Irregular is a tool to encourage depressed people to perform daily tasks, get back into a virtuous circle of activity while celebrating each step in their healing process.
This solo project was an opportunity for me to practice my product design skills and materialize a concept into a physical object. It was the 1st time I was actively working on mental health, a topic I'm deeply interested in.
Role : User research, Concept, Product design, UI/UX design, illustration
WHAT IS DEPRESSION ?
Although I was already familiar with depression, I wanted to make sure I studied as much as possible the illness before getting into the interviews. One of my most important source of information was the "Selfcare depression program" by Dr Dan Bilsker and Dr Randy Paterson. It is a booklet based on CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). Based on this, I came up with a definition: Depression is a state of fatigue, despair, and numbness, making it difficult for the patient to accomplish certain tasks that may seem simple for others, such as answering texts, doing the dishes, or even eating.
WHERE CAN I ACT AS A DESIGNER ?
After reading some material, it became clear to me that my project couldn't replace therapy or medication. Instead, it could focus on the habits of depressed people. How can design assist depressed patients in their healing process, and encourage them to overcome the obstacles of daily life ?
THE INTERVIEW PROCESS
I've interviewed 3 people who were suffering/had suffered from depression, as well as a psychotherapist. I had written a set of 6 questions beforehand, and during the interviews, I added others depending on their answers. These questions focused mainly on the struggles they faced, such as daily tasks that were difficult for them, their techniques to overcome them, their general feelings, etc.
ANSWERS FROM THE DEPRESSED INTERVIEWEES
The main problems I gathered from their answers were as follows :
- A difficulty to perform daily tasks (for some, chores such as cooking, cleaning, doing paperwork, for others, practicing skills or hobbies).
- A feeling of emptiness, numbness. One of the interviewees recalled having a lot of “what’s the point of doing it” type of thoughts.
- Memory and focus losses due to the medication treatment.
- A tendency to spend a lot of time in their head, rather than "in their body", inducing overthinking as well as anxiety.
ANSWERS FROM THE MENTAL HEALTH PRACTITIONER
Here are the most important points I've learned from my interview with Agathe, a psychotherapist who had already treated depressed patients.
- People suffering from depression often have a lack of continuity : they have trouble evaluating what has been done, and what is to be done, like a blur between past and future actions.
- The reward circuit of a depressed person's brain does not work anymore : nothing elicits positively-valenced emotions.
- When treating or designing for depressed people, make sure to avoid injunctions (eg : “you should go out more”, "you should try yoga"). Any interference can be painful or feel infantilizing. The healing process always starts from within, not because of another person's advice.
From the interviews and research, I understood that the healing process when you're suffering from depression is not linear. Sometimes you can do 2 steps forward, then 4 backward, or you can stop making progress for a while. Though it can be discouraging, it does not erase the effort made previously.
ABOUT THE EXISITING SOLUTIONS
After having tested a few mental health/self-improvement apps, I've noticed one major issue. They all try to quantify happiness. Instead of letting the user evaluate their definition of progress, the app or the device is the one attributing value to a "unit".
Whether these units are smiley faces, colors on a calendar, or numbers, they all fall into the "over-gamification" of self-care, transforming remission into yet another competition.
After this 1st phase of research, I decided that my project would be 2 things :
I listed 60 of those daily tasks, taking some from the interviews I had done previously and others inspired by the "Selfcare depression program". Then, I sorted them into 4 categories.
Drawing some inspiration from tangible data visualization projects such as
Global Cities , by Richard Burdett et al, Michael Hunger's
time tracker . and various balance toys for kids, I sketched some first ideas.
Here are some of the earlier versions of the cards, deck and interfaces.
BUILDING THE DOCK
After figuring out what the final shape would be, I drew a plan and built the wooden dock.
UPDATING THE UI AND CARDS DESIGN
Then, I came up with a visual identity, adapted the UI accordingly, created new user paths and designed a new set of cards.
CONTENTS OF IRREGULAR
Irregular features a wooden dock, 24 colored rocks, a set of cards with 60 different tasks, 8 blank cards, and an (optional) app. Since the phone is often a source of extra anxiety, I didn't want the concept to rely entirely on the app. Both can be used independently.
Since healing isn't a linear process, I've chosen to use only irregular rocks that don't have any virtual "value". It's up to the user to choose what it means to them. Irregular doesn't quantify, it's only here to help people celebrate each step in the right direction, and remind them what has already been achieved.
The deck and app can be used in a variety of ways, including as a planner (eg: put as many blue rocks as social interactions you aim to have during the week). I wanted it to be simple enough so that it would encourage other uses.
Working on Irregular was an opportunity for me to learn how to manage my time more efficiently between research, ideation, building, iteration, etc. As an interaction designer, I enjoyed working with wood and I will definitely make use of these newly-acquired skills for future projects.
I would like to thank all the interviewees for their time and trust, as their contributions are the foundations of the project.