MFA Thesis Project
Design Research, User Experience Design
12 weeks research, 12 weeks design solution
This thesis project creates a provisional period to help iGen be more conscious about the negative effects and risks of social media addiction while enhancing creativity and thinking skills towards social issues by collaboration with peers to change the expectations of iGen from the social media channels that they will engage with after this period. Squad was honored by Core77 Design Awards 2019 in Strategy and Research category & Community Choice favorite, selected as a highly commended design by Creative Conscience Awards and shortlisted in Interaction Design Awards 20' in Optimizing category.
How can we help young generation be more conscious about the negative effects of social media?
Breaking away from social media and keeping life in balance is so difficult especially for the iGeneration from an entirely post-digital era. Kids have been experiencing various mental health crisis which are linked to excessive use of social media. They are more likely to be left out, lonely, anxious and depressed.
Social media addiction: Social media is a platform where people expose their abilities, feelings, strengths and receive instant gratification. Spending excessive amounts of time using social media leads to negative effects and interferes with the other aspects of people’s lives. FOMO ‘a state of mental or emotional strain caused by the fear of missing out.' Since this term is highly connected with technology and social media, dictionaries have another definition which is ‘ a form of social anxiety'. Social media addiction has become a phenomenon due to its negative effects on mental health & relationships. It has been proven that online self-disclosure fires up a part of the brain similar when taking cocaine.
I expanded my research understanding more about the characteristics of this unique generation and the negative effects of excessive social media use. My resources from psychological, psychiatric, sociological and ethnographic materials include articles from American Psychological Association and books such as iGen, Hooked and Alone Together. (If you are interested, feel free to check my thesis)
Mental health effects of social media among young generation: Self disclosure, instant gratification, FOMO and constant need of comparing self with other people create virtual bonds through social media and help people to reaffirm the reality to feel better. Lately, social media has been associated with several serious mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, social phobia, low self-esteem, ADHD and hostility. As with any other addiction, breaking away from social media is very difficult for all but especially iGen.
1-Instagram is a platform to source accurate data from the audience, and it is an ironic and unique way to understand the user’s opinion about the current phenomenon. For each question, I received more than 250 instant response.
2-Eight interviews were conducted with neuroscientists, author, editor, wellness counselor, experience designer, parent and diversified members of the target group.
3-Focus group was conducted in Detroit with four 13 yo teenagers (all got their first phone at the age of 12) to learn more about iGen’s habits, behaviors and the value of their social media interaction.
My focus group believe that life without social media might be better for them because they do not clearly understand the value of social media interaction. All admitted that they would prefer real life, face-to-face interaction; however, social media interaction is more convenient and makes their lives easier. When they have to have a real interaction, they feel uncomfortable.
Research insights helped me to specify my design solution and narrow down my target user. In the US, the average age of children getting their first smartphone is 10 years. 39% of children get their first social media account at 11 years even the optimal age has been defined as 13. Therefore, the target group of this design solution is tweens aged between 8-12 yo.
The biggest problem related with social media addiction is that iGen has been experiencing striking, dramatically behavioral change without having any proactive reclaim or preparation when they first get their smartphones. Tween age-when they first start to own their phones- is the optimal age that could prevent children being an addicted to their smartphones. The aim of Squad is to create a smooth transition period which could be defined as a ‘provisional period’ when each child could be educated and prepared to use their smart phones and empowered to boost their creativity and social thinking skills by collaboration.
1-There is not any smooth transition nor preparation period for kids when they first get their phones. They are the most impactful tool to engage with.
2-We are living in the age that people -especially young generation- quit using the tools or applications in a short amount of time, therefore digital solution would be more sustainable and eligible. An app could be updated easily according to the trends, needs & expectations of the target group.
3-Since the final users’ age is so unique application could be the best way to reach out them and their parents as a massive crowd. Expansion of an application could be so easy especially for the generation when popularity expands with ‘word of mouth’.
INTERVIEWS & USER TESTING
The aim of this concept is to help iGen be more conscious about the risks of social media while enhancing collaboration with peers and creative skills for social topic demonstrations. By taking an advantage of having a elemantary school teacher mom, I worked with 12 tweens during the design process. For the first phase of the interviews, I tried to understand the values of the key features (awareness, collaboration, creativity, social responsibility) from their point of view.
"Why do you interact with social media?"
These kids use social media for various reasons including following celebrities and influencers, sport channels, watching videos with different content and exposing their creativity with unique performance. They spend online time with their friends who have common interest.
INSIGHT: Tweens are very unique, they are kids but want to act and be treated as teenagers. They prefer to expose their strengths and always want to learn/share new things. Each of them has different interest and inspiration. They are multitaskers by being active on different channels and always chatting with their friends. If their friends are online, they would be online. It is all about timing!
"Can you expose your creativity with a tool that you prefer?"
Uniqueness and coolness is very important while they are exposing their creativity. They all have different hobbies or ways to expose/share their creativity. Examples from volunteer kids include poetry, drawings, rap performance and dance performance.
INSIGHT: They should not be limited to number of areas or tools when they are exposing their creativity with this concept.
"Let's talk about these stories and profiles, which one is cooler/more attractive?"
I shared my concepts with these 12 tweens based on stories. Three concepts included distinctive joyful themes such as growing an genderless avatar, having a creature friend or more building up a unique persona. These helped me to understand the taste and preference of tweens.
INSIGHT: More than 50% of the kids like the theme of building up a persona since they think that it is cooler. They claim that these visuals look cooler and more unique comparing with others. They felt that they feel more likely as teenager like their older siblings- which is cooler and less childish.
Squad is designed as an antidote a three-month provisional period when tweens with new smart phones could learn about social media’s risks and rewards through a carefully structured app downloaded by parents. This would help iGen be more conscious and socially connected. It could also enhance creativity and collaboration to change the expectations from the channels that kids will engage with after this period.
Through the app, kids create unique profiles, by selecting influencers as persona, defining their hobbies from art to sports and their a social interest from a list of possibilities such as nature and education. Once they complete these, they’re assigned to a Squad—three others who they will work with to develop a creative project around the social interest they share. These culminating projects—narrated videos and slide shows—are captured through the app then published, so children can share them with family and friends. During this provisional period, tweens also move through a series of prompts—short readings and quizzes that build awareness about responsible social media use.
Kids can create their profile by expressing themselves in a unique way with their character by combining their influencers from different categories including timeless artists, atheletes, celebrities, superheros and leaders. This categorization and influencers defined with the advices from kids and secondary research.
DAILY LOG IN
Tween opens the app each day at the same time, limited to a 1-hour experience with her Squad. For her daily experience she connects with her Squad, saves her experience as real life memories in different ways and explore new friends with common interests
WEEKEND LOG IN - STORY CREATION
Squad, hopefully will help tweens navigate the transition to social media with greater awareness, and to see social media as a tool for creative, productive ends. Ultimately, it’s not about restricting social media use, but about helping young adults find the confidence, balance, and direction they need to make the most of it. Personal characteristics and learning skills will make children successful in their future lives. In order to build up a future with more successful generation, Squad increases self knowledge, skills of learning, people sense and worldliness, communication and openness and goal settings skills.
At the end of this provisonal period, parents will be more satisfied since they found a trustworthy platform to prepare their kids about the conscious use of social media. Parents themselves will be also more prepared, motivative and supportive for their kids' social media interaction. Kids will become more conscious empathetic and social thinker at the end of this provisional three months by being more collaborative and creative by using social media as a tool.
1-One of the most fun and challenging part was including kids (end user) during the design process. Keeping their attention all the time and explaining the aim of my design were very unique comparing with other projects. The biggest take away was having a sensitive approach by understanding the characteristics of the user during the user centered design process.
2-Balancing both parents' and kids' expectations (in a polarized way) was challenging.
1-One of the common feedback from parents was being involved in their kids provisional period in a passive way and tracking their daily experience/results. Parents are decision makers and the initial part of this design system since kids are not able to make their own decisions. As a next step I'd focus more on the parents side to explore their experience after they decide to give a phone to their kids and download Squad app.
2-I'd create a system and with group of students and parents including stakehodlers to test the condensed version of 3 months experience.