project overview

Homio is a customized, interactive water bottle for anxiety and panic attack recovery that utilizes sensory strategies to ground and calm the mind.

This was a graduate student project for my Ideation Studio where my team was tasked to define a design challenge on the topic of mental health.

We examined the effects of panic attacks in young adults and presented a design response that aims to provide support during the most intense moments of an attack.

partner

Giada Sun

Divya Polson

timeline

Sept - Dec 2019
10 weeks

tools

Figma, Blender
Illustrator, Photoshop

My Contribution

In this collaborative project, the entire team was involved in the research, design, and decision-making process.
Here are some specific skills and contributions I brought to the team —

Vector Illustration

Designed graphic assets for
the website in Adobe Illustrator

3D Modeling

Created a 3D model of the water bottle
with Blender

Copywriting + Storytelling

Generated the website copy and
the narrative for the presentation

Designing for
Mental Health

Going into my first project in grad school, the topic of mental health was intimidating to say the least. Safety is number one when it comes to engaging with vulnerable communities or testing with them.

We had to acknowledge that our design response will not be a replacement for therapy and long-term treatment and still needs to be validated with more testing.

Considering the limited time and resources for this project, my team tried to keep the scope manageable. We focused on individuals with a moderate mental health challenge from an age demographic that we had easier access to.

Ultimately, our team strived to create a design response that would make individuals who experience panic attacks feel empowered and in control of their everyday lives.

What are Panic Attacks?

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.

Narrowing Focus

WHO

Young people (ages 15-25)

Our research indicated that this is the age range when panic attacks typically onset and peak. This can be the result of experiencing stressful environments and life transitions.

WHERE

Public settings: Classrooms

While panic attacks can be triggered anywhere, we narrowed our scope to classroom settings to examine a controlled public setting where our target group is managing stress and social relationships.

WHEN

At the height of an attack

Panic attacks develop abruptly and can last from 20-30 minutes, leaving a person mentally and physically drained. We wanted to focus on real-time support as they ride out the attack to lessen the impact.

Opportunity

We decided to move forward with this topic area because of the potentially harmful effects on young people’s wellbeing and social relationships.

My team investigated how we could prepare and support young people through this experience.

Design
Challenge

How might we enable adolescents and young adults to promptly and discreetly ease their panic attack symptoms?

Design
Response

An interactive water bottle for anxiety and panic attack recovery, customized to the user's preferences.

The Experience

A complete walkthrough of the user experience through the story of Emma.

identify

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 when it next occurs.

Discover & Learn

Upon doing some research, Emma comes across the homio website. She learns about managing her panic attacks and anxiety through grounding exercises.

product features

Aromatherapy can help reduce anxiety by using scents associated with relaxation/stress relief.

Physically interacting with the world around you helps refocus your mind and take control.

Drinking water can restore the body and reduce triggers that lead to panic attacks.

try & customize

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.

implement

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.

If a panic attack happens, Emma can release the jasmine scent, to instantly feel more at ease. Her anxious feelings will gradually melt away when she interacts with the color changing thermochromic texture.

Aromatherapy diffuser

within reach at all times

tactile attachments

Design Process

Starting from our research

Research Phase

We conducted primary and secondary research to learn more about panic attack experiences.

Understanding the Lived Experience

We wanted to understand our target group's thought process and emotions associated with the symptoms of an attack.

Cultural Probe #1

We considered cultural probes as a tool to provoke inspirational responses and insights. We designed our first probe to ask participants to visualize their feeling during a panic attack.

They experienced racing thoughts, feelings of self-consciousness, difficulty breathing, stomach tension, and other physical symptoms.

Participants illustrated and wrote short descriptions regarding where they felt affected by a panic attack, and how.

Learning about Support Networks

Do people in their network have awareness of their panic attacks and are able to offer support? Who do they feel comfortable getting support from?

Cultural Probe #2

Based on our stakeholder map, we created a second cultural probe that instructed participants to sort people in their network based on their level of awareness and support regarding panic attacks.

The results showed that people tend to trust the more intimate people in their life and avoid disclosing to authority figures.

Participants placed cards with various members listed on them anywhere along the spectrum.

Online Survey

To gather richer responses to the question, we translated our cultural probe to an online survey and share it with the panic disorder community on Reddit.

We added additional questions asking about their past experiences receiving external help. Participants were able to elaborate a lot more doing this activity in private.

Exploring Strategies and Treatments

What are people’s strategies for coping with panic attack symptoms?
What have experts found helpful in preventing or managing the symptoms?

Follow-up Interview

We asked our cultural probe participants to describe contexts and strategies they used to manage a panic attack. They shared with us distraction methods such as picking up an object or using their phone to play games.

Secondary Research

We read published articles from therapists, psychologists, and national health organizations. We learned about specific mindfulness techniques, everyday healthy activities, and how to recognize panic inducing situations.

Research Insights

01

Because of the disruptive nature of a panic attack, the effects can unsettle a person's state of being for awhile after, making it hard to transition from exhaustion back to normalcy.

02

People who experience attacks report a hyperawareness of how onlookers perceive them while it occurs, feeling the attention makes them feel even more vulnerable during an already stressful situation.

03

When going through an attack, people report having mixed feelings about external help, with some relying on a support network of trusted individuals, or others wanting no help whatsoever.

Ideation Phase

Generating ideas from our research and narrowing down on a viable response to our design challenge.

Design Principles

We developed three design principles that we want our response embody.

Supportive

Providing assurance and preparing the user for the next occurence.

Personal

Adaptable to the user's personal preferences.

Accessible

Integrated into the user's everyday life.

Sketch Sprint

We ideated 30 sketches each for a total of 90 sketches, keeping our design principles in mind.
Ideas ranged from physical spaces, peer support, communication tools, sensory experiences, and games.

Identifying Themes

While referring back to our design principles and research,
we used affinity mapping and saw a major theme emerge.

A lot of our ideas revolved around one of the therapy methods we learned from secondary research —

Grounding Exercises

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.

Two Directions

We down-selected to 2 concepts that facilitated engaging the different senses.
We evaluated them against our design principles to select the final concept.

01

Sensory Cube

A portable, interactive cube that has different sense engaging components on each side. Ex. fidget buttons, aroma diffuser, visual stimuli, or soothing sounds.

02

Safe Space

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.

Design Principles Evaluation

Supportive

Personal

Accessible

Sensory Cube

An interchangeable system will allow users to customize the tool based on their preferences.

The small form factor will allow users to travel easily with it and access when needed.

Creating a tool users can use independently to manage their panic attack symptoms.

Safe Space

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, making the space less accessible to all students.

Selected
Concept Direction

Sensory Cube

This concept aligned the most with our design principles and allows people to be proactive about managing their panic attack symptoms.

This concept also has the potential to be extended outside the context of the classroom and be useful in any public situation.

Future Considerations

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.

Prototyping Phase

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 can we use to engage the senses?

How can we use sensory strategies that will make users feel safe?

Method

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.

Finding

We received strong positive responses to the smell and touch samples. However, everyone had different associations and preferences.

“I have a strong association between scents and relaxing. I already use lavender essential oil on my pillow when I sleep.”   — Participant 1

Recommendation

Our design should utilize aromatherapy and tactile feedback.

We should provide a wide selection of scents and textures to suit difference preferences.

Is the form factor really accessible?

Is this object easy to access in a sudden situation?
Will the user feel comfortable using it in public?

Method

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.

Demo by teammate Giada

We learned this form factor was not as accessible as we thought.

We assumed that people's mental model of this form would be similar to the popular fidget cube.

01 Finding

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 bag, I could forget about it or fumble around to find it when I need it.”   — Participant 3

01 Recommendation

Accessibility is not only about 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 everyday life where we can then integrate our components.

02 Finding

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.”   — Participant 2

02 Recommendation

Both our research and prototyping indicated that we should design for social acceptability.

Our form factor and interactions should be more discreet and subtle to avoid magnifying the self-awareness they already feel during panic attacks.

We needed to pivot
our form factor.

Making the Pivot:

What objects already exist in the everyday life of students?

We brainstormed clothing items, accessories, electronics, and school supplies but none of them
seemed to be feasible given the size, material, and shape.

AHA Moment

During our team discussion, I realized we were in right in the context that we defined — a classroom.
I took a glance around the classroom full of students and noticed we all had water bottles sitting on our desks.

Why a water bottle?

01

Large enough to house and integrate different components using the body of the bottle and the bottle cap.

02

Widely accepted in public environments and designed to be transported with water bottle pockets and handles.

03

Taste is a sense we didn't explore yet and drinking water is vital in restoring the body to homeostasis.

Design Concept

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.

Bottle Design

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.

Aromatherapy

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 absorbent pad.

After adding essential oils to the pad, you twist the top of the cap which will open the vents and release the scent.

Tactile Textures

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 created a mid-fidelity prototype of the water bottle out of available materials. We applied the senses of touch and smell by attaching a fidget band, thermochromic tape, and an essential oil diffuser.

Scents & Textures

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.

Customization Experience

To further emphasize the design principle personal, we designed a commerce website to provide a customization service.

We recognized that everyone has their own unique reactions to different textures and scents. 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.

project takeaways

Value of co-design when working with sensitive groups.

We made a huge pivot after the feedback from our prototype testing with our audience. Involving them in the design process helped challenge our assumptions and better understand their needs.

Design for the context.

I learned to evaluate if adding a new object into a person's life was appropriate, considering their daily life and panic attack experience. We found integrating our design interventions into an object that already exists in their daily lives made the concept more desirable and practical.

Ohno!

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