*I shot this video during the field visit, shared with permission
UNCOVERING THE ROOT CAUSES OF VAPE ADDICTION THROUGH DESIGN RESEARCH.
Capturing female vape users' perceptions, beliefs, and behavior around vaping through a seven-week-long design research project reporting physical, social, cultural, and cognitive factors influencing vape addiction.
Team: Nirali Oza, Jessica Murray, Jules Mohoney
How might we best utilize various design research methods to uncover the root causes of vape addiction in young (age 17-28 years) females?
We utilized several qualitative design research methods such as contextual inquiry, interviews, digital ethnography, and co-creation of the social ecosystem to develop a holistic understanding of a young female vaper's world and the "WHY" behind her vape addiction. We recruited seven caucasian females between ages 17 to 28 who are addicted to vaping or recently quit vaping for interview and research activities.
Throughout the project, we additionally frequently consulted subject matter experts (e.g., Respiratory Specialist, FDA Health Scientist, Physician, and vape shop manager) to learn from their points of view, keep our design research grounded in facts, and validate and/or refine our insights and assumptions as needed.
We delivered four research report posters, a social ecosystem map, and vape user archetypes. The research posters incorporated pictures, stories, quotes, and observational insights from the contextual inquiries and other design research activities divided into a framework that captured physical, social, cultural, and cognitive aspects of vaping.
Through various design research methods, we managed to gather rich data and personal insights into girls' behavior towards vaping. We synthesized and analyzed this data to generate fifteen themes, four insights, six design criteria, and four "How might we statements," providing a roadmap for possible solutions.
As a research lead and service designer, I contributed to this project in the following ways:
Drafted the research blueprint, research plan, research report posters, and final deliverables.
Led the subject matter expert interviews, photo-ethnography, and digital autoethnography activities.
Collaborated with the team in planning, conducting, and documenting field visits and contextual inquiry.
Conceptualized and designed graphics and other visual design assets.
“I LIKE THE MULTIPLE DIMENSIONS OF PHYSICALITY THAT YOU EXPLORED, DOCUMENTED, AND STUDIED. YOUR OBSERVATIONS ARE STRONG NARRATIVES. YOUR PHOTOS, VIDEOS, AND SOCIAL MEDIA EXAMPLES CONVEY THE TEXTURE OF THE STUFF OF VAPING. THE COLLECTIVE FIELD NOTES LEAVE ME A LITTLE SHOCKED - EXACTLY WHAT YOU SHOULD STRIVE FOR.“
- Jon Freach, Senior design researcher and field research professor
RESEARCH REPORT POSTE
Unmute video to hear the narration.
Vape users come in a wide range of demographics, but a recent market shift focuses on the younger users and has broadened its scope to be more inclusive of the female demographic. Due to a public perception that vape devices are a healthy alternative to cigarette smoking, many users are not fully aware of their own addiction to the device and face challenges in developing healthy coping mechanisms for stressful life situations. A survey published in 2018 by Statistica shows that 60% of females had tried Vaping or E-Cigarettes. This raises concerns for public health officials trying to understand both the short and long-term effects of vaping. There are a lot of quantitative reports available regarding vape addiction in youth but these reports lack qualitative data or answers to "the WHY" especially for young girls. After discovering this interesting fact at a very early phase of our secondary research, we decided to focus our research solely on young, caucasian, female vape users. We asked, How might we best utilize various design research methods to uncover the root causes of vape addiction in young (age 17-28 years) females?
Source: The survey published in 2018 by Statistica
"I STARTED VAPING WHEN I WAS 16. MOST OF MY FRIENDS DO; IT WASN’T A BIG DEAL. IT’S NOT LIKE THE GOOD KIDS DON’T VAPE AND THE BAD KIDS DO; EVERYONE DOES."
- 18 years old female vape user
We divided our design research efforts into four major areas of investigation: Physical, Social, Cultural, and Cognitive vape addiction influencers—the snapshot of the research scope, questions, activities, and deliverables captured in the research blueprint.
Physical: We used entry point and color design principles to investigate physical aspects of vaping that influence the users' vape behaviors, such as the design of the device, fashion, accessories, and physical spaces where vapers hang out and vape. We began with conducting contextual inquiries at a local cosmetic college and at a vape shop where we interacted with vape users. We recruited young caucasian female vapers (ages 17 to 28) for semistructured interviews. We also interviewed the vape shop manager, who helped us understand the different devices, juices, marketing tactics, purchasing trends, and vape jargon.
Social: We used entry point and accessibility design principles to better understand vape users' social behavior. We focused on the accessibility of vape devices and their impacts on the vaping epidemic in the USA. We also co-designed the social ecosystem of users to identify the elements in vape users' social environments that promote vape use. We interviewed mothers and friends of vapers as well as examined the role of teachers and school administrators in battling the vaping epidemic.
Cultural: To dive deep into the cultural aspects of vaping and feel young vape users' emotions and assumptions, we asked, "What does it mean to be a 20-year-old vaper in the U.S.? We looked at it through the lens of two research principles: Stories and Stickiness. We conducted digital ethnography by signing up for various virtual vape communities, participating in online discourse, and following hashtags in order to generate empathy for our young vapers and see the issue from their perspective. We used comic-as-cultural data to showcase our field notes and research insights.
Cognitive: Finally, to investigate the cognitive aspects of vaping, we revisited our interview notes and recordings. We synthesized and analyzed our data to dive deeper beyond the surface level of understanding of 'WHY.' In this research area, we explored psychological topics such as oral fixation and defense mechanisms - denial, rationalizations, and intellectualization. We consulted a psychiatrist to understand addiction psychology and patterns of addictive behaviors. We converted these learning and insights into three behavioral archetypes of vape users.
Research blueprint - the snapshot of the research scope, questions, activities, and deliverables
THE CONTEXTUAL INQUIRIES
These are some of the pictures and videos I took during the contextual inquiry field visits and photo ethnography.
"I VAPE BECAUSE IT KEEPS ME AWAY FROM FEELING LIKE GARBAGE."
- 16 years old female vape user
We started to see common patterns in our data through thematic analysis and affinity diagramming, which led us to identify themes. From the data gathered in our interviews with community members, we developed a social ecosystem map to understand the vaper's world better. We also used the framework of the behavioral archetype to showcase various types of vape users accurately. Our final insights report included key themes, insights, design criteria, and how we might statements to turn our Insights into opportunities.
#hashtags, fashion & addiction.
With more and more marketing tactics concentrating on social media, vaping has gained access to a younger generation. With social influencers exhibiting vape tricks and showcasing various devices and accessories, vaping is a new status symbol for a younger generation. The vaping industry has focused on creating products that give the user a fashion statement, from the device itself to the accessories and extraneous fashion items that provide the user the feel of being a part of a like-minded group.
It’s not THAT bad for you.....Perception of Safety !
Since vaping is a healthier alternative to the chemicals inhaled by cigarette smokers, it has gained the reputation among the vaping community as a safer option. For young females, there is also a perception that there are fewer reproductive consequences to using these devices simply because of a lack of current research on the topic.
The vaping ecosystem creates a sense of belonging.
Vaping is a piece of a broader social ecosystem. It is a way for many young people to identify themselves as a part of a particular tribe. This is an industry that relies heavily on word of mouth, social media recommendations, and fashionable trends. In fact, many first-time users experience vaping from a friend's device.
Parents want to help but don’t know how?
We learned that young girls have a hard time discussing their addiction issues with their parents. For them, hiding their vaping habits from their parents is a way to assert their independence. These conversations then become less about understanding the underlying causes and more about the actual vaping behavior and take place on the parents' terms.
SOCIAL ECOSYSTEM MAP
We co-created a social ecosystem of vapers capturing data about vapers' most essential influencers, essential relationships, interactions, and exchanges. We asked a series of questions to vapers regarding trust, contact, and interaction between vapers and their social circle. We conducted digital ethnography by signing up for various virtual vape communities, participating in online discourse, and following hashtags in order to generate empathy for our young vapers. We interviewed three vapers, co-created the ecosystem similar to what you see on the right image, and combined the three ecosystems to create the final graphic on the left.
I created this visual using Adobe Illustrator and photoshop.
I LIKE THAT YOU TRIED DIGITAL ETHNOGRAPHY - A DIGITAL IMMERSION; IT FELT LIKE YOU TOOK US TO THE VAPING WORLD; THE ECOSYSTEM IS RICH AND REVEALING THE COMPLICATED, CONFLICTING, AND COMPETITIVE NATURE OF THIS HABIT. I APPRECIATE THE USE OF AND EXPLICIT NATURE OF YOUR PRINCIPLES; YOU CAN SEE/FEEL THEM IN YOUR ECOSYSTEM.
- Jon Freach, Senior design researcher and field research professor
For cultural data, we wanted to highlight and generate empathy for issues such as lack of social support, economic instability, low self-esteem, and troubled interpersonal relationships that young females face that further exacerbate additive and self-harm activities. As storytelling was one of our research lenses, we decided to present our research findings in a comic style to showcase the vaper’s world. It was also a strategic choice to reflect what we were observing in the field. Many vape advertisements on social media have this artistic, bold, and colorful graphic element to entice young audiences, so we used comics as one of our cultural data points.
“I WANT TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE THOUGHTFULNESS AND PROVOCATION OF THE USE OF COMICS-AS-CULTURAL-DATA. I LIKE THE DEPTH OF INFORMATION TO HELP US UNDERSTAND THE UNDERLYING DRIVERS. AND, I APPRECIATE THE MIX OF QUANTITATIVE DATA ALONGSIDE THE QUOTES AND THE ILLUSTRATIONS TO SUPPORT YOUR INSIGHTS."
- Jon Freach, Senior design researcher and field research professor
VAPE USERS ARCHETYPES
We consulted a psychiatrist to understand addiction psychology and patterns of addictive behaviors and converted our insights and learning into three behavioral archetypes representing typical users' motivations, beliefs, and general attitudes towards vape addiction.
In order to thoughtfully summarize our research insights and build actionable steps for the designers to frame the proper challenge, we decided to create a one-pager that includes central themes which feed into design insights, design criteria, and How Might We (HMW) statements.
"How Might We" (HMW) statements are small but mighty questions that allow us to reframe our insights into opportunity areas and innovate on problems found during user research. They are a rewording of the core need, which we uncovered through user research and helped us focus on user needs and problems rather than just jumping straight to solutions. These statements help inspire user-centered design!
A one-page research summary that includes central themes which feed into design insights, design criteria, and How Might We (HMW) statements.
The other side: This project helped me grow as an empathic design researcher. Due to my medical background, I have been predominantly exposed to one side of the patient's stories. Through this project, I discovered the other side. As a clinician, I see a patient with collapsed lungs due to vape addiction, but as an empathetic design researcher, I see a young female dealing with low self-esteem and troubled interpersonal relationship, enticed by social media marketing, unable to cope up with stress who needs help.
Zoom in & Zoom out: This project taught me the importance of zooming in and out mindset and techniques to build a holistic understanding of the issue we are investigating. It provided depth and breadth to our research questions and efforts resulting in rich data. Designing a one-page research blueprint was a successful strategic choice as it helped the team explore multiple perspectives in a short period without losing focus.
Communication & Presentation: Perhaps the most challenging part of the design project was to convert research insights into solutions and make those solutions a reality. It becomes more challenging when different teams are working at the different phases of the project. It is crucial for researchers to think about how to communicate and present research data strategically and efficiently so that it helps designers digest and internalize the insights to create meaningful solutions.
"NIRALI AND TEAM DID A GREAT JOB OF EXPLORING THE SOCIAL, CULTURAL, COGNITIVE, AND PRACTICAL ASPECTS OF ADDICTION TO VAPING. THEIR APPROACH TO USER RESEARCH WAS ORIGINAL AND INFORMED BY THE VERY CULTURE THEY SET UP TO STUDY. THEY USED SECONDARY RESEARCH, CONTEXTUAL INTERVIEWS, COMICS, AND EVEN FACTORED IN THE CULTURE OF VAPING TO GATHER MEANINGFUL INSIGHTS FROM USERS."
- José Colucci, Director of Research & Development at the Design Institute for Health