Conceptualizing an innovative way for stress relief of future employees
SolutionResearchIdeationFinal designReflections
About the project

Background: This project was a part of 'TEI 2020 Student Design Challenge' as finalists, 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 published by ACM Digital library. We presented our work at the TEI 2020 International Conference organized at Sydney, Australia.

Timeline: 3 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 calming when needed.

Mixspace Mixed Reality App
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 and 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 assess something totally new with the little expertise, we decided to focus on the emerging technologies that are currently in the developing state but have high potential to become prevalent in the next 5-10 years.

Finding a right problem to solve
Now technology aspect will be taken care of but how to utilize it? What problem it will solve? It was obvious 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, with the applications of data and sensors. We came across some interesting facts about workers in the United States.

Major Findings
Stress at workplace
Stress at workplace is a real problem and here to stay 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) has the same impact.
High uncertainty avoidance
Employees are hesitant to accept new technologies due to high cost and some won't fit within the workflow. Also, most people find future technologies (like Brain-Computer Interaction) intimidating because they either offer less control to the user, or require implantation or invasion of external materials in 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 different ideas to achieve it in the office environment. In the end we narrowed down our focus to Virtual Reality headsets and smart walls idea leveraging the power of augmented reality. Both of these ideas had their own pros and cons:

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 an innovative concept. At this stage, we took inspiration from a variety of head mounted 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 1, I visualized and captured the interactions in a storyboard.
This is Tom. He works at an IT 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 Mixspace holographic 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 much time to get fully immersed in the activity.
He then chooses to quickly 'change his surrounding' from the variety of sensory de-stress options available to make him feel calm.
He modifies the surrounding with virtual assets by arranging the visuals and audios per his choices.
He then continues his work with better focus and efficiency, enjoying the new source of respite in his vicinity.
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 hardware from front and side views. We decided to place the stress detector with EEG sensor in the head band close to the forehead to track biometrics accurately.
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 the Mixspace holograms.
Visualizing Mixspace
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. The easy to read dashboard gently makes the user aware of the situation.
02. User decision
User is able to decide whether they wish to continue their work by quickly tweaking their surrounding, whether they want to take a break and engage with a virtual recreational activity or simply dismiss the notification by pressing the close (X) icon.
03. Environment objects
Given the busy schedule of workers, we assume that continuing the work with quick space change will be the most preferred option. When selected it, users will be provided with an array of audio-visual holographic assets to customize their personal vicinity. With the other option of taking break, users will be given a range of engaging virtual activities such as reading or playing an instrument.
04. Create your own relaxing space
Once the surrounding is set, 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 was done in the first semester of my HCI/d master's program. It 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 plan 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 drives the project and avoids 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, physical and ethical implications of the solution. For most of the part, we had to rely on the existing literature about the emerging technologies.
Additional opportunities

Points that I would like to explore when resources are available:

Thank you for reading!
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