Shrinking Violets- Product Design 2016

Sharon Wang
Draft · 7 min read

Team: Sharon Wang, Kate Masancay, Shota Pangilinan, Peggy Zhao, Sebastian Ospina

/shrink·ing vi·o·let/ noun- a shy individual


Shrinking Violets is a mobile iOS application and socially engaged art project created by shy people for shy people, as an 8-week project for the Business Innovation and Design Thinking course at UC Berkeley. It aims to ease social interactions for self-identified shy individuals and de-stigmatize the notion that shyness is associated with in our society.


Shrinking Violets is a term coined for individuals who are generally shy and might even have trouble overcoming a fear of socialization. Additionally, shyness is associated with an unwelcome and unwanted characteristic in society. With this in mind, we determined that the problem was that shy people have an involuntarily more difficult time overcoming social barriers even though they could be innately extraverted.


After numerous cycles of diverging and converging on our problem space, we decided to focus on 2 main goals.

Easing Intimidation:

How might we lower the barrier to social interactions for shy people?

Initial approach and meeting:

How might we increase the possibility of serendipitous relationships for shy individuals?

Exploring the Problem

Learning About Shyness

We read articles, watched psychological experiments, listened to Ted Talks, and scoured the internet for everything we could find about shyness. We found that while shyness is often associated with introversion, studies have shown that this is not the case. Shyness is actually a psychological response to stimuli around them that puts the individual in fear of embarrassment or humiliation, whereas introversion is losing energy from too many social interactions.

Articles and studies on social phobia and shyness.

User Research

Our primary stakeholders were -obviously- shy people, so I led our team in several interviews with self-identified shy people. You can find our full interviews here.


  1. Shy people find it easier to be social when others approach them first.
  2. Meeting others for the first time is difficult because of the fear of having nothing to talk about or being awkward.
  3. Shyness comes in different forms and is often the case that it is the byproduct of having developed a new environment or circumstance.


Essentially, we found shyness to be a completely natural and innate human condition. This revelation made our project ideation a little intimidating because it’s quite challenging to tackle such a nuanced concept. We don’t necessarily see shyness as some “wicked problem” to solve, but instead we see it as a trait to be normalized and even built upon. The majority of our interviews revealed shyness to be something that is formed out of intimidation, fear of embarrassment, culture and language barriers, and anxiety about first impressions.

After interviewing and synthesizing our findings, we decided to reframe our ‘How Might We’ problem and add a third problem:

How might we de-stigmatize the idea of shyness ?


We began brainstorming for our solution space. Our ideas took on a huge range of concepts. Some ideas built on physical things, for example, a cafe which aims at encouraging people to communicate with each other; while others focused on technology, such as a bluetooth keychain or an App.

Left-Using dots to vote on our favorite ideas. Right-our top 5 ideas

We determined our top 5 ideas. At first, we tried to combine those selected ideas together, but after a deep discussion, we concluded that developing a single idea completely may be a better choice.

Concept Generation

Through inspiration by “Tile”, we finally determined to design a keychain-connected iOS app to help shy people build social interactions. In this way, the original prototype was born. ​To cover our final problem statement, we decided to also include a marketing campaign that would capture the beauty of shyness through art, making use of our graphic design chops.

Feature Space

We again diverged and converged on features to include in our application. With our ‘How Might We’ goals in mind, we determined that we would include…

  1. Referral-Only System: We wanted to create a sense of community among shy individuals, even if they were complete strangers. A referral-only system in which users could only receive a keychain if they were referred by another shy individual would help bring a sense of comfortability.
  2. Keychain-Activated Notifications: If an individual with a keychain was within a certain vicinity to another individual with a keychain, a push-notification would be sent to both phones — acting as a sort of *nudge* to make a social interaction.
  3. Alternative Messaging: Messaging a stranger right off the bat can be intimidating. Our application would initially only allow two ways to contact another individual- fill out a Mad Lib, or send a disappearing message. It also serves as an icebreaker for when the individuals eventually meet.
  4. Limited Profiles: First impressions are intimidating- knowing what someone looks like or does before actually meeting them in person can alter your perception. Limited profiles would allow for unbiased initial interaction. Full profiles would be revealed after conversing frequently.

With these features determined, we created our user flow.


Once our user flow was finalized, Sebastian and I set to working on the sketches.

First Iteration

We wanted to keep our UI as simple as possible. The application itself would have no home screen, and would only be usable when a push notification is received. This would motivate users to make the jump over the initial social barrier for fear of missing out on a serendipitous connection.


One of the explorations we performed was on the Short Profile. What information should we include in it so that we could make users feel safe, but at the same time avoid feeling bias upon initial conversation?

  1. First name only — we didn’t want users to be able to search people up on social media.
  2. How shy are you feeling? — we thought it would be a good idea to be able to see the other person’s shyness level. However, since we wouldn’t be able to see the person’s face, we thought to just make the profile icon temporarily an illustration of how shy the person was feeling.

Another one of the explorations that we iterated through came from our Alternative Messaging- a way for the users to have an icebreaker upon meeting in person.

We wanted to make sure that both users actually read through an entire Mad Lib, so we made the users wait 10 seconds before they could advance to seeing a user’s profile.

Final Prototype

Visual design and high-fidelity. We chose bright and cheerful shades for our palette- reflecting off the vibrancy of violets.

Physical supplements to our iOS application which included laser-cut Bluetooth keychain prototypes and marketing prints
Our team of shy individuals!

We all made several posters for our visual campaign. We also laser cut some keychains that were meant to represent our wearable bluetooth device. We presented our final deliverable at a design expo, and our project was one of the few selected to be in the Berkeley Art and Design Showcase.


It’s honestly harder than you think to devote a tech + design project dedicated to such a nuanced human condition, a condition that’s essentially different yet the same for each individual. However, we had a lot of fun explaining our concept and intentions behind our application and physical products and I’m glad we were able to bring more awareness to the beauty of shyness and help shy individuals bloom!