Susanna Berra

Design Challenge

Build a behavioural-changing technology to increase awareness and motivation over hydration problem in seniors


A product composed by an interface, a smart mug and an application to change elderly’s attitude toward hydration through the motivational structure given by a virtual assistant, Linda

Personal contribution

Part in the concept idea
Development and testing of the motivation system
Contribution in the prototype coding
Ideation of the video storyboard
Final graphic output
Team leader

The use of technology in everyday life is for seniors an opportunity to address some health related issues that sometime prevent them to live in their house. LINDA project is about the design of a behavioural changing technology, studied to motivate elderly and raise awareness towards the often undervalued dehydration problem, that affects most of the seniors and causes serious health damages.
The design concept consists in a tracking part (a smart mug), a motivational part (a virtual assistant, Linda, that speaks to the user through a screen) and a monitoring part (an application for the user’s relatives). The device encourages the user to follow a certain drinking schedule, through a structure of daily goal setting, progress check, subliminal reminders and positive feedbacks, in order to modify the water intake habits after a prolonged use of the product.
This product was studied in collaboration with both elderly and medical staff, to incorporate in the design the user needs and shape an effective device.The whole study was embraced by the user panel with a great enthusiasm, and it offers a valid starting point for interesting future improvement on this subject.

1. Defining the challenge

User journey

Starting from the general issue of dehydration in seniors (sourcesourcesourcesource), we explored the user journey of the action of drinking a glass of water, analyzing a generic senior living home alone, to understand the main problems and the opportunities on which the project could be built.
The main pain point was that elderly don’t feel the importance of the action and for this reason they postpone it or they are not motivated enough to carry it on. Some interesting opportunities are to create a good and regular drinking habit, raise awareness towards the problem and, once obtained the goal, motivate to keep up with the good behaviour.

Personal contribution: desk research


We found a lack of products that could answer the necessities we framed during the research. Water trackers are mostly designed for young people and athletes. The few products accessible to elderly have been found not useful for a deep change in their habits.
The range in which to place the new product is between those devices that are suitable for seniors and the ones that are motivating enough to produce an useful change in behaviours.


The specific target that has been defined with the user journey map is the one of seniors with general hydration problem (the illness field has been left very broad, to include as many medical categories as possible) and that live on their own at home (because we found this category to be more affected to the problem, and also because it’s more useful for them to learn how to manage their disease in autonomy).

Personal contribution: persona design

2. Design process

First iteration: the water dispenser

The first design proposal was a smart water dispenser, called HydroPal. The product consisted in a dispenser of cold or hot water, with a screen on it and a pill dispenser. It worked through a series of non-invasive notifications from the screen, that invited the user to drink or take the right medication when the system detected it was time. The motivation included the use of relative’s voices to notify and encourage the positive behaviour.

UX research: card sorting

To understand which direction to take to improve HydroPal, the whole structure was splitted in categories (the tracking system, the main interface, the notifications and the motivators), each one with different options, and some users were asked to express their preferences about them. The participants of the card sorting were five elderly between 65 and 80 years old. The result of the card sorting is shown in the figure.

Second iteration: introducing Linda

Taking in consideration the opinions given by the users, a new product was shaped: a smart mug connected to a screen, the first used to track the daily water intake and the second to interact with the person and motivate him/her. A character, called Linda, was built for the motivation part. Linda is a medical figure, with an authoritarian but yet familiar appearance that establishes a human connection with the person: her social role encourages the user to trust her, follow her advice and feel gratified by her compliments.

Personal contribution: wireframe content

UX research: user testing

To test the idea, a new prototype was shown to the same users that tried the card sorting, plus a physiotherapist working in a retirement house. The general response to the prototype was positive, it was found easy to use and quite intuitive. The users mostly appreciated Linda for the human feeling she gave and the positive encouragements, but they enlightened some pain points about her appearance and messages.

UX research: final user testing

The second prototype, built  according to the results of the previous test, consisted in a mockup of the wireframe (shown on a tablet), a cardboard base and two different versions for the mug. It was tested in a retirement house, interviewing both the medical staff and seniors (age from 80 to 85).

The feedback from the medical staff was very good: they were enthusiastic about the idea and very keen to see its developments.
The feedback from the elderly was generally good, but it also provided useful insights regarding the visuals and the informative content.

"I can see it in the retirement house. What about implementing it also for different kind of physical or mental disabilities?"
Dean of medicine
"Linda is really nice! Where can I buy it?"
84 years old
"It’s great that finally someone is taking care of this problem!"
"It would be great for me because sometimes I forget stuff"
81 years old

3. Final system

Components and functions

The final system consists of an interface connected to a mug, with which the user interacts everyday (in the morning and in the evening) by lifting and putting it down: in these occasions, he/she can hear from Linda, the assistant, the goal for the day, the progress made, some personalized advice and encouragement.
This system is connected to an application, on a relative’s phone, from which the relative can set the user’s personal data, check the statistics about water intake and be notified if there is an emergency situation.

Personal contribution: the complete motivational system of the interface, wireframing, and part in the technical realization.

Motivational system

The structure of the whole project has been designed to provide the user with a clear and effective motivation for performing the action on the right time.

Beside what emerged from the final user testing, the efficacy of this system was also tested on a longer term, to understand the effectiveness of the motivation. To do that, one member of the team assumed the role of Linda and, without the use of any physical prototype, followed an elderly subject for five days, talking to her at the same time and with the same words that the digital Linda would have used.
The test result was very positive, as after just a couple of days the user started anticipating the reminders and drink regularly on her own.


Technical requirements

Given the defined target, the interactions are studied to be few and simple, and the outputs intuitive and known by elderly. The whole technology is made to be stand-alone, it doesn’t need basic knowledges or abilities to be used. All the technological components of the product are hidden inside the base and the mug itself, in order for the product to be waterproof and portable.

We studied separately how the real product was supposed to work and how the prototype could simulate this working flow as closely as possible.
The interface was prototyped with MIT App Inventor, while the base and the mug are working whith an Arduino system.

Final evaluation

The main issue emerged by working on this project regards the UX approach. Dealing with behavioural-changing technologies, it’s impossible to be completely sure of the effectiveness of a system without a proper long-term prototype testing, which was impossible to do given the timing and the physical restrictions we had. However, the results obtained by the desk research and the user testing were promising and worth of future implementations.


The final system consists in an interface connected to an interactive mug that can detect the amount of liquid drunk.
The interface, the mug sensors and the interactions were all prototyped through Arduino and AppBuilder.

Final interactive prototype


developed in: 3 months – October 2018 to December 2018
team: Susanna Berra, Chiara Barzaghi, Shailly Gadhiya, Barbara Gualandris, Selen Yesilada
tools: Adobe Photoshop/ Illustrator/ InDesign, Arduino, App Inventor

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