Solus

[rewrite]Solus is a series of smart devices that highlights our sense of smell so that people who feel alone can find a state of solitude and joy. Solus is designed to make people enjoy the moment.

Many people might have experience stress in our modern way of living. Yes, we have met 2020. Whenever we're feeling down, we just need a slight of boost to relax or enjoy the moment. Even before 2020, I've been thinking how can we improve our moods by exploring our underrated senses?

Transforming moods and productivity through scents.

Solus devices use scents to shift the brain from feeling desperate to embracing strong sense of joy. The scent opens a new exploration on how we improve our senses while interacting with the world.

The Challenge

There might be many distractions when we try to enhance our moods and stay focus.

Busy schedules tend to influence our wellbeing. Sometimes after we have a long day, we just want to relax. But it might be hard to achieve the relaxation state after all the activities that we do during the day.

Meditation might be a simple practice that everyone can do to boost our mental health. There are plenty of meditation apps to help us reduce stress and increase our wellbeing. However, most of the time we only focus on one of our senses to practice meditation which might not be optimal to enhance our wellbeing.

The following are the core problems why it might be hard for some people to enhance their moods and stay focus.

People still need social interaction when we are feeling down. In this digital era, especially after COVID-19 hit, it's difficult to have a meaningful social interaction. Text or even video call might not be enough to fulfill our social needs.

It is hard to maintain our moods through out the day with busy schedules. Our emotional journey can be easily affected by our activities. Most of the time, it is hard to keep our positivity when we are driven by busy schedules.

We might overthink when we are stressed out. At the end of the day, we only want to relax. But, the anxiety that is built during the day makes it hard to keep our mind focus.

The Objective

How can we use the most of our senses effectively to boost our moods and productivity?

There are multiple ways to enhance our wellbeing, connection, and focus. By examining our senses, it can open a new exploration on how we understand more of our mental states. A tool can be useful to improve our senses which can let us focuses more on ourselves.

The main objective of this project is to develop a product that can boost para-social interaction, enhance our other senses, and improve our moods and focus which can be part of our daily life.

Simple. The product shouldn't add more complexity to people's mental states.
Invisible. The product should be invisible so that people can focus on themselves.
Customizable. People should be able to make it their personal belonging.
Design Approach

How do we design the right product?

There are so many smart devices that failed to meet the users' needs such as scent smart devices. A lot of research has been done to transfer scents digitally on the internet to the devices. But those products failed simply because people didn't need them.

Dealing with humans wellbeing is also tricky since people are unique. In order to develop the product that satisfies the users' needs, I followed the Double Diamond design framework with slightly different steps to adjust with the project's goals.

Human Sense of Smell

Our sense of smell might be underrated, but it is one of the strongest senses.

Human senses play a big role in how we perceive and experience the world. The olfactory bulb has direct connections to amygdala and hippocampus which are the two brain areas that strongly implicated in emotion and memory. Interestingly, smell is better than images at inducing the feeling of "being brought back in time".

Study has proven scent can cause physiological effects. It is shown to not just decreased stress and negative thoughts, but improve our mental perception. By integrating scents, people can focus more on themselves and enjoying the moment.

Credit: corbac40/Shutterstock

Of all our senses, our sense of smell can be one of the strongest senses. The smell instantly triggers such strong memories and emotions. However, there was still no successful scents devices that became part of our life and were easy to use.

From Smell-O-Vision in 1959, iSmell in 1999, until Cyrano in 2016, these innovative products didn't last long. These products tried to bring smell to the internet. But, they were expensive, took a long time to test, and probably the most fundamental problem was no one needed them.

"As the world of entertainment has become more high-tech, odor remains the one element that is elusive and hard to replicate."

Research

Humans sense of smell might be subjective, but the communication of the scents can be universal.

Solus devices were designed based on research. Through talking to scent experts in New York City and doing user testing, the scents that are most associated with certain situations were chosen carefully.

Designing smart olfactory devices need to consider how they meet the need from the public. It might be true that our sense of smell is personal. However, the communication of scents can be universal, It can shape the way humans experience the world in certain ways. Some scents have certain impacts to our moods and behavior.

Design Solution

Designing the smart devices that change the space to elicit joy.

The product design was intended to be very simple. The aim was to make the devices more invisible so that the users will focus on the environment and not the technology itself.

I believed that in order to design the right product, we had to think beyond the tangible product itself. It was about the whole journey that the users would experience. It was necessary to think carefully how the users would interact with both the tangible and intangible elements of the product.

Solus explored how to regulate our physiological and emotional equilibrium through sensory experiences. The three devices were Scent Notification, Scent Clock, and Scent Speaker. Each device was designed to create a multi-sensory experience that impacted our moods to transform space in meaningful ways.

Understanding the network infrastructure to design smart devices.

It was important to understand technically how the whole ecosystem worked when designing a product. It helped me to think how could the product be more efficient and reliable.

Solus devices could be controlled through a Solus mobile app. The network framework was developed using Node.js and designed in RESTful API protocol that allowed the server and client sides to communicate with Spotify’s API to gather the song data and send them back to the devices.

The device was built with Arduino MKR1000 which was designed for Wi-Fi connectivity. The network structure was designed to integrate the release of scents with light interactivity using atomizer, a device module for emitting water, and NeoPixel module. The mobile app was developed using Apache Cordova to enable a web framework for software development.

Detailed Design

Designing the interactivity.

Designing Solus was more about designing the space to elevate people's moods. It was necessary to think carefully of how the users would interact with the product that would affect their moods. To enhance the users' moods, I integrated scents and lights interaction to immerse the users in their environment.

Designing the mobile experience.

Solus app was designed to create a seamless experience to use smart devices in everyday life. With a simple interface, users can easily control and add a scheduling system.environment.

I believed that the sooner we tested the product, the better we could refine it to keep the iteration going. I created the wireframes and tested the concept using them before creating the final designs.

The wireframes design was simple and easy to understand. However, they didn't tell how the users could automate the devices. I created the polished designs to overcome the issue. Below is the user flow of the refined Solus app.

Solus Devices

Scent Clock that boosted the moods based on time perception.

The Scent Clock was an olfactory device that represented time in the form of scents. The clock transformed people moods to be calm and relax based on time perception.

The scent of Geranium that was light, could make our body fresh in the morning. The bright scent of Citrus could boost our moods during the day. The scent of Rose that was heavy and warm, helped us relax at night.

Change the room vibes by scheduling what time during the day the scents would disperse based on personal taste.

Configure the light colors to elevate the moods.

Scent Speaker that created a multi-sensory experience while listening to music.

The Scent Speaker was a scented personal music player that released scents based on the type of song that was playing at the moment. The integration of auditory and sense of smell elevated the invisible frequency of music to influence how people experienced physical space.

The calmest songs were associated with Lavender, it was smooth and calming, the mixed of Citrus and Vanilla for chill songs, and the citrus scent was used for happy songs, it was proven to boost happiness. The most upbeat songs were associated with peppermint scent to boost energy.

Connect to Spotify account to create the space vibe based on the song that is playing.

Scent Notification that created a para-social interaction.

The Scent Notification was a physical notification device that released a certain scent when a person received a digital message. This notification created a para-social interaction, an illusionary experience of face-to-face interaction but it was actually mediated, to enhance the physicality of digital communications.

The scent of lilac and cucumber were integrated into this device. It was one of the strongest scents that were associated with our memory. It reconciled our memory to a specific place or person.

Reconcile our memory by dispersing the scent when someone messages us.

Behind the Scenes

Paying attention to details in each process of the prototype development.

I paid attention to every detail in each process of the development. I designed the network system so the Solus app and the devices could effectively communicate with the server and use other API, such as Spotify API. The hardware was developed using the most efficient module so it could connect to WiFi without using a lot of power.

To make sure that the products were polished, I did some iterations from the designing the 3D models to polishing the enclosure. I chose the warm color of the materials for the enclosures when 3D printed the devices. Finally, to create the professional looks, I carefully painted and sanded the enclosures.

Project Learnings

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"Smell might be the future interaction. It is underrated but powerful. It can be the key to the environmental experience, impacting feelings and human behavior."

Role

Experience & Interaction Designer, Creative Technologist

Project Type

Smart Device

Timeline

January - May 2019

Showcase

May 21st - 22nd 2019 at ITP Spring Show, NYU Tisch School of Arts, New York