Emotional experience visualized

2020 | 3 months | Kingston London

Abstract and context

Today, more than ever, mental health has been a rising cause of concern in young adults and plays a huge role in the well being of the public. However, so far tracking emotional experience digitally, for the sake of improving mental health, has been a meaningless and tedious task when done using a set of emojis.

How can we improve this experience and visualize various aspects of human emotions while maintaining user interest? This was the goal of this project, designed for Kingston University, London.

The Process

1. Understanding the challenges

Emotions depend on many aspects of one's life and they are abstract and objective which makes them hard to define and evaluate. More so, mood and feelings are only part of the emotional spectrum, as defined by Robert Plutchik in the three dimensional theory of emotion.

Plutchik classified the emotional complexities into valence, arousal and intensity. He showed how intensity changes an emotion state and to convey the true meaning and complexities of emotion. All emotions vary in their degree of similarity to one another. Each emotion can exist in varying degrees of intensity or levels of arousal. [1]

Based on intensity, rage can become anger and annoyance, and ecstasy can become joy and serenity.

Similarly, emotions are categorized into various effects, which correspond to the current situation [2]. The amount of control you have over the current situation determines the kind of emotions you feel. Sigmund Freud mentioned it in his depiction of how a mind works. A conscious mind that we are aware of and an unconscious mind that works behind the curtains.

Main Issue

Emotions depends on many factors; how can we express them visually while maintaining user interest in recording them

2. Identifying the users

To identify the users and how they consider their mental health tracking application to work and why they want to, I conducted a set of interviews involving different kinds of users. Two types of users were identified.

When presented with the 7 dimensions of human emotions, participants raised their concerns of not understanding the naming conventions, and also that the valence, intensity and arousal felt like they better describe the actual feelings they experienced. It was also suggested that valence should set the tone for emotion tracking, so users would start out naming the emotion as either positive, neutral or negative and then go on to its nuances.

3. The experience of recording emotion

There are several layers of abstraction when it comes to depicting an emotion, for example, what caused it and how did we react, what were the surroundings and daily challenges. An internal and external mindfulness that defines how they made us feel and what caused​ our emotions.

To contain all these complexities, I used the metaphor of a tree and experimented with defining different aspects of human emotions as it's properties. For example,

  1. Tree roots indicates how firm the tree is, which can represent the control someone had on their emotional experience.
  2. The size of the trunk indicates the strength of the tree, which can represent the degree of intensity of emotion someone had.
  3. The number of branches indicate how far reaching its resources are, which can represent how someone reacted to their emotional experience
  4. The leefiness of the tree indicates how healthy a tree is, which can represent the  positive excitement (arousal) someone had while experiencing the emotion

By combining this metaphor with the surroundings, like the background sky and general weather, the overall emotional experience (valence) can be represented.

A tree can have multiple layers of abstractions.

Instead of using a simple emoji, a tree encourages internal and external mindfulness, yielding a distilled visual output of ​what caused​ the emotions and ​how they​ made a user feel holistically.

The Solution

A multi dimensional representation of emotion in shape of a Tree that represents various aspects of human emotion

4. Easing the dimensions and defining the use cases

One of the complaints from participants of the interviews was the lack of friendly and easy to understand words when it comes to asking about the dimension of emotional experience. That the meaning of the dimensions were not very meaningful or understandable.

To mitigate this in the app design, easy to understand wordings were used instead.

  1. Valance: how was the overall feelings?
  2. Control: how controlable was the feeling?
  3. Intensity: how intense was the experience
  4. Reaction: how did you react?
  5. Excitment: how excited were you when it happened

If you were aggressive and you reacted in a very strong way (scale 5) then the tree will be an autumn tree, but if you were happy and you reacted in a strong way (scale 5) then the tree will be a spring tree. Which means, reaction has nothing to do with passive, or aggressiveness, and happy or angry reactions can both be strong or weak.

5. Making sense of the data

In the end, it was important to represent the range of experiences and emotions a user felt as comprehensively in one place, for example, weekly or monthly reports to identify patterns and watch out for anomalies. For this, a reports page was designed.

A user access the reports page by pressing the current data, then using the arrows to switch the months.

6. Establishing the visual design guidelines

A natural color of green was chosen to represent the theme.

Properly named and individually separated vectors were generated for every illustration and icons.

7. Designing an interactive prototype

The Takeaway

What you learn from the project?

Emotions are hard to deal with and bringing innovative technologies to help with defining emotional data into representable visualization was ground breaking. In the midst of project, I realized how fragile my personal emotional state can be and how this project if built into an actual app will help me in terms of keeping track of my emotions in a fun and exciting way.

How have you grown as a person?

Previously, I never looked into things as the way I did when I worked on this project, reaching out to people and discussing their problems and how they treat their emotions was an humbling experience and something I will look back at. It felt good to be in the shoes of others when thinking of a user expeirence of an application that can be so close to people when they use it.

What would you do differently next time, if you were to repeat the project?

I would explore more ways to represent the data. Maybe bring that by the end users to see how they react. I also want to explore more ways to visualize the tree graphics, animations and the color schemes.

What parts of the project are you most proud of, and why?

I am most proud of thinking about an intuitive way to represent the emotional data which hasn't been previously done. I am also proud that I did made this decision while keeping prior research and user needs in mind which makes it all worth while.

Thank you for reading