Prompt

This project focuses on HCI for Development (HCI4D). The prompt was to identify a need in the realm of global development and work towards designing a technological intervention to help address that need.

This project required us to do multiple cycles of research and design as we continuously iterated our design based on feedback.

Background and Problem Space

Our team came together with a common interest in women’s health. The United Nations has defined a list of Sustainable Development Goals as a call to action for ending poverty, protecting the environment, and working towards happiness, peace, and prosperity of all people. Our team decided to focus on two of these goals in particular: Good Health and Well-being, and Quality Education.

Objective

Design a well-researched technological intervention that gives women information about menstrual health, which helps them make informed decisions and live their best lives .

Research

Existing Solutions

We analyzed current solution and products that are out there. We found three distinct characteristics of these products:

  1. Most products are targeted at older adult women
  2. Most technological interventions like Eve and Spot On (by Planned Parenthood) concentrate on period tracking and give information limited to that.
  3. Advertisements and promotions like Free The Tampon and this #TouchthePickle campaign initiated by a sanitary napkin company in India try to ambitiously challenge and break age old taboos and stigma, instead of concentrating on the smaller and more feasible victories.

Period tracking apps

Free the Tampon campaign that demanded freely accessible tampons in all restrooms. 

#TouchThePickle campaign in India aimed to break taboo and stigma around periods

Literature Review

We conducted a literature review to find aspects within this space that could be addressed. We read through academic papers, online articles, and looked at previous case studies that have dealt with menstrual health. A common thread between all the literature was that at the time of menarche, young adolescent girls aren’t provided with enough knowledge to make informed decisions regarding their menstrual health. A few findings that stood out in this research were:

  1. Periods are one of the leading causes of school absenteeism among female American urban adolescents.
  2. Young girls feel unprepared for their menstrual cycle to start and lack information about their biology and what constitutes a healthy period.
  3. Inadequate information is disseminated by schools, parents, and healthcare providers regarding the different menstrual hygiene products that are available in the market. Pocket-friendly products are scarce which leads to financial constraints for girls/women from lower socioeconomic status backgrounds.
  4. Taboo and stigma that has surrounded menstruation limits the conversations around this topic. Women feel uncomfortable talking about their own periods and passing on information to younger girls.
  5. There is also a risk of misinformation, when adolescents turn to the internet and get information from unreliable sources, and also from their peers who may not have accurate and sufficient knowledge.
  6. While menstruation is only experienced by the female gender, we realized that men and boys are hardly given any information about it which results in negative social interactions with women when it comes to periods.
  7. Although young girls all over the world experience this phenomenon, the problems would vary depending on geographic location, socioeconomic status, etc.

Narrowing our Focus

To truly to justice to our research and target audience we needed to concentrate on one particular problem and dedicate our time to that. We decided to focus on younger adolescent girls who would either be starting their period soon or who have just experience menarche. The social backgrounds and needs of young girls differ based on region. We also needed access to our target audience, and hence decided to focus on an audience within Atlanta.

Ideation and Opportunity for Intervention

Next, we created a stakeholders chart and mapped out target groups that would be directly or indirectly involved and affected by this intervention.

Based on our research and insights we came up with different ideas for our intervention:

  1. An online comic book
  2. Interactive Storytelling
  3. Partnering with NGOs, public figures, and feminine hygiene brands to create media content that could be disseminated through different media outlets
  4. An online community to share stories and get more information
  5. Social Media campaigns that send positive messages about women’s hygiene and menstruation.
Primary Stakeholders: Adolescent Girls (ages 9-14). Secondary Stakeholders: Parents, teachers, health practitioners, school nurses, adolescent boys and other male family members and peers. Tertiary Stakeholders: Professionals in the Educational System, companies that produce feminine hygiene products, NGOs focusing on women and children.

We then needed to shortlist and refine our ideas. For this round of research, we used our personal expertise and experience as primary and secondary stakeholders to make design decisions.

Eureka moment:

Through one of my teammate’s personal experience as an afterschool teacher, we knew that young girls are attracted to games and other online platforms that allow them to build a profile that they can then personalize (similar to MySpace and gaming platforms). These online profiles and avatars define their personality and characteristics and the girls often show them off with pride, as something they created themselves. We therefore decided to concentrate on the idea of an online community, but integrate a few other ideas into it.

Final Idea

Based on our research and the feedback we got, our final idea was an interactive and participatory online space dedicated to young women’s menstrual health, with curated, reliable, and understandable information about their most common problems. Girls would also be able to share stories which would build a sense of community between them. Keeping in mind the taboo and shame that women experience while discussing menstrual health, this platform will allow girls to anonymously ask questions that will be answered in text or video by health professionals and vetted mentors. We would also partner with celebrities from diverse backgrounds who these young girls respect and have them share their experiences, through written word or videos. Users would be able to search for content based on different categories like About your Body (biological information), Your Options (the products out there and how to use them), Stories from the Community, etc. Users would be able to star others’ questions they were also curious about, which would create a sense of solidarity and show that no girl is alone in her concerns.

Laid out in a familiar and trendy format that emulates popular websites for adolescents, users can “star” questions they are interested in to foster a sense of community.  Users could personalize their profiles through avatars, colors and information preferences (contributor, topic, media type) to define and proudly display their individuality. This would be a resource for empowering content and inquiry that will help break the shame surrounding periods. We would also stay away from stereotypes (the color pink, excessively feminine graphics) while designing our product, so that all demographics of young women would relate to it.

To address the needs and demands of parents, there would also be an integration where parents could curate the level of sensitivity of information that they are comfortable with their children receiving.

Iteration

We submitted our project proposal to the Ideas to Serve competition organized by the Scheller College of Business at Georgia Tech. We were chosen as finalists to present our idea and also received their feedback. One of the points was that since this is an online community, it would require the girls to have computer and internet access. This suggests that a significant part of the target audience statistically represented may not be served. To address this issue we had to step back and rethink our initial plan for introduction. Through research, we knew that adolescent girls receive information on menstrual health through a combination of many avenues like parents, schools/teachers, health practitioners, peers, etc.

We researched current facilities and infrastructures available to students in public schools around Atlanta. Through a review of the National Center of Educational Statistics (2010), we found out that currently all schools have computers enabled with internet. The approximate ratio of students to computers is 3:1. We also took into consideration that for some girls, their only access to internet is through their school. Therefore, to make sure that our intervention is introduced in an inclusive manner with some level of supervision, we decided to focus on primarily introducing our intervention through the public school system.

Interviews

We conducted two semiformal interviews with health practitioners connected to the educational system; an elementary school nurse and the Health Services Facilitator for Forsyth County in Atlanta. Through this, we found out that the material being shown in school to students is a highly outdated video that was made in collaboration with Procter and Gamble. Another insight we received through these interviews was that parents often like to be in control of what is shared with their children, and this often creates friction between schools and parents when a parent thinks that the school has imparted knowledge that may be inappropriate for the child.

Prototype

The main focus of our prototype was to succinctly communicate the purpose of our technological intervention to stakeholders. Therefore, for our low-fi prototype, we decided to emulate the design of the website for our poster and add information about it within the tile format. We also focused on the visual design and created elements like avatars and skins to give the audience and idea of what the final product would look like.

Impact and Takeaways

This project was chosen as a finalist for the Ideas2Serve competition hosted by the Scheller College of Business at Georgia Tech. The judges were individuals from organizations that worked in the field of social good and global development. Our project got some very positive responses. More importantly, it started conversations around this topic and possible further adaptations of this product were discussed. For example, one of the judges suggested a similar online space for fathers who may need to discuss menstruation with their daughters.

Our team won the prize for Best Poster, for clearly and accurately communicating our idea to the audience and judges.

Our team with our advising professor (far right).