a pause, eye breaks, drink water, and others. Moreover, the application gives also some recommendations (e.g. how often a person should relax the eyes while working in front of a PC) and summarizes the activities done day by day.
    We believe that this system encourages people to work more healthily, avoiding the main consequences of a sedentary lifestyle. We use virtual coaching to reinforce users' behaviour, leading to acquiring good habits.

  • What: Group project

  • Where: Université Paris-Saclay

  • Duration: November 2020 - December 2020


Stationary work and study settings may lead to harmful consequences to people's physical and emotional health. Many people start to realize their problems and intend to make a change, but they still need reminders and guidance.

We did 9 interviews among students and sedentary workers, investigating their lifestyles. The common problems we found are:

  • Forgetting to take a pause, especially when fully focused on the work.

  • Forgetting drinking water or don't drink enough during the day.

  • Eyesight problems due to long screen time.

  • Back pain due to bad posture.

  • Sleep insomnia due to too much blue light exposure.

  • Stress and tension during the week.



Routine: occupation, computer usage, sleeping, eating, drinking habits.

  • What is your occupation?
  • Could you tell us about your routine everyday?
  • How many hours do you work/study in front of the computer everyday?
  • How structured is your routine? Do you have a fixed schedule or are you more flexible with times?
  • Can you tell me about the last time you had trouble falling asleep? Why do you think that happened?
  • How often do you eat something while working?
  • How much water do you drink every day? (# glasses, # water bottles)
  • How would you qualify your eyesight? Do you think work affects it much?


Physical habits: posture and view, problems, exercises.

  • How often do you exercise? For how long? Are you satisfied with it?
  • Could you tell me the story of the last time you had some sort of pain after working? Why do you think that was? (e.g. back pain, stiffness, …)
  • Follow up: Was it due to working long hours on your laptop and how did it affect you? Did you have to go to a doctor? What were his recommendations?
  • How would you qualify your posture? How do you keep straight?
  • Are you familiar with active pauses? Do you do them? Why not?


Breaks: frequence, duration, descriptions

  • What is the longest you have worked without taking a pause?
  • How often do you do breaks while working? And how long are they?
  • Are the breaks predefined? Or do you do them voluntarily at will?


Distractions: frequence, motivations, causes.

  • Do you easily distract yourself using the phone while working? Why? What do you do when you are distracted?
  • Can you tell me which kind of notifications you do NOT ignore? What is it about them that makes you wanna stop and pay attention to them?
  • Can you tell me about the last time you were interrupted while working and you didn’t like it? Can you tell me about another time where you had no problem being interrupted? What was the difference? (tolerance)

Target Users

Ranging from high school to Ph.D.

Sedentary workers
Office workers or people who use a computer every day


Alternative designs

Mobile Version

Distractions come from that

Can't use phone while working sometimes

Desktop App

People have already PC open

Users that don’t use PC while working are not going to use our system probably

Features of the system

Virtual Coach (VC): working as a "ghost friend" to encourage users in applying good practices. It pop-ups on the screen.

Don't disturb mode: customize the level of intrusiveness, healthy interruptions, and alerting.

Customize reminders: customize frequency and reminders. The user can create new ones (e.g. "Remember to take this medicine").

Good practices section: to encourage awareness. People can start planning their routine considering them.

Habit tracker: summarize activities' data (e.g.: work times, number of breaks, liters of water drunk) daily, weekly, monthly.

Positive reinforcement: the system shows the impact on the user's health of what has been done.

Gamification: the system could reward the user according to the application of the good practices.

Calendar synchronization: to bear in mind the other things to do. VC don't pop-up during calls and meetings.

Virtual Coach


  • Do active breaks from the work, with stretching

  • Do eye exercises and eye breaks from the screens

  • Drink water

  • Eat a healthy snack

  • Keep a good posture

  • Mindfulness: deep breathing, mind spaces at beginning and end of the journey

Extra features:

  • It shows emotions and facial expressions to encourage the user

  • It shows the exercise to perform and tip that you need to do right now

  • It does things alongside the user if wanted (e.g. it does eye exercises at the same time with the user)


AUs: 6 + 12

  • User completes all the tasks of the day

  • User has improved from the previous day in working or taking breaks


AUs: 10 + 12 + 46 + 55

  • User has failed to accomplish the daily goal

  • VH is explaining how to do exercises

  • VH is suggesting to do something


AUs: 1 + 2 + 5 + 26

  • User completes all the tasks of the day


AUs: 1 + 4 + 15

  • User dismisses notifications


AUs: 4 + 5 + 7 + 23

  • User dismisses notifications


AUs: 10, 15, 29

  • User dismisses notifications


AUs: -

  • Default


Welcome screen

The VC is happy and is saying "Hi", showing a positive state of mind and a welcoming facial expression.

The screen shows users their agenda for the day so that users can customize their breaks.


When it is break time, the VC pops up eagerly at the corner.

Users can accept it, postpone it, or deny it.

Excercise screen

The VC will do the breathing exercise along with the user, so his facial expression represents guided respiration.

The page has instructions that guide users to inhale and exhale.

Drink reminder

When the user accepts the drinking advice.

Users can choose the amount of water to take.

The VC will have a proud emotion here because we want to positively reinforce the user's decision to accept a break.

Learn more screen

Users can also check other good practices to encourage awareness.

When selecting the desired one the VC will return and react accordingly to the new facts being learned.

Information screen

This page is for users to have more information on healthy habits, like the fun facts in drinking water for example.

The VC is in a surprised state because they are both learning something new.

Statistics screen

The user can also track the evolution of their habits.

Comparison of today's data to yesterday's.

Weekly and monthly tendencies.

The VC's emotion would depend on users' achievements.

Achievement screen

Displayed at the end of the working hours.

The VC will emphasize the user's achievements of that day. Depending on their behaviour, it will react positively or negatively.

Customization of reminders screen

This page is for users to customize their breaking sessions, so that this application can fit every user's habits and goals. On the side, the VC is also offering some pre-set configurations recommended specifically for the user (according to their behavior so far). So his facial expression is winking, so that the user feels more guided towards accepting his suggestions.

Usability Testing

Illustrative Scenario

Video demo

From user thought to feature

"I don't want to invest so much time in setting up everything. I don't want to think, too many configurations"

  • Include default settings.

"I could be embarrassed in doing exercise in front of my colleagues"

  • Customize exercises, include some that are not so visible (like just move the neck, contract some muscles).

  • Create profiles of reminders (e.g. "Work at office", "Work at home").

"I wouldn't care a lot about the emotions of the Virtual Coach. How do you keep the users engaged and motivated?"

  • Show videos of people that feel great about these new habits.

  • Include motivational messages and reviews from other users.

  • Add music according to the type of exercise or break to do.




Java Swing

Architecture of the system

MARC framework

Generates in rea-time the facial animation for the given emotion.

Maps the emotions to a set of AUs combinations from our predefined library.

PopUpBreak app

Takes that rendered animation and embeds it into our system in the respective screen it corresponds.

Changes screens depending on the user interaction or if there is a time for a scheduled break.

State Machine

Future Work

Virtual Coach

A functional virtual human with the full emotion library in gifs

Usability testing

In real life scenarios

Improve the system

Feedback from usability testing