The appearance and behavior of objects can sometimes make us ascribe personality traits or intentions to them. The project explores how we can use our natural tendency to anthropomorphize as a way of influencing our user experience. Reni is a smart home dialysis system that accompanies the user through the treatment and everyday management of kidney failure. It allows treatment in the comfortable home environment, while maintaining contact with the medical staff, and monitors and controls the quality of treatment. Reni focuses on the patient and hands them control over the treatment, while forming a supportive and empatheticrelationship.
The Reni project received an award of excellence from the Bezalel Academy, and was presented as part of Bezalel's international exhibition: "Open Fields".
RENI - Smart dialysis machine for the home environment
My graduation project dealt with how design can affect a person's mental state, and more specifically- How to design our relationships with the products/devices in our lives (And especially the smart devices with artificial intelligence (AI) and connected to the Internet (IOT). I focused on what I call "personality of objects". What underlies the research is my interest in how certain objects are perceived by us as having personality or intentions. I was trying to figure out what are the characteristics that make us feel, for example, that some product is 'cute' and another product 'stressful', and later deliberately and informedly choose the characteristics that will give the desired personality to the product.
The project is the climax for a research that started about two years earlier in the project I developed while I was on a student exchange program at Konstfack university, Stockholm (sphinx), and continued to evolve further while I was doing my internship at 'denkwerk',Germany (Ernesto) in the summer between the third and fourth year of studies.
For the graduation project I wanted to take the research I started in the previous two projects and use it in the field I believe has a real need. Since the communication with this type of object is suitable for emotional situations, I chose to focus on a medical device for the home environment, and eventually I chose to design a hemodialysis machine because it's a device that has a long and chronic connection with the patient and it allowed me to demonstrate how the personality design of the device can affect the experience of the patient and even quality of care.
Emotionally, this is a situation that contains very unpleasant characteristics (even before the treatment itself): Anxiety, stress from the unknown - from the disease and from the treatment, unpleasant smells of disinfectants and medicines, and from the face of medical devices itself - materiality is often cold in monochromatic colored plastic or metals- "Medical" colors, the sounds of many pumps and beeps that the device makes in any slight change in treatment conditions. And of course, the functional part of the device that includes stabbing needles and the need to be "chained" to the device during the treatment (sitting next to the machine 3-4 hours at a time 3-4 times a week).
Dialysis machines for home use
My choice to design a home-use device came from the realization that such a situation forces the patient's unmediated contact with the device; there is no staff member who can express empathy and calm down. And so, I saw great potential in designing an object that could alleviate this situation by pleasant personality and intuitive and fluid communication.
My main idea of dealing with this topic was to stimulate discourse about how by designing it is possible to affect the mental state of the patients. Now days the main considerations in the production of a medical product are that the product will function in the best and most efficient way, that will meet many standards and, as in any product, that will be cheap to manufacture. The consideration of how the patient will feel from his interface with the device is one of the last. As technology evolves and many components are lowering prices, I believe it is only a matter of time before that consideration will become worthwhile for the companies that manufacture these devices.
The research was conducted on two parallel parts:
Personality of an object
part a - reasearch on dialysis
This part included: research about dialysis patients, their lifestyle, how they lead their lives alongside the treatment routine, what treatment requires them? (for example, a special diet severe limit on fluid intake and many hours of treatment in which required to drop everything else and sit connected to the machine).
From my sketchbook
The study began with a visit to dialysis centers where I learned from the medical team how the machine works, how to operate it, what each component does and what types of machines exist. Later on, I made observations and also met with various patients and interviewed them about their experience during the treatment. There are hardly any hemo-dialysis patients in Israel who do treatments at home. Most people must go several times a week to hospitals or dialysis centers to undergo the treatment. Therefore, in addition to the interviews I conducted in Israel, I also contacted many patients abroad (especially the United States and Australia).
Preparing the machine for a treatment
From my sketchbook
Using Facebook groups for dialysis patients from all over the world, I distributed a survey asking about patients' relationship with their machine: How they describe it personality? do they have a nickname for the device? and more... These may be questions that sound a little strange and non-standard... But most respondents survey (about 70 people) answered seriously and rejoiced in the interest I had in this field. Most people have testified that the personality of their machines is a fussy edgy unpleasant and bossy gaudy… And that their relationship with it consists mainly of great dependency (and on the other hand it saves lives).
I also asked people to send me pictures of the device environment at home - most of it looks like they have opened a clinic in the living room. Apart from the device itself the whole environment is "painted" in the medical atmosphere. This is also something I tried very hard to change through my design - I wanted the device to be able to fit in more pleasantly into the home environment that will look more like furniture and less like a medical machine.
Dialysis machines in a home environment today (All the pictures were sent to me by patients)
I also learned about advanced medical technologies and the tremendous potential of entering the Internet into the medical world. IOT (Internet Of Things) enables the transfer of data while handling servers that record and analyze the progress of treatment and can calculate, for example, the amounts of materials required for the following treatments, the impact on the patient's diet requirements and more. Tele medicine - enables the management of the treatment at a distance from medical staff. It is possible to be in contact with the medical parties by phone/ computer - and they receive all the handling data directly from the devices.
Stay at home and keep in touch with the medical staff.
Image from the animation (created by Gal Haklay).
part b - How to design a personality for an object?
The second part of my research dealt with the question of "how to design a personality for an object?" From my analysis there are two main things that affect our perception of personality:
The appearance of the object, for example, is material shape and color.
Its behavior, for example, how it moves, what sounds it makes, if it flashes...
I analyzed many devices and tried to understand their personality but according to my approach such a process- of personality design for a product- cannot be performed by a single designer, because different people feel different things or interpret behaviors differently. Therefore, I turned to methods of common design (Co-design/Co-creation). I have developed several workshops to help me design according to both parts of the equation appearance and behavior.
For example: a light bulb that slowly blazes a faint light that changes softly between blue and green conveys a calm feeling, while a light bulb that blazes bright red and at a fast pace transmits something nervous or emergency.
Another example - an ever-stronger sound transmits something freneticly stressful, Vs. monotonous constant sound - which transmits stability and calm or even boredom.
In the workshops I asked participants to categorize different forms into different character traits. It was remarkably interesting to see that people attribute similar traits to similar forms- F or example, when I asked to describe a "smart" shape, most of the participants created cubes with sharp edges, and when I asked to describe a "cute" shape the resulting shapes were more rounded and chubby. In another workshop I brought various components that I dismantled from cheap toys, all sorts of things that mix in different rhythms and colors, produce such and other sounds, and have different textures.
From the workshops: describing attributes using shape and behavior
From my sketchbook - inspiration of playful objects
The system includes:
Hemo-dialysis machine (the top of the machine).
reverse osmosis machine- filtering water (The bottom of the machine).
The system is connected to the Internet (IOT) which allows for several important things:
Keeping in touch with medical official’s - dialysis clinic and nephrologist.
Collecting medical data on the patient - ability to see trends in his medical condition and make adjustments in treatment accordingly (Adjusting medications, calculate dialysis duration and frequency, adjusting filtration rate....)
Direct contact to technicians - if something malfunctions in the machine - it will alert and invite a technician without the need for the operation of the patient.
Contact suppliers- in any treatment uses supplies which are thrown in the trash at the end of treatment (such as needle pipes and various materials), The system knows how much equipment is left and will order additional equipment when needed.
There is no screen on the machine. Any operation requiring a screen is done through the app which can be opened on any smartphone, tablet, or PC. This allows for a clean and quiet appearance to the machine and reducing screens from the user environment.
Clean look, reducing screens from the user environment.
The system accompanies the patient in daily coping with kidney disease and dialysis treatments. The app helps the patient plan the dates of treatments taking into account the patient's personal diary and nutrition: With the app, the system helps the patient record the amount of fluid he drank and the food he ate and plan his treatments accordingly. For example, if the patient approaches the limit ceiling for his permitted water consumption RENI will offer him to move up of treatment date. This flexibility is possible thanks to the fact that it is a home machine.
Custom app that helps the patients manage their daily routine, monitor the amount of allowed fluids and diet requirements, plan the treatment schedule and keep in touch with the medical stuff
I chose an anthropomorphic approach to strengthen the machine's sense of personality. The shapely design and interaction design stem from the workshops I had during the research phase: The "head" is the dialysis machine - it is the smart part where the medical procedure occurs, it is therefore more geometric than square with sharp, defined corners. The "body" - this is the part of the water filtration machine and therefore rounded and chubby - hints at its contents. I chose symmetrically to transmit something relaxed and static. Chubby and cute character - doesn't move much. Is in place alongside the patient and supports him during treatment. The "neck" is a piston that allows movement between the two parts and thus contributes to the expressive ability of the resulting character.