Designing for eczema
Soothe is product designed to help people who experience eczema prevent, prepare for, and break out of scratching. Using a wearable ring connected to an app, Soothe tracks scratching over space and time and alerts an individual when scratching is detected.
For this project, my personal learning goal was to focus on designing for a very specific case in a larger system, instead of trying to solve every problem.
Project type: Individual
Duration: 5 weeks (Fall 2018)
Advisors: Brian Hoffer, Sara Krugman
Tools: Sketch, Keynote, Principle
Eczema is the name for a number of conditions in which the skin becomes itchy, red, and inflammed. Eczema is common, affecting over 30 million Americans.
Although it is usually manageable, it can significantly affect the quality of life, both physically and mentally.
Fighting the itch is a difficult battle that is often lost.
People with eczema often get caught in the itch scratch cycle, a reinforcing loop that worsens their condition.
I decided to target the before and during of scratching in the cycle. Based on my research and personal experience, I further focused on a few key scratch-prone moments to design for.
How might we help someone suffering from eczema break out of the itch cycle?
I created 3 sacrificial prototype concepts that explore different methods of addressing the design opportunity.
All 3 prototypes rely on real time detection of scratching.
I spoke and tested these three concepts with 6 young adults who have experience with chronic, moderate eczema.
Sensory Alerts & Tracking: I used a p5 prototype for sound and visuals, and my phone's vibration.
Mindfulness Session: I guided them through a mindfulness session that involved breathing and the Soothing Hand technique.
Cooling Handhold: I asked them to hold a cold, fist-sized object, and we talked through a storyboard of the day.
How did people feel?
The Sensory Alerts and Tracking concept was well received, although people expressed different preferences for the nature of alerts. People also enjoyed the Mindfulness Session but did not find it appropriate for daily, on-the-go situations due to the long time periods and audio-only feature. The Cooling Handhold was the least effective concept because people did not want to carry it around. At most, they saw it as an at-home or add-on item.
Moving forward, I decided to combine the most successful aspects of the first two prototypes into a physical ring that would track and alert a person of their scratching, paired with a mobile application.
Tracking unwanted behaviour using data visualization allows one to better understand and act on it.
I appreciate the calendar, it really makes me think about my diet, what I was doing, maybe I had something bad, maybe I got a new shampoo, etc. Knowing what sets it off is half the battle.
Immediate feedback for unwanted behaviour is useful, as long as it suits an individual’s needs.
Sound feedback can get annoying, like if you’re in a meeting and start scratching. I’d prefer being able to choose on or off sound, and I like calm notification sounds.
Solutions involving time and energy should be accessible.
For a mindfulness session, I would prefer on-screen instructions if I were somewhere busy. Thinking back to if I were in a public place or lecture, it would be easier to do shorter sessions as well.
There is joy and motivation in receiving visual rewards for people trying to help themselves.
I like it! The visuals act as a reward for not scratching, there’s more motivation. I feel a sense of getting somewhere.
Overall, this was a valuable project that taught me a lot. As someone who experiences eczema, I was passionate about this project. My biggest learnings were the purpose and use of sacrificial prototypes, and to target refined design towards feedback and communicate these design decisions. Storytelling was a major focus of the project - understanding how to frame the context and problem in relation to the design decisions.
To continue this project, I would further explore the use of scratching alerts in daily life, as well as what happens if the person decides to ignore the notifications.