Bliss: reflect and connect
In this project we wanted to explore what gives people joy, fulfillment or a feeling of relaxation in everyday life, especially during these peculiar times of uncertainty and home isolation. We wanted to learn what special moments that matter in people’s lives, what meaning they bring and how we might inspire more of these moments of bliss in everyday life.
Our proposal Bliss, is a tool that enables people to establish intimate connections, despite being physically far apart. The compass-like object, lets the user tune in towards a family member or friend by moving the hand-held object in their direction. Just like a compass indicates the direction of north, a small arrow on the Bliss interface indicates when you and your loved one are standing opposite facing each other. When you move, your loved one will also see your movements on their compass. We imagine it as a dance, where you both take turns to lead and to follow. You can actively seek the connection or you just let it happen, all of a sudden you could be standing face-to-face with your friend across the globe. This moment of focus, of being present together in the now and holding on to that moment, -that’s a moment of Bliss.
For our first interviews we decided to turn to people in our close surrounding to get their input on how the current pandemic has influenced their daily lives. We interviewed one person in the team, a partner and a close friend of a team member. We used the method of journey mapping as an interview technique, which means we sketched out the answers from the interviewee as the interview unfolded. Once the first round was done, we went back to some, according to us, key answers to highlight them and further expand on them. The interviews were conducted remotely with all team members and interviewee being in different locations, except for one case where interviewer and interviewee were in the same room. We used video-call to connect and pen and paper or the online whiteboard to sketch. The sketch was always visible to the interviewee. After two rounds of questions, the interviewee, together with one person in our team, made a video explaining the journey map in one video-take. This video, together with our notes was later used for analyzing the conversations.
As a follow-up to the interviews, we asked participants to send us visual diaries of their day and photos related to the journey map we had made earlier. We received photos of banana bread, plants, sketch-books and sitting outside in the sun. In addition we also asked four people to make a sketch diary explaining their current state of mind. From this we learned some of the struggles people are facing related to home isolation, but also interestingly enough we heard from participants that this activity of taking the time to sketch their emotions was therapeutic for them.
Developing an ethnographic toolkit
As a result of our initial research, we noted down the findings that stood out the most, the ones that came back in all the interviews. We defined 5 categories of activities: Connect with people you love, Being close to nature, Self-development, Physical activity and Time to reflect.
We used these categories to put together an ethnographic toolkit; a tool to help engage others with our research findings. Our toolkit consisted of 6 task cards describing different activities that we choose to name e.g. Hugging the sun, Walking therapy and Conversation time. We later used this kit to enroll people in a mini-workshop during a morning and afternoon session in a park. The main outcome from this workshop was that participants thought the activities would be more meaningful if they were a shared experience. It was also from this workshop that we got the idea of the shared walking experience, but instead of walking next to each other, you walk towards each other, this was input that we later implemented in our final concept proposal.
Finding a project focus
We approached this project open-minded and deliberately let our topic emerge out of our ethnographic research. Our project focus is derived from the daily routines and activities that we discovered during our initial interviews, that we later defined as our two key findings: reflect and connect. We found that people; now limited to working and studying from home; engaged more frequently and perhaps also more consciously in hands-on activities such as crafts, baking, gardening, going for walks and learning a new language, to name a few examples. What all interviewees agreed on, which was also visible in the activities they engaged with, was that they experienced an increased amount of time (and need) to reflect on their own situation; awareness of their own emotional well-being and prioritizing what and who is important in their lives. The latter leads us to our second key finding; that due to the nature of the situation with many social restrictions, we heard examples of more frequent phone-calls, wine nights moved to Skype and remote workout sessions with friends. When they couldn’t meet in person, there was a need to connect in other ways and in many cases this need even had increased. Interviewees connected with friends and family, but also re-connected with long-time friends.
Co-creating a shared experience
In this phase of the project we planned a remote co-creation workshop with four participants, to dig deeper into how moments of bliss could be a shared experience and how a moment of bliss could be saved or repeated at a later time. As a warm-up participants were asked to reflect on the above questions and collect and photograph items from their home that they associate with a moment of bliss. Photos portrayed among other things, picking an orange from a tree, an ongoing cross-stitching project and a rosary.
As a next step we had a co-creation activity, called Amazing Machines, where participants were asked to imagine their ideal product or service, to help create this shared experience. Ideas that came out of this workshop were for example a rosary, where each marble represented a specific location or moment, and a scented candle that connects you with your loved one through a specific personal scent.
The main insights that we gathered from this workshop was the aspect of tangibility and physicality of the ideas developed. The physical touch and a pattern of repetition seemed to contribute to the feeling of reflection and creating a ritual around the moment of bliss. This tangibility, for example touching one of the rosary marbles like in one of the ideas, was also meant as a way to transfer experiences or connect with others directly. One of the participants commented: “I would love to visualize our shared experience and see how other people would interpret it and visualize it”.
“I would love to visualize our shared experience and see how other people would interpret it and visualize it”.
Deciding on a concept
Inspired by the co-creation workshop, we started ideating in the team, around our four design principles: reflect, connect, shared experience and tangibility. Although we didn’t ideate further on any specific idea from the co-creation workshop, we were surely inspired by the poetic qualities in the proposals from the workshop. During an afternoon session we came up with 3 main concepts:
- Compass — Tune in to your loved ones
- Grow — Nurture your moments and watch them grow
- Care package — Look after one another
After a feedback session with tutors, we as a group decided to go for the idea of the compass; a metaphor we continued to use throughout the project. The basic idea was to have a way to tune in and align with loved ones, like you would tune in on a specific radio channel that was meant just for the two of you. In the next steps we did lots of physical mock-ups in paper, clay and even with laser pointers and bowls of water. We explored ways to indicate direction and how the compass could be held or worn and how it could be moved.
We had vivid discussions about the sustainability aspect of the concept, after the question was raised in a tutoring session. Our choice to go with a physical object and not just an app, is motivated by the strong need for physicality and focus that we saw in our research, something that we would simply not achieve with an app for example.
Sketching the UI and the perception of self
Parallel to developing the physical form of the compass, we also started exploring the aesthetics of the interaction, how the compass would behave and what expression and visual language it should have. We began to sketch the UI and tried different ways to visualize the experience, both in simple line drawings and using prototyping tools like Figma.
We arranged a mini-workshop where we all asked one person to draw on a paper circle; where they are, where their contacts are and what it looks like when they connect. Results were very interesting, one participant drew himself in the middle of the circle and his contacts spread out along the outer border of the circle. He commented, ‘’I’m always in the center’’ and ‘’we meet in the middle’’. He also drew items for each contact; a hat, a balloon, a dog etc. This also confirmed our idea of personalizing the contacts in some way, with an avatar, or like we chose to do it, using different colors. We also asked participants to write down who they would add as a contact, something we in the group also discussed frequently. Who would you want to connect with and why?
We did other explorations where we shared our live positions on WhatsApp, Apple Find My and Snapchat, tracking each other’s position and movement. We were interested in how these apps visualize people, places and directions. Around this time Christina had a conversation with a friend of hers about our project and the friend mentioned that she uses an app called Life360 to follow the location of friends and family. She simply wanted to see their whereabouts during the day, without needing to actually contact or speak to them. This story really inspired us to stick to only a visual UI and not incorporate a function to phone- or video-call.
We decided to not incorporate a screen in our product, however that leaves us dealing with abstractions of information. How can we represent the user and their loved ones, in an abstracted but clear way? Also, if we don’t have a screen, we must find another way to add information to the compass. We can’t ignore the fact that we need an additional app to set up the contact list and pair it with the product, so we decided to add an app.
Detailing the design
Last steps in the process was to further develop the UI of the compass and the app. The UI language that we used is inspired by the fluidity of water. Puddles of colored stains move rhythmically around the edge of the compass hinting about the distance between the user and their loved ones. We decided on a scaled-down, simple but elegant round shape for the compass, highlighting only the main feature, the moving arrow. Because we used a neutral, white nuance as a base, we could put emphasis on the color UI. We also developed some screens of the app, that show the different steps, like adding contacts and personalizing contacts with different colors.
Relevance of this project
This project is for sure highly influenced by the context in which it was developed, although we can also see the relevance of it in a post-pandemic future. This project was made for families, friends and partners living apart as a way to share moments of presence together. That notion of being together, sharing moments, has a positive effect on our well-being. Therefore we also see the relevance of this topic in relation to an increased interest in care for mental health on both an institutional level but also on a level of self-care. As the pandemic has made us aware to not overload an already strained health care system, there is an increased responsibility put on the individual to take action for one’s own well-being. Our proposal Bliss could potentially inspire more of these positive moments in everyday life.