a communication designer, illustrator, and synaethete in Vancouver.
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Copy of Echo

Echo: Product Service System Design

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The Project

We designed an award-winning product service system for people with Alzheimer's Disease and their caregivers to to comfort the elder, enhance the connection among the elder and the family/carer, and give professional assistance to the caregivers. It consists of a physical product, Echo Amplifier, and a mobile app, Echo. 


To deliver a comprehensive product system including product mockups, an interactive functional mobile app prototype, a cohesive set of brand system, and a project book that captures all the process and interactions.


My Role:

I was heavily immersed in the theoretical and precedent research, and in collaboration with the industrial designer, I analyzed and synthesized the outcome to insights.

In the design phase, I was responsible for the iOS app design, major visual deliverables, copy writing, presentation planning, and ideating for the physical product design.



1. Identify problem space > 2. Develop personas > 3. Define research directions > 4. Preliminary research > 5. Precedent research > 6. Develop concept > 7. Consider empathetic and emotional design > 8. User flow > 9. Sketch iterations > 10. Low-fi mockup and user tests > 11. Design development > 12. Brand identity > 13. Reflection. 


1. Identify problem space


Research question:

How might we improve the wellness and connection for people with AD and assist the family as an entity?


The challenge

Alzheimer’s Disease: depression, grief, fear, frustration...

According to three months of research, we found that people with Alzheimer’s will experience memory loss and cognition incapability due to the brain damage. In most cases, the elders’ awareness of their disability would result in depression and anxiety.

“When an individual begins to experience cognitive loss there may be various behavioral consequences. They may experience changes in personality, a lesser sense of self, or a loss of independence. This can lead to symptoms such as high levels of depression, grief, fear, and frustration (Kasl-Godley & Gatz, 2000).”


It's about the family

AD severely affects not only the elder but the family too. For example, my grandpa is in the late stage of AD, my parents are often busy with work, and I live abroad. Because any device is complicated for my grandpa to use, my family has been experiencing huge difficulty to maintain a healthy connection with him.

Comparison of a normal brain (left) and degeneration from severe Alzheimer's disease (right).  Queensland Brain Institute

Comparison of a normal brain (left) and degeneration from severe Alzheimer's disease (right). Queensland Brain Institute


2. Develop personas

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Guang – Leslie’s grandpa
- 92 years’ old
- Resident in Baotou, China
- Late stage of AD
- Achieved academic honors and high position in career
- Finds electronic devices difficult to use
- The only interpersonal connection is within the family

Yan and Zhu – Leslie’s parents
- 55 and 53 years’ old
- Resident in Baotou, China
- Manager and college professor
- Have intensive workload
- Wish to offer more care to Guang
- Often feel overwhelmed and overly-stressed when taking care of Guang, and sometimes feel confused about Guang’s behaviour
- Wish to know more about the disease

- 23 years’ old
- Studies in Canada
- Often feels difficulty to connect with Guang because of time difference and
technical barriers
- Often feels anxious and worries about Guang and her parents
- Wishes to know more about the disease so she could offer some help

“Studies show that caregivers often neglect their own health and well being as a result of the stress of caregiving (Czaja, 2002).”

3. Define research direction

Based on the profiled personas, we mind-mapped the aspects we should research for. As a result, we directed our research towards AD, brain damage, memory loss, sense of belonging and identity, and sensory therapy. We also looked deep into AD caregivers and designs for other mental illnesses.


4. Preliminary research

1. Existing designs for AD are lacking empathy in different levels.

2. Carer’s mental health have been greatly neglected.

We read books and academic journals for AD and therapies, and conducted interviews with Alzheimer’s Society of BC and design professionals of communication design, industrial design, interaction design, science, and critical design ECU and AD professor and doctor from SFU.

By synthesizing the key findings, we focused our study towards music therapy, reminiscence therapy, AD carers, and precedent designs.


We found the professionals are saying:

Music therapy has a very real and beneficial effect for people who have Alzheimer’s disease...including the preservation and enhancement of communication between patients and their caregivers, friends and family members. It can also be a tool for reminiscence therapy... to reduce depressive symptoms in elderly people with dementia.” — John Schmid
Interactive participation has the potential to be stimulating, empowering, and trigger reminiscence in a different manner than non-interactive participation in intervention reminiscence activities.” — Tira Cohene, Ron Baecker, Elsa Marziali
“Several intervention technologies focus on supporting the caregiver, such as specialized telephone and video conferencing applications (Marziali, 2003; Czaja & Rubert, 2002). Few intervention technologies focus on psychosocial support for the patient.” — Tira Cohene, Ron Baecker, Elsa Marziali


5. Precedent research: Existing designs

Most of the designs for AD overlooks the elders’ social status and needs of respect. Some have poor usability and little emotional consideration. Also, we found very rare social support that is easily accessible and well-facilitated towards family and carers’ psychological health.


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Fig.1 Physical product designs for people with AD often looks too purposeful. They look childish and implies the seniors’ mental disability. From my own experience, my dad bought children’s toys for my grandpa and my grandpa was upset as he felt that he was disrespected and reminded of his illness.


FIg.2 This award-winning existing design for people with AD and integrated music therapy is heavy to hang on a senior’s neck and lacks an emotional aspect because it looks too much like a medical device.

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Fig.3 The most common social supports for the caregivers are not intuitive, poorly organized, and hard to access especially for people with little knowledge of the internet, for example, my dad.

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FIg.4 The existing mental support mobile app, Seven Cups of Tea, could prove that our concept of having professional consultation implemented in Echo Mobile is feasible.


Oppurtunity space

1. Consider patient, carers, and family members as an entity
2. Design with respect and empathy
3. Design an experience instead of a treatment



6. Develop concept based on research findings

Product service system design for people with Alzheimer’s Disease and their caregivers.

We concepted the system to be a combination of a physical product, Echo Amplifier, and a mobile app, Echo Mobile.

  • The Amplifier is for the elder as a medium of music therapy, which will play the songs he/she used to like. It also delivers voice messages from carers.
  • Echo Mobile is for carers to record and send the voices messages and consult psychology professionals about their own mental health and learnings of AD.
systemOverview copy.jpg


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With Echo Amplifier, Guang can

  • listening to the reminiscent music
  • practicing finger movements by playing with the textile on the surface.
  • These practices can both comfort his emotion and benefits his brain wellness.

The other family members can

  • Record and send voice messages, for example, reminders of taking pills. 
  • Set up the play time and schedules to the amplifier, so that even if they are busy or there's a time difference, they can still deliver cares to Guang.


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When Yan and Zhu feel overwhelmed or stressed when taking care of Guang, they can

  • Enrol in the Echo Care programme and consult a professional therapist. 
  • Learn more about the illness to better understand the elder and take better care of him.

7. Key design considerations:

Empathetic and emotional design: an experience instead of a treatment.

  • The amplifier should not look like a toy. It should have sophistication that respects the elder.
  • The amplifier should not look like a medical device. It will bring warmth and a sense of belonging.
  • The mobile app should consider the user age group who are not familiar with new technologies and complicated interactions. The UI should be simple and age-friendly.
  • Even though the system supports long-distance communication, it should not discourage the family visiting the elder.
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8. User flow development

We constructed the user flow to inform Echo Mobile design and technical considerations. The system is simple to navigate and robust in operation. The Echo Mobile supports multiple ways to complete any task, which saves users’ confusion and learning effort.


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9. Echo Mobile: iterate for an inclusive design

In order to generate the best use experience that’s friendly for people from age 12 to 60, I developed 3 iterations for the main recording function and 2 iterations for Echo Care. The intention was through user tests identify the best user flow, based on which to further refine the design to sophistication.


10. Low-fi iteration mockups and user tests

I used Sketch to quickly build low-fi wireframes, printed them on paper, cut them out, and conducted Guerrilla user tests. In the sessions, I asked each participant to do 2-3 out of all 5 mockups, so that they could compare different user flows but still provides valid input for first-time use experience.

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How to test usability under tight deadlines, technical constraints, and limited access to user groups?

Guerrilla paper user testing

It would be ideal if we have 3 iPhones to intuitively facilitate the user test sessions. However, by using paper user tests, I could easily discuss with participants and compare the use experiences for different iterations. Also, the paper cuts made it tangible to visually re-frame the information architecture by moving things around.


The user test results were exceedingly insightful. Upon selecting the best mockups, I found that

  • the user flow was not intuitive enough and
  • there are unnecessary back-and-forth actions.

To respond to the concerns, we were able to:

  • select the best mockup and reiterated the narration by sketching out the detailed flow. 
  • simplify the critical paths
  • improve the information architecture
  • utilize the process to inform the integration of Echo Mobile and Amplifier.

Echo Amplifier: evolves from empathy

For the Echo Amplifier design, we choose to embed the bluetooth, speaker, battery and charger device inside of the sphere. The sphere shape is natural for an aged hand to hold and the wooden texture provides warmth and tactile familiarity.

Because our research audience is particular, we couldn’t have enough chances to test the product with real seniors. Alternatively, we asked peers, faculties, and Mia’s grandpa to test and provide feedback.

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According to the user tests, we decided to

  • Design the sphere in different sizes considering elders’ genders and physical capabilities.
  • On the surface, we added small wooden balls for the elder to play with, to release anxiety and prevent the brain from further damage. The small balls also prevent the sphere from rolling.
  • We also attached a leather stripe for the elder to securely hold the sphere.
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11. Design development

Echo: the ultimate care for you and your loved ones.


Echo Mobile: record

Upon having the core wireframes, I populated the system by building low-fi mockups and applied the built brand identity to UI. Using Sketch and Invision, the mobile app was put to an interactive hi-fi prototype.

On the home screen, the user could

  • See the recipient, messages, button for new message, Settings, and Echo Care.
  • Change or create recipients.
  • Tap the "+ new message" button and a card will slide up for recording.
  • When finished, the user will name the message and set up the play time.
  • After saving, the new message appears highlighted.
  • The user also can open any message to re-edit.

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Echo Mobile: Echo Care

When the carer feels overwhelmed or confused, s/he could tap the speech bubble on the home screen and get help from Echo care.

  • Upon first use, the user will enrol in the program
  • The user will go through a series of questions about him/herself and the elder, 
  • According to the answers, the program will match three professional therapists who know both general counselling and AD.
  • The user could view detailed information for each theorist.
  • After selecting the suitable one, the user can chat with the therapist by texting anytime anywhere.

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Echo Mobile: Settings

All the settings for Echo Amplifier, Echo Mobile, and Echo Care are in the app, including the volume, active time, and playtime of the amplifier. We minimized the interaction and controls on the amplifier so the elder wouldn’t get confused or intimidated if operating incorrectly.  

The card UI design allows the user to stay on the main function page. In this way, the users could easily navigate through and distinguish the different functions. Especially older users, this app is easy to learn and use so that these people will be more willing to connect with the elder by Echo.


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Finally, we put everything in a 2-min story that summarizes our concept, research, process, and showcases the final design. This little video was played in the Museum of Modern Art.


12. Brand identity

“The last thing you want people to say about your project is ‘pretty’.”


Initially, I had the whole set of brand assets and mobile app designed to be pretty, which I believed could cut through the noise of beautiful designs in the grad show. However, in assessing it more, I had to admit that the brand looks too modern and millennial and the app is very weak in UX.


New Visual Identity

So I threw away the initial idea, started from the ground to investigate in the best practical UX and develop a brand system that corresponds to the user group and product.

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Click on the image to enlarge.

As a marketing tool, there will be a website that serves as an online store, provides tutorials and researches, and for users to enrol in the Echo Care program. We expect the website to form a community of caregivers. In the future, the product could be marketed to other manufacturers and retailers such as Costco and Amazon.


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In the package, we supply a charger, adapter, and a thank-you card. The card expresses our gratitude for the consumer being caring for the elder and our deep empathy towards their situation.


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13. Reflection

What’s meaningful is not the perfect outcome, but what you had to do to achieve perfection.


Although the project has gained admiration, there are challenges left behind:

  1. Would the one-way communication of the amplifier reinforce the elder’s negative feeling of verbal disability? How to integrate two-way communication within the system?

  2. Technically, what’s the best way to connect the amplifier to the internet and bluetooth that is easy for the user to set up?

  3. Technically, what’s the best way for Echo Mobile to send data to the amplifier from long distance?




Upon completion, the project gain huge favour from students and faculties in ECU and great attention in the Graduation Exhibition.

In November 2017, Echo was honoured as the single winning project in North America for WGSN and ArtsThread Future Creator New York. On November 2nd, Mia and I were invited to New York to pitch Echo and deliver the acceptance speech in the Future Creator Summit, at the Museum of Modern Art.


Duration: 2016.9 – 2017.5
Project Partner: Mia Feng

Faculty: Christopher Hethrington, Scott Staniland, & Eugenie Choen 
Completed in: Emily Carr




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