Course: Interaction Design Studio, Spring 2020
Timeline: 5 weeks
Teammate: Tessa Samuelson
Prompt: For this project, you must design a product ecosystem that extends beyond the screen. Your solution must include multiple touchpoints across multiple channels (e.g., screen-based technology, physical goods, wearables, ambient indicators, wayfinding/signage systems, print communications, and/or service-oriented interactions between people). These components must work together in supporting a user or a community of users as they attempt to achieve some practical goal.
For this project, my teammate and I began with an inquiry of how to help people form healthy relationships and in the end wrote a story about a cactus.
When choosing a topic to explore for our project, Tessa and I went with what we are both continuously curious about: human connection. We chose to create a product ecosystem with the goal of helping individuals who struggle with negative self-talk. After the research phase, we narrowed our scope and created a product for children with the goal of helping them form resilience and positive self-talk early in life. We wrote and illustrated a storybook and an accompanying deck of activity cards with lessons and techniques borrowed from mindfulness training and cognitive behavioral therapy.
We started with a territory map to help us brainstorm which stakeholders to include in our interviews and what sort of research we should conduct.
We referenced mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy workbooks and worksheets, resources for children’s mental wellness, and online forums where individuals share anecdotal information. We also conducted interviews: four with therapists and five with peers. 
The most helpful part of the research process were the four interviews with therapists. Each shared their own model of positive and negative self talk and self esteem patterns; shared strategies that they use to help clients deal with negative thoughts and self-criticism; and referred us to other resources. 
Most impactful to our project was a framework for self-growth that one of the therapists shared. This framework involves three steps: first, self-awareness; second, self-acceptance; and lastly, growth that is rooted in self-compassion. We built our system upon this foundation.
There were a few decisions that Tessa and I made right away. We knew almost right away that we wanted to use plants as an aesthetic and a metaphor in our system. Plants are beautiful, pleasant, and accessible to everyone. Second, we were drawn to narrative therapy as a model and in some way, wished to include storytelling. Third, we wanted a break from designing for screens.
The biggest turn in our ideation process came when we chose to make the system for children rather than adults.  We had learned, after all, from our research that most negative thinking can be traced to a person’s childhood. Why not, then, strive to help people form healthy thinking patterns at an early age so that they might be more resilient as they grow into adulthood?  
Eventually, we settled on creating a storybook with a cactus as the main character. Over the course of the story, the cactus would meet various other characters who would each teach the cactus a lesson. We would also create a deck of activity cards to accompany the book. The cards would each teach a cognitive behavioral method or mindfulness method that would mirror plot points from the story and help the reader practice the lessons learned. 
Final Deliverables
The story that we wrote is called “The Cactus and his Secret.” It is best suited for children ages 6-9. It is about a cactus in a garden who is self-conscious about a weed that is growing next to him. Over the course of the story, he interacts with other plants and animals in the garden and comes to learn how to live with the weed. He also learns that all of the plants in the garden have their own weeds to contend with (representative of self-doubt or insecurities). The lessons that the cactus learns are based on mindfulness techniques and cognitive behavioral therapy methods that we learned from our research. 
Our activity cards work in conjunction with the book, and they fit into three envelopes in the inside front cover. There are 30 cards total (10 for each category). The three categories are “Understanding,” “Accepting,” and “Growing.” These are based on the model of personal growth that we learned from one of the therapists who we interviewed. The cards follow a rough progression in this way, yet they are meant to fit together, and with the story, in a fluid way to encourage exploration and play.
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