For my graduation project I designed a desk lamp to help decrease the many distractions created by smartphones.

The design process for this project is illustrated in the image below. The horizontal bar is the timeline, from start to beginning. Width and time are not proportional; the exact time measure is not included here. The order of the different activities is more important than their duration.

The bigger blocks are the main phases of the process, the smaller blocks depict specific steps of these phases. Vertical lines indicate the activities that I worked on simultaneously. These activities influenced each other.

When looking closely you can see a lot of overlap between the different steps. These are the iterations, illustrated by the dotted lines.

In the next two paragraphs I will explain the process briefly and in general; afterwards I will expand it more detailed.

The design case for my final bachelor project was as follows: Support Generation Y, helping them to pursue a healthier and less stressful lifestyle, integrating their work and private needs, self-quantified and self-managed. The design should aim for a better quality of life in 2020! (important note: I graduated in 2014, so we are now right in between the execution of the project and the date it aimed at.) Because this design case was very open, the beginning of the process consisted mostly of doing research and exploring the context (through ideating, making scenarios and storyboards, composing user profiles, making mappings to analyze information, and defining a more specific design case). The image below shows some techniques that were used at this stage.

After the more research- and exploration-oriented start of the process I knew more clearly in which direction I wanted to proceed with my final design. During the next stage, I mainly switched between concept development and evaluating the progress (through usability testing and analyzing project information). The next image show some sketches I made throughout this part of the process to develop the final concept, shape, interactions, etc. Prototypes were made and evaluated by usability tests to see if the concept would work. After the last user test, I final design of the Coffice Lamp was realized.

The text below explains the process in much more detail.

The project was started with explorations and research. First I explored, through a ‘pressure cooker’. Even though I assumed the pressure cooker to be widely known (I learned about it during my studies) I was never able to find any references to it. Just to be sure I will explain it here. It is a technique where you execute the entire project during a short and simplified process, with a ‘final’ design as the outcome. In this case, I used one week for the pressure-cooker. The idea behind it is that you can quickly discover major pitfalls of the project. The earlier mentioned process illustration shows what I did during this week. The outcome was analyzed in an illustrative model.

After the pressure-cooker, I performed the research. Besides some general research on the design case, it was mainly an elaborate investigation into current day trends for Generation Y. The main goals of this research were (1) to anticipate the year 2020 with regards to the design case, and (2) to find a more specific design-opportunity or design direction for reducing the amount of stress that the user would deal with in the year 2020. The image below shows two screenshots of the trend-research.

By investigating current trends and translating the trends to the future, an image of the year 2020 could be composed. This would make it possible to anticipate how the life of the user looks like in the future, and afterwards being able to design for a qualitatively improved, less stressful and happier lifestyle.

Because anticipating the future in general is way too hard –there are simply too many factors– the research was divided into some contexts. Examples of contexts are “More support of civil initiatives (DIY)” and “Spontaneity in life vanishes”. The contexts are general, growing trend-topics that are likely to be influential for stress development among Generation Y in the year 2020. The contexts were selected for their growing appearance, which will probably make them influential in the near future. Simultaneously with the research, user profiles were composed to characterize Generation Y in 2020. Next to this, I performed some brainstorm sessions to come up with ideas for this opportunity.

After the actual research, future scenarios and storyboards were worked out, based on the research outcome. They illustrated my prediction of the year 2020. The image below shows an example of a storyboard (it might not be very self-explanatory; it was explained in a textual scenario).

Now that the first goal of the research was met, anticipating the year 2020, it was time to focus on the next goal: defining a more specific design direction. I selected one of the contexts and translated it to an opportunity to design for. The context that appealed to me the most was “the blurring boundary between being online and offline”. During the research, I discovered that this results in a lot of stress. The design direction I derived from this is to find a way to disconnect the online world at the moments it might cause high amounts of stress.

The previous explorations and research results were analyzed and evaluated by use of a mindmap, a part of which can be seen in the image below. I defined potential challenges for the project, such as encouraging qualitative, longer online sessions and discouraging a lot of quantitative, short online sessions. This would then make it possible to plan your online-time at the moments you actually have time for it, instead of distracting you constantly with stress as potential result. At this stage, I developed some plain concepts. But they were not interesting enough to elaborate upon during a later stage of the process.

At this point, I was able to talk with a Google Glass Explorer and to review the research of students who executed this project in the past. This gave me new insights in the design case.

Since I was halfway my project time, I needed to narrow my design process to a specific context so I could start developing a design solution. The new insights made me decide to select the previously mentioned challenge (encouraging qualitative, longer online sessions and discouraging a lot of quantitative, short online sessions) as my definite and specific design focus. Based on the research and insights so far, there seemed to be great potential.

Now that the exploratory and research phases were over, and I had developed the open design case into a clear-cut objective, it was time to generate a concept. I performed a new ideation and reviewed all ideas by use of a new mindmap, see below. After an extensive struggle with developing an eligible concept out of my ideas, I finally had a eureka moment. When I want to encourage the user to have qualitative, longer online sessions rather than a lot of quantitative, short online sessions, I should focus on the core. It is a result of their curiosity for notifications which make the user continuously enter the online world (this was discovered during the general research on the design case). Each time you hear the sound or feel the vibration of a notification, you need to know what the notification announces. Maybe you have received a message you should respond to as soon as possible (meet other’s expectations), or there is a very funny new video online (fear of missing out). The result is a continuous focus on the smartphone; a continuous and simultaneous focus on the real world and the online world. This is a major cause of stress (also read during the research). Removing the curiosity should reduce the stress. Therefore I should find a way to positively control the curiosity, by managing the notifications.

At first, I developed two concepts, based on the outcome of earlier ideation sessions: to design a future smart-device, one that works in a notifications-managing and stress-reducing way (this idea 2 in the image above), and to design an object that can be used to manage notifications and thus reduce stress (this is a combination of idea 1 and 3 in the image above).

The difference between the two concepts is that the first manages the notifications from within the smart-device, while the second one does it as an external source. The big advantage of the second concept is that the smart-device does not seem to make its own decisions (people always want to be in control over their technology), but that another object can be used to influence the smart-device. And designing the smart-device with a function that you can turn on and off would not work; most people keep their current smartphones on(line) at any moment as well. It is for this reason that I selected the second concept.

During the following phase of the process, I developed multiple further elaborated concepts through iteratively drawing, prototyping, developing the conceptual model and usability testing. I will not explain all concepts, since most of them were later dismissed because I saw no potential within the design case. Only the course directed towards the final design will be explained below.

In the first of these concept development iterations, I decided to implement the idea in the form of a desk lamp. The reason why I decided to go for a desk lamp as final design, is because people often use them at the moments they are doing something for themselves, such as studying, reading, doing finances, etc. All typical moments when you are better off without distractions. The outline of the final concept was born: A desk lamp that manages the notifications, minimalizes the distractions and reduces the stress.

After some more concept development iterations, I had developed the final concept: a lamp that helps you focus on work, rather than on your smartphone. The focus changed specifically to the time when users are working because this is the moment the continuous distraction causes the biggest inconvenience. Next to the earlier mentioned disadvantages, they might even run behind time, which is another major stress provoker. The image below shows a prototype I made for this concept. It was used in a usability test to see how users would react to some basic features. After the last user test, I designed the final details of the Coffice Lamp.

The final concept is intended for café’s where people come to work individually. Working at such places is getting more popular among Generation Y. It is a setting you choose to work at when you want to be productive or seclude yourself. However, because it is still a café, it is likely that you let yourself be distracted easily. Here the lamp can provide the solution.

Placing your smartphone on the edge of a Coffice Lamp triggers its light to shine, by slowly turning the light on. In turn, removing your phone turns the light off with a slow dimming. Loss of a constant light source is the consequence if you decide to check your smartphone, which is very unsatisfactory while working. This fluctuation of light should stimulate you to keep your phone on the lamp.

But there is a more elaborate function the lamp offers to reduce the distraction from your smartphone. Through context-aware technology*, the lamp works as a filter for your smartphone. When your smartphone receives a notification, the lamp will ‘intercept’ it*. It will interpret your notifications* in order to rate their relevance and only when the sum of relevance has reached a certain level, the cluster of notifications will be sent through to the smartphone. The user now receives them and is ‘offered’ a break from work.

(*all through technology that will be available by the year 2020)

The complete final concept is illustrated in the video below.