Mia Suh UX & HCI Researcher [ Home Page ]
Nurturing Social Connection by Expanding Temporality

Information & Communication technologies enable people to be socially connected regardeless temporal and spatial distances. People are not necessarily 'always on' together to talk to others - they can asynchronously send messages to each other. They can also synchronously interact despite they are not co-located - for example, videochat systems augments communicative experiences for long-distant relationships. While technologies push the temporal and physical boundaries for interpersonal relationship, I was curious about to what extent technologies could help nurturing social connection.

This project was the continous effort of the HP lab's project, Jetty, which started before I joined the team as an intern. Jetty is a research project exploring an evocative device to bring dispersed family members together. The lead researcher, Ji Won Jun, said, "With an elegantly simple design, Jetty aims to foster a feeling of connectedness between people, encouraging them to get in touch more often."

Jetty displays a 3D printed house of an absent family member and projects real-time weather imagery around it. When the person is home, the house glows to indicate their presence. More info is here
I conducted two studies to investigate the potential design space for technologies to support asynchronous and synchronous social interaction.

In the study, my goals were to:
  • Explore how future time perspective could help nurture long-distance friendships
  • Understand the design considerations to nurture social connection.
  • Online Survey
  • Design Probe
  • In-home Interview
While working as a UX Research intern at the IXR lab in HP, Palo Alto, I designed and conducted a design probe study with 14 participants in 3 phases: the pre-activity interviews, homework activity with a design probe, and the in-home follow-up interviews.

The home activity with a design probe is a seemly simple letter writing activity with the features– handwriting, a delayed letter delivery, and envisioning when the letter is read in the future.
  • Handwriting: We asked participants to handwrite a letter, but were free to choose any type of paper.
  • Letter delivery in the future: We asked participants to choose any specific date in the future, with the expectation that this is when the friend would read the letter.
  • Envisioning when the letter is read in the future: We encouraged participants to imagine their LDRF at the time when the friend would read the letter, which we hoped to help participants to have a longer Future Time Perspective.
The examples of instructions for the home activity with a design probe, and the snapshot of the stcript for the in-home follow-up interview.

The participant created a letter to their beloved friend - the writing a letter activity itself played a role as design probe, an interactive qualitative method of collecting data. It is aimed to capture the self-reported user experience, providing insights on how to create technology to support long-distant friendship. Some examples that participants created are below:

I applied an emergent coding approach to analyze the data. The dataset includes both interview transcriptions and participants’ letters. Two researchers separately reviewed the data and discussed their notes to develop a codebook with 134 codes. Next, they revisited the data using the codebook and clustered similar codes into 57 categories. They then wrote 19 memos on those new categories and interpreted the content together. The below is the picture when I was conducting analysis.

I found that the major features of the writing a letter activity– handwriting, a delayed letter delivery and envisioning when the letter is read in the future – encouraged participants to deeply reflect on their friendships. Further, I found that reflection made participants look to the future, increase self-awareness of their friendships, and feel motivated to make the friendships stronger in the future, collectively nurturing long-distant friendships.
Through the participants' experience with design probe– handwriting letters, a delayed letter delivery and envisioning when the letter is read in the future- I suggest what designers should consider in their practices to enrich the long-distance friendships.

  • ‘Handwrite’ encourages reflective relationship work for friendship
  • Designers should note that handwriting on/with a digital device or system that requires additional time and effort may reap similar benefits for long-distance friendships. It could expand the application domains for existing handwriting systems (e.g., note-taking applications with handwriting features, digital pens that enable users to write on paper and digitize the contents) or improve other tools with additional features (e.g., handwriting features on videochatting or messengers). Certain restrictions on actions (e.g., inability to correct mistakes) that mirror the functionality of paper might also be worth exploring.

  • 'Crafting' could encourage contemplation focusing on the moment
  • Designers should engage users with the moment of reflective relationship work. One way could be to de-emphasize the quantity of communication, swaying the focus from the ‘quantified’ interaction (e.g., the number of characters or lines of contents) toward the quality of the activity, so that users do not feel pressured by the quantity. Further, design could support users to temporarily switch-off from other distractions such as pushed-messages, so that they can focus on the activity. These strategies would support users to focus on their inner thought process, and to fully articulate what they intended to do in relationship work.

  • Concrete future image help increase awareness on the friendship
  • Systems can remind of a close friend’s anticipated future event (e.g., birthday, graduation, 10th wedding anniversary) and suggest to create messages or plans for the friend in advance (e.g., pop-up messages on social network services saying “Tom will graduate a year from now. Do you want to send any message to him?”). Like the prompts we used in the study, providing prompts for thinking about the future could be helpful.


This was my internship project at HP. While working with my advisior, Alex Thayer, I did:
  • Lead the project
  • Design & manage a diary study
  • Create the study materials (visual introductions)
  • Conduct a series of online and in-home interviews
  • Communicate the results in the form of presentations to various audiences

With my amazing mentor, Alex!
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