Retreat Pod is a multi-sensory escape pod designed to relieve feelings of stress and burnout in the workplace.
The Retreat Pod is a total body experience that addresses the common feeling of stress in the workplace. The feeling that worker's always have to be 'on' can quickly lead to burn out, which can have detrimental effects to one's health physically, mentally and socially. Productive breaks can help alleviate this stress and allow workers to return to their work restored and refocused. The Retreat Pod brings workers into a complete 'off' state where they can take their mind off work for some time and return to their work recharged.
1. Project Brief
2. Research and Defining Opportunities
3. Concept Development
4. Final Model
1. PROJECT BREIF
The Industrial Design building at 161 South Main Street has been a learning and working hub for hundreds of students at RISD since 1996. Take the opportunity to survey students, faculty and staff who work at 161 South Main Street to reflect on how we have been doing for the past 23 years. Choose a topic for research, define an objective and identify a design opportunity.
Interested in human behavior and psychology, and dealing with feelings of burn out myself, I chose mental well being as my area of research.
The Industrial Design (ID) building has an intense studio working environment in which students can be seen working long hours, day and night, all year long. In this type of environment it is easy to have a narrow focus on your projects, become overworked and forget to take care of your physical and mental health. An environment that stresses work also promotes a competitive, workaholic attitude that can result in stress, burnout and loss of motivation.
Objective: Design a studio space for students that promotes a more positive work-life balance.
2. RESEARCH AND DEFINING OPPORTUNITIES
I conducted several qualitative interviews with several of my peers in the ID building, asking questions about work culture, stress management, and burn out.
A common sentiment felt among the students was that the ID building feels like a 24/7 working environment. You walk into the building and see students working all the time, and every space is dedicated for working. Students also hold each other to such high expectations and degrees of performance, that we feel like that we always have to be “on”. They feel like they always have to be on their best, and work themselves out to the very end. How can we design a space to address this common pressure to work yourself to death?
Opportunity: There are very little lounge spaces for students to take a break in the ID building. The few relaxation spaces are makeshift, and often end up becoming work spaces.
3. CONCEPT DEVELOPMENT
Design Lenses - Why a Pod?
Retreats and Escapism
Looking into why company retreats can be successful, I discovered that it is an extended break where you are using different areas of your mind. It allows for reflection, to see what is working and what isn’t, and allows employees to improve and be more productive moving forward. Can I take this approach to design something on a more everyday, individual level?
Comfort in Seclusion
I was also interested in how some people find comfort in confined spaces when they feel overwhelmed or in anxiety. Psychologists say it goes back to the comfort feeling of being in a womb. People also like to feel that they can be in command of their own space.
Building a Mockup and Receiving Feedback
A testing mockup was built with 2"x4" boards, cardboard, staples, and various fabrics. I tried to create a stress relieving environment that appealed to all of the senses by also programming LED lights with Arduino, projecting a southing repeating animation, dusting lavender around, and utilizing plush fabrics.
I kept the pod up for several days and guests were invited to enter as they wish and leave comments on a survey I left inside. I gave no direction on how to use the space
From the comments users liked the enclosed, private, cozy feeling, the tall walls and the plush fabrics and felted relaxed. Most said they would use the space to take a break, or to have some private alone time with no distractions. Taking a nap and making phone calls were some unexpected answers.
4. FINAL MODEL
The final design is a space that students can go to to take a break, escape, reflect and refocus for when they are feeling stressed or overwhelmed. The tall inclined walls give a cove-like feeling that users can feel in command of. Several options are available, but the experience is unguided and up to the user's discretion.
At the door users can schedule their time for their retreat, ranging from 5 to 20 minutes. Lights inside will slowly brighten signaling the end of the session. The lights from above and the screen on the door will also alert others if someone is inside.
The interior is designed to appeal to all the senses for ultimate comfort - soft, plush fabrics; tactile, sound dampening walls; natural, neutral colors; and a clean, lavender scent. A small surface in the corner can be for small objects or fidget toys.
The lights above pulse in and out with the 4-7-8 second breathing rate, a common technique used to calm a person down from a panic attack. Pink light is warm and soft, which is proven to be more relaxing than blue or cooler lights.
Users can decide from projections of nature or soothing animations to let their mind wander or to focus in on and reflect. Inspired by star gazing and planetariums, the tapered ceiling gives the awe feeling of something larger than you.
Why Does This Matter?
Often times in work we emphasize productivity and efficiency, while failing to remember to take care of our well being. The Retreat Pod is an extreme, experimental look into how a workplace might look if one's mental health took priority. A total body, multi-sensory experience that puts the user into a complete disconnect state from their work life hopes to rejuvenate and bring a new perspective into their work. By presenting a concept like the Retreat Pod I hope to inspire steps to improving well being in the workplace.
Moving forward I would like to continue doing research on effective ways to relieve burnout. Burnout can often be mistaken for creative or intellectual stagnation, so I would like to figure out ways for people to discover the source of their burnout and find out how to bring a new found motivation and inspiration to their work.
I would also like to continue developing the prototype and find more ways to use technology to elevate the experience; such as designing the UI of the check-in screen, exploring how to measure a persons state of stress (breathing pace, heart rates), and utilizing lights, projections or sounds that can respond to each person's unique state.
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