Steeped in Flow Thesis Project

Theme: Disconnecting, well-being, flow (positive psychology), Balance, Reflective Design, Social Media

Supervisors: Dr. Eli Blevis and Dr. Kenny Chow with research support, Dr. Ilpo Koskinen

Inspiration: Dr. Sherry Turkle (2012, 2015), Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (2004)

RESEARCH METHODS: Literature Research, Interviews, Behavioural Prototyping, Concept & Stakeholder Maps, Surveys

TOOLS: Arduino, Processing, Custom Chrome Browser Extension, Laser Cutter, Illustrator, InDesign, Keynote

Life is short. Can we be happier when we are more efficient with the time we spend online so that we can spend more face-to-face time with the people who matter most to us offline?

Target Market: Dr. Sherry Turkle (2012) talks about how our feeling of connectedness to everyone in our social networks online might actually have the opposite effect. She points out how we may actually be more disconnected because it is so easy to feel connected. This loneliness is something I have observed in friends and myself, when we feel so attached to our phones that we end up ignoring the people we are talking to in front of us. Is social media hurting us?

Research: The Masters of Design program specializing in Interaction Design at the PolyU School of Design has a heavy focus on research methods, design thinking and prototyping and iteration. After months of literature research on well-being, depression, anxiety, and FOMO, as well many months of interviewing and workshopping fellow friends with behavioural prototyping, as well as speaking with doctors who had firsthand experience about these topics, I began to synthesize and conceptualize a concept that would work to help people balance their time on and off line.

Working with interdisciplinary groups of people, including my supervisors with HCI and social psychological backgrounds, I blended my previous work experience in marketing and social media with Experience Design to come up with a performative object that would help people reflect on how they spend their time. My concept and design vision came out of interviewing and behavioural prototyping 30 people from North America, Hong Kong and Australia. After primary and secondary research throughout the whole design process, I ended up chipping away and specifying my original theme of FOMO and social anxiety to disconnecting and finding online/offline balance, which was meaningful enough that friends who were web developers, entrepreneurs and industrial designers were interested in helping me bring this "flow" tea set into fruition. 

By connecting to a custom-built Chrome browser application as a prototype, the lights embedded in this interactive tea set are triggered with Arduino and Processing when people are scrolling through websites they set time limits on for themselves. By tapping into the person's own will to control their time spent online, lights work as a signal to remind the person that they may be losing flow when they are starting to scroll mindlessly on pages like Facebook or YouTube. Motivated by the pursuit of flow and wanting to be more effective with our time, the Chinese kowtow gesture is used to reset the tea set lights using a piezoelectric sensor on the laser-cut tea tray, a nod to how drinking tea is generally a social activity.

My final concept, which you can read more about below, was tested with five more users (in various professions) and iterated from their evaluation and feedback.