Love in The Time of Complexity

Role:  Project Lead | Interaction Designer | Researcher

Team: Ricardo Paz , Kate Johnson, Maxwell Crabill

Timeline: 10 weeks


Meet Epi

A quiet but active observer. The companion to reduce conflict and relationship anxiety by mediation.

/ Always listening
/ Has basic therapy training.
/ Establishes boundaries.

Video Advertisement

Methods: Primary Research, Qualitative Research, Wizard of Oz, Video Prototype

Tools: After Effects, Premiere, Illustrator




How might we better provide emotional stability and confidence for millennials in relationships?

I led a team to conduct design research and develop an understanding of personal relationships in millennial culture. We used our findings to generate a speculative design solution based in insight, principles, and wizard of oz prototyping. The team was tasked to consider "always on microphones" while developing and conducting this research for the potential design solution.


Secondary Research

Through our preliminary research we decided to focus on relationships, after doing a further study of the work published by The University of Chicago & Harvard

Research revealed trends among young adults of increased anxiety when finding and committing to romantic partners because of the increase in online dating and social apps. We conducted a series of semi structured interviews and storytelling sessions, which revealed many subjective sources of romantic anxiety.

Secondary Research Report | Download


User Study & Recruitment

Recruitment Criteria Goals:

/ Age 21-31

/ 5 Male

/ 5 Female

/ International Students on Campus

/ Reside in LGBTQ Community

/ Who are in monogamous relationships

Our goal was to recruit with diversity. We recruited out of the University of Washington student population and were able to collect participants who were from multiple cultures. Through the aid of the LGBTQ community, we also were able to have a good representation from their community within our pool of participants.

We explored relationships from different social and cultural perspectives.


Semi Structured Interviews | Directed Storytelling


/ Gain insights about how participants defined a healthy monogamous relationship

/ Learn about their attitude towards online dating

I facilitated the interviews and helped build rapport and empathize with our participants. We engaged them by conducting a semi-scripted interviews and having them tell their relationship stories for 1 hour.


Love Data | Affinity Diagram


/ Identify themes from the interviews

/ Gain insights about how diverse cultures define "love" and other underlying factors

As we neared our 10th interview, we began to find the themes and insights that were resonating with all our of participants.This led to my team understanding how different views of relationships began to merge, and how these insights played a role in personal relationships of any culture and gender. 


We walked away with important insights that were innate in our participants.




Tech is woven into all relationships.

“I couldn’t meet anyone else to meet in my specific demographic.  [Grindr] was the only gay ave that I could always bounce back to” –L6


We are told how to love before knowing what love is.

“My father shaped my skepticism of men” –L1


More options create harder choices.

“I’m overwhelmed...is this what I really want?” –L7


Friendships build empathy and security that lead to long lasting relationships.

“We were friends for a year before dating” –L5

The insights helped us build a better story about our participants. By making empathy maps, we set out better understand even further how to address the issues.


Empathy Maps

These maps would allow us to better explore the different aspects of our participants. These would allow us to get indicators about their thoughts, feels, actions and perspective.



The insights from our empathy maps helped shape the road to our principles, as they highlighted the areas where we could provide the most assistance.



As we gained a better understanding of our participant's stories, they helped us craft the 4 design principles that we could confidently use to begin exploring different technological solution space.  


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)


Empathize with the feelings and thoughts of the other party by which we create a positive psychological climate. (Insight 4)


Create a space to express yourself as exactly as possible. (Insight 4)


Cultivate understanding that truly good things do not come easily. (Insight 4)


With our principals in mind, we considered technological spaces we could explore.



Exploring Concepts

Currently there are many software applications that crowd the market, so we worked to conceptualize speculative design solutions based around always on microphones. Given that it is at an early and fruitful stage for concepts to be explored. 

The areas where we explored solutions for were a personal assistant, wearables, and a mobile app.

Concept Illustrations by Maxwell Crabill

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.

A Hand to Hold : 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.

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.

Message in a Bubble : An application that enables you to respond to anonymous messages by voice within the public message thread.


I decided that the "Epi" concept would be the most compelling to test, as I saw potential that could come from testing a personal home assistant that would mediate conversations.


Testing With Wizard of Oz

I prefaced our testers that EPI was a prototype that would live fact check and act as conversational moderator, which pulled relationship information from 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 friends perspecitve.

Set up:

/ Bluetooth Speaker

/ 2 Laptops

/ Natural Reader Text To Speech


After testing our prototype with our participants expressed that they would not mind if something did mediate a conversation, but not interested in fact checking for relationship purposes. 

I led the team to use these takeaways to create our response to the problems in a video advertisement form for our audience, and I set out to design the user flow of how voice user interface guide would work as a Amazon Alexa Skill. 


Voice User Interface Flow

During our testing I asked our participants how they envisioned Epi it in their current relationships. Many suggested that setting boundaries in relationships were key to how they would use it, and also wondered how this would work as an Alexa Skill Set. 

With our participants feedback and additional research we broke down the boundaries into these categories for the VUI

/ Emotional boundaries

/ Physical boundaries

/ Material boundaries



This space was much more complicated than anticipated. I walked away with a deeper appreciation for how people define and cope with relationships amongst their significant others as well as their relationship with technology. It is clear that there in no one solution, and the response we created only touches the surface of this complex problem.