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Mindful technology for solo travelers

An HCDE team is building a tool to promote mindfulness through interacting with photos from one’s past.

Group presenting at CHIShin Young (Lucia) Choi (BS ‘17), Runyuan (Jason) Chen (BS ‘18), Leena Choi (BS ‘18), and Mania Orand (PhD ‘17) presenting their research at the 2018 CHI Conference.

A project by students and alumni from the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering discovers novel ways to encourage mindfulness by considering two dimensions of mindfulness not yet incorporated into popular digital tools.

Building on the dissertation of Mania Orand (PhD ‘17) on designing interactive technology for travelers, the HCDE team developed ColorAway – an innovative tool that promotes mindfulness through interaction with modified travel photos. The team’s research paper about the 16 month design activity that led to ColorAway was accepted into the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. This project originated from the Directed Research Group led by Mania Orand, and was later pursued by HCDE senior Runyuan (Jason) Chen (BS ‘18), Shin Young (Lucia) Choi (BS ‘17) and Leena Choi (BS ‘18), under Orand’s guidance. 

“People often think mindfulness is only about meditation, but through reviewing literature, we found that mindfulness is so much more than just meditation,” describes paper lead author and HCDE senior Jason Chen. With ColorAway, solo travelers experience two important dimensions of mindfulness: recollection and evaluation

Recollection is the ability to remember and recall past internal learnings, which can be stimulated by objects such as photos that are associated with learning.

Evaluation is the ability to reflexively contemplate on past experience and distinguish between beneficial and harmful qualities. This can be stimulated by looking at experiences from a new perspective.

Coloraway PrototypeA prototype of ColorAway, an application designed to enhance mindfulness of solo travelers through interacting with modified photos. The “before” photos on the left are selected by a traveler, prompting them to recollect on the past. The “after” photos on the right use ambiguity techniques which allow the traveler to instinctively evaluate them.

Orand’s interview with solo travelers reinforced that they take a lot of photos during their trips. Thus, the team decided to use travel photos as a means to stimulate recollection and evaluation, and designed ColorAway. The first step in using ColorAway is to select three meaningful photos from travel photo albums. Then, the photos are processed using ambiguity techniques, such as removing colors and content of the photos in a playful way. Then participants in this research interacted with the altered photos. To encourage creativity and minimize bias, the team did not provide any specific instructions to the participants about how to interact with ColorAway and the participants were not told that ColorAway is a tool to promote mindfulness. Finally, the team interviewed the participants to learn about their experience and offer unique insights into how mindfulness can be better designed. 

“We all have taken pictures in our trips that we think are really meaningful,” Chen describes. “So, for our travelers to see abstracted photos of something they found meaningful, it sparks thoughts. They think ‘why did I take this picture?’, ‘what was I thinking when I took this?’ and ‘why was this meaningful to me?’ That is the evaluation component of mindfulness that we are looking for.”

The team cautions people to be careful not to confuse mindfulness with meditation. Chen, who has earned a dual degree in HCDE and philosophy, explained “based on our literature reviews and study of existing smartphone applications, it can be difficult to learn about and attempt mindfulness if people think, ‘oh I have to sit still for this’ or ‘I have to make time for this, I don’t have time.'”

The team hopes that through ColorAway, people benefit from different aspects of mindfulness, and start to be more attentive to their daily experiences. 

The team plans to continue developing ColorAway. “It’s still an early phase of this project, but I would like to see ColorAway as an app, or a physical book that solo travelers carry on their journey.”