A noticeable trend raised in the late three years among Chinese young women that they suffer from long-lasting self-shame and weight-regaining in their daily struggle of sticking to a diet.
I was part of a project from Tongji D&I Institute to create a design strategy to relieve the binge-eating problem in dieting. The 5-week project was led by Yuzhou Chen and Gary Jiao from frog design.
Frog Design gave us 5 trendy phenomenon in the current China’s society and asked us for a design research about one of them with a design solution of any kind.
Our team was curious about this contradictory phenomenon (“朋克养生”) and soon related this topic to binge-eating behaviors around us.
A self-contradictory behavior among young people that they indulge in unhealthy habits, such as staying up late, meanwhile trying hard to make up for their health, such as buying pricy skincare and eating Goji herbs.
I then scraped and analyzed 5000 Weibo posts on April 26 2021 with the keyword ‘暴食’ (binge-eating). I discovered a large group of desperate binge-eaters. Also from the semantic map, our team noticed a correlation between binge eating and dieting.
Based on Judy Lightstone (2002), We then found binge and dieting goes in two linked cycles.
The question came: Why do young people binge eat while they are on diet?
How can we help binge eaters from binge-eating?
Our team designed a theoretical framework and a product strategy to help binge eaters recover from the short to long term.
The theoretical framework advanced Judy Lightstone’s framework by providing how and where to break the cycle.
The product strategy consists of three gradual steps based on Fogg Behavior Model: a physical interactive object as intervention, an online community and a wellness app.
What’s a typical day like for a binge eater?
We picked out 5 typical binge eaters from Xiaohongshu, observed patterns in their words, comments and pictures and sorted their daily journey into a day map.
We started to think of the process as the before, middle, and after phases.
We also discovered early insights that helped us prepare for more effective and sensible interview questions.
Before the binge,
can we break their private space by getting them to talk to others?
During the binge,
can we make any thing tangible and interactive to help shift binge eaters' attention to elsewhere?
After the binge,
can we provide binge eaters with a tracking tool/platform to document and release their emotion?
What are the crucial moments in a typical day of a binge eater that we can break into to help them get out of the cycle?
We strictly followed Frog Design’s research guide for the whole research process, including screening (pic1), scheduling, preparing the discussion guide (pic2) and stimuli, and writing debrief form.
We then color-coded one-line post-its from our research notes to groups of clues. After 3 rounds, similar ideas flocked together and we discovered 6 insights from multiple flocks of related sticky notes.
We extracted as lively a persona as possible from 8 interviewees as well as all supplementary materials we had read before.
We saw a stressed girl in her twenties who always has an internal anxious imbalance between a dissatisfaction towards self and a desire to instant gratification. She suffered from judgment since very young, and thus wants to pursue a strict body beauty standard as hard and fast as possible.
Binge eaters are not aware when it happens.
Binge eaters need one reminder between food and them.
Giving up dieting and purge is the only way out.
Food becomes the first choice when binge eaters are confronted with any stress in the long term.
When eating, binge eaters enter a ‘flow’ when they do nothing but roaming on their phone aimlessly.
Binge-eaters usually have a box for food storage.
Before binge starts,
HOW MIGHT ME provide an intervention by detecting food intake as well as giving reminders, and then shift away their attention?
After they binge,
HOW MIGHT ME help binge-eaters accept their behavior and themselves?
Research with design, but not before design.
I do think this project a research-heavy one, but I’m not that satisfied with how we honed our design. After 4 weeks of research, we noticed too less time was left for design, and more importantly, testing. Despite that we provided stimuli during interviews, which had our design assumptions in it, we didn’t provide a tangible or visible design prototype for users to test during the interview. We neither didn’t test our box prototype or gain feedbacks on the strategy.
More explorations in the physical interface.
We spent much time deciding on what object and where it should be placed, but not much on how should our users interact with the box. By any sensors? How is the box opened? How many different interaction there might be and how those feel?
Be clear about what to research and when to stop researching.
We don’t have much expectations of the scope and experience in balancing research and design. After this design research, I became clearer about always setting a research goal or question. It can be based on the design assumption I already had. We as designers and design researchers should develop our instinct to as questions that can direct our design later.
More explorations in the Avatar
I didn’t exactly remember the reason we chose the bear as well as using an existed IP directly. On the pitch day I noticed 3 out of 6 groups used avatar, all of which were animals. Using avatar good at building closer relationships and involving more natural gamification, but it should also match with the goal of the product and have its own unique visual language.