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For my bachelor’s thesis (an individual project), I designed Vayu, an air quality monitoring device for children that nudges them to take precautionary measures against air pollution. Children are more susceptible to the health effects of air pollution that can have a lasting impact on their respiratory function.
The goal was to motivate children to take precautionary measures against air pollution. I followed the double diamond design process to realize this goal.
Context mapping was conducted with 70 children (9-11 years) in two schools - a private and a low-income private school, to understand the context and children’s perception of air quality.
Sensitization: A probe kit consisting of worksheets was distributed to children. The goal was to reflect on their daily activities and the perceived air pollution levels. This helped them prepare for the generative session.
Students of a Teach for India - associated school engaged in the sensitization activity.
Children had fun with this exercise and came up with creative ways to depict their journey through the day.
The outcome of the sensitization session by a student at Purnapramati school
I learned that most children associate air pollution with only visible dust and smoke. Many of them associated the outdoors with poor air quality and indoors with better air quality.
Generative session: I conducted the generative session with a group of six students in each school. They were given a set of over 80 unbiased images and had to create a collage that represented what they felt about air quality. This session helped in triggering meaningful discussions.
I learned that children in both schools were aware of the health consequences of pollution and believe that unless we make changes in our lifestyle, the air will remain polluted. They also felt the need for knowing more about the air quality in their surroundings.
Parallel to the user research, I also studied existing products to understand the gaps. The products available in the market are not designed with children as the target audience. They are also expensive and are not so effective in nudging children (based on online product reviews). Hence, I identified a need for a low-cost portable air monitoring device that specifically addressed the needs of children.
2 by 2 chart depicting the positioning of existing products based on cost and effectiveness of the alert system in driving the user to take action.
To design a portable, fun and engaging device that measures pollutant levels and nudges children to take protective measures against air pollution
Having formulated the design brief and a detailed design specification, I went on to map my target audience. In the innermost circle is the primary target user, ie, children of the age group 9-11 years. The next concentric circle consists of the secondary users, ie, the parents who are concerned about their kids(primary users). The next few concentric circles are the peripheral audience who have an interest in children’s wellbeing or in the data collected by the portable air quality monitoring device.
With this, I moved on to my favorite part of the design process- ideation! I used various methods like synectics, SCAMPER, and brainstorming to generate around 40 ideas. Here I focused on quantity over quality.
Ideas were bundled and evaluated by listing down the plus, minus, and interesting features of each idea.
I combined the top ideas and shortlisted the concept. The product would consist of (a) wearable for nudging the users, (b) portable air quality monitoring and purifying unit.
Function diagram of the proposed concept
Prior to ideating forms for the embodiment, I conducted a survey to understand the aesthetic preferences of children in the age group 9-11 years. Products exhibiting various attributes (elegant, rugged, retro, cute, dynamic, animal-inspired forms) were shown and they had to pick a form they were most attracted to.
Around twenty children in this age group participated and a majority of them (irrespective of gender) had a clear preference for objects that were inspired by the form of animals.
Forms conveying different attributes shown to children.
So I generated forms inspired by animals like penguins, whales, and flamingoes.
Based on the embodiment constraints - the ability to store mask, facilitate airflow or monitoring and purification- the final form was chosen and detailed.
For the design of the alerting system in the wearable, I created various UI concepts.
The key considerations for the design were-
Due to the limited space available on smartwatch screens, the interface needs to be uncluttered and should have a clear hierarchy for information.
Focus on the core functions. Unnecessary features, actions, and content are avoided.
I explored the concept with the mask as a character. To avoid ambiguity with various colors depicting ranges across the AQI - the alert would only turn red if the air quality is more than 100. The child swipes up after wearing the mask and the screen turns green.
AIR QUALITY MONITORING
Vayu contains sensors that monitor the levels of pollutants like NOX, VOC, and PM 2.5.
If the levels are higher than normal, an alert is sent to the user’s wearable via Bluetooth, nudging the user to wear a mask. Once the user wears the mask, he/she swipes up. The colour on the screen transitions from red to green, to indicate that now he/she is protected from polluted air.
The mask is stored within the device and detached when needed. The perforated surface and cotton lid ensure air flow and purification even when the mask is inside the device.
MASK IN THE DEVICE
Vayu contains HEPA and activated carbon filters. When activated, the purified air is flushed out by the fan through the perforated surface.
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