Ideating a way to create meaningful hospital visits through cohesive digital experiences over large distances.
User Interface Designer
User Experience Designer
The IDEO CoLab is the company’s R&D branch, focusing on creating products and ideas that synthesize the world’s emerging technologies. In winter of 2018, this meant taking a closer look at the applications of circular economies, collaborative cities, dynamic workforces, and open financial systems.
For the makeathon, us participants were split into groups of 4 to 5 to collaborate on a specific application of these technologies. My group consisted of an occupational therapist from Chicago, a graduate student from Emerson studying Civic Media, a computer science student from Columbia, and an all-rounder engineer who could work with anything from virtual reality to network communications.
Our design brief was to create a cohesive design experience for users over long distances. This problem was open-ended, yet just specific enough for us to come up with a few different applications. From fixing online meetings to helping long-distance relationships, our strengths were evidently more concentrated in the area of healthcare. We chose to use our group’s experience to solve the problem of visiting hospital patients from across the world.
Part of IDEO’s design process was a detailed, yet extensive method to create and filter through ideas without judgement or holds barred. As such, we started by throwing out as many ideas as possible, no matter how far out.
Among our weirdest ideas were video-chatting with a potted plant, a laundry shoot for familial gifts, and a AI hologram that would replicate the behaviors and speech patterns of a loved one.
But scoping out the ideas that accomplished that would truly accomplish the goal of creating a meaningful digital hospital visit was exhausting. How does one create meaning in virtual space? What about the feeling that a patient experiences when a loved one bring a gift or keepsake? It was almost a spiritual feeling that we strived to recreate. Even our crude illustrations struggled to explain the immaterial feeling we needed to replicate in a digital medium.
We approached the problem by focusing on what we could control – sensory details. We thought about the touch aspect in particular. What if one could send a hug along with a voicemail? We thought memory wire in a blanket or bed would be a possible method in order to execute this. However, we focused more on the interface used to send such a voicemail and the reception of that voicemail.
Our resident virtual reality master used Unity to make a video example of how a virtual avatar could "hug" the user while the memory-wired bed or blanket could squeeze physically. We painted a user’s journey through this process of opening and receiving a message, recording messages that would be played back, and motions of the virtual avatar.
While we didn’t get as much time as would have liked to do further research and iterations on the project, we did think about how we could better replicate the idea of meaningfulness in a digital environment. For example, we would have liked to implement a feature that would allow users to take pictures of objects that were meaningful to the patient and recreate those in a virtual environment.
The time we spent in Cambridge was amazing and I personally learned a lot about IDEO’s design process and the many walks of life that bring people into this field. Thank you to IDEO, the CoLab team, and all the other great participants for making this event as memorable and exciting as it was!