workkate
Epi is a companion to reduce conflict and relationship anxiety by mediation.
Field Research
Product Design
Videography
Epi is a companion that helps couples navigate the mixed bag of emotions that is a relationship. A quiet but active observer, Epi mediates by making objections and suggestions, asking questions, recalling prior altercations, and establishing ground rules in order to reduce conflict and relationship anxiety.

Our team was given the realm of hot mics, or "always-on microphones," as a design scope and decided our topic of interest ourselves. Inspired by the massive changes that the way we form and maintain our relationships have been subjected to with the rise of modern technology, we decided to form a research plan around the topic of modern dating.
HOW?
Progressive lifestyles and technology give people more options and new practices in many areas—one of these is dating. Our question became clear: how might we reduce anxiety in a young adult's experience when seeking and maintaining romantic commitments?
SECONDARY RESEARCH
To begin our research, we took interest in published work by Columbia and Stanford, as well as a study done by The University of Chicago and Harvard about technology's role in modern relationships. We also considered Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance and Spike Jonze's Her.
Downloadour Secondary Research Report.
PARTICIPANT INTERVIEWS
All of our participants were ages 21-30 and were in monogamous relationships. We recruited our participants within the University of Washington student community. Our goal was to recruit with diversity, collecting participants who were from differing cultural backgrounds as well as representing the LGBTQ+ community. We explored relationships from different social and cultural perspectives.

We conducted semi-structured interviews that included relationship storytelling, with the following goals:

Goal 1: Gain insights about how participants defined a healthy monogamous relationship.

Goal 2: Learn about their attitude towards online dating.
Download our Interview Study Guide.
DATA COLLECTION + THEMES
We were noticing reoccurring themes as we progressed through our interview schedule. We specified these themes as we formed affinity diagrams, and from these we gained insights.
INSIGHTS
1. Tech is woven into all relationships.
“We always share our location. It allows us to communicate more of what we want.” –L1
“I couldn’t find anyone else to meet in my specific demographic.  [Grindr] was the only gay ave that I could always bounce back to” –L6
2. We are told how to love before knowing what love is.
“When I first came out, I did not believe in gay marriage. I wanted to call it something else”
–L6
“My father shaped my skepticism of men” –L1
3. More options create harder choices.
“I’m overwhelmed...is this what I really want?” –L7
“Monogamy is not being able to commit to someone else” –L1
4. Friendships build empathy and security that lead to long lasting relationships.
“We were friends for a year before dating” –L5
“We became more interested in dating each other after becoming close friends” –L7
5. Relationships transcend work and play.
“The daily chores reassure our love for each other” –L2
“It can work with anyone if you work hard enough” –L6
EMPATHY MAPS
In order to delve deeper into our insights and data points, we mapped out situations that had been brought up during our interviews.
PRINCIPLES
From our themes and empathy maps, we determined five design principles to center our product concepts around.
Assurance
Reduce the amplification of fail states. Avoid harmful models of the “ideal” experience; people see not achieving an ideal as a failure.
Insight 2 and Insight 3
Humble
Cultivate understanding that truly good things do not come easily.
Insight 5
Empathy
Empathize with the feelings and thoughts of the other party by which we create a positive psychological climate.
Insight 4
Altruism
To learn and practice concern for the welfare of the user, motivated by ensuring that all users maintain their moral obligations.
Insight 1 and Insight 5
Nurturing
Create a space to express yourself as exactly as possible.
Insight 4
DESIGN CONCEPTS
Concept sketches by Maxwell Crabill.
Concept 1: Epi

Using the always on component of a microphone in your phone and natural language processing, Epi becomes part of your interpersonal conversations that involve interpersonal arguments. Epi makes sure to corroborate any information by retrieving all location, voice, and text information and speaks on your behalf to promote the validity of your conversations.
Concept 2: A Hand to Hold

A device that is embedded in your palm reacts to your emotions. Initiated by squeezing, its reactions range from warming your hand to materializing and wrapping up your arm. An earbud is listening as you go about your day, and can give you minimalist confidence advice when needed.
Concept 3: Best Forced Friendship

When a peer in your vicinity has a similar emotional problem as you, your friendship bracelets emulate the hold of your peer with haptic feedback and sends you their current feelings.
Concept 4: Message In a Bubble

An application that enables you to respond to anonymous messages by voice within the public message thread. The app and random thought bubbles fill your screen/feed, and you are able to click, or “pop” the bubble, and respond. They fade if you don’t interact with them before they exit your screen. Each bubble has one life span.
WIZARD OF OZ TESTING
We told our testers that Epi was a prototype live fact checker, pulling information from the user's social platforms and the web.

Two interviewers sat in the room with the participant and a bluetooth speaker, which would play the part of Epi. A third researcher sat in a separate room with a close friend of the participant and a laptop connected to Epi. The two would use a text-to-speech program to attempt to moderate the conversation, check facts, and dispense personal feedback from the friend's perspective.

After testing, our participants explained that while they did not mind having a conversation moderator, they viewed fact checking for relationship purposes as unnecessary.
VOICE USER INTERFACE FLOW
Envisioning Epi as an Alexa Skill Set, boundaries able to be set are categorized into the following for the VUI:

Boundary 1: Emotional
Boundary 2: Physical
Boundary 3: Material
User flow by Rick Paz
REFLECTION
The rise of technology has given us the data and information we need to find the best (or at least get pretty dang close)—the best bang for our buck, the best road trips, the best tacos. Similarly, the search for "the one" has been recently redefined. After listening to people's efforts they put into finding their match and making it work, I came to appreciate the fact that we're looking out for ourselves—trying to give ourselves the best possible match and chance at happiness with another person.

During this project, we felt that we delved so deeply into this topic of "modern love." However, at the end we were humbled by the realization that we had only just touched the surface. Clearly there is not one solution to coping with relationships with our significant others, as well as our relationships with technology.