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
Clinical reports research
Competitive product landscape analysis
Ideation & Prototyping
Research synthesis and insight generation
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, a 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
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
I created mood boards of living spaces Sol would be found in, in addition to devices and decorative objects to draw inspiration from.
the morning light
Prototypes for Sol made of foamcore, clay and 3D printed PLA