Rohan Pal
Personal companion to facilitate and improve emotional connection among loved ones
Angelique West
Barbara Singhakiat
Connie Yang
This project was part of the User Centered Design course in the Human Centered Design and Engineering program at the University of Washington.

We were given the theme “Back to a Future Life Together.” The brief was to consider the pandemic and unique challenges that came with it to design an experience for people to do life together. A secondary limitation was to not design a mobile or digital-only experience.
The Problem
Emotional connection is degrading close relationships between loved ones with the increasing digital dependence.
People feel more lonely and don’t feel connected even to their loved ones
Dependence on digital systems is making people feel less confident about their connections.
People are not satisfied with their existing connections with their loved ones
Go to Solution
People want their loved ones to actively engage and listen to them
When talking to loved ones, people don’t always want a solution. They just want someone to listen to them and reflect their emotions in any situation.

How might we set better expectations and build boundaries that help people feel heard and make them comfortable sharing their emotions?
People can’t make memories together with their loved ones
Over digital communication tools like Facetime or WhatsApp, people do not feel the same immediate connection with their loved ones.

How might we help people make memories and feel connected when they are far away from each other?
Quality of emotional connection in close relationships is poor and degrading
We received 63 responders to our survey, which gave us a broader idea of how people feel about their close relationships.
people feel more comfortable sharing their vulnerable feelings in-person
believe that seeing facial expressions and body language makes them feel emotionally connected to their loved ones
Young adults who primarily live far away from their loved ones
We focused on the population with 18 to 40 years age because they are the most affected by loneliness away from families and are also accessible to our project team of university students.
Loved ones who may have additional support in-person but have a close member away
Our secondary users could be families and partners of people who live away from them because of a job or education.
Something users feel comfortable with and can help connect with their loved ones
We conducted an in-person brainstorming session, thought through ideas like a keychain, robot-like companion, and voice assistants.
An interactive robo-companion that prioritizes and empowers connecting with loved ones
A personal interactive physical robo-model designed to help people deepen emotional connections with their loved ones.
We branded this product as a “robo-doll” initially. We re-branded to “robo-companion” and “robo-pal” because we found many users not relating to “doll” and not comfortable with using a “doll”.
An interactive screen to focus on building conversations in the right settings
This screen could act as a face with expressions of this companion robot as well as be the interface for connecting with loved ones in many ways.
Bringing more consistency and clarity in language after our usability study
As part of our class, we participated in a peer-critique with four other students to get feedback on our initial design.
Made the Boop character consistent.
Renamed features to be more clear.
Added more themes.
Made options more clear.
Improved hierarchy of content to support the right visual processing patterns. Acknowledge expectations; accept call.
Clarified setting expectations is optional.
Added more options for setting boundaries.
Boop Call - Connect the way you want
When you call your loved ones, set expectations and boundaries and connect in an accepted and comfortable environment.
Boop Message - Connect when you are ready
Bothered you would disturb your loved one? Leave a quick recorded message for them to connect back when they are ready.
Because of time constraints, this feature was de-prioritized and not completely designed.
Boop Bonding - Connect deeper
It’s not easy to share your true feelings at all times. Start your conversation with some thought-provoking questions.
Scope it down
Scoping our project was the biggest challenge considering the number of people and their individual emotions in unique situations that contribute to the problem of degrading connections.

If there was more time, I would have liked to conduct more usability testing, refine these existing features further, and get perspective from secondary users like family members, partners, and friends.
Designing without bias is key
When designing for significantly different users who use the same product, it is important to evaluate what is truly a required function. It is very easy to get distracted and support one more than the other.

This project was a great reminder that the core connection on an emotional level only happens when we support both our primary and secondary users.