The aim of our project is to help people in international long-distance with their families keep connected beyond screens. Our final prototypes consist of a digital whiteboard (Window) with the shape of a window serving as a metaphor of communication, and a correlated mobile app for the purpose of reviewing and cherishing memories. Families can share photos, write or draw messages, and even send physical postcards through mobile phone and the Window. Below is our demo video of the Window, and this is the link to our final presentation slides.
As all of our team members are in long-distance relationship with our family members, we have this mutual concern of how to remain a comfortable relationship with our family. Currently, all of our communication with family members are through mobile apps, which is not the healthiest way to maintain a good relationship. Therefore, our project goal is to help families in long-distance relationship keep connected beyond the screen. To further understand our target users, who are in long-distance relationship with their families, we established three research objectives with respect to our project goal:
In order to best complete the research objectives, we did literature review on existing designs and conducted three semi structured interviews and one generative workshop with our target user group.
We looked at ACM and Interaction Design Awards, specifically on studies related to long-distance communication beyond the screen, and we got a lot of insights from them. All of them include at least one physical element that is fun to interact with, and might serve as some kind of metaphor.
For the semi-structured interviews, we prepared specific questions prior to the interviews and adjusted the questions according to the actual conversations.
For the generative workshop, we used five concepts and the metaphor slides to help initiate the conversation and prompt storytelling. This exercise is designed to help participants surface the ways they think, feel, or behave in regard to specific concepts related to being in long-distance with their family. The slides contain images that represent specific metaphors (described in the text caption for each image). For each of the concepts below, participants were required to choose any slide that resonate with them in regard to that specific concept. In addition, participants were asked to explain why they selected that specific metaphor to describe that specific concept. It was made clear that there were no right or wrong answers, so participants relied on their gut responses to determine if a particular metaphor rings true for them.
After going through the notes we took in interviews and workshop, we transferred and color-coded each participant's key ideas on post-its and organized them into themes. From the themes, we then came up with different insights in white post-its, and we connected those that are logically related. The main conclusion is that children get frustrated when their parents' reaction deviates from their expectation, but photos or mundane topics usually acts as an effective conversation starter which eliminates the negative emotions. Among the mundane topics, food and pet are recurring themes that can build connection between children and parents, and sharing self-made food indicates a sign of growth and independence on the children's side.
From the insights we obtained in the research, we developed three design implications for our product:
And we identified four design principles that our product should conform in order to realize our implications:
To generate design ideas according to our principles, we did a 10-minute brainstorming session, during which each of us wrote as many ideas as possible and posted them on whiteboard. We categorized all of our ideas into clusters according to their functions and context (e.g. storytelling, cooking, entertainment, wellbeing, etc). Then, we each selected a cluster that we are interested, combined some of the ideas in the cluster, and produced a story board for our initial concept. The feedback session during class helped us to frame our final concept.
The first concept (left) is an interactive entertainment portal where children can “watch TV with their family” even with space and time difference. They can see whether the other family members are online, if so, they can watch TV together and discuss about the content instantly. This concept was elicited by the interviewees who mentioned watching tv together with family as a moment they missed a lot. Yet it can only be used during the time when both children and parents are watching TV, so the scenario is rather limited and the later two principles are not well embedded (i.e. reenacting a sense of belonging and upholding a sense of independence).
The second concept (middle) is an AR device to share recipes and facilitate communication by sharing stories during cooking. It consists of a cutting board and a voice assistant + projector. The voice assistant can record the cooking process and generate a recipe automatically. This recipe can be shared to the other end and displayed through the projector onto the cutting board, so children can cook the same meal when they receive parents' recipe. Users can also record the stories they want to share through the voice assistant, which their family on the other end can listen to while they are cooking or eating. We initially elaborated this idea the most, with reference to our previous research synthesis which indicates many important aspects of food in long distance family relationships. However, from the feedback session in class, we found ourselves stuck in the different interaction methods and constrained by the food theme. The multiple functionality and components can be overwhelming for aged group as well.
The third concept (right) is an interactive whiteboard for children and parents to share thoughts and feelings at anytime, as well as current state or mood. Children can write or share their experience, thoughts, feelings or current state (e.g. sleeping, studying...) on their whiteboard, which will be instantly displayed on the other whiteboard located in parents' place, and vice versa. Users can share any mundane moments and don't need to keep a long-going conversation. Children can show their daily life and express independence, while they can also mention the times when they miss their family to reenact a sense of belonging. This concept satisfies our design principles and consists of simple component and operations. Our class also had very positive reaction toward this idea.
Our deliverables consist of a laser-cut physical prototype of the Window and an assisting mobile app prototype.
The main component was designed in the form of a window, as a metaphor of communication between parents and children - not too close and not too far. Users can write, draw and send pictures onto the Window at anytime and don't need to wait for response or worry about initiating a long conversation. This way, it provides the opportunity to peek into a corner of your family's daily life and brings highlight to special experience. During special dates, users can design a postcard and send to each other to keep the memory in a traditional way.
The mobile app enables users to send photos onto the Window, and review all of the photos, writings and drawings to cherish memory. Information can be sent from app to Window, from Window to Window, but not from Window to app. We intentionally cut down the last channel because if users are able to share and receive across mobile phones, the problems of waiting for response and initiating a long conversation are not solved. We want to keep the distance not too close and not too far.
On the Window, users can write or draw like on a whiteboard, and press send when they are ready. On the gif representing send operations, we used a cursor to indicate where the finger clicks.
Photos can be received instantly and displayed on the receiver's Window.
Users can design, write and send postcards through Window, while the Window on the other end will print out the postcard. On the gif representing send operations, we used a cursor to indicate where the finger clicks.
Photos can be sent from the mobile app to the Window, and users can always review past photos, writings and drawings in the Window app. Existing and new users can be added to the app, so the corresponding Windows can be connected.
We did a simple competitive analysis comparing the Window with other long-distance communication platforms. This shows the advantage of our product over the traditional apps.
For next steps, we hope to elaborate further on the UI prototype of the Window and the mobile app, including the interaction and workflow.
We also want to conduct user research with our target user group to observe user behaviors, collect feedback and carry out iterations.
Marketing materials and packaging are also necessary to complete this ecosystem.
This is a very special project, since all of our team members are actually the target users of our design. We are all concerned by the long-distance relationship with our families and have the desire to make our communication easier and more enjoyable. Through the project, especially when we were synthesizing the interviews and working on different scenes of our video, we reflected on relationship with our own parents, what made it better or worse, what made us to have a sense of belonging, and in what circumstances we wanted to show our independence.
Another big step we made was learning more about video production. This was our first time to do a live-action video, which is always more time-consuming than people have thought. We shot numerous clips, tried to make the lightings, position of the objects, and everything else the same, so it's more natural after editing them together. And of course, a large number of clips were not used in the final video, through which we also learned to select the essential stuffs and give up on others, even if we put a lot of effort on all of them.
Overall, this project was a really fun and rich experience. I hope our product has the chance to enter the market someday.