March 8, 2016 by Maria Angela Ferrario
Snap is a customizable digital stretch wristband that records anxiety interactions for later reflection. It is powered by a plug and play 3D-printed (3DP) computing unit, which we refer as the ‘pod’. Snap emerged from a three-month co-development process with and for adults diagnosed with autism and their support. During this phase we engaged in three design workshops with, followed by a three-week summer study that involved participants wearing a Snap device and reflecting on its value.
Most of us experience anxiety at some point in life: only 1 in 20 people in the UK report never being anxious. To some, anxiety manifests itself so powerfully it has a dramatic impact on quality of life, yet itis still under-reported, under-diagnosed and under-treated. In the UK, Behavioural and Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) approaches are frequently used to help people manage their difficulties with anxiety. A key part of both methods involves keeping a record of instances when the person experiences acutely stressful episodes: recalling this information can help identify what may be triggering and reinforcing the anxious behaviour. In mainstream mental health it is usually the person with anxiety problems who is asked to keep these records. However, mental health difficulties can impact upon the specificity of memory recall and also lead to particular biases in what is recalled.
Several anxiety apps exist, however by working closely with our research-partners, we found that screen-based interaction (e.g. mobile apps) during anxiety incidents has its problems – unlocking a phone and finding an app can be hard. A wearable recording device with tactile feedback such as Snap can be carried unobtrusively and used without further mental load. Many people suffering from anxiety already use commercially available ‘stimming’ tools when anxious: from spinning rings to de-stress bracelets, haptic (tactile) interactions with physical objects are often used as vehicles for distraction during anxiety incidents. Snap is a digitized version of these devices: by recording the times and frequency of use, Snap offers the opportunity of capturing information about anxiety incidents as they happen. The data captured is then used as a prompt to recall other details relating to the incident.
Snap V0.01 consists of a wearable device and the ‘data visualiser’ reflection platform. Snap is designed to be customizable physically, electronically and in terms of software functionality. Open source software and widely available ‘maker’ hardware was used along with DIY techniques such as crochet and 3D printing to build in customizability and DIY manufacture. This is intended to give the devices the widest possible reach: people can make their own. The reflection platform summarizes and displays the usage and data-algorithms will identify patterns and draw out relevant insight for self-reflection or alongside support. Snap modular design, inspired by principles of circular economy, allows its components not only to be distributed and locally manufactured and assembled in a customised fashion, but also passed-on and re-purposed to suit different people’s needs.
Snap emerged from a three-month co-development process with adults diagnosed with autism in partnership with Autism Initiatives staff, a UK charity supporting people with autism. Together, we organized a series of thematically connected workshops: first, the ‘Incredible Wearables’ Technology Kitchen during which a number of futuristic wearable technologies were created and independently designed. This was followed by ‘Personal Wearables’ workshop, during which we imagined how the previously invented wearables could be constructed by using a ‘kit’ of bespoke components. During the third and last workshop, ‘Personal Interactions’, we explored ways to interact with such systems. Snap emerged from this process as an anxiety interaction recording wristband, which affords several ‘intentive’ interactions (e.g. gripping, pulling, and stretching) and that can be fashioned into a variety of personalised styles. Snap was then put to test during a three-week Summer Study in which participants wore their own Snap in everyday life.
Emerging findings from the Summer Study show that participants found interacting with Snap helpful at distracting them from anxiety “In anxiety I just push like that and then it calms things down”. Design issues (e.g. bulkiness of the computing ‘pod’) were reported by our user group as a challenge to its full potentials “I have been wearing the bracelet on and off but feel if the design was right I would wear it more”. Nevertheless participants continued to use Snap as they saw benefits in it: “I wore it at work because I found out that somebody was leaving [ ] and I wore it to calm me down”. On completion of the Summer Study we worked with product designers Fabian Strunden, Patrick Horrigan, and Conor Cahill to address participant feedback about Snap form-factor. Clip emerged from this collaboration (see photo above). Clip is currently undergoing a technical evaluation in preparation to a wider user study later this spring.