In 10 weeks, we were tasked with research, ideate, and prototype a design concept to help people coping with a specified mental health issue.
Designed alongside the talented Divya Polson and Gaby Chan, also give a shout out to Zara Abraham for being the amazing photo models.
Panic attacks are episodes of intense fear that triggers severe psychological and physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause.
About 3% of Americans experience panic attacks, which can interfere a lot with their daily lives.
Homio is a customizable and interactive water bottle for anxiety and panic attacks recovery by facilitating grounding exercises.
Drinking water can prevent dehydration and reduce triggers that lead to panic attacks. Water supports your body to return to homeostasis when you are anxious.
The bottle dispenses aromatherapy to reduce anxiety by using scents associated with relaxation and stress relief, bringing you comfort and peace.
The bottle comes with tactile attachments which help you refocus your mind and bring you a sense of control when anxiety is taking over.
Based on our online research about panic attacks, we developed our assumed problem space and planned to validate it through the primary research.
Adolescents and young adults are the most susceptible to panic attacks since their age is when panic attacks typically onset and peak.
Many struggle with handling this mentally and physically debilitating experience in public settings such as classrooms, where our target users spend much of their day.
Our response is in no way meant to be a replacement for therapy and long-term recovery methods. Rather, we want to support individuals in the highly focused moment of a panic attack, when they feel least in control.
We consider cultural probe as a tool to provoke inspirational responses and insights. We designed our first probe that asks participants to visualize their feeling during a panic attack. They experienced racing thoughts, difficulty breathing, stomach tension, among several other physical symptoms.
Based on the stakeholder map, we created the second probe that instructed participants to sort people in their network based on their level of awareness and support. The results showed that people tend to trust therapists, parents, and partners more.
Additionally, to gather more responses to the question, we translated our cultural probe to an online survey and share it with the panic disorder community on Reddit.
We leveraged our cultural probes to start a short interview with the participants after their activities to understand the contexts and their strategies to deal with a panic attack. They shared with us the methods they were trying to divert thoughts of the panic attack such as picking up an object and consciously noting everything about it.
Given that panic attacks can occur at any place or time, well-meaning friends, family, and even strangers may try to jump in and help the person through these challenging symptoms. However, they lack the knowledge of giving practical support in general and probably saying the wrong thing to the person having the attack.
The primary research led us to believe that focusing on the supervising roles within a school setting, such as staff and teachers, may not be as impactful if those experiencing panic attacks are not comfortable reaching out to them. They have a hard time noticing and distinguishing a panic attack without contextual information.
Our participants have already developed their grounding exercise, which is a strategy recommended by therapists to bring people’s attention back to the present by connecting them with the physical world around them. It encourages people to focus on something they can touch, hear, smell, taste, or see.
We looked into the journeys of the two groups — people who want to be alone during a panic attack vs. people who want support from others. Motivated to address the needs of both groups, we developed three design principles to proceed ideation.
Encourages you to take control of your anxiety
Adaptable to your personal preferences
Integrated into your everyday life
Based on the design principles, we each brainstormed 30 ideas for a total of 90 ideation candidates. Together, we shared out our ideas and clustered them according to themes.
To narrow our ideas down, we identified the following selection criteria: feasible, relevant, and exciting, which our ideal design response would fulfill all. We voted for each category and this resulted in narrowing to the sensory cube concept.
To learn what sensory materials people would like to engage with, we created different samples, which they could touch, smell, and see. We asked participants to tell us what they liked and disliked and if they felt comfortable or uncomfortable about the materials in the context of anxious situations.
Volunteers are resourceful, knowing different topics and facilitating inquiry-based conversation. But they only show up on weekends.
I have a strong association with smelling lavender to relaxing.
The second prototype is the form factor. We created a handy cube made by cardboard and attached to a keychain. We asked participants to simulate engaging with their senses using the cube to observe their interactions.
Holding it up to my ear is okay but up to the eye is awkward.
I’m not sure I can access the cube in time when panic attacks happen.
Since the general response to the cube keychain was that it was awkward and could be perceived as childish, we had to rethink our form factor. We wanted to explore objects that already exist in the everyday life of a student.
We held a mini co-design session where we asked participants what they carried with them on a daily basis. Looking around, we saw one thing that pretty much everyone had on the table was a personal water bottle. We also saw taste as a sense we didn’t explore yet and drinking water is vital in restoring the body to homeostasis.
We crafted a sensory bottle out of available materials. According to the findings, we applied the senses of touch and smell, attaching fidget texture, thermochromic tape, and essential oil diffuser on a stainless steel water bottle.
Meanwhile, we started with a mid-fidelity prototype of the product website, running through the user flow from exploring product information, building a customized bottle, to the purchasing process.
We realized our solution should be a user journey from experiencing panic attacks to acquiring and using the bottle to successfully ease the attack symptoms. We would like to emphasize the digital-to-physical experience of exploring, customizing, and receiving a personal sensory bottle.
Based on the feedbacks from our usability testing, we refined the water bottle design and modified the website architecture to complete the user flow.
Emma has been experienced stress induced panic attacks at school. She recognizes this is affecting her daily life and wants to find some way to prepare and ease her panic attacks and anxiety when it next occurs.
Upon doing some research, Emma comes across the Homio website. She learns about managing her panic attacks and anxiety through grounding exercises and Homio offers a product that facilitates these exercises.
Emma also learns that she can order a sample box of different scents and textures to test out before customizing her water bottle with our bottle builder.
Everyone has their own unique reactions to different textures and scents — what's helpful and relaxing to one person may not be to another. To account for these differences, we designed a sample box for users to try out attachments before choosing their final customization.
We developed the following scent and texture assortment based on our prototyping insights and secondary research. Our scents not only range in their benefits, but also cater to people’s preferences — varying from sweet to more herbal and earthy tones. The textures we provide also range from being passive and soothing to more interactive.
Once the sample box arrives, Emma starts testing the sample scents and textures and figuring out which ones are their favorite.
Emma discovers her preference for scent jasmine and the thermochromic texture. She returns to the website to put in her order.
Once Emma’s bottle arrives, she brings it everywhere in her backpack and places it on her desk in class and remembers to drink water frequently.
We added more details to the bottle based on the feedback and created a more realistic 3D model of the bottle to present the final concept.
When a panic attack happens, Emma releases the jasmine scent, feeling instantly comforted. Her anxious feelings melt away as she interacts with color changing themochromic texture.
We also created an online shop where users can switch up the textures and scents by purchasing different ones.
With its portability and accessibility, we can extend this solution to other calming exercises to relieve stress and anxiety.
The tactile attachments can also slide onto third-party bottles to expand the business model.
Mental health comes with triggers and symptoms that vary from person to person. I see the benefit of involving our audience in the design process to understand their needs without having any biased assumption. But we should also ensure that we wouldn’t make the participants feel uncomfortable in the activities.
Rather than applying technology to create a new object, I realized it’s more important to consider our audience’s daily journey, coming up with a solution that fits into their contexts. Once we decided to design interventions with three touch points, we also went back to the journey map again to keep the overall user experience seamless.