A system to help with smartphone addiction, an exploration of the role of empathy in design, and a product for people who want a healthier digital life.

Context —

Ten week class project as part of the 2019 Microsoft Design Expo. Taught by Axel Roesler and guided by Nathan Auer. Continued as a solo project for design capstone.

Team —

Alea Abrams, Rohan Chavan, & Tyler La

To watch the full 8-minute final presentation, which includes the concept video, click here. Note that this video does not include the same wearable as pictured above. That was added during a solo continuation of this project after the class ended.

Empathy at Scale —

This was the theme of the 2019 Microsoft Design Expo, and the prompt for the project. The goal was to present a concept for a product that could increase people’s empathy for one another at a global scale. After much deliberation, my team and I chose to focus on the topic of smartphones and screen addiction.

“The displacement of in-person social interaction by screen interaction seems to be reducing social skills.”

Patricia Greenfield, PhD

A study at UCLA discovered that children who lost access to screens for five days tested better for emotional intelligence, a key requirement for empathy. More research showed negative correlations between internet addiction and compassion, happiness, and relationship strength.


Concept —

Loop is a wearable device that gathers information about the wearer’s surroundings and can control the user’s smartphone. The system can be in one of three modes:



Green Mode

The device tracks time spent on non-essential apps on the user’s smartphone. The time limit is determined by an algorithm that tailors the experience to each user’s habits. When in this mode, a user can use their device normally and without restrictions, until time runs out. Time recharges when the phone is locked and put away.



Yellow Mode

Similar to green mode, but occurs when Loop detects that the user is in a social setting or situation. In this mode, time drains more quickly. Time becomes a commodity that has greater scarcity when the user’s time would be better spent on face-to-face interactions. But like green mode, when time runs out Loop turns red.



Red Mode

All non-essential apps, such as social media and games, are blocked. Red mode only lasts for a few minutes — long enough to break the hypnosis and force the user to take a break. Important applications such as navigation and calling are never blocked.


First prototype, and first ever 3D print.First prototype, and first ever 3D print.

First prototype, and first ever 3D print.

A prototype mid-way through the process.A prototype mid-way through the process.

A prototype mid-way through the process.

Final prototype before painting and adding acrylic insert.Final prototype before painting and adding acrylic insert.

Final prototype before painting and adding acrylic insert.

After the class was over, I decided to continue the project on my own by designing the wearable device I had envisioned. The device would only need a small battery and simple display capable of showing the three colored rings. While not completely necessary, I believe a device separate from the phone is important for the functionality of the system. If a user needed to check their phone to see how much screen time they had or which mode it is in, the purpose would be somewhat defeated.