A mixed reality headset app for stress relief of the future employees
About the project

Background: This project was a part of 'TEI 2020 Student Design Challenge' submission under the theme 'Future bodies, future technologies. We conceptualized a Mixed Reality (MR) headset with EEG sensor integrated to monitor and alleviate stress at future work places. Our submission—"Mixed Reality for Stress Relief" comprising of a research paper and a video, was selected for the final round from participants all over the world. We presented our work at the TEI 2020 International Conference organized at Sydney, Australia. We are grateful to IU HCI/d program for the constant support and our advisor Dr. Andy Hunsucker for his valuable guidance.

Timeline: 1.5 weeks


Speculate on how humans will create synergies between future digital and physical technologies that can be worn and embedded or can be integrated with biological bodies and living organisms.


A mixed reality headset app that will help workers relieve stress by changing their ’immediate vicinity’ i.e. augmenting the surrounding environment to make it more personalized and calm when needed.

How did we arrive to the solution?
Where to begin?

Speculative Design
The design prompt challenged us to envision the implications of future technologies. To speculate and design something for the future world with countless possibilities, the obvious first step was to understand what emerging technologies look like, what are the affordances and limitations etc. We studied reviewed many relevant videos, blogs, TED talks, academic papers, etc. to hit the ground running.

Design prompt had suggested a few technologies to consider. Honestly, it was intimidating at first and we were awestruck to explore and learn about the following future technologies and the endless possibilities:

  • Fashion electronics
  • Human enhancement
  • Biohacking implants
  • Brain-computer interfaces
  • Exoskeletons
  • Telescopic contact lenses
  • Smart fabrics

Defining 'future'
Considering the short time span to consume, assess something totally new and the domain knowledge we both had, we decided to focus on the emerging technologies that are currently in the developing state but have high potential to become prevalent in next 5-10 years.

Finding a right problem to solve
Now technology aspect will be taken care of but how to utilize it? What is the problem that it will solve? It was imperative to identify the problem space, given the open-ended nature of the prompt. We did some generative research and brainstormed a few options including fashion, sustainability, healthcare and few others. We critically evaluated the shortlisted design spaces and narrowed them down. Finally with affinity diagraming and elimination methods, we converged our thoughts unanimously on the topic of 'Mental wellness'.

Literature review
We reviewed the existing research being done in the fields of mental wellbeing, mood detection, affective computing, biofeedback and personal healthcare data and sensors.

Major Findings
Stress at workplace
Stress at workplace is a real problem and would likely to be prevalent in future. It affects people's everyday life. At a larger scale, it has been noted to decrease the overall productivity and affect the performance of the company.
Current de-stress mechanisms
Contextual change and switching to a task with low cognitive load are common patterns in all de-stress activities. People feel refreshed when they indulge in some hobbies. Change in the surrounding (e.g. decorating their desk, travel) does the same.
High uncertainty avoidance
Employees are reluctant to accept new technologies that cause distraction from their work and doesn't fit within the company work ethics. Also, most people find future technologies intimidating because they either offer less control, or require implantation/invasion of external materials on the body.
Power of sensors and data
Current advancement in the research of affective computing with EEG sensors indicates hopeful future with the ability to track human mental states. Using sensors in the wearable devices to track personal data might become common in upcoming days.
Reframing the problem
How might we help employees alleviate their stress at workplace and improve productivity using non-invasive future technology?
Value propositions
1. Contextual shift
2. Non-invasive
3. Data with EEG sensors
4. Multiple de-stress options
5. Sensory engagement
6. Continued focus on the task at hand
Connecting the dots
With above design goals, we brainstormed around 10 different ways to achieve it in the office environment. In the end we narrowed down our focus to Virtual reality headsets and smart walls idea with augmented reality. Both of these ideas had their own affordances and limitations:

Analyzing design alternatives
VR is a total separation from the real world which wouldn't let workers continue their office work. It engages users with its fully immersive experience but disconnects from other people, which is undesirable in the collaborative office environment. Smart walls on the other hand might not be very engaging with their 2D projections and also, it might lead to the unnecessary complexities where people have conflicts with their own subjective preferences of the projected information in public. Also, data privacy might become the concern in the latter case.

We wanted to alter the reality but in a less isolating way. Combination of the two concepts of VR world and smart wall projections led us to consider the emerging technology of Mixed Reality (MR) used in headsets and glasses. Integrating them with EEG sensors for stress detection made it a promising idea. At this stage, we took inspiration from a variety of MR devices such as Microsoft HoloLens, Google glass, Muse head band available in the market.
Microsoft Hololens
Google glass
Muse head band
Interaction flow
As we finalized the integration of EEG sensor with a headset similar to the Microsoft HoloLens 2 headset, I visualized and captured the interactions in a storyboard.
This is Tom. He works at IT service company. He has a MR headset with EEG sensor integration. He gets an audio-visual notification when his stress level is higher than desired.
He opens the Myspace hologram app on the MR device and it shows stress levels with multiple metrics tracked by the EEG sensor.
He decides to act on it. Further, he selects the option of 'continue work' as he doesn't have time to get fully immersed in the activity.
He then chooses to 'change his surrounding' from the variety of sensory de-stress options available to make him feel calm.
He modifies the virtual surrounding by arranging the visuals and audios to make it more soothing and relaxing.
He then continues his work with better focus and efficiency.
The hardware side
The envisioned headset device is inspired by Microsoft HoloLens. It will be made up Polycarbonates due to their properties of being lightweight, durable, sturdy, recyclable and with low heat and electricity conductance. I created an infographic to showcase the device from front and side views. We decided to place the stress detector with EEG sensor in the head band close to the forehead to efficiently track biometrics.
Exploring gestures
We studied the affordances and limitations of various input modes such as gaze, gestures and voice from Microsoft HoloLens design guidelines. We conceptualized some new gestures that could be intuitive to interact with Mixspace holograms.
Visualizing Holoworld
01. Stress detection and notification
EEG sensors continuously detect wearer's stress levels and send an audio notification to draw wearer's attention only when stress levels cross the desired limit.
02. User decision
User is able to decide if they wish to continue their work with tweaking their surrounding, if they would like to take a break and engage with a virtual recreational activity or simply dismiss the notification by pressing close icon.
03. Environment objects
Given the busy schedule of workers, we assume that continuing the work with space change will be the most preferred option. When selected, users will be provided with an array of audio-visual options to customize the personal vicinity. With the other option of taking break, users will be given a range of engaging virtual activities.
04. Create your own relaxing space
Users can enjoy their work, stay focused and feel calm with the augmented personal workspace. It will help users to be more productive and engaged in the office work.
Reflection & next steps
This project done in the first semester of my HCI/d master's program, took us to the final round of the student design challenge and taught me many valuable things along the way. It was my first International Conference, first research paper publication and first poster presentation experience which opened the doors of global design community for me. With the short timeframe of about two weeks, I learned how to be efficient in planning and make the most out of the available resources. This rapid design sprint taught me how to fail fast, make informed decisions quickly and move on to the next goal. Decision making is important than finding comfort in endless research and discussions. I learned when to follow intuitions, when to move forward with the best judgments, how to leverage data to support the argument and how to narrow down the scope from a large pool of options.

The biggest limitation of our project would be that we could not implement Mixed Reality technology in our prototype. If we had additional time and resources to incorporate the technology, a demo with a physical prototype would have led to more discoveries on potential problems the headset may have. It would have led to more insights about the social, biological and ethical implications of the solution. For most of the part, we had to rely on the existing literature about the emerging technologies.
Additonal discussion

Points that are not covered in the case study and I would like to discuss in person:

Thank you for reading!
© Designed with 👨🏻‍💻 by Shriyash Shete