Healing Spaces is my thesis project for the MFA in Interactive Media program at the University of Southern California.
Inspired by the research legacy of traditional Multisensory Environments (MSEs) and their benefits, the goal is to harness the power of our non-visual senses - sound, smell, taste, touch - to instill a greater sense of wonder and play, or of peace and quietness. It's about making sensory stimulation more accessible and meaningful for those who experience sensory input difficulties in their everyday surroundings, and who tend to no longer engage in cognitive-based activities. In helping reduce challenging behavior, we also believe in the project's potential to improve wellbeing and the relationship between caregivers and care-recipients.
Healing Spaces is also a toolset for caregivers to better manage and conduct sensory-based activities. With this platform, caregivers can create a 'healing space' for their loved ones or care-recipients wherever they are. By providing guidance and facilitating the setup of multi-sensory experiences on a technical level and by combining all components into one easy-to-use package, we want to leverage one's ability to provide and conduct sensory activities for persons with dementia in a wide range of care situations.
As an experience designer and visual artist, I am interested in both human-centered and play-centric design processes, and combining both to create more thoughtful, playful and effective digital interventions to manage behavior in persons with dementia. Healing Spaces is about embracing technology, and making it more accessible, engaging and impactful.
Setting an ambiance: caregivers set a mood for the space
These can serve as background for any activities, and can be either stimulating or more calming and relaxing. We want to allow caregivers to take persons with dementia to different ecosystems and worlds through light, colors, sounds, smells, visuals and touch - in a balanced and controlled way. With the Philips Hue wireless lights, we are exploring light as a storytelling tool and as a way to connect users to different emotions and places.
Through our interface, we also provide guidance on introducing physical elements such as smell, touch and taste in line with the digital experiences we design for you.
We want to make sure the user experience as smooth as possible for caregivers. For that reason, all components, technical and analog, are centralized into one intuitive app. Our goal is to make the setup of lights and any other tech components as easy as possible. We will be putting together printed documentation with clear instructions, and before users begin an experience, our smart app will also make sure the lights and any other physical outputs are properly connected and ready to go.
Our experiences are inspired by nature's healing qualities. For the pilot study, caregivers can choose between two natural settings: ocean and forest. They may also choose a time of day, such as sunrise or sunset. With the tap of a button, the chosen ecosystem is brought to life through color (Hue lights), natural soundscapes (speakers) and peaceful visuals (projector). Combining these tech components with themed sensory boxes and tangible elements that address touch and smell, our goal is to make multi-sensory sessions more focused and meaningful.
OTHER FEATURES (FOR THE NEAR FUTURE)
The Play Mode
The Play mode is where you will find games that explore the convergence of physical and virtual worlds. These are inspired by activities that are already popular in dementia care, and our goal is to leverage what we know works already, but giving additional value to game design and our non-visual senses.
In each Play experience, we have defined four phases:
This is where we work with caregivers to discuss what is needed for the experience. In this section, we outline early set-up requirements. It’s recipe-like content - preparation time, what ingredients are needed to conduct the activity. We outline the physical props that are needed, any food or drinks that might go along with the experience and might need to be ordered in advance. Through an intuitive interface, we try to make the planning process as straight-forward as possible.
The Warm Up phase
The caregiver has all the props, the space is set-up and it is now time to bring in the care-recipient. Our warm-up phase is the invitation to play. With the tap of a button, the warm-up phase begins as the lights and sounds set the tone for the upcoming experience. The idea is to create a comfortable and inviting environment for the person with dementia . It’s a ritual phase, where we slowly bring both caregivers and care-recipients into the magic circle.
The Experience itself
As the person with dementia is settled within the space and the caregiver judges it’s a good time to start the pre-set experience, it’s another tap of a button and it begins. At any moment the caregiver may pause, restart or stop the activity altogether.
The cool-down phase
As the experience ends, this is the moment for dialogue and discussion. Lights and sounds go back a similar subtle state as in the warm-up phase, and we provide prompts for the caregiver to engage with the care-recipient and reflect on what they just experienced.
'Choose Your Own Adventure', our take on sensory storytelling and reminiscing sessions
We decided to bring the exploration mechanics of ‘Choose Your Own Adventure' and point-and-click adventure games to explore new ways to leverage sensory storytelling and reminiscing sessions. Our digital component encourages interaction with physical props, and also tries to include smell and taste as an integral part of the game. There is no winning state, and it’s about extending the digital layer into the space and promoting social interaction between participants. We want to emphasize the idea that immersion is not about needing a large screen or a VR headset to bring you to different worlds. Through this experience, we want to show that immersion is about infusing storytelling in every detail possible - in how the space feels through light and color, and in the smells, textures and tastes.
Our way to explore one's proprioceptive senses. We are currently experimenting with AR and object recognition through the iPad’s camera to bring virtual elements to the physical world. We’re interested in creating gesture-based interactions with the physical lights and virtual objects, allowing users to feel control over their movements with different types of sensory feedback.
DESIGN PROCESS & COLLABORATION
As a designer, my primary goal is to work with caregivers and older adults to truly understand their real life experiences and needs. I strongly believe in co-design as a foundation for new ideas and responses to challenges. With that in mind, Healing Spaces is about connecting with the community - persons with dementia, caregivers, and stakeholders alike - in order to create the most impactful and meaningful experiences.
Healing Spaces is coming to life with the help and support of the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing. This collaboration has been crucial in establishing a connection with the users we are designing for. As an intern, I have been able to connect with some of Front Porch communities in the LA area, and through observation and field research, to infuse my design process with insights from staff and caregivers. My goal is to bring as much of their own caregiving experiences to the platform, as a way to facilitate integration in their day-to-day practice.
The development of Healing Spaces also involves a team of USC students from various disciplines, and professionals in the realms of gerontology, occupational therapy, games and media design as advisors.
- Maryalice Jordan-Marsh | USC School of Social Work
- Dennis Wixon | USC School of Cinematic Arts
latest prototype (alpha)
After a series of small digital and paper prototypes, we switched our focus to building a more robust prototype with main features and functionality in place.
From a technical standpoint, our goal was to make sure our development pipeline with Unity was reliable, efficient and stable, especially when it comes to connecting the platform with the Hue lights. I had been promising a smooth experience with all these tech components, so making sure our small team could make it happen was one major priority!
This prototype had to also be a bridge between us, the designers, and the staff of the community we've been working with. The goal has always been to include them in our design process, but I had to first convey my vision and allow them to fully understand the potential of the tools we're working with. And a prototype is worth more than a thousand words.
After listening to feedback from advisors, fellow classmates and faculty, we took a step back and decided to revisit our core features, and scope our prototype with our pilot study in mind. As a platform, Healing Spaces can grow in many ways and have a multitude of features. Our modular approach allows us to design with those in mind, but testing the core features was the immediate priority.
(Alpha Prototype - core functionality in)
(Alpha Prototype - basic experience flow. User begins forest experience -> Hue lights are set to forest ambiance colors, sounds and visuals begin)
During the second week of December, I sat down with a couple of staff members from the community where we'll be piloting the project to show the prototype. It was a very productive session, as I learned more about how my core features met their expectations, if they understood what it did, and even if they would picture themselves using the app. I was able to identify which features or touch points were meaningful and important, and which ones were unnecessary or missing. As these questions were answered, I led a small brainstorming session on the types of content they would like to see, or would be most meaningful to the residents. By the end of the meeting, I had narrowed down our scope for the pilot study significantly, as you can see in the Core Features section.