The morning light
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
Does the winter make you feel SAD?
Sol brings light to people who have
trouble getting through winter
We designed Sol to help people initiate and maintain use of light therapy, to overcome seasonal affective disorder. I made this device with a classmate for my Master's thesis project, for Northwestern University’s Engineering Design Innovation MS program, 2018.
Product Design Engineering
Human-Centered Design Processes
Design Research and In-House Visits
Interview Tools: Map Drawing and Card Sorting
User Testing with Mockups
Research Synthesis and Insight Generation
I used foam core mockups to more realistically explore people's perceptions of various form factors and their use cases.
Beginning by understanding people's mornings and their experiences with SAD
Much of my research was motivated by placing myself next to the user during their morning routines. This immersion more clearly revealed their motives, constraints, and unmet needs surrounding this active time.
The process of converging on a concept that was sensitive to people's mobile mornings began broadly. We explored a range of form factors with our users, early on. As we converged on design decisions, the fidelity of our prototypes were dictated by the design questions at hand.
I had interviewees draw their floor layouts at home, to facilitate conversations about their morning routines.
I used prototypes for user testing, evaluating device ergonomics, and refining the product's appearance and UI elements.
& Secondary Research
Product Performance Benchmarking
Competitive Product Teardowns
Online Product Reviews
Academic Journal Research
I defined Sol's illumination specifications by benchmarking
competitors' products with a light meter.
Learning about light therapy technology
and the product landscape
The device had to be desirable and convenient, but ultimately effective. I drove the product's illumination-related specifications by referencing academic journals and conducting product benchmarking.
We also researched how competitors were attempting to meet users' light therapy needs. We reviewed online product reviews to learn which features did and didn't resonate with users.
Product Specs Rating Cost Reviews Product Claims Lux
We researched product specs and online reviews of light therapy products to illuminate typical device pain points.
Mornings often start late in the winter
People experiencing SAD can have trouble getting out of bed on time, which puts them in a rush and light therapy on low priority.
People move around their living spaces often in the mornings, and most devices aren't designed
to keep up.
Synthesizing our research into relevant and actionable insights
People doubt the technology
People often don't initially believe in light therapy, which diminishes its benefits.
Misinformation about usage is common
This sets false expectations and causes poor usage habits, which leads users
to give up on their devices.
Devices are perceived as unnatural and ugly
This stigmatizes light therapy and deters people from bringing the devices into their homes and workplaces.
Icons from flaticon.com
I chose a natural, round form for Sol so that it calls to mind the sun. This simple shape can belong in a variety of living spaces and sidesteps the adoption barrier of not wanting the device visible in the home.
Convenient and Mobile
We designed the morning light to move. The compact device is rechargeable and cordless. A handle is integrated into the body of the device for easy carrying, and the circular shape has a small footprint to fit on any surface.
Effective and Comfortable Light
Comfort ensures a positive first experience with light therapy, and a frictionless transition into continual use. Sol’s light intensity turns on gently, and can be adjusted with a touch. The device’s base pivots between two orientations to deliver effective light while standing or sitting.
Onboarding and Encouraging Adherence
Sol’s app encourages the adoption and maintenance of light therapy, at a cognitive and emotional level. The app teaches proper use while providing users with a mental model of how light therapy works. Additionally, it offers usage tracking and encouragement when life gets in the way.
How Sol works with you
Sol helps you get out of
bed on time with a sunrise light
Sol moves with you as
you get ready for the day
Sol provides you
with versatile light therapy
Getting out of bed at the right time puts you on the winning side of beating SAD. The sunrise wakeup lends structure and regularity to your morning routine, which provides a foundation for light therapy to become a habit.
Many people don't spend the 25 minutes required of morning light therapy in any one place. We designed Sol to be compact and easy to carry, so that it conveniently accompany you during your morning routine.
Sol gives you comfortable yet effective light where ever you want in your home. The light's intensity and projection angle are adjustable, to use the device effectively while standing or sitting.
Product Design Engineering &
Industrial Design Processes
Product Sketching with Mood Boards
Computer-Aided Design (SolidWorks)
Mockup Building and Clay Modeling
Creating Hi-Fidelity 3D Printed Prototypes
Defining the appearance of Sol and
turning it into a convincing prototype
My process of converging on a visually appealing design that captured the product's design intent was iterative, conceptually diverse and physical. I used methods such as thumbnail sketching, product sketching and clay modeling. These exercises encouraged 'talk back' and spontaneity during concept exploration. I refined visual details and defined the product's architecture through computer-aided design.
I concluded my thesis project by building a convincing high fidelity prototype with functioning lights and controls.
I used the products and environments in my mood boards for inspiration as I explored form factors.
I created mood boards of products, home goods and interiors of our target users. They inspired the form, color, material and finish of our product. These decisions moved the device towards a contemporary consumer product aesthetic, and away from a medical device aesthetic. The mood boards also ensured that the device would fit into users' living spaces.
I evaluated the weight distribution and ergonomics of the device and its handle with a clay model. I learned that a comfortable handle could be formed by simply cutting a pocket in the round shape, as opposed to creating extra volume with a lip feature.
I found the right body curvature by tracing round objects, then bringing the sketch into SolidWorks. Beginning with sketching provided much more freedom in the design process than with computer-aided design.
I evaluated various visual design details, as well as the ergonomics of different enclosure handles with 3D prints. The prints also served to give my CAD models a 'reality check'.
I created a quality finish over printed parts with automotive primer, lots of sanding, and spray paint. I vacuum formed a dome in the window to lessen its resemblance to a screen.
I dictated LED positioning from the window, and battery placement for proper weight distribution while assembling the device. We simplified the construction of the prototype's controls by using a capacitive touch sensor as opposed to a mechanical switch.
Over the course of two 10-week quarters, my project partner and I performed design research, defined a product, and created a high-fidelity functioning prototype. Throughout this process, we converged on design decisions through insights and iteration, and by pursuing parallel conceptual paths.
Put yourself in your users' shoes and make your interviewees comfortable
Meeting the users in their homes and creating comfortable environments for them to share their experiences with SAD was critical to gathering
realistic and detailed data.
Learn from your competition
Competitors’ products were ripe for learning as we defined our product. Understanding the competitive product landscape was vital to the positioning and viability of our product.
Give your interviewees tools to react to and pursue parallel concepts
Putting physical materials in front of of users, such as card sorting exercises and foam core mockups inspired our dialogues. We developed richer concepts by pursuing multiple ideas simultaneously with them.
The product experience must be smooth
When it comes to a product used under time constraints, designing a smooth experience is critical.
A single reoccurring hiccup in the user's interactions with a product can lead to abandonment.