Over it - How a Painful Breakup Helped Me Design My First Augmented Reality Experience

Me playing with our prototype before the demo.
“Slip inside the eye of your mind
Don’t you know you might find
A better place to play?
You said that you’d never been
But all the things that you’ve seen
They slowly fade away” 
— Don’t Look Back in Anger by Oasis

Little did I know how much this song would inspire me during HackMentalHealth. Driven by a painful breakup experience from my past, I decided to create Over It, an AR app based on exposure therapy principles that helps users let go of bad experiences.

Let’s talk about “the” break up for a second. It’s been almost 2 years since my ex, who I thought was my soulmate, broke up with me. Having been on my own in the U.S. since the age of 14, I’ve had my fair share of experiencing obstacles in life, but this break up was profoundly challenging, making it a frustratingly difficult process to completely move on from.

Combining my passion and background in public health with my experience in mental health, I leveraged the hackathon to disrupt the way we deal with traumatic experiences.

My team consisted of Arjun the genius AR developer, Nick the unicorn product manager, Amy the talented UI designer, and me. As the UX designer on my team, I implemented my process to tackle the task at hand with Design Thinking methods in order to ideate and create efficiently and effectively.

Team Over It cranking out the prototype. (From left to right: Arjun Kaul, Nicholas Pezarro, Amy Vorchheimer, and me)

My Design Process

  1. Discovery Research: After a hectic January, I slightly freaked out the night before the hackathon because I had ZERO time to prepare. I’d recruited some friends to form a team but was totally unprepared to design an experience in augmented reality (AR), something that I had always been interested in/wanted to do. Knowing that structure would be helpful for such an unfamiliar task in a compressed time frame, I chose to follow the Double Diamond Model as the basis for my designs. Once the hackathon started, I just went into autopilot mode and approached the task as I normally would: starting the design process with the “why”. My quick research led me to the phrase “letting go,” which sparked some creative ideas.
  2. Insights: My initial ideas were gamification of destroying bad experiences in augmented reality, such as blowing up its representation in the volcano or having a shark eat it. Furthermore, using my UX research technique of probing interview with Traci Ruble, a leading Bay Area therapist, helped me hash out the process of relieving oneself from an emotional pain. Another therapist, Asha Bauer, further helped us realize that our initial idea of “destroying” a painful past might re-traumatize the users and suggested gently letting go of it from a representational distance instead.
Team OverIt with our psychologists/mentors: Traci Ruble (in red) and Asha Bauer.
Those interviews helped us frame the challenge we were tackling: 
HOW MIGHT WE create an empowered ritual to help users let go of emotional pain and relieve them from perpetual flight response?

3. Ideation: Using the Design Thinking methods: journey mapping, use cases, task analysis, brainstorming, and sketching, I created a user flow, which allowed my team to dive deeper into the interactions and technical feasibility of each of the letting-go processes for our AR app.

Some of the screens from our scrappy prototype: 1) Landing page, 2) Selecting Safe Space, 3) Meditating with the beach ball, 4) Letting go: ritualized burning of the guitar emoji (my representation of the breakup).

4. Prototyping: Luckily, I had the best team. Not only were our personalities so in sync, our unique expertise made it easy to divide up the tasks, thus resulting in an efficient and seamless workflow. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to work with a passionate team of people who are intuitive with regards to user experience and truly care about mental health.

I’m also proud of myself for finally getting to design an AR experience and using my painful past to create something beautiful like Over It, accomplishing my goal of disrupting the way we solve the problem of mental health at this hackathon.

This cements my confidence as a UX designer, and marks a key point in my journey of self discovery that I embarked on 3 years ago, coinciding with the 1 year anniversary of my career transition into UX.

My day job: me at #werk, designing a habit-forming app with a focus on customer acquisition, retention, and commerce integration at Rodan & Fields

This hackathon also made me realize a number of things:

  • The deep passion that I hold for Human-Centered Design enables me to work through a weekend despite a busy schedule and pressures at work.
  • The experience motivated me to accomplish most of the goals I set out in my 20’s, to live a full life, and to continue to create and deepen genuine relationships, both old and new.
  • Finally, I am 98% over my ex, but it’s normal that we keep pieces of past experiences as they shape who we are. He’s still a part of me, just not a missing part of me.

Special thanks to those who helped me edit my first ever Medium blog: Nick (my friend and OverIt teammate), Brendan McWeeney (my AMAZING boss/rockstar designer), and Stephen Cognetta (Hack Mental Health founder). I wouldn’t have been able to finish it in one day without you guys :)