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Deep Breath

Design To Support Mental Wellbeing on Public Transport

The Project Intro:

My interest in mental health problems drives me to do more in-depth research. My research shows that although mental health issues in urban environments have been discussed broadly over the past decades, most of the study is focused on exploring how city planning, modifying landscape or other geo-based urban design can improve the mental wellbeing of dwellers. The experience within public transportation, on the other hand, is often ignored, despite the growing evidence to show it has a significant impact on mental wellbeing. As an indispensable part of urban living, there is a constantly growing demand for public transport. However, public transport has seen little or no expansion of rail capacity, Resulting in overcrowded spaces, long commuting times and harmful environments that increase anxiety and stress on arrival at home or workplace. Therefore, I aim to use this project as an opportunity to explore how the HCI community can bring better experience within the underground train to support mental wellbeing?

Design Process

Define User

During my initial desk research, I reraised many studies that mentioned what costing stress on public transport, but lack of understanding of how the current experience brings stress to people and how people cope with it on a personal level. Although the project has limited time and no ethical approval from the school, I still decided to do some informal interviews with peers in class or people I know who experienced commuting, gathering some qualitative data that help me to understand what people might feel on the train. The interview people provides me with many helpful insights. Firstly, all the people I talked with feel stress during a commute, bringing issues I saw from my desk research to life. Secondly, the conversation plus previous studies suggest that lack of personal space in crowded spaces is the trigger of raising heartbeats and stress; it is how our body gets ready for danger. Thirdly, the pressure usually pushes people to think more negative things that could happen, making them feel more anxious and demotivated, like rolling a snowball. Fourthly, people think of familiar things, such as ‘home’, ‘bed’ or ‘pet’ or other things they own when they feel stressed. A deeper conversation following this insight makes me realise that the personal attachment with an object, material’s ‘softness’, ‘temperature’ and ‘movement’ make them feel safe and help them meditate and distract their mind from thinking negative things. One of the participants mentioned how her dog could handle stress and distract her from overthinking by asking for petting, which attracted my attention.

Design Direction

By reviewing the relationship between animals and mental wellbeing, I learned that responding to interaction and ‘life’ feelings of some animals can effectively reduce heartbeats and stress, which has been used for reducing stress in anxiety for many years, named as animal therapy. San Francisco international airport and a university in Florida even brought therapy animals into public spaces to reduce stress and anxiety. However, it is nearly impossible to get animals on a crowded train considering the animal’s health and safety and ethical problem, so I turned to the HCI community to see if there is an alternative approach. Lucky, there are already studies that took inspiration from animals, which set the tone of my design direction: Can animacy human-technology interaction increase the psychological attachment that reduces people's stress in public transport?

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To develop my concepts, I looked at how people interact with the space in the train and how people interact with the animal and do a brainstorming section based on that, helping me come up with multiple ideas. I Then picked some of the opinions that I think are interesting for further development.
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User Experience Design
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The user arrived at the crowded train station, which make her feel nervous.

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The user feels stress on the train which pushes her to think of more negative things. But the breathing light on the handle attracts her attention. The warm breathing light and the soft material on the handle encourage the user to interact with it.

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Detect Emotion

The handle detects the user is under stress by measuring the current on the user’s body and starts to do the breathing movement.

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Reducing Stress

The breathing movement disturbs the user from stress and helps her to mediate unconsciously. The low-profile design keeps the interaction out of other people’s attention. The handle is located in a different location on the public transport, so the passenger has access to them easily

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Arrive Work With Good Mood

With the help of the handle, the user feels much better and arrives at the workplace in a better mood.

Making process
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