I collaboratively researched, prototyped, and designed the end-to-end product experience for an interactive water bottle intended to aid individuals experiencing a panic attack.
Our graduate student team of three was tasked with creating a design response in the mental health space. We realized there weren't many tools or platforms dedicated to panic attacks, and we decided to address this gap. From there, we spent 10 weeks defining our problem space, ideating, prototyping and testing our product.
We designed Homio, a customizable water bottle with tactile, interactive attachments to help individuals ground themselves in reality and regain a sense of control during a panic attack. Homio also dispenses aromatherapeutic scents associated with relaxation and stress relief. We paired our bottle with a website that allows users to try sample swatches, customize and build their own bottle, and order add-ons.
Our research indicated that adolescent and young adult age is when panic attacks typically onset and peak.
Major life changes during these years (for example, transitioning from high school to college) often result in stressful environments.
Panic attacks happen without warning at anywhere, anytime—experiencing one in a public setting adds anxiety to this already mentally and physically debilitating event.
We narrowed in on classrooms because among our target users, this is where they spend much of their day and it is often a source of stress.
Our response is in no way meant to be a replacement for therapy and other long-term recovery methods. Rather, our goal is to support individuals in the highly focused moment of a panic attack, when they feel least in control.
DESIGN CHALLENGEHow might we enable young adults to promptly and discreetly ease their panic attack symptoms?
As panic attacks are such uniquely individual occurrences, it was important for us to capture information on behaviors and attitudes surrounding panic attacks and get a closer glimpse into people's stories. We distributed two cultural probes to six participants that reported a history of panic attacks.
UNDERSTANDING THE LIVED EXPERIENCE
Our first probe aimed to address the following research questions:
MAPPING THE CURRENT SUPPORT SYSTEM
Our second probe was aimed at understanding:
View Stakeholder Map
We also distributed a survey online to participants from University of Washington and a panic disorder community on Reddit. We asked questions to understand:
They are hyperaware of how they appear to others and might try to avoid drawing attention to themselves.
"Panic attacks are embarrassing, I don't want anyone to see me and I'm too manic to keep up a conversation of any kind. I just want to be alone. "
"Don't talk to me, don't look at me."
While some would reach out to close ones for support, others wanted space to deal with it alone. Outsiders were generally not well-equipped to recognize a panic attack and provide help.
"I was at work and didn't really feel comfortable enough with my coworkers to let them know."
"They told me to calm down which didn't help."
People asked trusted friends to distract them, played games on their phone, or tried grounding exercises. Grounding exercises are a strategy to bring people’s attention back to the present by connecting them with the physical world. It involves focusing on something people can touch, hear, smell, taste, or see.
Based on our research insights, we outlined the following three design principles to guide our ideation.
We each brainstormed 30 ideas for a total of 90 ideation sketches. Together, we shared out our ideas and affinity mapped them. Proposed design responses ranged from tools to facilitate peer support, physical spaces, sensory experiences, and even games.
Which idea is the most feasible, relevant, and exciting?
To narrow down, we voted based on the following identified selection criteria, resulting in our working initial concept.
Our research indicated that grounding exercises are a powerful recovery mechanism. Inspired by this, our sensory cube aims to distract the user with various sense-engaging visuals, scents, and textures embedded into each side. We envision this to be inconspicuous and portable, perhaps attached to a keychain for easy access. It would ideally divert user's thoughts toward a more relaxed state, so they can recover from the panic attack discreetly.
View Sensory Mindmap
TESTING SENSORY SAMPLES
To learn what sensory materials users would like to engage with, we created different samples for people to touch, smell, and see. We asked participants to tell us what they liked and disliked and if they felt comforted by the materials in the context of anxious situations.
TESTING THE CUBE FORM FACTOR
We prototyped a low-fidelity cardboard cube connected to a keychain to test the interaction. We asked participants to simulate using it by holding the cube and interacting it with their eye, nose, and ear. We wanted to test whether this object would be easy to access during a panic attack and if the user felt comfortable using it in public.
Participants preferred malleable, interactive textures.
Soft, squishy samples in general received positive feedback. Participants also enjoyed when there was some physical feedback and interactivity to the swatch (e.g. turning a knob or pressing a soft button).
Scents invoked strong positive reactions.
“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.”
Interacting with the cube could feel awkward in public.
People felt somewhat comfortable simply holding it, but any close-up interactions (such as smelling it or holding it up to the eye) felt awkward and could draw attention.
Accessibility in everyday scenarios was a concern.
The size of the cube keychain was slightly too big, and participants felt it could be difficult to access and easy to forget about in the moment of a panic attack. They also did not want to incorporate another object on top of their daily necessities.
We had to rethink our form factor to make it more practical and accessible. To explore objects that already exist in the everyday life of a student, we held a small co-design session with participants to learn what they carried on a daily basis. Looking around, we saw one item that almost everyone had on the table was a personal water bottle. We went forward with a water bottle as it promotes hydration, is easily accessible, and integrates seamlessly with the classroom setting.
Walkthrough of final design and user journey
Based on insights from our prototype testing and co-design session, we designed the full end-to-end experience of Homio. The inspiration for the name comes from the Greek word homeostasis, and supporting the body's return to stable conditions.
View User Flow Diagram
The interactive texture attachments wrap around the bottle and 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 onto an absorbent pad and replaced when needed. The twisting mechanism ensures that the scent diffusion can be controlled by the user.
The following sensory assortment was developed based on secondary research and user feedback. Scents range in their benefits, and cater to various preferences—varying from sweet to more herbal/earthy tones. Some textures are passive and soothing while others are more interactive.
We learned 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 users to try out different scents and textures before choosing their final customization. The typography and colors of the website are intended to feel warm, approachable, and comforting.
TRY IT OUT
Test with a sample box
Before committing, users can reserve a sample box to test out the initial 10 scents and texture samples.
Customize your bottle
Our bottle builder allows users to select from different colors, textures, and scents and preview their bottle.
The website includes a shop where users can browse individual parts and add-on attachments.
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.
Co-design and sensitive design
Mental health carries 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 and keep them involved throughout the design process. In participant research, it was important to craft questions and activities thoughtfully 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.
With more time...