Blink is an innovative physical-to-digital experience designed to keep families with sick children connected when separated during medical treatment. This custom-built set of devices gives families an unspoken language of love during moments of separation and anxiety. Through technology and light, families can remain connected when they can't physically be together.
Children with serious illnesses often need to travel great distances for necessary medical treatment. This separates them from family, friends and the day-to-day life they know. For these families, Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) offer a home away from home near the child's treatment facility. This contributes to their mission of keeping families close while seeking the best medical care for their children.
Science has proven that children heal faster when near the ones they love. The connection between family members invigorates the spirit and inspires hope.
The simple truth is, love heals.
Whether during treatments or overnight stays at the hospital, children and parents have to endure moments of separation, which can be particularly frightening for young children. We set out to help families in these moments.
During our time working with Ronald McDonald House, our research uncovered a powerful theme – people are often at a loss of words when the unimaginable happens. Even though we know that love heals, expressing it is not always easy. Parents, children and extended family don't always know what to say and struggle to show support in a way that is meaningful.
We wondered, what if we could design a technology to keep families close without needing any words at all?
The result is Blink, a connected light experience that keeps families together.
This custom-built set of devices gives families an unspoken language of love through light during moments of separation and anxiety, allowing families to remain close when they can't physically be together.
To create this experience, we combined an accelerometer and Electron that interprets a series of touch and gesture interactions. Finding the perfect balance of sensitivity was key in meeting the needs of children receiving treatment. When a shake or tap is detected, the Electron translates the message and sends it to the cloud through a 3G antenna. The message is then routed to the corresponding Blink, where a set of 6 LEDs flash the message as a sequence of colored lights.
For design of the device, we collaborated with a children's hospital to validate that all materials and components passed hospital regulations and would be safe for the child. Data connectivity was also tested to ensure that all messages would be sent and received, keeping the special circumstances of a hospital environment in mind.
A simple, easy-to-remember language is at the heart of the user experience. Shaking one Blink sends the corresponding orb a green-illuminated message saying "Hello." Two taps send a blue-hued "Good Night," and three taps send a glowing pink "I love you." Messages received during sleep hours are saved in a queue for the morning when a child wakes. While we offered a set of color-coded messages, we found families enjoyed giving them their own unique meaning.
To extend Blink beyond the two connected orbs, we also designed an online experience that allows extended family and friends to send love directly to the child's Blink from anywhere in the world.
The Blink experience was refined and optimized through an iterative testing process. Initial tests were conducted to understand and anticipate expectations and user interaction. Blink was then piloted with a select number of real RMHC-CNI families undergoing treatment. This allowed us to collect real-time data and validate user experience goals. During this time, families exchanged messages between both the Blink devices and the extended family website.
Families reported that the devices were easy to use and simple to understand. They believed Blink created a sense of connectedness during treatment and reported "connection" as an important aspect of well-being as it creates a sense of support, caring and love. Families believed Blink was a positive addition to their stay at the Ronald McDonald House and would recommend its use for other families of sick children.
Blink allows RMHC to extend their mission in a very tangible way for families.
Lisa Mitchell, Vice President, Programs and Services at RMHC-CNI remarked:
"Blink adds a new, surprising element of connection to their child while they pursue a very stressful and oftentimes scary path to better health. Blink is powerful because it bridges the distance between the house and the hospital to keep families connected."
She also commented,
"It's heart-wrenching for parents to be separated from their kids, especially during treatment. Blink can connect our families in the simplest, most beautiful way possible. I saw the eyes of a two-year-old light up with the sheer beauty of what Blink provided. When she received the message from her mother, she was filled with wonder and completely wrapped up in the power and the love that Blink was able to provide."
"When a child is alone in the hospital, Blink lights up that darkness and brings their family into the room when they physically can't be together."
"This is something we've never been able to do before."
With national rollout anticipated, the Blink experience could be introduced to more than 300 houses, impacting thousands of families each year. Our goal is to evolve and test Blink to meet the needs of sick children, as well as patients of all ages with physical and communication impairments.
The Blink program is currently being shared with donors. They are intrigued with Blink and excited to see the kind of innovation and future-facing programs RMHC is exploring to continually better support families and help children heal.
Blink reminded us just how invaluable simplicity and emotional connectivity are when designing digital-to-physical experiences. We'll carry these insights with us, as we continue to transform this unique sector of tech and innovate for the human experience.