a customizable, interactive water bottle for
anxiety and panic attack recovery
In our first discussions about the mental health space, my team member mentioned experiencing panic attacks when she was younger. We did some exploratory research to learn more about this topic and who it affects.
A panic attack is an episode of intense fear that trigger severe psychological and physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause.
A panic attack initiates the body’s fight-or-flight response, which is a physically and mentally debilitating experience to manage. The signs and symptoms can develop abruptly and can last from 20-30 minutes.
Young people (ages 15-25) are more susceptible to anxiety and panic attacks.
They can be associated to stressful environments and major life transitions such as graduating from college and entering the workforce.
Panic attacks can be triggered
anytime and anywhere.
We narrowed our context to classrooms because our target group spends much of their day and it is an environment that can breed stress.
We decided to move forward with this topic area because of the potentially harmful effects on young people’s wellbeing and social relationships.
While any response we create is in no way meant to be a replacement for therapy and long-term recovery methods, my team investigated how we could prepare and support adolescents and young adults through this experience.
We conducted primary + secondary research to answer the following questions about panic attack experiences.
Outside of the normal list of symptoms, what were they thinking and feeling?
Cultural Probe, 6 Participants
Our goal was to empathize with our target group by asking them to show us what they experienced.
We acknowledged that this may be a sensitive subject area so we thought the best way to facilitate this was through an individual activity utilizing illustrating and writing.
What kind of support do people want? Who do they feel comfortable getting support from?
Cultural Probe and Online Survey,
Our goal was to understand the needs of our target group and examine the involvement of support.
While the cultural probe was useful, the survey allowed us to reach more people and gather richer information. Participants were anonymous and had the space to write about their experience in more detail rather than having to explain it to us.
What have experts found helpful in preventing or managing the symptoms?
Secondary research and
Short Follow-up Interviews
Published articles from therapists, psychologists, national health organizations
We wanted to explore proven strategies or treatments for easing and treating panic attacks. With our cultural probe participants, we delved into the contexts and strategies they used to deal with a panic attack.
People often try to distract themselves until it runs its course. Methods vary from talking to others, playing mobile games, grounding exercises, and more.
“Panic attacks are embarrassing, I don't want anyone to see me and I'm too manic to have the bandwidth to keep up any conversation. I just want to be alone.”
“I would often call a friend so they could talk me down.”
“I was at work and didn't really feel comfortable enough with my coworkers to let them know.”
With these insights, our goal for our response is to empower people to feel in control and support them as they ride out their panic attacks while not drawing more attention.
We decided to NOT focus on external support because of the mixed responses and instead focus on the individual experience.
Generating ideas from our research and narrowing down on a viable response to our design challenge.
From our research and defined focus, we developed three design principles that we want our response embody.
Provide assurance and
make you feel prepared
Adaptable to your
Integrated into your
We ideated 30 sketches each for a total of 90 sketches. Ideas ranged from physical spaces, peer support, communication tools, sensory experiences, and games.
Our 90 sketches from the ideation sprint with the highlighted ones following a similar theme.
While referring back to our design principles and research, we conducted some affinity mapping and saw a theme emerge. A lot of our ideas revolved around one of the therapy methods we learned from secondary research -
Therapists have recommended grounding exercises as a strategy 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 then down-selected to 2 concepts that facilitated the process of engaging the different senses.
To further down-select, we evaluated them against our design principles.
A portable, interactive cube that has different sense engaging components on each side.
Ex. fidget cube-like buttons, aroma diffuser, visual images, soft textures, soothing sounds.
Creating a tool users can rely on to give them support and confidence in managing their panic attack.
Providing a wide selection of interchangeable parts will allow users to customize based on their needs and preferences.
The small form factor will allow users to travel easily with it and access when needed.
A private physical space on campus that provides relaxing + sense engaging amenities.
The room is accessed by ID # which will then send a notification to the student's teacher.
Creating a dedicated space and notification tool to support mental health at school.
Providing various amenities that help students recover and return to class when they are ready.
Panic attack symptoms may affect mobility which makes the the space less accessible to all students.
We decided to move forward with the sensory cube concept because it aligned the most with our design principles and had the ability to empower individuals to prepare and manage their panic attack symptoms promptly.
This concept also has the potential to be extended outside the context of the classroom and be useful in any public situation.
Although the time constraints prevented us from exploring both concepts, I believe the safe space concept is still a valuable one.
While the sensory cube helps on an individual level, the safe space provides access to assistance for all people on campus. Institutions can help destigmatize mental health and prioritize their community’s well being by providing resources and support.
As we developed our concept, we created prototypes of the form factor and components to assess if our design was feasible and truly aligned with our design principles in action.
We created a protocol and tested our prototype with 5 participants with the following questions in mind.
What materials help people focus and feel relaxed?
We created different samples that participants could touch, smell, and visually engage with.
We asked participants to tell us about how the materials made them feel in the context of anxious situations.
We found strong positive responses to smell and interactive textures from our participants.
“I have a strong association between scents and relaxing. I use lavender essential oil on my pillow. Touching things is good for when I’m feeling anxious.”
Our design should utilize
aromatherapy and tactile feedback.
Aromatherapy will to help people move to a more relaxed state of mind. While tactile textures can help distract people from their anxious thoughts. We should provide a wide selection of scents and textures because everyone has different associations and preferences.
Is this object easy to access in a sudden situation? Will the user feel comfortable using it in public?
We crafted a cube connected to a keychain to represent the form.
We asked participants to simulate engaging with their senses by holding the cube to their eye, nose, ear, and in their hand.
We learned this form factor was not as accessible as we thought.
Participants found it awkward and uncomfortable to hold the cube to their nose or eye, especially in a public setting.
“I wouldn’t want to use it in public since people might look at me weird”
Participants were concerned with bringing another object around on top of their normal necessities and accessing it when needed.
“The size is too big to fit my jacket pocket or jeans. If it’s in my backpack, I could forget about it or run into a similar problem with keys where I am fumbling around to find it when I need it.”
Both our research and prototyping indicated that we should design for
Our form factor and interactions should be more discreet and subtle to avoid magnifying the self-awareness they already feel during panic attacks.
Designing to be accessible is not only about general portability but examining how the user will incorporate the object into their life.
Our form factor should take the shape of an object that is already present in every day life where we can then integrate our components.
We brainstormed clothing items, accessories, electronics, and school supplies but none of them seemed to be feasible given the size, material, and shape.
In the midst of our discussion, I realized I had my water bottle in front of me. I then took a glance around the classroom full of students and noticed we all had water bottles sitting on our desks.
This normal, common object had a lot of potential.
Large enough to house and integrate different components using the body of the bottle and the bottle cap.
Widely accepted in public environments and designed to be transported with water bottle pockets and handles.
Taste is a sense we didn't explore yet and drinking water is vital in restoring the body to homeostasis.
With a clear direction after a round of prototyping and testing, we designed the full experience which details the function and look/feel of the water bottle, sensory components, and the customization website.
We created a medium fidelity physical prototype of the bottle out of available materials and a more realistic 3D model of the bottle. I built the 3D models using Blender.
I proposed that we could embed a scent diffuser into the cap of the bottle. I explored different diffusing mechanisms and decided on a compartment in the cap that housed an absorbant pad.
After adding essential oils to the pad, you twist the top of the cap which will open the vents and release the scent.
Bottle cap contains absorbent pad.
User twists cap to release scent.
Attachments slide onto the body of the bottle.
I proposed we could wrap the texture elements around the body of the bottle. This placement will be easy for hands to interact with because people normally grip the water bottle here.
I imagine the elements would take the shape of bands that can slide and snap into place on the bottle.
We prototyped the bottle out of available materials. We applied the senses of touch and smell by attaching a fidget texture, thermochromic tape, and an essential oil diffuser on a water bottle.
We selected and created 5 scents and 5 textures to pair with our bottle. These were chosen based on additional research and our prototyping feedback. Each one comes with a description of the benefits associated with it.
I designed the graphics for the sample cards.
To further emphasize the design principle personal, we designed a commerce website to facilitate a customization service.
We recognized that 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 service for potential users to try out the different scents and textures before choosing their final customization.
Complete walkthrough of the user experience through the story of Emma.
Meet Emma, she has been experiencing stress induced panic attacks at school. She doesn’t know how to recover from a panic attack without drawing attention to herself or leaving in the middle of class.
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.
She finds that homio offers a product that facilitates these exercises. A water bottle designed to provide aromatherapy, tactile feedback, and keep you hydrated.
Emma 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.
She discovers likes the scent jasmine and the thermochromic texture. She returns to the website to put in her order.
Once Emma’s homio bottle arrives, she brings it everywhere she goes. She places it on her desk in class and remembers to drink water frequently.
When a panic attack happens, Emma releases the jasmine scent, feeling instantly more at ease. Her anxious feelings gradually melt away as she interacts with the color changing thermochromic texture.
Emma is now assured and prepared with her custom homio bottle by her side.
I learned to think about ways of integrating our design interventions into objects that already exist in our lives rather than adding new objects just for that purpose. This allowed us to come up with something that really fit within the context while still being unique and interesting.
This project has me excited about working on physical products and thinking about how we would actually go about manufacturing the pieces. I was also able to pick up a cool new skill, 3D modeling!