We began with extensive research into both the scientific and sociological causes for and effects of happiness, among other related emotions. We read articles, watched TED talks, listened to Buddhist monks, you name it. We synthesized all our notes and findings into three main insights, shown below.
(Check out our full research report, linked at the top of the page, for our complete analysis.)
Turns out, it's really hard to define happiness, much less predict its causes and consequences. Happiness varies significantly from person to person on both social and physiological levels. Basically, there's no hard-and-fast formula to make people happy. The extreme variance of its causes makes drawing deeper, consistent insight a difficult task.
There are already multiple technological systems in place to track happiness, however many of these systems require significant amounts of user input and attention to function correctly. Biometrics are only one small component of a holistic picture of happiness. A happiness meter can only reveal so much outside of human interpretation.
People who associate with happy people often find greater satisfaction themselves. Narrowing our scope of happiness tracking to a purely individual level would remove a vital aspect of happiness that can't be tracked or affected through biometrics alone. We wanted to find a problem area that could use this device to elevate happiness within a community.
Early in our research process, we met with Clint Rule, an Associate CD over at Teague, who wrote a thesis on privacy and surveillance in the workplace. His expert knowledge on how employees perceive and deal with surveillance gave us greater understanding of what concerns needed to be addressed in our solution.
Clint informed us that coworkers respond better to surveillance when they directly benefit from participating and have a more democratic say in what information is collected and how it is used.
Our secondary research gave us great insight into happiness as a concept, but moving forward, we knew that we would need to direct our primary research more towards understanding the nature of social interactions throughout the office with an emphasis on privacy. Our three goals throughout our interviews were to identify existing methods of communication, understand privacy concerns, and investigate social barriers in the workplace.
We performed semi-structured 45-60 minute interviews centered around participants' roles in their workplace, methods of office communication, and conflict resolution between coworkers. We dove deeper into any existing meaningful relationships in office settings, and any barriers that could prevent participants from better getting to know each other.
We used a Circle of Trust as one of our key data collection devices. We had our participants place different members of their workplace on a spectrum of trust from high to low. This trust related to their comfort in sharing personal, non-work related details with each coworker. This exercise was invaluable in gathering categorized information we couldn't divulge from purely a traditional interview process.
We compiled all our field notes into hundreds of coded post-its with relevant quotes. From there, we categorized these codes into about 20 general themes, in order to find similarities between participants. We then took all our themes and grouped those into overall insights we could draw from each theme. These insights (listed below) were the building blocks of the design principles that would guide and ground our future solution.
Once we had fully dissected and understood the relevant info from our interviews, we began forming the design principles that would guide our ideation process. We discussed which user goals were most poignant and necessary to include, and began crafting personas to visualize proper use cases. This allowed us to create principles (seen below) that would closely protect and empower users of our product.
Trust is essential for open communication in the workplace regarding personal issues. In order to facilitate open conversation about satisfaction and happiness, we need to promote a model that is grounded in trust-building interactions. Our insights showed us that trust cannot be manufactured — it is built on face-to-face interactions and time spent together.
We also found that people more integrated into a company were more trustworthy of its inner workings. Building trust in the workplace can both increase job satisfaction and lay a foundation for open sharing of happiness between coworkers.
In-person interactions are necessary for building trust and genuine relationships in the workplace. The disconnected nature of digital interactions breeds miscommunication and can catalyze conflict and distance between coworkers.
Although our given technology inherently implies the usage of a wearable device, this technology cannot reinforce distanced digital relationships. We must use this technology instead as a tool to bring coworkers together with genuine, in-person interactions.
Professional reputations were of utmost importance to every person we interviewed. Working individually carefully craft a professional persona which directly influences their career goals and performance.
Because every individual stressed a need to maintain a professional image, no solution that put this image in jeopardy could be considered. Our solution would need to improve happiness between coworkers without sacrificing users' professionalism.
Each of us sketched up storyboards and rough UIs for early ideas that fit our design principles. Shown here is my early UI concept for a personal workplace happiness tracker that aims to correlate happiness with a variety of metrics, such as office location, project work, team members, etc. The goal here was to provide deeper and provable data into causes of happiness or depression at work.
All our ideas fell into three overarching categories: personal happiness trackers, employee-supervisor trackers, and person-to-person happiness sharing tools. After significant revision, critique, and research, we found some serious flaws (shown below) with each category that informed us of a clear direction to move forward.
Based on the technology we were provided, personal happiness trackers would be fundamentally cumbersome, meaningless, and potentially damaging to one's well-being. People know when they're happy. Being alerted of only your current happiness levels would be invasive and redundant, and could possibly ruin the genuine subconscious nature of the emotion.
The only application for this product could be uncovering deeper reasons and context for happiness. Our secondary research informed us of how many factors influence one's happiness - factors only trackable via constant and invasive user input. The benefits this product could provide to a user certainly wouldn't validate the sheer amount of input required for it to gather accurate and insightful data.
What's more, this inability to distinguish causes of happiness would prevent us from tailoring this product to a workplace-centered use case. Gathering insight specific to job satisfaction would be impossible.
Solutions specifically revolving around employee-boss interactions raise serious concerns about workplace privacy and interpersonal trust. These concepts inherently contradict the need for personal ownership and maintaining a professional image.
Top-down surveillance at its core destroys trust in any community — especially the workplace. Surrendering one's most personal emotional state to their supervisor breaches the meticulously crafted professional images employees strive to preserve. The inability to contextualize this data opens the door for serious misuse, corruption, and misinterpretation. Users would be incentivized to fake happiness to protect their professional image, which would only further impede genuine workplace interactions.
Democracy, transparency, and personal ownership is necessary for any form of workplace surveillance. Any method of making happiness available as a metric to one's supervisor would irreparably harm workplace interactions.
Our person-to-person ideas showed promise, but nonetheless had issues in need of resolution. Our solutions attempted to streamline relationships by pairing people together to discuss personal topics. While this 'technically' allows for communal sharing of emotions, it removes genuine formation of trust from the equation. Trust can't be manufactured. Formulaically putting people together to discuss personal issues bypasses this critical period of building a genuine rapport with coworkers.
Person-to-person interactions which removed office hierarchy from the equation were the most feasible solutions for us to consider. But without an organic incentive to share personal information, we would only continue to reinforce surface level interactions. We chose to pursue this route with the goal of encouraging meaningful, non-contrived relationships to develop.
After some long, long nights of revision, we came to realize that the root of our problems was the biometric tracker itself. It was inherently at odds with our design principles, as it reduced a complex, personal emotion down to a binary metric. This incomplete and corruptible view of happiness in the workplace could only reinforce prohibitive social barriers.
Increasing trust, personal relationships, and communal happiness is essential for a healthy workplace, but a biometric happiness tracker is not the tool to do so. With the begrudging approval of our professor, we moved forward confidently knowing that our design solution should not implement this technology.