REBECKA WÄRULF

Thesis Work - "The Worry Cloud"

User experience. User research. Tangible and embodied interaction.

Tools: User Research Methods, Prototyping & Arduino


Introduction

For the last semester at Malmö University, all students did a thesis work individually. I chose to explore a possible solution or aid to reduce the stress levels among young university students. As my own experience with stress throughout my studies, and how I could see my friends and fellow students suffer from it too, I had a big motivation going into this project. The end result is a concept called "The Worry Cloud" to which the student tells it thoughts and worries to right before bedtime to de-stress and in some way get relieved from their worries while also getting a better night’s sleep.

Finding the problem area

Stress is known to be experienced and triggered differently for each person. To find a possible solution to the problem area I had to get to the core and find out what the actual and most common problem might be. Through user research which consisted of methods such as surveys, interviews, and workshops, what was found to be the core problem is the worrying and experienced lack of control. You could imagine that students would feel the most stress when they are at school, but what was found is how they seem to be the most stressed at home, especially while trying to fall asleep.

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First low-fi protoype using a lightbulb connected to a dimmer with fabric covered wool surrounding it.

It is safe to say that it’s important to keep the stress levels down in each and everyone’s lives as it has great impacts on the health overall. What my research question ended up being was “How might a tangible and embodied interaction design reduce the stress levels among students by aiding them communicating with their everyday problems?”. The concept of The Worry Cloud is that it would be your own little worry cloud that you can pick up before bedtime and tell all of our thoughts and worries to. As you speak to your little cloud, it glows brighter and brighter as it is being filled with your worries. In a way, it absorbs your worries and thus creating your own little worry cloud. When you have told the cloud everything you had on your mind, you can put the cloud away and that way also put all of your worries away.

The Design Process

Design decisions for the concept is both based on theory and insights from the user research. The basic idea is based on a practice within the field of meditation and mindfulness where writing can help in the way of loosening attachments and habitual states of mind in order to attend to the present moment and become more aware. By writing down your thoughts, it gives a busy mind something to do where the intention is to unwind the mind. Decisions such as using light as an indicator for filling a cloud up with their worries is based on how it was expressed in, among other, the workshop as a calming factor.

Several iterations and prototypes were created and tried with real users. Prototypes all from lo-fi ones using lightbulbs and Wizard of Oz to a functional “cloud” with an Arduino.

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What I learned

What I learned from this project is, first of all, to not create something based on assumptions. I learned the importance of thoroughly user research before the design process to really get to know the intended users and their needs. My assumption going at the beginning of the project was that students would feel the most negative stress during school work and a solution would be aimed to be used during that time. But through the user research, it was found that it was mostly at home and especially in bed at bedtime, they would experience the most stress. It was all grounded in what seemed to be a lack of control over the studies. So the design took a different turn than expected with the goal to help students control and manage the stress to wind down.

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The final prototype