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the morning light

Sol, The Morning Light

Human-Centered Product Design
Master's Thesis Project

Sol is a light therapy device that improves the well-being of those suffering from seasonal affective disorder. The morning light helps you wake up with a ‘sunrise alarm’ feature. The portable device then provides you with comfortable light to make up for the sunlight that you’re missing during the winter - fending off the winter blues and starting your days off with more energy.

I designed this device with a classmate for my Master's thesis project, as part of Northwestern University’s Engineering Design Innovation MS program.

Design Tools Used​

Primary Research & User Testing

  • In-person and remote interviews

  • In-home visits & user testing with mockups

  • Product benchmarking and product tear-downs

Secondary Research

  • Clinical reports research

  • Competitive product landscape analysis


Ideation & Prototyping

  • Research synthesis and insight generation

  • User mapping

  • Mood boarding

  • Sketching, clay modeling and CAD modeling

  • Low fidelity foam core mockups

  • High fidelity 3D printed works-like prototyping


What is SAD?

16 million Americans alone experience seasonal affective disorder, form

of seasonal depression caused by limited sunlight in the wintertime.

     "It’s not just feeling low energy. You want to tune out completely. Everything becomes grey and the color of the weather becomes the color of your mind.” 


                                                                                       - Interviewee, 54 years old

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Luckily, there's help!

Light therapy has been proven as an effective treatment for

seasonal affective disorder by dozens of clinical trials conducted

since the 80s.

How does light therapy work?

In short, light therapy provides your eyes with the sun that your body is missing out on during the winter. This light realigns your circadian rhythm, which in turn improves your mood and increases your energy levels.

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We found that current devices are unattractive and inconvenient, and a stigma surrounds seasonal affective disorder.


How can we increase people’s

receptivity and adherence to light therapy?

This led us to explore:

In-Home Visits

In-home walkthroughs, and having people draw journey maps of their morning routines gave us a more accurate assessment of their morning routines. We explored users’ perceptions of different device form factors (e.g. glasses, shoulder-hanging lights, table lamps) through foam core prototypes.

Research Methods​


In-Person & Remote Interviews

We gained an intimate familiarity of people’s experiences

with SAD through in-person interviews, phone interviews and online surveys. We interviewed people with varying degrees

of SAD, as well as skeptics and believers of light therapy. We employed tools including photo collages, word clouds and card sorting in our interviews.


Product Benchmarking, Product Teardowns

& Participatory Research

I disassembled competitors' devices and used a light meter to learn of their components and tech specs. Creating a feature matrix with competitors' devices helped us position our product and develop product requirements.


We also adopted competitors’ devices into our morning

routines to develop empathy with light therapy users and

assess the devices’ usability.

Clinical Study Reports & Online Reviews

Reading through clinical trials affirmed our belief in light therapy. These invaluable resources dictated our device’s technical specifications, including light intensity and light wavelength.

We learned which features users tended to like and dislike, in addition to devices’ shortcomings through Amazon reviews and secondhand marketplaces like Craigslist.

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Synthesizing our research into interesting, relevant,

and actionable insights

in current devices, leading users to abandon the devices

before they begin to recognize positive changes

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anxious final.png

Habit development features are lacking

are the norm, especially for those that have trouble getting out of bed, which discourages people from adopting light therapy into their hurried mornings

Dynamic and busy morning routines

Misinformation and improper device usage


create skepticism towards light therapy and cause users

to give up on their devices

Obtrusive and unattractive device aesthetics

stigmatize light therapy and deter people from bringing light therapy devices into their homes or workplaces

don’t work across people’s living spaces and are typically

challenging and uncomfortable to use

Unintuitive and inflexible devices



The Morning Light

A simple, convenient light that:

1.    helps you wake up, with a sunrise alarm light

2.    is a transportable light therapy device, and works with your morning                  routine


Sol is a transportable light that you can conveniently place in any setting

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Design Principles

& Features

Approachable Appearance

Sol’s form is tastefully contemporary and elegant, to fit in across different home styles.

The round shape recalls the sun, and the body has a soft, touch-friendly texture.

Front face.jpg

Morning Routine Integration 

Sol is designed to work harmoniously with your morning routine. You are free to carry the battery powered light from one morning activity to the next. Light intensity and angle adjustments are only a touch away.


Encouraging Habit Formation

Sol adds structure to your morning, which encourages habit formation. The light’s sunrise alarm feature helps you wake up by gently and gradually illuminating the room in morning. The Sol app syncs the alarm, can send you encouraging reminders, and provides the option to track light usage.

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Sol helps you wake up with a sunrise alarm, which gently illuminates your room

Just 25 minutes of light in the morning can increase your energy in the winter


the morning light



Developing concepts physically

SAD Light Therapy Mood Board, Living Spa
SAD Light Therapy Mood Board,
SAD Light Therapy Mood Board,

Mood Boarding

I created mood boards of living spaces Sol would be found in, in addition to devices and decorative objects to draw inspiration from.

Decorative Objects

Living Spaces


Front face.jpg


the morning light

Prototypes for Sol made of foamcore, clay and 3D printed PLA

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