Alma is a voice-based dawn simulation lamp that helps individuals improve their sleep hygiene through building a consistent routine around bedtime with guided reflection and meditation.


How might we improve the mood of young adults with depression through building better habits?


Design a product or service experience within the context of mental health through the lenses of emerging technology and public engagement.


Nadia Kaheil

Andrew Lillie

Brenda Penn


10 weeks



Product Design, Visual Design, High Fidelity Interactive Prototype, Storyboarding, Research


Figma, Principle, Illustrator, Procreate



Alma is a voice-based dawn simulation lamp that helps individuals improve their sleep hygiene by building a consistent routine around bedtime with guided reflection and meditation. Sleep hygiene consists of a group of habits and practices that help an individual have a good night of sleep.


The Lamp


The lamp is designed to be placed on a bedside table. Every evening the user will commence their bedtime routine by communicating with Alma. Alma encourages them to reflect on a prompt designed to elicit positive thought; this was included to help individuals perceive their day better. At the end of their bedtime routine, the user is led through a guided sleep meditation; the purpose of this is to lessen the effects of stress on a user’s mental health. In the morning, the lamp gently wakes the user out of sleep by simulating dawn and eventually sounds an alarm at the user’s desired wake up time. There are many scientifically-backed benefits to dawn simulation and they all contribute towards an improved quality of life.


Companion App

During the day, the user may choose to interact with the companion app. The two main features of the app are the Daily Lifts and the Sleep Insights.


How We Got Here

To start, our team set out to understand the mental health space. We found that 36.4% of college students are depressed.1 In addition, we learned that 85% of those with depression are also diagnosed with anxiety, 2 though the reason for why the two are linked are still unknown. This statistic showed us the prevalence of the condition in young adults and confirmed the importance of working in this design space. Due to the time constraints of this project, our research has focused on college students, however, we believe that our findings could be broadly applied to the 18-25 year old age group.


Cultural Probe

To gain a better understanding of college students and their experience with depression we asked 4 young adults with depression to complete our cultural probe in the form of a diary study. We asked them for 2 days in the morning and night to write how they felt and why. In addition, at the end of the day, we asked them to discuss who they interacted with and how it made them feel. The reason we chose a cultural probe was due to the sensitivity of the topic. We wanted to use a method where the individual would remain anonymous and have the ability to respond in the comfort of their own space in their own time.



1. Friends were mood boosters.

When individuals did spend time with friends, even when in a low mood, they mentioned feeling better after visiting with friends.


“I feel heard & cared for, had a good time going out. Feels like I emotionally woke up.” (P2)

2. Individuals felt lonely. 

Despite having a community around them, individuals still felt lonely. However, they didn’t blame their community, they blamed themselves for not being more outgoing.


“I wish that people would… ask me to do things, more on me than other people, though.” (P1)

3. Individuals were not getting enough sleep and it corresponded to a low mood for the day. 

When participants mentioned not getting enough sleep, they mentioned having a low mood and mentioned it impacting what they were able to accomplish that day.  However, when they did get enough sleep, they mentioned being in a better mood.


“I wish that I slept better and wasn’t so tired after just a few hours of being outside” (P4)

4. Individuals were anxious and self-conscious.

When explaining why they felt the way they did on a given day, they mentioned being anxious and stressed, especially when relating to being in academic settings.


“I feel less respected for not fitting in completely despite not wanting to conform” (P1)

Desired Outcomes

It was clear from our primary research that these individuals were having troubling sleeping and were, in addition to depression, also feeling anxious. These findings became a driving force the remainder of the project.

1. Help individuals perceive their day better

2. Improve the individual’s quality of life

3. Support individuals in overcoming their feelings of loneliness

4. Lessen the effects of stress on their mental health



Taking everything we learned from our research and using the Crazy Eights and braiding, we each ideated 30 potential design solutions for a total of 90 ideas.

Using our desired outcomes as a framework, we down-selected to solutions that focused on supporting the individual in overcoming loneliness and improving their habits that influence their low moods. Upon doing further secondary research to help down-select, we learned that 65-90% of adults with major depression experience a sleep problem. 3 We felt passionate about designing for that pain point that continued to arise throughout. Lastly, we hadn’t seen a product out their yet that focused on a full sleep routine.


Refining the Concept

As a team we decided to explore the idea of a smart home that focuses on the users’ habits and reminds them to focus on something that is positive or going well.

For example, at night as they are getting ready for bed, the smart home would ask them what time they want to wake up the next morning. Before they go to bed, it would ask them about one thing they were grateful for that day and what is something they would like to achieve the next day.

To help flush out the user flow, I created a storyboard to show the key points of interaction a user would go through.


Paper Prototype

We created a low-fidelity paper prototype to test some key aspects of our concept. We recognized that this is a design space that deals with personal information about the user and that they may have privacy concerns. We wanted to be mindful of the fact that some may not feel comfortable speaking to AI about their feelings. For this reason, we used this paper prototype to test our assumption that young adults would be comfortable sharing this type of information.



1. People with smart home systems were willing to share data.

2. People found the routine to be worthwhile.

3. Voice prompts are easy to answer as part of a routine.

4. Our concept has too much emphasis on productivity instead of sleep.

We were able to confirm that we were heading in the right direction, but at the same time, we discovered some key findings that helped us better refine our concept. Overall, we were trying to tackle too much by trying to improve their nighttime routine while at the same time help them focus on other habits like being productive or being active. 


Shifting Our Focus

Taking the findings from our usability testing, we recognized that we were doing too many things in one concept, but not doing any of them well. For this reason, we decided to focus solely on the habit of sleep while incorporating related habits, such as positive reflection and meditation, that can lead to a better night’s sleep. We created a high-level conceptual model for how a user would interact with Alma. This activity helped us refine our concept into a clear user journey and understand the different touchpoints that Alma would intervene.


Refining the Design

Given the nature of our product being centered around sleep, we wanted our product to spark feelings of calmness, peace, and relaxation. We chose to feature warm colors that are relevant to the sunrise and sunset. We included several nature illustrations to elicit feelings of happiness and to encourage feelings of tranquility.


Next Steps

Explore the voice design of Alma. Given the time constraints for this project, we were unable to fully explore the potential of the voice for Alma. There are some assumptions we would want to test, such as, would adding more of a personality to the voice influence the user behavior when interacting with Alma.


Conduct a long-term observational study. As Alma is focused on creating better sleep habits, it would be beneficial to see over a long period of time if Alma does indeed help to positively influence an individual’s sleep habits. In addition, it would be crucial to see if this design response does indeed help to tackle our goal of lessening the feelings of depression.


No matter what stage in the design process you are in, you can always be conducting secondary research. We were continually having to validate our assumptions by doing more literature reviews. This helped us ensure that the direction we were heading in was valid. We recognized that we were not experts in this problem space and so it was important for us to continually refer to scholarly resources.


Don’t get distracted by trying to solve everything in one. It is so easy to want to include as many features as possible into a design. However, this is not always the best. As we learned, it can be easy to get distracted by the main problem you are trying to design for. By focusing on one key aspect of what you are hoping to achieve, you can do that one thing well and it will have greater impact than trying to do multiple things and doing them poorly.


(1) College students’ mental health is a growing concern, survey finds. (2013, June). Monitor on Psychology, 44(6), 13.

(2) Tracy, N. (2012, January 3). Relationship Between Depression and Anxiety, HealthyPlace.

(3) Harvard Health Publishing. (2009, July). Sleep and mental health