Brief: Design, develop, and test new ways for people to materialize, visualize, share, or otherwise externalize their own experiences of mental health, and other emotional aspects of our current technological, political, and social contexts.
Team: Katie Herzog, Noel Kahle, Josh LeFevre, Laura Rodriguez, Arden Wolf
Role: Concept development, low + hi-fidelity physical prototyping
Duration: 6 weeks
Tools: Physical prototyping
After exploring a range of precedent projects, including Candy Chang's work "A Monument for the Anxious and Hopeful," we decided to start by digging into our own preferred methods of expression. As a team, we performed a quick and loosely structured brainstorming exercise to get a sense of the range of forms that these emotional expressions might take on.
Even among the 5 members on our team, the representations varied widely. Some of us found it easiest to draw out our mental states, while others were more inclined to verbalize thoughts and feelings.
Based on this quick exercise we decided to begin by exploring both 2D and 3D methods of visualization.
For our 2D testing, we borrowed pieces from the Mental Landscapes toolkit, which included pieces of thick card stock cut into shapes commonly found in natural landscapes (trees, mountains, clouds, etc.)
In our 3D testing, we provided our participants with a set of craft supplies including clay, pipe cleaners of various sizes and colors, fluffy balls, wooden skewers, fabric and balloons.
In our discussions with participants following each activity, we found that the 3D materials supported a great deal of freedom, but many people felt overwhelmed by the variety of materials provided, while the limited palette provided by the 2D pieces enabled participants to focus their efforts and assign meaning to particular qualities of various components. As a result, we decided to pursue creating a 3D tool, but to restrict the number of elements in our prototype kit.
Our initial experiments also revealed that participants had difficulty creating structure for their visualizations with the 3D tools provided. As a result, we brainstormed methods of construction, ultimately deciding to move forward with a strategy inspired by tinker toys.
Key Insight: A limited palette of materials allows users to more readily assign meaning to each defining characteristic, making it easier to communicate complex thoughts and feelings.
To begin producing the final toolkit, we solidified the range of materials and shapes that we wanted to provide users. We chose to include a set of geometric volumes in 6 different color and material combinations. This included wood, felt, raw 3D-printed plastic, and 3D-printed plastic weighted and finished to resemble stone. In each shape we created a series of holes to accommodate two different types of connectors (wood and silicone) allowing participants to connect the objects together in a variety of ways.
After the initial rounds of testing with users on the subject of mental health, I decided to test the toolkit in other potential applications. This included an activity in which participants were asked to envision smart devices of the future, with particular emphasis on the object's "persona." The kit proved particularly useful in eliciting abstract representations that could be compared across participants (the limited palette made it easy to isolate choices in shape and material) and in drawing out qualities not otherwise represented in the persona worksheets (e.g. flexibility).