Ellow – Pillow full of empathy

In Physical Digital Products module, we were split into groups – I was with Patrick Drabble and Andrew Stewart. We started by having multiple discussions about our directions, and talked, and talked.. until we came to a shared topics like depression and empathy.Through free-flowing discussion, we touched many topics related to depression and bad moods in general. We focused on grief and it’s forms, ways of managing it and possibilities to overcome it.

Grief idea board

We came up to the notion of truly relieving grief/depression through understanding, that there are people going through very similar experience right now in the world. This can be achieved by creating some kind of link between the user of our product (currently grieving) and other people who might have already passed this phase. Idea came, that users would record their feelings when they are in grief, to which specific tags can be assigned – e.g. #loss, #guilt, #anger and similar.

Grief stages

The grieving user would then hear these recordings, being able to “empathize” with the currently played recording by some interaction, which would help our product to guess how the user feels. Thus the product could serve more recordings from similar “category” of grief, making the user feel less lonely in his suffering. In ideal case, this should help people to overcome the initial stages of grief faster.

The final pillow prototype

We decided to go for a pillow as a form in the end.  Andrew did a great job and sew a custom-made pillow. We gave it a name – Ellow. Merging the words empathy and pillow in very simple way 🙂


I integrated an Arduino in it, with MP3 trigger module, speaker and four custom-made velostat pressure sensors, which were placed in the corners of the pillow, to detect when users presses them.

Insides of Ellow - Arduino, MP3 trigger, amplifier, Two 9V batteries, 4 Pressure sensors
Insides of Ellow – Arduino, MP3 trigger, amplifier, Two 9V batteries, 4 Pressure sensors

We had to make a persuasive recording, sparking emotional reactions. Luckily, my friend Dmitry offered his help and (along with others) provided his voice to us. I did the recordings in DJCAD sound studio, which was a great learning experience as well.

One of the tasks was to produce a video showcasing the interaction with our product. We asked our friend Lily, who did amazing job acting as depressed girl, reacting to a story which was very similar to what she was going through.