Long Distances can make relationships feel impersonal. How can we use technology to encourage non-verbal communication?
There are many nuanced non-verbal interactions in relationships such as eating together, watching movies, motivating each other to exercise, celebrating milestones and providing each other with real-time updates which are hard to replace in long distance relationships. Dissimilar geographical locations, different time zones, transient occupations, or varying level of technological proficiency make it even harder to communicate effectively.
To better understand our target users, we conducted 8 semi-structured interviews. Questions for the interview were primarily focused on maintaining relationships (family, friends or romantic) through technology such as text messaging, video calling, social media websites in an attempt to understand the impact of technology on relationships. I interviewed 2 participants, one male and one female in their mid-20s.
We gathered our key insights using an affinity map. The issues that arose during the interviews were categorized broadly and some hot Ideas were explored.
“I feel like I keep missing important events in my partner’s life. There was a time when he was very sick and I didn’t find out till a week after he recovered.”
“I sometimes get too busy to call my mother and she panics when she doesn’t hear from me in a while. This doesn’t happen when I’m at home since she can see that I’m fine.”
“My (phone) conversations with my family are always about what I’m doing and what I’ve eaten. It doesn’t leave much time to talk about more substantial things like my how I’m feeling about a particular course or event.”
“Intimacy gave way to constant awareness. We always knew when the other was online and it felt rude if no one replied in time.”
The interviews helped answer some questions about the positive role of technology in relationships, but all interviewees agreed on the negative aspects of communicating through technology.
Through our interviews, we identified that interactions need to be more immersive, low maintenance and contextually smart to effectively augment existing long distance relationships. We built three user personas to guide our design process
With the problems now defined and our personas established for our design ideation, the team started sketching ideas. I drew 40 out of the 160 sketches that the team created.
We discovered that all our ideas from the 160 sketches revolved around the experiences that can be shared via technology. Adding all these experiences into a single application would clutter our solution and make it unlikely for the user to derive and value. We refined our ideas down into experiences that could be easily shared without much user input.
Based on our refined set of design ideas, we decided a passive ambient display would be the best medium to show our users their partners information The analogy we used was providing our users with a "window into their partners life".
The prototype of our ambient display shows what the partner is currently doing and lets the user scroll through past activities and pulls information from the partner’s mobile app.
We evaluated our paper prototype based on Nielsen's heuristics.
GOAL: To validate that users can understand interactions and identify key information.
We found that while the ambient display was able to easily relay information, the biggest question was how exactly this information is gathered and how a partners privacy concerns are accounted for.
We designed a configuration app to let users control the information they were sharing and built a quick paper prototype to validate whether user’s could easily navigate through the settings.
We tested the application’s interactions through a cognitive walkthrough. This involved basic login and configurations of other applications for the users to setup the ambient display for user’s partner.
We found that while there were some issues with flow of the application and some of the screens needed some kind of onboarding to help the user configure the ambient display easily.
The ambient display smart TV app is a passive information dashboard that is designed like a window into the user or their partner’s life. It lets a user’s partner easily see:
The configuration app lets a user set up their partners ambient display with the information they’re comfortable sharing and lets them post updates and review the information shared in one place. The high fidelity mockups were built in Figma and Invision.
Users can either sign in using SSO or connect directly to their partner’s app using a code.
The user selects or builds an avatar and selects the default mood they want their partners to see.
Users can enable optional modules to share and configure such as:
The user is informed about all the information being shared and can switch these off at any time.
The user can post new annotations and new activities to both their own and partner's dashboards.
The team created a video prototype to showcase how the application would be used in a user’s day to solve a real problem.
Since this was a project to familiarize ourselves with the basics of digital tool design, many steps integral to developing a useful product were omitted. Our solution can definitely be improved with the following: