TIMELINE
TEAM
MY ROLE
TOOLS

Overview

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.

Our response

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.

Narrowing our focus

WHO

Ages 15 to 25

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.

WHERE

The classroom

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.

WHEN

Real time support

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 CHALLENGE

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

Deep dive into research

Cultural probes

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.

1

UNDERSTANDING THE LIVED EXPERIENCE

Our first probe aimed to address the following research questions:

Participants indicated their panic attack symptoms by drawing, shading, and/or writing short descriptions.

2

MAPPING THE CURRENT SUPPORT SYSTEM

Our second probe was aimed at understanding:

Participants sorted various members in their life along this spectrum of awareness and support.

View Stakeholder Map

Survey

11 participants

We also distributed a survey online to participants from University of Washington and a panic disorder community on Reddit. We asked questions to understand:

  • What kind of support do people want?
  • Who do they feel comfortable getting support from?

Key Insights

PERCEPTION

During a panic attack, people are self-conscious of how they are perceived.

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."

GETTING HELP

External support was met with mixed responses.

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."

COPING METHODS

Grounding exercises and distraction were common relief techniques.

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.

Grounding exercises are recommended by therapists as a way to engage the five senses and relieve anxiety

Ideation

Design principles

Based on our research insights, we outlined the following three design principles to guide our ideation.

Brainstorm

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.

DOWN SELECTION

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.

INITIAL CONCEPT

Sensory cube

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

Sensory cube storyboard

Prototyping

TESTING SENSORY SAMPLES

What materials are engaging?

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

Is the form factor practical and accessible?

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.

Testing insights

1

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).

2

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.”

3

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.

4

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.

PIVOT

Integrating into everyday life

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.

Design concept

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

BOTTLE DESIGN

Texture attachments

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.

BOTTLE DESIGN

Aromatherapy cap

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.

SENSORY COMPONENTS

Scents and textures

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.

THE SERVICE

Customization website

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.

BOTTLE BUILDER

Customize your bottle

Our bottle builder allows users to select from different colors, textures, and scents and preview their bottle.

SHOP

Order add-ons

The website includes a shop where users can browse individual parts and add-on attachments.

View Designs in Figma

User Journey

Reflection

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...

  • Validate design in real classroom setting
  • Usability test website and the customization experience
  • Expand to personalization options