Project overview

Delightful Things is an item inventory system that utilizes custom NFC stickers to tag and document the life of your everyday items, keeping them relevant and loved for longer.

For my master's capstone project, my team examined the effects of overconsumption and presented a design response that aims to support sustainable consumer behaviors.

team

Zara Abraham
Hani Kruger

timeline

Feb - Aug 2020
6 Months

Tools

Figma, Illustrator
Lightroom, Photoshop
Premiere Pro
Miro, Notion

My Contributions

UI Design

Led the visual design of the branding, mobile app UI, presentation, and print materials.

User Research

Assisted in conducting interviews with our target group and SMEs, and contributed to our research report.

Concept Development

Generated ideas and used down-selection methods to select and refine our final
design concept.

Technical Implementation

Researched and proposed the application of NFC technology for our design response, considering feasibility and our potential business model.

Visual Storytelling

Collaborated on storyboarding the user experience and narrative for the demo video. Produced all photo and video assets for the final presentation and video.

the vicious cycle
of consumerism

My team was interested in tackling overconsumption and sustainability for this project and felt that there was a lot of potential from the angle of emotionally durable design. We broke down our problem space by observing consumption at an individual level, then seeing how that impacts the larger collective.

The Modern Shopping Experience

Retailers are able to offer many readily available goods online through an easy ordering process, and can ship it to you almost instantly. In addition, modern marketing targets our desire to experience new things or jump on the latest trends. By encouraging these impulses, consumers are making less conscious purchases.

The Lifespan of Objects

Between that initial purchase to time of disposal, these items are present in our lives. However, plans for an impulsive purchase tend to be ill-defined, meaning the consumer might not use the item as intended. Eventually, the item will become another accumulated good sitting in their home, and the consumer moves on to the next fleeting interest.

America’s Waste Crisis

Forgotten, unused, or broken objects eventually contribute to a significant portion of waste in the US, making 267.8 million tons of waste per year of discarded consumer products. This cycle of overproducing and discarding contributes to the decline of our environment and resources.

Stats by the Environmental Protection Agency

America's Consumer Culture

The rise of big business had turned America into a culture of consumers constantly desiring, buying, and using commodities to display their success and shape their identity. As a result, Americans spend nearly two-thirds of our $11 trillion economy on consumer goods. While it has fueled our economic growth, it has pushed us into a dangerous age of overconsumption.

Stats by Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic

01. Consumer culture

02. modern shopping

03. object lifespan

04. waste Crisis

So what if we had some help remembering why we love our things in the first place?

Toy Story was a big inspiration for my team. We loved the idea of having relationships with treasured objects and that they held precious memories associated with them, as well as the feeling of loss when they were forgotten.

Being a sustainable consumer begins at ownership

Sustainable ownership is cultivating a lasting relationship by achieving the plans set out for the item and making memories along the way, leading these items to be relevant for longer. By changing our behavior towards ownership, we can engage in better purchasing and disposal practices.

Photo by Chevy-Jordan Thompson

Design
Challenge

How might we help young adults become more conscious of and build stronger relationships with their belongings, in order to extend the product lifespan?

Design
Response

Delightful Things is an item inventory system that utilizes custom NFC stickers to tag and document the life of your everyday items, keeping them relevant and loved for longer.

The full Experience

Design concept video featuring the story of Emma, who is introduced to Delightful Things by picking up biking as a new hobby.

Main Product Features

delightful things NFC Stickers

The Delightful Things stickers are applied to your belongings. When scanned with an NFC enabled phone, your device will launch it's unique item page.

delightful things Mobile app

The Delightful Things app acts as an item inventory system where you can house your collection of items that you have tagged with the NFC stickers.

Store care information

Link or upload your item's care information. This can include manuals, assembly videos, warranty, disposal instructions, and maintenance partners.

Partnered businesses can preload their care information onto the sticker so their customers can access it right away and avoid misplacing it.

Catalog accessories

Keep track of all the parts, cords, and accessories that keep your item functional and personalized.

Input care information for individual components or input the storage location if it is not always with the main item.

accomplish goals

Add goals and check them off when you accomplish them. Save links and videos off the web that inspire and support your ambitions.

preserve memories

Add memories in the form of photos and text, look back at your accomplished goals, and connect relevant content or tracking apps.

improve awareness

Receive nudges and reminders from objects that need some love.

persistent information

In the case that life gets in the way and your things get pushed aside, all your information still lives on the object when you decide to return to it.

Learn about the process

research Timeline

My team spent 11 weeks planning and conducting research for this project. We delivered a research report and presentation outlining our opportunity space, research objectives, methods, insights, and design opportunities.

Our research was conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic so we adapted to a fully remote research process, utilizing online communication tools and collaborative design tools.

opportunity Space

We wanted to explore how we can bring more sustainable behaviors to consumerism. While there are many sustainable options in the single use product category, we found there was a very inconsistent effort in the “durable goods” category.

So, how are longer term consumer goods impacting this problem space?
We identified three stages of the product life cycle to conduct our research.

Purchase

Ownership

Disposal

Research Objectives

01

How do people define sustainability?

02

Is there friction in purchasing, using and disposing sustainably?

03

What are the connections people have with the objects they own?

04

Is there interest or awareness in sustainable circular-economic systems
(renting, buy-back programs, lifetime warranties, etc.)?

Target group

Everyone is a consumer but we narrowed our research scope to a specific target group in order to more easily identify specific behaviors, circumstances, and possible opportunities.

Young adults who have graduated from an educational program and have started working.

We selected this target group because:

They are becoming financially independent

They are defining their adult self by trying many activities

They are receptive to changing consumer behaviors

Their transient living situations do not encourage more long-term purchases

research methods

read + Watched

67+ Papers, Books, Articles, Talks, Documentaries

on emotionally durable design, consumption, circular economy, ownership, and sustainability.

interviewed

5 Subject Matter Experts

that work in circular economy, industrial ecology, eco-organization, sustainability communications, and waste management.

interviewed

15 People from our Target Group

to learn about their habits and behaviors during the different stages of the product lifespan.

Assessed

12 Existing Tools & Services

for purchasing and assessing durable, sustainable items.

research findings

Data Analysis

With our capstone advisor, we analyzed our data and used affinity mapping to identify themes and insights.

01. Code Interview Data

02. Examine Pain Points

03. Extract Insights

High-level Insights

“I expected it to do more significant things, and make more differences to my life than a regular watch”
—  Participant 12


“The next evolution in the Experience Economy is likely to be the Transformation Economy. The new exchange of currency and service will be based on companies helping consumers achieve desired outcomes through experiences; not just bearing witness to an event. This will require us to understand where customers are currently in their lives and what they want to become.”
—  Joe Pine article

01.

Due to ever more sophisticated targeted marketing, consumers are making purchases that they expect to transform themselves or their lives.

“A nespresso machine would save on disposable cup waste generation but not on the embodied carbon in the nespresso machine or the sheer number of pods, not to mention the energy to keep the coffee machine on. It will be a net loss for the environment”
—  Robert Little, Industrial Ecology Expert


“Our review of sustainability metrics uncovered close to 200 distinct indicators in each of three categories — environmental, social, and governance— resulting in 557 total indicators.”
—  Columbia University article

02.

Even purchases labeled as ‘sustainable’ create false promises to the consumer and do not create impact that offsets making the purchase in the first place.

“I am often disappointed by things I buy online, doesn’t meet set expectations”
—  Participant 11


“As of 2017, the generation of durable goods in MSW was 57.1 million tons (21.4 percent of total MSW generation)and landfills received 37.2 million tons (26.7 percent of total landfilling).”
—  Epa.gov article

03.

With the accessibility and ease of online shopping, purchases can be thoughtless. Therefore, these purchases are frequently unable to meet ill-defined expectations and end up discarded.

“I bought glitter and decorative tape, I was into the idea of art journaling when I was traveling more and it's still sitting unopened”
—  Participant 15


“I have grad school aspirations. I bought it [GRE prep book] hoping I would use it to prepare but I got caught up with work and didn’t use it anymore”
—  Participant 5

04.

Integrating items into your life requires thought and planning, which is often a skipped step, leading these items to be unused.

“This cat is special, he’s got a terminal illness, every day I wanna give him the best life possible. Got the backpack for adventures with him”
—  Participant 7


“Something that gives me satisfaction, inspiration, something that allows me to expand  my knowledge. With drums, I never played but picked it up. I learned something and now I can be proud of how far ive come, thats worth the most.”
—  Participant 4

05.

Being a sustainable consumer actually begins at ownership, through consciously purchasing items we will value and thoughtfully integrating those items into your life.

“People tend to hold onto memories in objects”
—  Julie Coraccio, Eco-organizer


“I’m not a huge video game person, my brother is. I purchased that [Switch Lite] to have a shared connection with him. We play games together and have something to talk about. He would pass down his games to me, that was really memorable and cute and I have a stronger relationship with my brother”
—  Participant 2

06.

Sustainable ownership, is cultivating a lasting relationship by achieving the plans set out for the item and making memories along the way, which leads to items being relevant for longer.

Research Report

To get a closer look at our research methods and findings check out my team's full research report.

Design opportunities

We identified potential design opportunities within the three stages of the product life cycle.

Purchase

Value-based shopping
Product & brand research
Redesigning product information

Ownership

Product life planning
Sharing economy
Product care

Disposal

Circular programs
Resource recovery
End of life object evaluation

Initial Direction

Initially, our interest was to take our insights and principles and apply them to the purchasing process of the consumer object lifecycle.

initial design challenge

How might we empower people to make informed, feel-good purchasing decisions that align with their values to promote sustainable lifespans of purchases?

Research takeaways

Conducting interviews remotely was actually ideal for our topic.

Our participants were interviewing from their homes, surrounded by their belongings and could easily reference or recall more stories and anecdotes.

Adjusting our research protocol midway helped focus our data.

After the first 6 participants, we had a light analysis session to find some early themes and make adjustments to our protocol based on what we wanted to focus in on.

As the project progressed we changed our direction. Check out the Ideation section
to learn about my team's ideation process that led to our final design concept.

Design Principles

We developed a few design principles to consider through concept generation and down-selection.

Designing a guilt free experience,

to make sustainable consumption more approachable

Support Personal Values,

to provide room for users to better understand why a purchase was important to them

Embody Personality,

because we agreed the solution needs to be fun and engaging in order to be adopted

Easy and Frictionless,

since we want to create a seamless addition to the interaction between users and their objects

Promoting Longevity,

because our core belief is that objects should stand the test of time so our design should too

ideation

60 Concepts

My team ideated and sketched out 60 concepts applicable to the three stages of the product cycle, staying flexible even though we initially chose to address purchasing.

Affinity Mapping

We then affinitized our concepts into the following buckets related to purchasing:

Value-based shopping

Surfacing Information

Visualizing Impact

However, we realized purchasing was very difficult to address because:

01

Consumers have to consider many factors that affect their purchasing
(price, accessibility, aesthetics, quality, business ethics, brand loyalty).

02

Consumers become overwhelmed by trying to make sustainable purchases due to research fatigue and the lack of transparent information from companies.

We learned that we didn’t know how to define a universally “sustainable purchase” or how we could help consumers evaluate goods based on all these different factors, with sensitivity to their circumstances.

Team Exercise

Our team then tried to outline simpler to understand values that would make a sustainable purchase.

Second-hand items

From independent/local businesses

Long-term ownership

To support a cause

We decided to examine the stuff we already own and do a retrospective exercise of categorizing our own items based on these values.

We found that most of our items fell under the long-term ownership value.

When we started discussing why, we realized that most of these objects were able to be used as intended, were embedded within our stories and memories, and represented our personal values in a way that made them relevant for years, sometimes decades.

shifting direction

From there, we were able to see the potential of focusing on building meaning rather than buying meaning.
We believe good ownership will positively influence people's purchasing and disposal behaviors.

revised design challenge

How might we help young adults become more conscious of and build stronger relationships with their belongings, in order to extend the product lifespan?

Design Objectives

The practices and behaviors we want our design to support.

Practicing continual care and conscious disposal of objects.

Setting personal goals and making plans to use the objects.

Preserving memories and tracking progress of achievements.

Design Requirements

The functional attributes that will facilitate those practices and behaviors.

01

A digital inventory system that can add, edit, and store information about
the user's belongings.

02

A method of attaching an item's record to the object itself that can be accessed by interacting with it, preventing it from being misplaced or out of reach.

Concept Development

With our concept direction finalized, we started designing the user experience and selected the most suitable technology to facilitate the user interactions.

Inventory System

We envisioned our system would be accessed on web and mobile app. But with our time constraints, we chose to focus on the mobile experience because it encompassed all features and could be used anywhere.

We used a wireframe kit to quickly flesh out our ideas and features.

Item Tagging

Now that we have a system to store and organize data on objects, the next step was to connect the digital record with the physical item. With this method, the user always knows where the info is: on the object.
Users don’t need to look through anything, online or manually, interacting directly with the item will open
up everything you need.

Our team explored technologies that could store and transfer data, and identified near-field communication (NFC) as the best choice overall. An NFC chip can store URL links, and can launch a specific link when activated by a device reading the tag.

Why use NFC technology?

NFC functionality in most smartphones

Different tag materials for varied environments

Inexpensive

Frictionless

We felt this was the best choice and ties well into our design principles; they’re easy to use, easy to personalize, cheap to acquire, and are a durable means of tagging a wide array of objects in different conditions.

Ideation takeaways

The computer is an extension of the mind

We read “As We May Think”, by Vannevar Bush which talked about how the vision for the first computer was that it would be an extension of the mind, as human memory is imperfect. We kept this in mind, as our product aims to remind us of our relationships with our objects, which are not often top of mind.

Ask whether this tech best fits the use

We learned the importance of being deliberate in determining which technological solution best fits the use. We initially proposed that we could use computer vision to recognize an item and retrieve its information. However it was clear that would be incredibly complex, and so we looked into more low tech solutions which paid off with the use of NFC stickers.

Check out the How it Works section to learn about the final design concept, usability testing, and the next steps we would take to improve our design.

What is delightful THings?

Delightful Things is an item inventory system that utilizes custom NFC stickers to tag and document the life of your everyday items, keeping them relevant and loved for longer.

Two Main Components

Delightful things
nfc stickers

Delightful things
mobile application

nfc stickers

What is an NFC tag?

Near-field Communication (NFC) is short-range radio communication technology. NFC tags are unpowered NFC chips that draw power from a nearby smartphone to transfer data wirelessly. NFC-enabled devices can open web links, make payments, perform app actions, and more.

Types of Delightful Stickers

We created a starter sticker pack with a variety of NFC tag types to suit different types of objects.
We had some fun with the designs to give your stuff a delightful personal touch.

We imagine this sticker starter pack will come with purchases from partnering businesses and we would offer additional designs and types on the Delightful Things website. I think it would be cool opportunity to bring in different brands and artists to design different stickers! 

Attaching data to a sticker

Before stickers are in the hands of users, we have to write an item page link to an NFC tag. Using an NFC reader and NFC software, we were able to write our item page links onto the tags instantly. Item pages can be pre-loaded with partnered brand's product information or they can start off as blank item pages.

Scan a sticker

When users receive the stickers, they will be pre-populated with an item page link and ready to scan. A user can place their NFC-enabled device over the sticker and a NFC notification will pop-up when it has been detected.

App Features

User testing

My teammate Hani ran a mix of concept and usability testing with 5 participants. We were interested in surveying whether people could easily understand the concept’s structure, affordances, and design elements and if they could imagine integrating this into their own life.

Our design concept was very well-received and we got great feedback on where we could improve the experience, especially regarding onboarding and instructions.

Next Steps

01

Refine instructions

Based on our participant feedback, in future iterations we would refine the instructions and the introduction to the NFC technology and how it works.

02

Sticker type distinction

We would also refine the sticker pack to provide clarity on how certain stickers are for aesthetic preferences while others are specified for certain types of object materials and types of activities.

03

Website Version

We would implement a website version for viewing and adding information to large collections.

04

Clarify integrations

The app provides the opportunity to sync with other devices like the FitBit, or apps like Strava and we would like to consider more possible integrations with Delightful Things.

05

Further usability testing

We would also conduct further usability testing to determine how the app would influence behavior over time and what types of objects and it’s memories and goals users would be inclined to add.

Check out the Storytelling section to learn about how we created a narrative around how we imagine this product would be adopted and integrate into people's lives.

Writing a Narrative

The Story

Our story arc follows the everyday life of a young consumer. In this concept, they become intrigued by a new activity or interest they want to pursue, resulting in an immediate online purchase. Once the purchase arrives, they receive a Delightful Things starter kit through a partnership with company of the purchased good. The user is then taken through the onboarding process: downloading the app, cataloging items, and applying stickers to their belongings. Over time, the user goes through different scenarios showcasing the different use cases for Delightful Things. Ultimately, they have new experiences, form new habits, and accomplish their intended personal goals by using their belongings to their fullest potential.

The Direction & Tone

With this concept, we wanted to be relatable but empowering. We all know the feeling of buying something with great aspirations and then feeling guilty when it sits in the corner gathering dust. This storyline acknowledges that struggle but proposes steps people can take to keep these objects relevant in their life. We hope viewers can envision using Delightful Things with their own belongings and the fulfillment that comes with it.

Storyboarding

Sketches

Based off our basic storyline, we took a first pass at storyboarding the experience.
I drafted the mobile app wireframes and Zara sketched all the frames.

Feeling bored, Derek looks out the window to see someone biking outside. He gets the idea to start biking.

He goes online to order a bike that same day. It quickly arrives and he's excited to get it set up.

Inside the package, he finds the Delightful Things starter kit. He scans the sticker to open a webpage that stores info on the bike.

He learns more about the Delightful Things service and decides to create an account and download the app.

He then adds the bike to his collection in the app and applies the sticker to the bike.

With 3 extra stickers in the starter kit, he thinks of the different items he can add to build his collection.

Derek becomes proactive in using his things with Delightful Things, forming new memories and relationships.

Time passes and bike has been well loved.
Derek passes down the bike to his son and transfers all the memories and care information to him.

Photo Story

After a round of feedback, we needed to start thinking about how we were going to bring this story to life.
We created a set of photo storyboards to help us plan out our video. This process helped us select shooting locations, prepare props, set up shots, and think about how we would transition from one scene to another.

Setting the Scene

Order and receive bike

Learning about Delightful Things

Apply sticker and set bike goal

Goal reminder notification

Reminds

On bike ride and logging with Strava

Runs into a friend, adds photo memory

Completes biking goal

Bike breaks down, scan for care info

Takes bike in for repair at local shop

Send off bike to a friend

Nintendo Switch use case

Hand Mixer use case

Story Changes

We felt it was better to first demonstrate all the features of our product through one object versus jumping between multiple objects to help emphasize its utility. We were able to tell a richer story when going into more depth through one object.

We also altered the characters of the story from a parent/child relationship to a friendship, so that we could produce the video on a tight budget; we had my teammates acting in the scenes.

Creating the video

Storytelling Style

We chose to tell our story through the actions and inner thoughts of our lead character, Emma. We hear her thoughts as she makes decisions and uses the Delightful Things service. When she learns about Delightful Things, we introduce it with its own narrative voice, to explain informational aspects of the product. As Emma's journey continues, the narrator explains all the different features she is demonstrating. We added the informational voice to give viewers a clear explanation while showing an authentic experience using Delightful Things.

Credits

Actors/Voice Actors — Zara, Hani
Videographer — Gaby
Script Writers — Zara, Hani, Gaby
Video Editors — Zara, Gaby
Props/Visual Assets — Gaby
Animations — Zara, Derek O'Dell
Music — Louie Zong

Check out the Research section to learn about how we explored our problem space, gathered information, synthesized insights, and formed our design challenge.

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