Emotion App

Read what you feel like

Launching Spring 2023

User Research, Interaction, Visual
Figma, Adobe Illustrator

Sneak Peak

Follow the pebbles that shine when the lights go out. 
Glean them, read them, and let them guide you to the light.

Pick a pebble that you feel like

Read, save, and revisit the pebble

Chat anonymously with professionals

Problem Statement

How might we bridge the gap between
international students and the mental health resources?

Even when facing an inordinate amount of stress, international students hesitate to draw on mental health resources.

Upon leaving their home country for the United States, many international students face expectations to be successful both academically and vocationally. While this can be a shared pressure for all, the additional solitude, language barrier, and culture shock worsen their mental health. Still, few of them utilize the university's mental health resources.

In this project, I aim to address the inability of international students to seek mental health assistance. More precisely, I adopt a social approach to designing interventions to bridge the gap between international students and mental health resources.

User Research

What happened before depression?

The challenge is to connect the students with the mental health resource. Hence, I wanted to start by seeing what the students were experiencing when handling negative emotions. And then, I can more clearly look into their decision-making process of where and who to reach for help.

However, as I looked into these international students through surveys and interviews, I gradually realized this is not just one issue with one solution but a flawed journey that needs help.


Visualize students' behavioral change across their emotional journey

I conducted interviews with 6 International students. The interview discussed: ① Their experience of feeling negative emotions and handling them. ② Their attitude toward mental health issues. ③ Their concerns over seeking help from resources.

I visualized the data to make sense of the interviews' myriad insights. I know that time is a critical factor in the problem; hence I delineated the developmental trajectory of users' journey before and after exceeding the capacity. And then, I placed users' behaviors/emotions in each phase.


Three pillars for ideating and designing

After comprehending the behaviors through the developmental trajectory, I synthesized the three pain points through the affinity wall. These overarching pain points serve as the later ideating and designing pillars.

① Not sure when they should seek help

Experiencing negativity is a long and winding process. Students are feeling complex emotions. They only realize they need help when things are severe.

② Current solutions are too serious or too hard to keep up with

Most solutions are under the name of helping people go through mental health issues. However, students are still not aware or in denial of their mental stage at this stage. Even if they try the solutions, sometimes it requires a lot of effort, so students will stop engaging when they are on a better day.

③ Felt uncomfortable reaching out

When students finally feel the urgency to seek help, they simultaneously get hesitant. They are afraid of being seen seeking help and are reluctant to associate themselves with the syndromes described by mental health institutes. For some, even the idea of reaching out and speaking about their emotion makes them feel uncomfortable.

Do Nothing

Alone with No Support

Can't Exactly Tell
What are They Feeling

Isolate Themselves

Felt Vulnerable when
Letting Others Know

Suddenly Needs Help
Suddenly Don't

Not sure when they should seek help

Current solutions are too serious or too hard to keep up with

Felt uncomfortable reaching out


A solution with casual action and earnest intention

The three overarching research insights served as my start to ideate possible solutions. From there, I sketched and storyboarded 8 possible solutions. Afterward, I converged them into feasible ideas to share with students for concept testing and dot voting.

I landed on the solution with three main functions: Emotional Tracker, Relatable Content, and Anonymous Talk. The product aims to offer students a casual way to get healing and relatable content and share their feelings. The product also serves as an emotion tracker that informs students when it's a good time to talk with a professional.

Emotion Tracker

To help users realize when do they need help, Pebbles allows users to track their emotions as they tap on the emotion pebbles.

Relatable Content

After users express their emotions to the tracker, it shows them relatable content from people with similar emotional experiences.

Anonymous Talk

When Pebbles realizes the user is exceeding their threshold of handling negative emotions, it will prompt the user if they would like to talk with a professional anonymously.

Designing the Journey

A journey that takes users on
a frictionless ride to their peace of mind

There are multiple things Pebbles can allow users to accomplish. However, I go back to the users to set the core functions and reach the MVP to ship. I diverged what users want to do when they feel negativity and converged them into several core Jobs to Be Done (JTBD).

The three are : (A) I want to quickly and accurately get the content that I feel like (B) I want to help people who are feeling the way I did (C) I want to check my recent emotional behavior, so I know when I will need professional help.

Based on the JTBD, I exhausted the user flows. Next, I figured out primary objects (and their views) for Pebbles from the flow. Then, with the clarity of what should be in the product, I structured the objects into the information architecture.

Designing the Experience

Building the experience for users at their lows

Pebbles takes care of users when they're at their lows; hence, I spent extra energy deliberating what a decent experience is. I diverged the wireframe of each interaction and mocked up the design for user testing.

I developed multiple options for each screen and a list of essential criteria for users in the design process. The method allows me to weigh which option is the most viable when users are at their lows.

Following are several quick demos of the design.

Get the content you’re feeling like

On Pebbles, you find relatable content by picking the emotion you are currently feeling. Then, behind each pebble, there's a story of another person feeling the same way as you.

This is a process of contemplating your personal emotion and relating yourself to others' stories. It can be recognizing and validating.

How to help users discover the content?

I went through several options to help users discover their emotions: quizzes, scaling, diaries, etc. However, from the research, I found that the barrier between users and current mental health solutions is the complicated process that takes too much calculation and mental energy. Hence I decided to go simple. Lay all the emotions out for users to compare and just pick.

Why show nothing other than just the emotion pebbles? 

From the research, we see that solutions stressing their "purpose" too much give users unnecessary pressure and can, in turn, push them away from exploration.

Hence I decided to create this focus area, where users only see the emotion pebbles, with the slightest trace that this is a solution helping them to get content and keep track of their emotional journey.

Further, the interaction requires users only one simple and familiar gesture: scrolling directionless. From the research, we see that when users are feeling their lows, they want to do something simple or repetitive.

Why require users to see the preview before accessing the content?

At this moment, users are still discovering. Their exploration of emotion does not stop at tapping on one pebble. There might be a lot of back and forth. Without making users feel like rushing or forced to make a decision immediately, I decided to add a quick preview before accessing the story behind the pebble.

Collect the pebbles and reflect on your emotional journey

There are stories from some pebbles that you hold dearly. You can put that pebble in your box and come back to them.

So come back to Pebbles, revisit the pebbles and reflect on the emotions that you've been through.

Why not prioritize the emotion tracker but saved pebbles?

This goes back to the goal of making Pebbles a casual product to heal my users. The research shows that users lack an everyday product for them to turn to. Further, I want to reduce interference to help users track their real emotions.

Why filter pebbles by emotion but not time?

Users save pebbles knowing they want to return to them or want the feeling of owning them. When returning to previously saved emotion pebbles, the scenario is more likely, a user is feeling an emotion and looking for related pebbles. Hence I decided to organize the saved pebbles by emotion and show it as a grid for easier browsing.

Why enable users to switch emotions when they are already at the saved pebbles?


Mind the Feelings

It is imperative to make the design easy to navigate and fits' users' experience. However, while we are focusing the behavior, it's also crucial to understand some reason behind the behavior that is so easy to look over-the emotion.

While designing for my users in this project, a group with more sensitive mind, I spent a lot of time to really feel what they are feeling. During the interview, I tried to read deeper under the story. And the final design prove the extra learning vital. After I present the design to my users, they gave positive feedback not only on the intuitiveness of the design but that they can picture them motivated to use it when at their vulnerable low point.

This means so much to me.

The "Good" Design

While designing for people suffering from mental hardship, I'm constantly asking myself what change this design can bring to them? Is the design good?

It's easy to define a good design as a design that centers what users need. For instance, if they want to be alone, the design equips them with the perfect way to block the world around them. However, is that the designer I want to be?

To me, what matters is the design's intention. We understand that people suffering from depression tend to isolate themselves. We also know to lend them a hand, it is imperial to lead them to people. Hence, I decided not to settle on users' surface needs but the change that users need.

I learned that creating a good design does not stop at centering it around users' behavior. To create a good design, we should stretch it to bring good to people.



Design System

2.0 Platform