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STRELMO: The Stress Less Mouse, a response to the escalating workplace stress epidemic, sought to revolutionize stress management. STRELMO aimed to alleviate stress by using a mouse, equipped with a UCLA-developed cortisol sensor to measure stress hormone levels through sweat, sending data to a desktop app for tracking and managing stress over time.

In this comprehensive project exploration for CSE 440 at the University of Washington, my team and I undertook the development of STRELMO's stress-management ecosystem. Driven by statistics revealing the prevalence of workplace stress, the project aimed to create a unique solution that seamlessly integrates into users' lives. We embarked on a journey to craft a stress-management solution that not only monitors stress levels in real-time but also guides users toward effective stress reduction techniques. 


“Explore self-tracking and everyday interaction with personal intelligences."

James A. Fogarty, WA



The STRELMO project's research method and process were driven by understanding the landscape of workplace stress, user behaviors, and effective stress management techniques. The journey to develop an innovative stress-relief solution involved several key steps and methodologies.

  1. Problem Definition and Refinement: The project's foundation was laid by identifying the problem of workplace stress and its consequences. We defined the scope of the problem, ensuring a clear understanding of the challenges to be addressed.

  2. Target Audience and Focus Shift: An initial focus on workplace stress and discussions led to a shift in perspective towards a more tailored approach. The decision to pivot towards addressing stress among university students allowed for a deeper exploration of stressors and potential solutions within a specific context.

  3. Design Research - Semi-Structured Interviews: To gain insights into stressors and stress management practices, we conducted semi-structured interviews with University of Washington students. These interviews provided qualitative data on diverse stress experiences, coping mechanisms, and preferences for stress management.

  4. Heuristic Evaluation and Usability Testing: The heuristic evaluation method facilitated the identification of usability issues within the design. External participants participated in usability testing, helping uncover user expectations, pain points, and suggestions for improvement.

Our primary research method consisted of in-depth interviews with University of Washington (UW) college students, a key target audience. These interviews were semi-structured, allowing participants to share their experiences, strategies, and thoughts on stress management. Furthermore, we explored the practicality of our proposed designs through discussions with peers, seeking input to refine our concepts and ensure their relevance. 

User Interviews

The user interview process for the STRELMO project was a pivotal step in gaining deep insights into the experiences, perspectives, and needs of our target users: UW college students dealing with stress. Our interviews were designed to be semi-structured, providing a flexible framework that encouraged participants to share their thoughts openly while ensuring that key topics were covered.

During the interviews, we adopted an empathetic approach, creating an environment where participants felt at ease sharing their personal experiences with stress. Our questions covered a variety of topics, including participants' current stress management strategies, perceptions of stress-tracking technologies, willingness to engage with AI-driven solutions, and thoughts on the possible designs.

After each interview, we transcribed and analyzed the collected data, identifying recurring themes, patterns, and unique insights. These findings were then synthesized and used to refine our possible design concepts, ensuring that they resonated with the challenges expressed by participants.

Design ideas

After collecting insights from user interviews, we began to generate several concepts to address the challenges of stress tracking and management. 

Design 1: Phone App and Cortisol Watch

Our first concept involved the integration of a phone app and a cortisol-tracking watch. This design allowed users to monitor their stress levels over time by utilizing cortisol data. Real-time information facilitated the delivery of notifications for high-stress levels. Additionally, the app offered personalized recommendations for stress-reducing activities and professional help resources.

Design 2: Cortisol Meter

Our second idea centered around a design that leveraged the measurement of cortisol levels through wearable technology, similar to a pager or small device that users could wear discreetly. This device would continuously monitor cortisol levels in the user's blood, translating physiological data into meaningful insights about stress levels. The design intended to notify users of high-stress moments.

Design 3: Responsive Diary and Cortisol Watch

The third concept featured a responsive diary combined with a cortisol-tracking watch. Stress tracking was actively facilitated through written diary entries, which were correlated with stress levels over time. This design aimed to identify stressors, patterns, and unhelpful thought processes. The diary's data was then utilized to generate personalized stress reduction strategies, offering a more introspective approach to stress management.

Throughout our design exploration, various perspectives emerged regarding feasibility. Furthermore, we recognized that focusing on particular challenges, such as work-life balance, could stimulate creativity and innovation within a constrained scope.

The ownership over our designs granted us the flexibility to explore multiple directions. This led us to determine the most promising approach, striking a balance between constraints and possibilities, ultimately arriving at a fourth design.


Design 4: Desktop App and Cortisol Mouse

The fourth concept featured a cortisol-tracking mouse paired with a desktop app. This decision was guided by a combination of factors, including the potential for detailed stress analysis within specific work-related contexts. The lack of an existing product similar to this design further highlighted its innovation and potential impact. We recognized that the cortisol mouse design offered a unique advantage in capturing stress data during computer interaction as there is a large surface area for sweat collection on the mouse. By choosing this design, we aimed to offer users a tangible and practical tool for monitoring and mitigating stress, while also tailoring stress reduction strategies to their individual work environments.


The initial design for the desktop app

Two storyboards were generated to explore different scenarios and user interactions with the proposed design. By creating multiple storyboards, we could consider different contexts, user behaviors, and outcomes, helping to refine and enhance the design concept.



Usability Testing

To conduct the usability tests, we prepared a series of tasks that mirrored typical user interactions within the STRELMO design prototypes. These tasks were deliberately designed to cover critical user journeys, stress-tracking scenarios, stress-reduction activity exploration, and interface navigation. By structuring the tasks in a realistic manner, the usability testing aimed to gauge how effectively the designs facilitated users' goals and objectives.

The usability testing sessions were initially performed on paper prototypes, allowing us to gather early feedback and insights that informed the transition to digital prototypes. Participants' interactions, feedback, and challenges encountered during these earlier tests were crucial in aligning the interactions with user expectations.

Following the usability testing sessions, we performed a thorough analysis of the collected data. Patterns, trends, and recurring issues were identified, allowing us to pinpoint specific usability challenges and areas for enhancement. Usability issues were categorized by severity, with critical issues requiring immediate attention to ensure a seamless and effective user experience.

The insights derived from the usability testing phase were systematically integrated into the iterative design process.

Refined desktop app after usability testing

Heuristic Analysis

The heuristic analysis aimed to systematically identify potential usability issues, assess the designs' adherence to established usability principles, and provide insights for design improvements.

To conduct the heuristic analysis, our team collaborated with other students to examine the user interface designs against a set of predefined heuristics. These heuristics encompassed a range of usability aspects, including navigation, feedback, consistency, error prevention, flexibility, and user control. Each heuristic served to uncover any discrepancies between the intended user experience and the actual design implementation.

During the assessment, both obvious and subtle usability problems were identified, along with potential areas of improvement to optimize user interaction and engagement. These findings were documented along with screenshots, annotations, and specific design elements relevant to each identified heuristic.

The heuristic analysis culminated in a report that summarized the results, highlighted usability concerns, and provided recommendations for addressing the identified issues. Each heuristic violation was categorized by severity, allowing us to prioritize our efforts in resolving the most impactful issues.


Design process presentation


The design process for the STRELMO project was an iterative journey that encompassed various stages, each contributing to the refinement of the final desktop app design. 

  1. Iterative Design and Prototyping: The iterative design process involved creating paper prototypes, allowing for quick visualization and refinement of key interactions and features. 

  2. Digital Mockup Development: With insights gathered from usability testing and heuristic analysis, we transitioned to crafting a digital mockup of the STRELMO app. This phase focused on refining the visual, interactional, and functional aspects of the app design.

Final digital design