To help people construct meaningful relationships through a provocative object.
Our team identified the idea of “fake friends” as a troubling element in a dominant cultural discourse, where technologies and social media have undermined our ability to build deep connections with one another.
To address that, we designed a paired phone case game, aiming to help people build meaningful relationships.
User Research, Prototyping, Project Management, Video editing
Inspirations from Discussions and Online
Our team was intrigued by the question of how to build close, intimate relationships between people, and as millennial/Gen Z digital natives, we also discussed our personal experiences with meaningful friendships and relationships.
We each shared our personal anecdotes about our best friends, which helped us identify a few elements that would contribute to building deep connection with people. A few other topics that grabbed our attention include:
"real" vs. "fake" friendship
long distance relationships/friendships in modern day
the impact of social media and other technologies, etc.
We also found a tumblr post that beautifully summarized some of our thoughts and feelings, and here is an excerpt that we really resonated with:
i think “i wish platonic dates with friends were a thing” is another way of saying “i want a deep emotional intimacy.” it’s a new age. shallow friends are easy to find and hard to let go. the two of you can sit for coffee, talking about nothing, secretly texting under the table that you want to leave. she begs you to come to the party but abandons you once you’re through the door. he won’t talk to you outside of class, won’t even look at you even though two weeks ago you kissed.
it’s the age of the internet and our empathy is evolving. yes, isn’t long-distance now so easy. there’s a lot we have to be thankful for.
it’s hard, sometimes. finding a best friend. when i was little i had an assignment about it. i remember crying in the hallway because i didn’t have one. everyone else in class did. i wrote about my shadow. i didn’t fit in. over the years i’ve had a couple. one turned out pure evil. a few were my best friend but i wasn’t theirs, in the end. a lot just drifted from me until we were only friends by nostalgia, not connection. but i ached for the feeling of a best friend the whole time: the person you can be silent with, the person you can be wild with, the person you can be 100% yourself with.
User Research from Interviews
We then interviewed 6 college students to understand how they make new friends, maintain old friendships, and we also asked them to define various level of intimacy.
What we have found is that most people divided their friendships into 3 stages:
Acquaintance → Friend → Close friend
And some of the things that distinguish the different stages include:
Conversations topics (e.g. small talks vs. deep talks)
Level of comfort (e.g. “I can be myself around him/her”)
Time spent together outside of “required” activities (e.g. hanging out with work friends on non-work occasions)
Another interesting insight we found is that most people consider the gap between going from acquaintances to friends the most uncomfortable stage to cross.
How might we help two people who are acquaintances get closer?
After we have identified a problem that people have when it comes to building friendships, we started to ideate for potential solutions that would help bridge the gap.
From our initial round of brainstorming, we liked the idea of working with friend crushes. An example of a friend crush can be: when you have the desire to get to know someone in your class or work better because you think they’re cool.
We picked smartphone as the medium/object to design around, because it’s easily accessible to most people, and people also always carry them around. We also decided to make a phone case design, so that people would always be reminded whenever they use their phone (which is quite often).
As we were inspired by the 36 Questions that Lead to Love, we also had the idea of facilitating activities between acquaintances to help them deepen their relationships.
These activities were incorporated into the phone case design in the form of puzzle pieces, so that people would be impelled to complete the puzzle (go through all the activities) to complete the phone case.
Sketches for Testing Mechanisms
To work out the mechanisms of the phone case design, we did a lot of sketches and prototyped many iterations to test the different designs.
Making with Rapid Prototyping Tools
We CADed the phone case on Fusion 360, and 3D printed it using soft PLA. We also laser-cut the puzzle pieces that would fit into the phone case using plywood, and hand painted them with acrylic paint to create a low poly gradient look.
A main challenge was to find how how to fit the pieces onto the phone case securely, while still allowing them to be easily removed.
After many iterations of trial-and-error, we were able to achieve both without compromising too much in our overall design.
Final Product: Friend Crush
How it Works
1. Two acquaintances, in the same organization, who would like to know each other are matched with a friend crush survey
The two are given the phone case kit:
2. Each person has the puzzle pieces that fit into the other person’s phone case
3. The two arrange for something to do together based on the instructions on the back of the puzzle pieces
4. When they meet to do the activity, each person gets the corresponding piece from the other person to put in their phone case
5. Once the case is finished, they can either keep the completed puzzle or pass it on to a new set of people
We designed 5 activities with instructions engraved on the back of the puzzle pieces to build a closer relationship
Ask for advice
3 things in common
Share life story
They will then come up with their own activity and pass it on once completed:
Choose your own activity
Pass it on
Helen Lee, Evie Liu, Maisha Kabir, Maggie Chen
Critical Practices is a studio design course where students work at the intersection of technological innovation and socially engaged art.