What: An emotionally-responsive UI app that connects recently-injured spinal cord patients to one another based on their personality type and injury type
Who: Individuals with SCI/D
Where: Products of Design class “Designing for Screens” under the guidance of Brent Arnold
When: Products of Design, Semester 4
Why: Through my thesis research, I realized that people who have recently sustained SCI/D are generally connected to a group of experts - SCI/D veterans, doctors, and nurses. The emphasis of this connection is letting patients know how much they can accomplish, and how much of their lives they can regain, by focusing on recovery. While effective, this approach ignores the fact that SCI/D can be very idiosyncratic, particularly when it comes to the patient’s prognosis and ability to recover movement, and doesn’t adequately acknowledge or provide support for the patient’s struggle. From personal experience, and from reading memoirs written by individuals with SCI/D, I came to the conclusion that the best support can come from someone who is going through a similar experience.
I also learned from a registered nurse who worked in Craigie Hospital, a renowned SCI/D treatment facility, that nights are particularly hard on a lot of patients because there is a lot of time to just sit and think. Again drawing from personal experience, I realized that words are sometimes simply not enough to comfort and support someone who has undergone trauma in those situations, and wanted to create a nonverbal communication tool for people with SCI/D and their support networks — precisely for those moments.
How: The idea for Journey had evolved over two semesters. Initially, it paired a patient with a team of people including spinal cord injury veterans who have been out of the hospital for years (and therefore have a lot of advice and perspective to offer the recently-injured patient), as well as the patient’s occupational therapist. This team grew to include, and even emphasize, connections between individuals who were injured at roughly the same time, with similar prognoses of recovery. Onboarding to the app would occur in the hospital, as the patient recovered from their physical and emotional trauma, with the help of the occupational therapist.
Each patient would complete an MBTI personality test in order to pair them with an SCI/D partner - the patient’s companion on the journey to independence. The app relied primarily on a chat interface to connect users—where in addition to conversing with one another, they could post videos related to their recovery. Methods of input included a text keyboard and voice-to-text interface.
But as I continued working on the app, I became more interested in the idea of an app that responds to emotion. After researching the psychological connection between color and mood, I developed a UI schema where the colors yellow and green—often associated with happiness and stability, respectively—became the predominant colors of the UI when the user was “sad.” Red and orange—colors that often signify energy and playfulness—dominate the UI when the user is “energetic and happy,” leveraging the positive mood and translating it into movement and action. Blue—thought to evoke feelings of serenity and trust—is used in the UI when the user’s mood is “neutral,” serving as a transitional color when the UI changes in response to the user’s mood.
The control of the UI incorporates a conversation user interface (CUI): The user repeats a recovery mantra in order to open the app, and software gauges the user’s emotional state through pitch, amplitude, and cadence. In addition to responding to the user's mood, the app's UI can change if members of the user's team—the occupational therapist, along with the SCI veteran and the user's partner —"ping" the user. This ping is accompanied by an audible note, which is different for each member of the team. If all members of the team ping a user at the same time, the tones mingle in a complementary fashion, creating a musical chord whose key changes according to the user's mood. Visually, the ping blossoms on the user's screen, emanating from the icon of the pinging user. The colors of the ping emerge gently, and accelerate if more members of the team ping the user. The purpose of the ping—non-verbal and unwritten—is to provide support in the moments when words are not enough.