Sofycomfy was designed with the idea of helping employees to better communicate with their employers in the office environment. Through visual and fun interactions, employees and employers are given the opportunity to communicate with each other. Particularly, the stress of employee side would be transfer to sensorial experiences to let employer empathise and reflect on. Employees are provided with ways to express and relieve stress and bad feelings, and employers are provided with a channel to become aware of employee’s stress. Employees will be given a stress ball to record the level of stress they are under by squeezing or talking, and this information will be fed back to the employers. Employers can then ask employees why they feel tired or stressed and try to make decisions accordingly. To guarantee the feasibility of the above process, an unfriendly approach is used, which makes the employer feel the pressure of the employees first hand. This can prompt employers to have to take certain measures to reflect on the organisation of work and the stress of their employees. Sofycomfy was created through software program Arduino, combined with hardware, which includes Flex sensor, LED strips, Buzzer, Button and Arduino NANO board.
Our design is intended to be an educational installation through for office conference which employees and employers can become aware of the problems of stress in the work environment. Awareness is evoked by reflecting on the ongoing impact of overtime hours on employees, i.e. the varying levels of stress that people can feel as a result of multiple factors in the work environment that cannot be easily expressed. It is an experimental design to get people thinking about the employee-employer relationship, the modern life work situation and the emotional needs of people in the office.
Ehxibition photos (Photots 19,20) by eventphotography.com
The flex sensor is placed in the stress ball. When the employee squeezes the stress ball, the flex sensor's bending frequency will be recorded, used as a reference value for the employee user's work stress level. When the stress level reaches a certain value, an annoying effect is triggered on the employer's side.
These components are used to enable employee users to receive feedback and voice delivery. It will identify the content of the employees' shouting to determine the stress source of the employees and then trigger the LED strip to flash different colours of light according to the stress source. The currently recognized keywords are "Time to leave", "Too much work", and "Feel sick". These three keywords represent three stressors: long working hours, workload overload and physical discomfort.
The buzzer is used to create an annoying effect on the user side of the employer. When triggered, it will make noise to interfere with the employers to continue to work and remind them that the employees are under enormous work pressure.
When the employee squeezes the stress ball a certain number of times, the LED strip will display red to remind employers that the work pressure of the employees has reached a certain level. At this point, the employer needs to send an inquiry signal to the employees. When employees receive the call, they can shout out their troubles to vent their emotions to the stress ball. The LED strip will flash different colours of light according to the stress source. Employers use the colour of LEDs to identify stressors and take action accordingly. The colors for "Time to leave", "Too much work", and "Feel sick" are yellow, blue and purple, respectively.
The button is used to simulate an employer's cell phone. When the employer uses the phone to notify employees that they are off work, the moment they hang up, that is, when the button is pressed, all annoying effects stop.
We use Arduino for development of the interacion system.
The outer shell of the stress ball is sewn from fabric and stuffed with cotton. When the employee user squeezes the ball, the soft touch relieves them of the stress of working.
The employer's office environment is made of spliced wooden panels and covered with an opaque cloth on the outside, resulting in an immersive experience.
The day before the exhibition, the hardware of product was broken due to circuit problem, so we had to replace the whole board in an urgent time. In terms of software, Processing and Arduino would fail to connect to each other sometimes which caused the risk of the whole system stability. However, we made a back-up plan that it would changing the colour of the LEDs by using buttons to simulate the process of an employer asking an employee for their type of stress, we could, therefore, still provide a similar experience for the user.
During the setup process, we used two whiteboards and multiple curtains to delineate a semi-enclosed environment for the employer's office, while the employee's seat was set next to the walkway. In addition, we had the Kickstarter video looped and two of our external team members participated in the entire exhibition through Zoom.
We have received overall good response from public to our concept and lots of compliments to the scenarios section of our poster drawn by our outstanding graphic designer. We noticed that guest would focus on different points of our project depending on their background difference. Some people would immediately have emotion connection with our project which means that our design concept would be able to touch their mindset successfully. Some people would more focus on technical solution, such as reliability of sensors, programming and data analyze. We are happy that some guests would like to share us some similar project they were involved and gave us positive feedback and encouragement.
In the next step of the project, we intend to do more design and testing on Sofycomfy. We are looking for some similar project that matching to our design concept in the industry. Thinking about how to use a friendly and playful way to help people communicate and relieve their stress in working environment is very worthy to working on.