Revitalizing OCD Patients’ lives with the Integrated Wearable and Smart Home System

CSE 440 Staff
6 min readNov 11, 2019

Contributors: Harri Lin, Rahul R., Angie Li, Bella Bai

Define the Problem

People with OCD have compulsive behaviors to get relief from the anxiety which stems from obsessive thoughts. Some patients tend to repeatedly check to see if the door is locked or that the oven is off, while others tend to do excessive cleaning and handwashing. Concomitant with rituals to ease their concerns is the inherent danger. We see an opportunity to help OCD patients with immoderate obsession. If we can design an interaction to provide relief by engaging them in a positive feedback loop through exposure, we might be able to help them avoid possible harm and revitalize their daily lives.

“How Might We help people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder ease their concerns?”

Research Goals

The Purpose of Conducting Research

● Understand OCD patients’ daily struggles through learning what it is like living with OCD

● Search for common triggers for OCD patients

● Learn the relationship between OCD patients and people from their support network

Stakeholder and Research Participants

OCD patients

Design Research Method

We initially set out to conduct interviews with diagnosed patients and get an idea of their personal inventory. From the first step of conducting an informational interview with a counselor in the UW Counseling Center, we had some established avenues for investigation. Due to the limited access to OCD patients in the Seattle area and privacy concerns, we decided to build an anonymous internet survey. Having reached out to a few people through social media platforms with an initial set of questions, we formed an intuition of where we could be focusing on. Based on the feedback from the 1st response, we iterated the survey by reconstructing 14 questions which would give us the information we sought. This version of the survey focused on areas of interest such as relationship with counsellor, family, type of obsessions, etc. to obtain more details from the participants as well as aggregate some quantitative evidence to validate our hypotheses we formed through secondary research. The survey gave us the means to collect information in a more directed manner and helped us understand where the real need was.

image of the survey
Survey Link:

Research Results

Participants summary

We contacted multiple users on reddit, Instagram and Facebook who have been diagnosed between 7months and 15 years with our survey. In the end, 8 of them completed the survey and shared valuable information with us. Our participants were from all over the US and one from Australia. Their responses allowed us to empathies with their struggles and feelings.

Number of Responses: 8

Average Time to Complete Survey: 17:06

Age of Participants: 20–20


A highlight of the most interesting insights from the surveys:

The types of OCD can be hard to distinguish. And it’s hard to immediately tell if a patient’s case is OCD.

Compulsive behaviors are very often a coping mechanism to an intrusive thought. While the thoughts themselves might stem from a trigger event which leads to a feeling of lack of control.

Patterns, intonations of words and cleanliness are common triggers. While the most common theme is checking related obsessions. There’s a strong correlation between anxiety and the triggers.

One participant often spent several hours checking if the doors were closed, the stove was off, windows in the bedroom were shut, etc.

One participant expressed a fear of being perceived as weird when they went through their motions.

All participants felt strongly about minimizing the burden on their friends and family.

3 of the 8 participants felt that there was not enough help from therapy and felt misunderstood by their therapists. Interesting to note that they were from smaller cities/towns.

When asked to describe a magical tool to help them with their lives, the most interesting answer we got was a device that could help them distinguish intrusive thoughts form legitimate concerns.

All Participants felt that OCD is not understood by people and that there is a lot of stigma attached.

Design Concept

We formulated some ideas, based on the insights and presented them for critique. The top three based on feedback are shown below:

Swipe the ”pop-up” obsessive thoughts

In this interface we let the OCD patients swipe away their intrusive thoughts, which helps them ease their anxiety according to our user research. The idea draws from Exposure Response Therapy where the patient has to face the trigger and choose to control their reaction. This swiping task is inconspicuous and reinforces the key idea that intrusive thoughts are the “OCD speaking and not reality”. By listing out the common triggers that they can swipe, we give the patients hints about what might be an intrusive thought and the ability to “get rid of” the triggers by swiping.

List the status of all the home applications
List the status of all the home applications

This interface keeps the OCD participants updated with the status of all the home applications such as the door is locked, the windows are closed, the lights are off, etc. In this way, OCD patients can perform their checking ritual by taking a look at the device, which is way less conspicuous and does not inflict any anxiety on their support system. By listing out the non-existence of the common trigger, we help OCD patients label the thoughts of checking as intrusive thoughts so they would not overthink them.

Interface for checking OCD or LC

The app allows user to post their most compulsive thoughts and seek an objective perspective from verified users. The idea is to help OCD patients distinguish between intrusive and genuine thoughts. The app also serves as a direct line chat with the therapist and a support forum. By having more access to other people in the OCD community, people are provided with the opportunity to learn more about OCD and engage with the community. Also, this platform makes it easier to communicate with their therapist, which significantly contributes to their relationship.

Proposed Design

After building personas which was summarized from our user research, we felt a strong inclination to address the aspect of bringing control into the patient’s life. While the challenge of building a dedicated forum was interesting, more excitement was generated for the popup and smart home ideas. We set our course to iterate on the Smart Home and Wearable Popup ideas and focused our attention on reducing the anxiety brought by checking compulsions in a home setting.

Desired Outcomes

● Reduce OCD Patients’ Common Triggers

● Empower OCD patient with Inconspicuous Checking Behaviors

By connecting sensors in the home monitoring system with the wearable, we can show the live status of the home applications. For example, these sensors could be placed at doors, windows, stoves as seen in the sketch above. The interaction with the wearable tries to establish a positive feedback loop by including the popup feature. When the users check the device more than a limited number of times, a notification will pop up, and the user is encouraged to “shake the compulsions off”. The patient’s psychiatrist or the user themselves can set a number limit on the device, for example, allowing a maximum of 10 checks each hour. The system encourages gradually decreasing the number limit over time. Until the new time period starts, the popup will show up every time the user tries to check on the device.

The popup feature forms a positive feedback loop and gives users the opportunity to assert control, reminding them that they are in charge. After the users build trust with the device, they do not feel compelled to go back home or get stuck checking on things. This gives them more freedom and eventually allows them to have more control over lives. Our design can be generalized to other environments and is limited primarily by the sensor which detects state.



CSE 440 Staff

University of Washington Computer Science, Intro to Human Computer Interaction