Emily Phan



How could a CUI provide a more accessible way to deal with anxiety?



Ada is a conversational user interface (CUI) coach that helps people prepare, overcome, and reflect on high stress situations.  

Ada is a student group project for the Microsoft Design Expo. We were challenged to design a product, service or solution that demonstrates the value and differentiation of the CUI.


Team Roles


I collaborated with 5 design students who are Jessica Chow, Renee Chang, Natalee Outzs, Tingwei Chang, and James Pai. We all worked on research, ideation, script writing, but specifically Jessica drew the storyboards, Renee designed the visuals, Natalee found interviewers and actress, Tingwei created analysis documents, James created the video, and I completed the presentation skeleton and created storyboard video. 


How Ada Works

Ada can communicate in public and private spheres through text and voice through bone conduction. She measures your biometrics to know when you are anxious. Also, she learns from conversations and she is contextually aware when to speak up. 


Anxiety is a real mental illness that is treatable. Many people don't receive treatment because of the cost, stigma, and severity of their symptoms.



Anxiety is the activation of your body's alarm system.  It’s only meant to activate in emergencies, but ordinary situations can trigger a similar physiological reaction. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 18% of the US adult population is diagnosed with anxiety disorder, but only only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment.



We talked to a UW mental therapist on campus, a student diagnosed with anxiety disorder, and a student that suffers from anxiety attacks. 


What We Learned

After conducting interviews we learned students are very susceptible to anxiety symptoms; therefore we decided to narrow our design audience to students. Avoidance makes anxiety worse and the best way to overcome anxiety is exposure. We saw the importance of the need to journal to express one’s emotions and self reflect. 


When Should Ada Intervene

We created a scenario where a student named Chloe goes to an interview; however she messes up. Ada communicates differently in different environments. For example, in situations where it is not appropriate for Chloe to communicate out loud she will give a haptic feed back or a text message. However, when the Chloe is at home Ada adapts to her needs and intervenes when appropriate. 


How Can Ada Help

After our research and interviews we concluded three main design objectives that we took into consideration when building Ada, which are help people overcome difficult situations, facilitate self-reflection and mindfulness, and provide reassurance and feedback. 


Help People Overcome Difficult Situations

Dr. Gerber explained that exposure therapy is a common technique that targets what makes us most anxious. Therefore, Ada responds by giving Chloe an opportunity to prepare the interview environment that makes her uncomfortable and stressed. 

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Facilitate Self-reflection and Mindfulness

Ada asks Chloe open-ended questions that help Chloe’s self-awareness and to find the cause of her uneasiness. Taking journaling aspects of emotional release and tracking personal progress, Ada provides a space for external expression.

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Provide Reassurance and Feedback

Dr. Gerber explained that the main importance of counseling is that “At the end of the day, all of us really need to know that people care about us and what happens in our lives matter. That if we voice a concern, someone’s going to take us seriously and listen to it.” During anxiety attacks, a common response is to become hyper self-aware and talk to yourself in a negative tone. Thus, Ada addresses Chloe’s pessimistic thoughts through encouragement of positive and rational thinking. 


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Final Thoughts

Language was an area that I have always thought about in design; however after this project it really made me see the importance of how language can affect design and people. Our group spent most of our time rewriting scripts and thinking of different scenarios. I paid the most attention to detail in this project in terms of thinking about how language, tone, intervention can affect a person.