A Small-scale Social Platform Overcomes Time Difference and Isolation
What is it?
The novel Coronavirus has caused many of us to adjust to a new normal in our behaviours, our interactions, and our ways of living. As the majority of our experiences adjusting to this new normal have been individual, especially considering the necessary social isolation, we sought to understand and solve a specific problem of one of our interviewees.
With this challenge, we focussed on designing a product that was directly inspired by the needs of an international student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Xinyi Zhou. Zhou is receiving her masters degree in Landscape Architecture this year, in the class of 2020. Although she is from Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China, she is currently living in Cambridge in Harvard housing. Normally Zhou has a roommate, but due to the pandemic, her roommate went back home, leaving Zhou alone. In synthesis of her interview, we pulled out 3 major challenges that she is currently facing due to the COVID-19 lifestyle changes.
First, Xinyi Zhou emphasized food related issues of maintaining a strong food supply and cooking for herself, describing herself as not a very good cook. From this information, we ideated a foldable and convenient shopping cart that allowed for new means of transportation while operating with an iphone holder. In addition to this product and potentially alongside it, we ideated a food pantry and recipe app that facilitated cooking and meal plan according to what the user had in stock. However, after some research, we found similar platforms and products to currently exist.
Another need state Xinyi Zhou touched upon was how to fill her new free time. Zhou mentioned recently purchasing an expensive electronic keyboard that if not in quarantine, she would not have purchased. From this, we derived the idea of a teach and learn virtual community, facilitated by an app or website platform that would connect various individuals with others to engage and share skills of all kinds. This idea was promising and directly applicable to Zhou’s need for social engagement as well as steps in learning a new skill. Although this was not the product that we ultimately decided to build out, it helped us come up with our final idea, focussing on how to better facilitate virtual communication and connection, especially during the time of COVID-19.
The third need that Xinyi Zhou demonstrated in her interview centered around social interactions or lack thereof. Being an international student who cannot go home or spend time with friends locally, Zhou explained her new felt experience of social isolation. As many of her family and friends are overseas in China, communication is not easy due to time zones becoming a prevalent issue in connection. In addition, Zhou mentioned feeling overwhelmed and unsatisfied with her engagement on social media, explaining how all the news and shared information can make her feel sad or ruin her mood. Out of these challenges of timezone difficulties and overwhelming social media in real life social isolation, we came to the idea of Globally, a small-scale social media platform that is focussed on connecting the user with close friends and family, especially those who are located in different time zones.
The essential features of Globally directly target Xinyi Zhou’s issues that she made clear in her interview and in her feedback. These features include:
- Calendar sync between users
- Interactive visual globe
- Sharing of personal experience/mood (optional)
- Direct connection with a small group (i.e. only close friends and family)
- Across time-zone schedule setting within the group
- Various options for communication and connection (ranging from virtual games to video chats).
The first feature we designed an interactive globe for Xinyi to build connections with her loved ones in which she and her invited friends could see and share their live status, locations, weathers, and emotions. To make this process less time consuming, users could decide whether to access the screen-using of other apps on their phones.
Interactive Schedule Carousel
Besides, within smaller groups, we also created a live-time carousel for group members to check on each other’s local time, weather and availabilities.
In these interactive interfaces, Gloablally avoids the overwhelming burden and accessive time consumed using the ‘endless scroll’ feature of many other social media platforms.
Cross Timezone Scheduling
Lastly, the app also makes across-timezones-scheduling easier. By syncing calendars, it would visualize the overlapping of users’ schedules and would highlight the time that works for all of them. So that users could select an activity (such as virtual board games, and video chatting, etc. ) and send the request to group members. Once approved, it would sync to all of their calendars according to their time zones.
Reducing the anxieties of isolation and distancing through having the world at your fingertips, Globally helps you check in on your loved ones and by making it easy and efficient to schedule times to check in with each other. Additionally, as Zhou explained how social media was not helping her social isolation but rather making her feel overwhelmed, we concluded that there is a substantial need for small-scale social media that is focused on authentic and personal sharing. Globally encourages you to connect on a smaller, more intimate level, providing the option to share your mood, your daily activities and location through an interactive globe. Rather than using the ‘endless scroll’ feature of many social media platforms, Globally avoids excessive sharing through an interactive global visualization in the front page of the app.
How it fits into a larger context
Overall, the many different features of Globally are focussed on addressing the personal issues of our client, Xinyi Zhou. However, in this time of social distancing, personal isolation and the global issue of a pandemic, Globally would likely fulfill many need states of people around the world. With social media’s excessive spread of information, it has evolved away from intimate connection and direct communication. Now, more than ever, we must figure out ways to truly connect with each other virtually, especially when it comes to our loved ones that may be on the other side of the world.