Smart fidget toy and app to help teens manage anxiety

UX Design

User Research

Industrial Design


April to May 2023 (6 weeks)


UX Designer and User Researcher on a team with Anne Hu. Project for Human Factors Methods class.

Skills & Tools

  • User interviews
  • Market research
  • Usability testing
  • Figma
  • Autodesk Inventor


  • High-fidelity Figma prototype
  • CAD model of fidget toy

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Building anxiety management skills for life

Around a third of teenagers have anxiety disorders, with many more experiencing anxiety—and these numbers are increasing over time. If we can help early teenagers build anxiety management habits, these skills will last them a lifetime. 

Building self-awareness with a smart fidget toy

Tufts Professor Daniel Hannon pointed out that anxiety management starts with awareness of anxious moments. 

This led to our design opportunity. What if we created a smart fidget toy that collected data on when you fidget and displayed this data to the user so they could become more aware of their anxiety? 


Understanding the needs of multiple stakeholders

Stakeholder interviews

We identified the following key stakeholders and developed a set of guiding interview questions for each group. 

  1. Users (early teenagers 12 - 15 years old)
  2. Teachers of early teenagers (middle and high school)
  3. Parents of early teenagers
  4. Mental health professionals (counselors, therapists, etc.) that work with early teenagers

We asked teenagers about their perceptions of anxiety and their ideas for fidget toy designs. To gather quantitative data, we asked them to rate potential app features on a scale of 1 to 10.

As for the fidget toy, teachers and students told us the fidget toy needs to be quiet and discrete. The therapist we interviewed suggested that the app clearly connects data on fidget timing and frequency with the user’s anxiety. 


Aligning our app with the stages of anxiety

From our interviews, we learned that early teenagers experience three phases of anxiety: 

  1. Realize that they are feeling anxious
  2. Do something to calm down
  3. Reflect on what happened

With this in mind, we organized our app in the same way to align with our user’s mental model. Our app has three tabs: Home (containing fidget toy data), Calm, and Reflect. 

Low-fidelity app prototype

Medium-fidelity app prototype

High-fidelity app prototype

Fidget toy prototype

In our interviews, we asked teenagers about their favorite fidget toys. Our design combines a stress ball and a rotating component similar to a fidget spinner. 


Improving the app based on user feedback

Usability testing

We conducted three usability tests using the procedure below. We learned the most from task #1: “Take a few minutes to think aloud while you explore the app.”

On average, users rated their experience using the app an 8.4/10. They said the app was “laid out nicely,” “made me smile,” and “easy to use.”


Interviewing for digital and physical product design

Don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions. I learned to be okay with sacrificing some guiding interview questions to ask follow-up questions, as long as they generate valuable insights. 

Create a safe space for user interviews. Since anxiety can be a sensitive topic, we started our interviews with a few disclaimers: “This can be a vulnerable topic, you can stop at any time, and there are no right or wrong answers.”

Digital and physical products require unique research and design methods. We had to be creative to gather feedback on both. For example, we asked teenagers to sketch their “ideal fidget toy.” 

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