CHI Student Design Competition Brief - 2015

"We are asking you to design a product, application, technology, or service that enable people who are a new and completely unexplored user group in any country to appropriate things and technologies around them. This user group may be a minority, an extreme case, or somehow disconnected from the mainstream. We ask you to showcase your best abilities of "maker cultures" to build new connections and to make less-voiced cultures be better heard. We ask you to use technology as a material for crafting and tinkering, and to make sure that you solve real problems, empower people in a unique way, and let them express their colors and needs."


Constraint from the Class

Focus on the Un-exotic Underclass


Deciding on a Target Group

After understanding the brief, our first task was to identify a target user group that we were going to focus on for this project. We started brainstorming all the different types of people that belonged to this "Un-exotic Underclass." Some of the user groups have been mentioned below.




People With Food Allergies











Finding Our Target Audience

One of our teammates had access to a person who had worked with these people. So we decided to consult him. He spoke about how cellphone and internet access is crucial but is prohibitively expensive for some people. One of the groups that he mentioned was people living in Affordable or Subsidised housing. After a little discussion among ourselves, we decided to focus our efforts on them. 

Lack of information technology to people living in Affordable or Subsidised housing


In the Wild Research

We then went and spoke to an Administrator at a local Subsidised housing. She said that most of their tenants have a smartphone so access to cellphone and internet wasn't much of an issue. In fact, smartphones and appliances were kind of a status symbol to them. We also found out that Internet Service Providers also provided special low cost plans for the low income families. A manager at another subsidised housing also said that their tenants can afford internet service as their rental is quite low. At this stage we started digging deeper into other kinds of problems the group faced. And the manager said something interesting...

"...they like to complain about a lot of things. Sometimes, it’s not because there are problems, it's just that they need to find someone to talk with... they want somebody to hear them..."

We then went and spoke to some of the low income families (although not necessarily people living in subsidised housing.) After speaking to a couple of the members, we found out that it's not just the economic problems that they face but a myriad of other problems as well. They felt that a lot can be improved in their lives. They felt that people should help each other to get better in their lives.

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Secondary Research

After our round of primary research. We decided to conduct some secondary research to understand more about the problems that the user group faced.

Although there wasn't much on people living in subsidised housing, there was abundant research conducted on people in low income groups. 

Rosalind Davidson talks about the issues the low income groups face. She says "Low income families face not only the problem of economic survival, but also the social and psychological consequences of poor employment and discrimination.... life is almost unpredictable, with very little stability, & work is usually transitory....."

"Survival strategies must be adapted frequently as the needs and resources of families shift, requiring flexibility and responsiveness to changes in the circumstances of low-income families (Edin & Lein, 1997a)."


Affinity Diagramming the Problems

We listed all the problems that we had explored in the previous research phase and then categorised them into similar groups such as psychological, financial, skills based, family problems etc.

After some discussion, we felt that focussing on their psychological issues might benefit the most for the user group. We believed that if we can help them maintain a good mental health then they will be able to work on the other issues themselves. 



Ou next step was to come up with ideas. We tried to come up with atleast twenty different ideas. Although we had decided to focus on their psychological problems, we were open to creative ideas in other areas as well.

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Affinity Diagramming the Ideas

Next, we put all of our ideas on the board and grouped them into different categories. 

Here we also discussed about designing for an individual vs designing for a community. This was important for us because people in affordable housing live together in the same housing community and we thought we could design something that would take advantage of this.


A Digital Therapist

While we were sketching some more ideas, one of us asked "how would someone from a low income group access a therapist?" In the United States, therapists are quite expensive charging $90 - $100 an hour and they are not affordable by everyone. So who would the low income family member go to for assistance with a mental health issue?

We found this quite interesting and so started to explore this problem space. We researched different kinds of therapy. We came up with different kinds of concepts: online therapy, group therapy, digital therapy mediated by a therapist, and a completely digital therapist.


Design Core

Based on our research we felt that Rogerian Therapy Technique would work best for us and the situation. It tells that,

"Individual has a sufficient capacity to deal constructively with all those aspects of his life that can potentially come to conscious awareness" - Self-actualisation Hypothesis, Rogers

We are just going to help the users to clarify their emotions (what they are feeling and why they are feeling that way,) which will eventually lead to conscious awareness.

We also decided that, unlike a licensed therapist, we are not going to provide any suggestions to the user. We are just going to listen to the user. This is the core of our design.


Sketching Ideas for the reflective therapist

We then sketched ideas on how this would work. Following are some of the ideas that we came up with.

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Testing our idea with a licensed therapist

We then consulted a local psychotherapist who had decades of experience working with the low income people and tested our design concept with him. He offered us suggestions on what kind of questions to ask, how to gauge their feelings, asked him his opinion on motivational interviewing etc. He also spoke about his experience dealing with low income group people and also people living in subsidised housing. 


Our Concept

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Multiple choice questions and rating system to help them identify their emotion and get started



Go a level deeper. Gauge how anxious or depressed they are and the cause of it.

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Go deeper further to understand the reason behind why they are feeling that way. There are no choice here and the answers are all explanatory.



End with motivational interviewing to help the user find a solution.

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Summary log to track their emotions/feelings over time and help identify trends


Concept Video