We created homio, a sensory water bottle that is uniquely designed for individuals experiencing a panic attackepisode of intense fear that triggers severe psychological and physical reactions or extreme anxiety. The inspiration for the name comes from the Greek word homeostasis, and supporting the body's return to stable conditions.
Homio leverages aromatherapy by dispensing scents associated with relaxation and stress relief. It also comes with tactile, interactive attachments that help individuals ground themselves in reality and regain a sense of control. Through our website, users can try out sample swatches, customize and build their own bottle, and order additional add-ons.
Adolescent and young adult age (15-25) is when panic attacks typically onset and peak.
Many struggle with handling this mentally and physically debilitating experience in public settings such as classrooms. We are focusing on classrooms because among our target users, this is where they spend much of their day and it is where stress tends to come from.
Real time, in the moment
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.
OPPORTUNITYHow might we enable young adults to promptly and discreetly ease their panic attack symptoms?
Secondary research gave us a general, medical understanding of panic attacks. However, as panic attacks are such uniquely individual occurrences, we knew it was important to capture information on behaviors and attitudes surrounding panic attacks and get a closer glimpse into people's experiences. Two cultural probes were distributed to six participants with a history of panic attacks.
Our first probe aimed to address the following research questions:
Our second probe was aimed at understanding:
In general, we found that people like teachers, supervisors, and school counselors fell to the "no awareness, no support" side of the spectrum. Partners, parents, and therapists tended to be the strongest supporters. Friends, siblings, and peers landed somewhere in the middle.
With the supportive group, we have the opportunity to provide tools so they can better support people with panic attacks. For the unaware group, we can help educate them in order to bring them into the supportive circle.
What does the circle of influence look like?
Through a stakeholder mapping activity, we identified the primary, secondary, and tertiary actors that are impacted by panic attacks. From this, we outlined connections between stakeholders as potential design opportunities and categorized pain points, desired outcomes, and negative outcomes.
We each individually brainstormed about 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. Our ideal design response would fulfill all three criteria. We each had three dot votes for each category, and this resulted in narrowing to the following design concept:
Initial Concept: Sensory Cube
Our sensory cube concept aimed to distract the user with various sense-engaging visuals, scents, and textures embedded into each side. This was meant to be portable, perhaps attached to a keychain for easy access.
Leaning into the power of grounding exercises
Our sensory cube concept was aimed at facilitating 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 the users to focus on something they can touch, hear, smell, taste, or see. We believe a solution that leverages this can help divert people’s thoughts toward a more relaxed state, so they can recover from the symptoms of panic attack discreetly.
To learn what sensory materials users would like to engage with, we created different samples, which people could touch, smell, 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.
We found strong positive responses to smell and interactive textures from our participants. Many were familiar with scent and the benefits of lavender. Others enjoyed soft, smooth textures that relaxed them.
The size of the cube keychain was slightly too big, and participants felt it could be difficult to access. People felt somewhat comfortable interacting it with in public, but any close-up interactions (such as smelling it or holding it up to the eye) felt awkward.
Adapting our form factor
Since the general response to the 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 decided to go forward with a water bottle concept as it promotes hydration, is easily accessible, and integrates seamlessly with the classroom setting.
How homio works
The homio bottle is designed to be discreet, minimal, and sophisticated. The texture attachments sit at the base of the bottle where the user can easily access them. To make the attachments as inconspicuous as possible, they match the color of the bottle by default. The cap contains a small, twist-to-open compartment where scent concentrates can be applied when they run out. The bottle was 3D modeled using Blender and comes in 5 different colors, the default selection being white.
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.
The following screens demonstrate how users request sample swatches, customize and build their own bottle, and order additional add-ons. The typography and colors of the website are intended to feel warm, approachable, and comforting.
This was a challenging, yet rewarding experience that taught me a lot about designing for a product with multimodal touchpoints and working closely with sensitive populations.
The importance of sensitive design
Mental health comes with a lot of stigma, trauma, and characteristics that vary from person to person. We kept this in mind throughout our process, from problem definition to the final design response. I discovered that co-design is a particularly powerful method to connect with your audience's needs. In participant research, it was important to craft questions and activities carefully and get feedback on them to ensure they weren't potentially triggering or uncomfortable. In our design, we wanted to counter traditional cold, detached mental health tools by making ours feel warm, approachable, and accepting.
Working across physical and digital mediums
This was one of the first times I designed for a physical product, which meant there were a lot of opportunities for personal learning throughout this process. Everywhere we looked, there were constraints with regards to material, durability, and costs. I learned that rapid prototyping with recycled materials is a great way to test out ideas quickly and inexpensively. Additionally, with three different touch points of our product (the physical bottle, the website, and the packaging), it was a challenge to make the overall user experience feel seamless throughout. However, thoughtful branding and a unified design language helped in creating a more connected experience.