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Abstract

The focus of this project was occupational stress experienced by digital industry professionals — especially, the stress which is situational under working conditions. This study entailed learning about the current ways to de-stress and propose a better way, which will be more focused on reduction of occupational stress effectively. It begins with extensive secondary research with existing scientific literature on stress. Preliminary survey and the Interviews followed after, gave the project a direction, as well as, streamlined the process. Various design strategies, visual design, multiple iterations and user testing of wireframes developed and enriched my product.

Why stress?

One day while I was working, a colleague of mine called me and told me about his problem; I was pretty sure he could have easily solved it by himself, but for some reason, he wanted to share it with me that trivial problem which was burning him out that whole day. I helped him resolve it, but I was very curious to know about the situation which landed him into trouble. I wanted to study and understand the phenomenon that caused it. I soon realized that it was Stress coming from the work that affected him, but he was not aware of it. All of us have to face stressful conditions in life, which if not attended to and addressed properly would ultimately affect our mind and body.

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, an Indian mystic says “Stress is the inability to manage your thoughts and emotions. Everything around us is a tool, use it to enhance your ability and help yourself through the process of self-discovery”. It is an important message which we tend to neglect in our fast-paced life. It is easy to miss out on things which are extremely accessible and obvious to us.

Problem statement

It is known that high intensity occupational stress among digital industry professionals reduces their performance level drastically and may also lead to anxiety, affecting health and wellbeing. Currently there is no convenient way or system to identify / validate / quantify existence of stress developed at work and to effectively deal with it at once by empowering individual professionals.

Hypothesis statement

I believe that if we collect biofeedback and other information with the sensors such as ECG / PPG, accelerometer, gyroscope, GPS, time, weather etc., process the data so collected by employing machine learning algorithms, then we will be able to make intelligent guesses about emotion states of the users and quickly support, motivate, suggest through gamified experiences to take appropriate actions so as to help maintain stasis, ultimately boosting efficiency of digital indus- try professionals by at least 10% - 15% over a year.

Outcome of secondary research

  • Habituation of stress.
  • Emotion and stress recognition.
  • Difference between Eustress (Positive stress) and Distress (Negative stress).
  • Prevention strategies to reduce stress.
  • Types of stress: Acute, episodic and chronic.
  • Stress originates in sympathetic nervous system.
  • Cortisol, the stress hormone causes anxiety, muscle pain, high blood pressure, elevated heart rate, etc.

Competitive analysis

It is impossible that such an important problem is not addressed by designers and developers, so I further researched on available digital apps. Out of numerous applications, I have listed a couple of highly rated Android / IOS apps.

  • No effortful process: Easy on-boarding, various meditation options.
  • Long-term acquisition: Notifications based on your recorded preferences.
  • Fun: Engaging users with brilliant animations and clean UI.
  • Statistics and meditation tracking along with optional daily reminders.
  • Customizable audio and visual cues to support relaxation.
  • Robust curriculum including stories to help with sleep.
  • “Daily Calm” new meditation each day.

Limitations

  • Does not focus on stress : No application focuses on stress reduction.
  • Diverse needs and moods : Every person is unique and would express emotions differently.
  • Dependent on intrinsic motivation : Intrinsic motivation might not be enough at workplaces.
  • User input : All the applications expect users to input how they feel or what their mood is to create statistics.

Proto-persona

Persona

Clara (29)
Cyber security specialist

  • Clara is loaded with work all the time.
  • She hardly finds time to do anything else.
  • Even when she is physically away, mentally she is still in the office.
  • She is trying to reduce stress by meditating, baking and spending some time doodling.

Surveys

Even before I started interviewing people it was crucial to identify my demography. I posted the survey on various social media platforms. After 47 replies, I identified digital industry professionals as my target demography. Apart from that I also got to know how they deal with stress, as well as the reason of their stress which they are aware and many other insights.

Lief Therapeutics

For testing stress patterns of my target demography in real-life working conditions, I requested 2 employees to wear a device called Lief, a small ECG scanner which collects HR/HRV data on the basis of which identifies stress levels, for one working day and asked them to maintain a record of their observations on google forms. The observation sheet contained two fields, how do they feel? and what were they doing?
Comparing the google sheet with the generated data using the product proved that users are aware of their stress patterns but sometimes they are not, they get habituated to their own stress. This proved the habituation of stress.

Interviews

I recruited digital professionals from various social media channels like LiknedIn, slack channels and professional network. It was an interesting experience to talk with strangers and to make them feel at easy. Stress is very personal, so I wanted to make sure they were comfortable.

Conducted 15 interviews.

Insights

  • Motivation: It mostly comes from a sense of achievement and incentives in any form. Appreciation of their work is also a huge morale booster.
  • Improved concentration: Employees tend to use mobiles and other devices a lot more when they are distracted from work. They move to quieter places, listen to music or to put their mobile’s notification in off mode.
  • Positive stress: Sometimes employees work effectively under stress.
  • Breaks: Employees believe that short breaks help them immensely to focus and/or find solutions to their stress related problems.
  • Cognitive overload: Employees are always occupied with a lot of work which stresses them out.
  • Move away from digital world: Employees prefer to avoid their devices and prefer interacting with the physical world such as taking coffee breaks, water cooler talks, exercising, playing games or just hanging out with their colleagues.
  • Performing hobbies: Employees preferred to follow their hobbies or preferences of de-stressors such as video games, coffee breaks, walking etc.
  • Talking to friends: As a stress buster, everyone said they they enjoy talking to their friends the most.

Persona

Persona

Stressed Sam

21-35 year old - Software developer

“Things in the physical world are more experiential for me. I use digital stuff only when everything else in the physical world has failed."

Sam is a dedicated and hardworking developer who strives to give his best. He is confident, but sometimes he cannot approach a problem head-on due to various reasons. When he is focused, he does not even realize that he is stressed. As Sam continues working sometimes he drains himself by end of the day. He is looking for a way to relieve himself from such stressful situations to elevate his work life.

Aspirations

  • Promotion
  • Better work life balance
  • Ownership of the work.
  • Empowerment against stress.
  • Getting work done with ease.

Pain points

  • Stressful situations cause lack of interest
  • Ineffective communication.
  • Lot of distractions.
  • Unawareness of stress.
  • Tiredness and boredom.

Assumptions

Talking to friends was a critical insight from my interviews. I wanted to explore more. Stress is very personal, but how can socialization help users de-stress fascinated me. So I made three assumptions.

Rapid validation

I conducted the experiment at DICE group and Promptworks. I handed this device to one willing employee from each organization. When that person was stressed, I asked his colleagues to join to play Pictionary. But there was a small difference; I did not share the identity of that person at DICE and revealed the identity at Promptworks. After playing, I sent out a survey and found that all my assumptions were true. They did not mind interventions. Everyone enjoyed the activity, and 8/10 said they were comfortable or would be comfortable knowing the stressed person’s identity. This proved that social activity is a huge stress buster.

Dice group
Promptworks

Validation Success!

After a couple of weeks, an employee from Promptworks reached out and told me that they have been playing Pictionary since then. That was a huge success; it proved that socialization, in fact, is one of the best ways to de-stress. It consolidated the idea of using social activities for stress relief.

Promptworks group

Design decisions

Gamification

Gartner predicted that "by 2015, 40% of Global 1000 organizations will use gamification as the primary mechanism to transform business operations.”
53% of technology stakeholders said that by 2020, the use of gamification will be widespread.
Along with User-Centered, Codi is an app which is Player Centered too which means that it makes use of effective game mechanics and goes beyond the digital screen to create a great experience with a lot of gamified activities. Because the activities need involvement with what users are doing, their attention is automatically diverted from work.

Tone of voice

In a study printed in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, psychologists Daniel Swigley and Gary Lupya hypothesized that talking to yourself was actually beneficial.
Thinking aloud is a form of talking to self.
Talking to yourself helps clarify your thoughts, it tends to focus on what’s important and firms up any decisions you’re contemplating. You are convincing yourself instead of the application trying to convince you.

Technology

After studying all the related papers, here is what I devised to achieve my objective of identifying stress. There are two reactions to stress namely eustress and distress. In an occupational scenario, the conditions will always be stressful, but the intensity will vary vastly. The reaction to that stressor is relative, and it is essential to identify it to make proper predictions of the patterns. This is an X, Y coords chart in which X is valance and Y is the arousal. I have categorized stress which is 'normal' in the bottom right. Eustress; positive reaction to a stressor (motivation); is top right, and complete left quadrant is Distress; an adverse reaction to a stressor. The idea is to move people with a negative response and make them react to any stressor positively. This chart when plotted with the generated biodata, I will be able to assist the emotional reaction to that stressor and guide the user to a much more comfortable position to deal with it.

Valance arousal model

Machine Learning

Machine Learning


At this point, I was unsure of the approach of my designs. I started with mobile and outlined my activities on mobile. Mobile will have all the statistical data as well as insights which the users can use to learn more about themselves.

This machine learning algorithm works two-fold. First is for the backend and dataset for reference and feature selection purpose. The next will be in the app which will collect the generated data to evaluate in the bases of the previous features to make intelligent floating averages and deviation guesses to identify emotion in co-relation to the experiencing stress.

To explain this model I will be talking about the second fold.

Wireframes 1


At this point, I was unsure of the approach of my designs. I started with mobile and outlined my activities on mobile. Mobile will have all the statistical data as well as insights which the users can use to learn more about themselves.

Feedback

Mobile

  • The on-boarding was very awkward. Users were not sure what they are doing until they reached the dashboard.
  • Due to two experiences, watch and mobile, users were getting confused as there was a lot of back and forth happening between experiences.
  • The language could be welcoming and informative.
  • This application could have different types of data visualization.
  • The watch at this point does not seem to have much importance apart from tracking data.

Wireframes 2


I further enhanced the experience with better user-flow and completely shifted the interventions onto the watch. I implemented the feedback given on the previous iteration and devised better UI solution along with a better tone of voice and narration of all the interventions, followed by suggestions. I took feedback on this iteration too.

Feedback

Mobile

  • "How does it work?" instructions look like buttons.
  • The honeycomb effect for activity selection feels different than the app design.
  • Navigation buttons should be easily accessible, close to user's thumb for easy navigation.

Watch

  • Can breathing instructions be presented in a better way?
  • On the navigation screen of the walking activity, users weren't sure what the plus and minus buttons meant.
  • Currently, there is no way of exiting any social activity once created.
  • For a small device like a watch, the dashboard is holding a lot of information. Can it be somehow split into chunks?
  • If a new activity is created from the dashboard, users weren't sure what personal or social meant; they felt it was a personal note or record which they have to keep.

Information Architecture

After quite a few iterations and re-considerations, I settled on the approach of my application and created the IA. Ideally, most of the mobile device interaction is limited to statistics viewing and suggestions/insights. The IA was small but concise way of putting everything together. The application is more inclined towards data flow and user flow which is illustrated further in this document. This IA gave my application the required skeleton and provided me with information for designing the user flow.

Check the IA

Style guide

The next step involved was carefully picking up colors. These colors had to be elegant and welcoming. I wanted to follow the latest UI trends to make the application look fresh, yet ensuring a long life by profuse use of white space. The immediate next step was to fill my wireframes with those colors and take a look at which color combination works the best. Eventually, as I had to create more design elements, I found it to be fitting that I create a style guide.

Typography

I selected Quicksand as my primary font and used it throughout the application. It’s rounded edges render a very soft and welcoming effect. Besides, it is easy to read and has proper kerning to make it visible even on smaller screens. The app is about stress, but ironically, it has to be playful and cheerful, that’s where this font excels.

Typography

Colors

Purple and Red. Color psychology profoundly influenced my decision: The purple color is said to have a calming effect over the mind and nerves, inclined towards uplifting mood. I had to be sure not to use darker shades as it is more inclined towards sadness. My pick was mid shade, especially which feels royal and rich.
The red color is associated with power and energy, determination and strength. It has the potential to attract attention. The reason behind using this color was to uplift the person with energy. It will also promote action and engagement. I felt red and purple complement each other well in this context, red being overpowering and might easily mislead into negativity but purple will make sure the balance is maintained by inducing calmness. This balance is further extended by a gradient of those two colors.

#FFFFFF

#878C92

#1D1E1F

#FF829F

#FF547C

#D9395E

#B379FF

#994BFF

#793BC9

#82FF58

#FFD351

#FF586E

Iconography

All the icons have been imported from thenounproject.com. It’s a wonderful collection of royalty-free icons which designers can use or pay for professional use as well.
https://www.thenounproject.com/

Icons

User flow

The application is broken down into two parts. The flow initiates from the mobile, moves to the watch and back to the mobile. All the activities are performed using the watch, while statistical data can be viewed on mobile. The below link provides a detailed user flow.

Check the User Flow

User testing

I did multiple user testing sessions to further enhance the application's experience and create a more robust design.

user testings

Visual Design

Now that I have my brand, colors and style guide locked in, I started to rip my wireframes apart to design visuals for my application. It was a huge task as I wanted to create sleek characters and animations to make the system more lively. I used a gradient of the two colors I chose throughout my application with secondary color as one of those two. The idea was to keep ample breathing space and yet to keep the design aesthetically attractive. Along with a seamless design, I also took into account colorblindness for which I keep black and white contrast for all textual content.
Designing for a watch was a different story. I started off my visual design for watch with a white background to match with the visual design on mobile. Later, when I read through the apple watch guidelines I realized that I have to keep the background black so that the display blends seamlessly with the bezel and gives a wholesome experience. After that, I revamped my design to a black display which turned out to be a lot better; aesthetically.