Spread the Light

Spread the Light


Originally designed during the coronavirus pandemic for Memory Cafe, a specific community of individuals with dementia and their caregivers. I aimed to design an interactive technology to bring caregiver communities together in a highly meaningful way, reminding them that they are not alone in the challenges they face, that is nearly effortless to use and requires minimal time commitment to learn and to use.

User-centered design process

User research was conducted with community members via semi-structured interviews on Zoom. My goal was to understand the caregiver community in terms of who the people are, how and why they connect, what activities they engage in, the problems they experience, and how things have changed during the pandemic. The trends I found in user research informed two personas whose needs, goals, and characteristics represent the larger community of users.

Portrait of smiling woman in her 60's

Persona 1: Virginia Wilson

Virginia is the caretaker for her father, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease three years ago, in her home. Virginia spends the majority of her time with her father, helping him with everyday tasks such as cooking, remembering medications, and cleaning.

She appreciates both giving and receiving support from the caregiver community; “We come together in an atmosphere that’s very accommodating, where we don’t have to explain what the limitations are. I’m able to connect with folks who are sharing a similar journey.”

Virginia is worried watching her father struggle with isolation and the changes brought about by the pandemic. She feels alone in the difficulties she faces as a caregiver, but often doesn’t have time to reach out to friends in her community.

Portrait of older man with contemplative expression

Persona 2: Henry Jones

Henry is a retired operations manager who spends much of his time caring for his wife, who was diagnosed with dementia two years ago. He enjoys seeing his two adult children, hiking, reading, and playing cards with his wife.

Henry enjoys watching his wife engage in the art and music activities the community facilitates, and he has found the caregiver community to be a valuable support system: “We’d chat about how we were doing ourselves, and how our loved ones were doing. The care isn’t just there for my wife, but also for us as the caregivers.”

Henry’s daughter used to come help out, but the pandemic has made that much harder. He feels overwhelmed watching his wife’s symptoms worsen with increased isolation during the pandemic and feels he has lost touch with his friends from the caregiver community.

Prototyping Spread the Light

I brainstormed a range of different forms, technologies, and means of interaction that might meet my design goals. It was important that the design not add another item to the users’ list of things they must accomplish; instead, connecting with their community should be a break from everyday stress. The more promising designs balanced the goals of encouragement and support with technology and functionality that comes naturally and easily.

Spread the Light is a tabletop spherical light on a base with an interactive touch screen. Users send light messages to and receive light messages from their community. The 8 light messages are based on sentiments that came up in user research: love, friendship, smile, positivity, thumbs up, hug, missing you, and happiness. Each light message is associated to a different color, where when sent, everyone in the community’s devices light up that color for 10 minutes; for example, if someone sends “Smile”, everyone’s lights turn yellow. Happiness is rainbow, and the light cycles through all seven colors.

Small screens, big accessibility

The visual design considers the layout, labelling, and structure, of which the main goal is simplicity. The visual design is minimalistic, supporting the primary goals. There are not a lot of options, and the available options are clear in their functionality. This is based on user research, as community members do not have excess time to spend figuring out new technology and are more comfortable when technology is easy to use.

The Home screen displays eight colored icons – love, friendship, smile, positivity, thumbs up, hug, missing you, and happiness – that the user can tap to send a light message to their selected community.

Because of the small screen size, it is important to consider accessibility in the screen designs. The text is large and readable. There is high contrast between the foreground and background colors (5.61:1 between the white text color and gray background color), ensuring users can read the text on the screen. Actionable items are indicated, either by visual button design or by textual instructions on the screen. In development, it would be important to ensure reasonable target size and spacing for each of the interactive elements, such as the icons on the Home screen. Lastly, the amount of text entry is reduced as much as possible.

User Feedback

“The idea of just being in your home and then that light going on, that someone is thinking of you, is just a delightful idea.”

“It’s very bright and uplifting. It brought a smile to my face. It would be like a shower of love.”

“It feels very engaging. Simple, but colorful. And it feels like it’s not complex to make happen.”

Created for INM452 Interaction Design (PRD1 A 2020/21) as part of MSc HCID at City, University of London and awarded a distinction.

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