CORUS: A Dyadic Sleep System for Cohabitating Couples

MDes/MPS Interaction Design Studio, Fall 2016

Team: Meric Dagli, Rossa Kim, Julia Petrich, Nehal Vora

Corus is a dyadic sleep system that consists of a set of holographic candles and an app that help couples go to bed consistently and together.

Most digital sleep solutions, whether they are around monitoring sleep or providing interventions, focus on the sleep quality of a single individual. But in many cases, such as snoring or families, or a family with a newborn, the total sleep quality of the family may be much more relevant to consider. For instance, a family sleep solution may be able to help new parents to decide who gets to sleep in today, who should to go to bed earlier, and who should avoid scary movies before heading to bed. To understand the relevance of sleep in families, we need to understand the scenarios, people, opportunities, and potential product/service landscapes involved in the experience.

Questions to Begin Exploration:

  • In what type of family context would a family perspective on sleep be relevant?
  • In the case of families with newborns: how could we use a family sleep approach to increase reassurance and confidence?
  • How does it fit within existing family dynamics?
  • How can we monitor sleep of an entire family?
  • What factors/parameters are meaningful to different family members?
  • How can we combine different parameters and relay them back to different family members in a insightful/meaningful way?
  • When thinking of interventions (or coaching) how can we help embed them in existing family rituals non-obtrusively? Or can we create new rituals (and what do those look like)?

Contexts of Interest:

  • Sleep in a family context, including remote or separated families
  • Sleep for new parents and their young children
  • Multi-user scenario’s for sleep monitoring and optimization
  • Supporting family health in the home, of which sleep is an integrated component
  • Monitoring and users’ engagement over long periods of time

The class had an initial Skype session with Peter Weeks, Senior People Researcher, and Mark Choi, Interaction Designer. They explained a little about Philips’ goals as a “health tech” company, combining the consumer with healthcare on all parts of the healthcare continuum, from healthy living, through prevention and diagnosis, and onto treatment, recovery, and homecare (see below).

Philips overarching corporate goal is to improve three billion lives by 2025, and they are well on their way. They attempt to do this through meaningful innovations, which are well timed and go beyond just the technology.

Two of the main health concerns Philips (especially the Pittsburgh office) tackles are sleep and respiratory care. These cover health issues that include sleep apnea, sleep optimization, insomnia, restlessness, and COPD. Their goals of promoting healthy sleep requires asking the question as to what that means in the context of people’s lives.

Sleep solutions that exist today currently focus on the individual. What if we focused on sleep solutions that work for whole families? What if sleep could be a family ritual, like getting sharing a meal at the dinner table? This leads to further questions about what affects family life (life transitions, supporting loved ones, role reversals, separated by distance) and what affects sleep (looking at it in both individual and social contexts and problem sleep).

Considering technology and the possibilities it brings for the future of sleep, we can look at technologies that already exist that might be applied to sleep such as wearables, ambient sensors, virtual reality, and augmented reality. We’ll also look into current sleep solutions that exist for the individual, such as

Ultimately, we will be thinking beyond just products and possibly into services to create a whole system. In creating a system, we’ll need to ask ourselves what type of future our solution enables as well as what life looks like in this future. In considering our rationale, we’ll want to be clear as to what the current issue is and how specifically this solution addresses it.

Some metrics for success in this project are as follows:

  • creating a tool that empowers people to live healthy lives
  • developing a solution that recognizes sleep as a critical pillar of health and as a first step toward leading a healthy life
  • thinking beyond medical conditions through the entire healthcare continuum

As a team, we began by looking broadly at the family contexts that initially piqued our interest. We also expanded into some of the questions we had about

Initial Brainstorming on a Scope for Our Project

From this, we consolidated to four areas of interest and listed the thoughts we had on each:

New parents with an infant

  • Inability to conjure empathy for this group?
  • Strong life transition moment that needs solutions
  • Mental health impacts
  • Change in routine
  • Relationship shift, new important thing
  • Really does disrupt sleep
  • Predictably unpredictable
  • Parents’ needs vs baby’s (but the parent is focused on the baby)

Busy families/two working parents

  • Time together is rare
  • How are they best utilizing their time?
  • How do they feel like a family?
  • Different schedules affecting each other

Newly cohabitating couples

  • Different schedules/different routines
  • Things you anticipated vs things you didn’t
  • Life transitions
  • Frustrations
  • “Relationship health”
  • Establishing foundation
  • What are the possibilities for relationship maintenance?

Transitioning elderly person into their adult child’s home

  • What causes it? Culture/money?
  • Adults caregiving for parents and still taking care of children
  • Grandchildren having to grow up?

We decided that cohabitating couples were of the greatest interest to us, especially because of the interesting push and pull between physical health and needs and relationship health and needs. To start, we created a survey to begin to get to know some of the needs and the pain points of this group.

“…what we need from the start is to increase our awareness of differences and tolerate them. Once we do that, we’ll realize that different sleep schedules are not marriage straining, they’re actually marriage preserving.”

To find areas of interest, we used our survey responses and our literature review/internet research to gather a list of thoughts and “findings” on cohabitating couples and sleep:

  1. People perceive their sleep as better with their partner, even if it actually isn’t.
  2. Sleeping together may be better for the health of the relationship, but sleeping apart may be better for the physical health of the individuals.
  3. Current solutions are for the individual.
  4. People mostly relate ideal sleep to physical aspects — temperature, lighting, environments, beddings, waking up conditions, nature.
  5. People make adjustments due to different sleeping/waking-up schedules, morning routines, disturbances at night for the sake of safety, cuddling and living together.
  6. Some of people say that when they started to cohabitating, they need to reschedule their bedtimes and wake-up times according to other’s sleeping-waking up times so that they can have more concordant sleep.
  7. Health conditions affects sleep a lot — stress, insomnia, breathing problems, snoring, not only of the individual but of the partner.
  8. Some people have expectations about their private space, time before the cohabitation and have some concerns about differences in their sleeping behaviors. In early stages of cohabitations, they feel that they’ve lost their private space completely but then cohabitated space has became their private or they simply split the difference. (from survey)
  9. The Lark-Owl scale vs. dyadic sleep or sleep concordance. Some couples go to sleep and wake up at the same time, while others have different sleep cycles based on personal preference or factors like work.

We were able to cluster these findings into three key problem areas for exploration: (1) incompatible sleep behaviors, (2) divergent sleep cycles and patterns, and (3) balancing privacy and intimacy. For each of these areas, we began imagining dystopic and utopic futures of partner sleep.

Sleep Incompatibilities

  • Dystopia — Make incompatibilities invisible
  • Utopia — Exposure therapy to your incompatibilities early on

Different Sleep Cycles

  • Dystopia — sleep partner surrogates
  • Utopia — forcing dyadic sleep cycle

Balancing Privacy and Intimacy

  • Dystopia — complete disintegration of the two lives, cohabitators who share responsibilities
  • Utopia — complete integration of the two lives

For our purposes, the ideas of dystopia and utopia were tied up in behavior change. A dystopic solution would require no individual to change or adjust and would simply make harmony out of any discordance. A utopic solution would force one or both partners to change, requiring the couple to make a harmonious and synced situation.

Some further considerations we discussed:

  • The social and the medical side (conversations about health)
  • Competing needs: physical vs. emotional, what’s the opportunity, what’s the problem
  • Expectations to reality when establishing rhythms
  • Our behavior change model: knowledge, motivation, environment
  • Think beyond the night to what’s happening during the day
  • Creating your own culture of two
Our finalized speed dating storyboards

We conducted more in-depth interviews with eight individuals/couples from our initial survey participants and collected our insights from this research:

  • The time before and of moving in together is a period of excitement and stress. Mostly excitement, but stresses come from the unknown and also from all the logistics of living together.
  • A lot of couple’s expectations are either very true to reality, or it turns out even better (which is, I guess, why these couples function well together)
  • Especially when you move in after having distance between you two (like in a long distance relationship), moving in together is like getting to know that person all over again.
  • Moving in together is like a leap of faith in your relationship.
  • Discomfort can come from being in such close quarters with another person.
  • Problems that arise are not always dealt with quickly and immediately, but more naturally over time. Partners will find ways to adapt to each other’s needs. They learn to accept certain annoying behaviors. They accommodate to each other’s needs because they care about each other.
  • A common way of dealing with problems is talking about it, apologizing, and trying not to do it again. Sometimes coming up with new “rules” for the circumstance.
  • Quality time is spending time together not doing much of anything.
  • Partners who need more alone time find it while their partners are asleep or before they’ve come home or after they’ve left work.
  • Another way to find alone time is taking a break from talking while still spending the time in each other’s’ presence.
  • Some couples have had to find ways to let the other one know that they need attention. Harder to make the intimacy feel exciting. Which can be hard. Sometimes they can feel roommates.
  • A lot of creating accommodation is a “feeling out” process. Making requests over and over again until it’s habit. It’s an adaptation. Not quite organic, but not an unnatural hassle. It’s a give and take. Not one person making all the sacrifices.
  • When the couple has known each other for very long, there aren’t many expectations or baggages regarding cohabitating. It’s just a discovery of patterns that were known before.
  • Partners influence each others’ sleep cycles, may even lead to change it.
  • It’s easier for couples to adjust to different routines if they did not have any expectations.
  • People who are very particular about their environment and possessions find it hard to share their space and adjust according to their partner.
  • The initial phase of cohabitation is the most tense until they make peace and arrive to a solution.
  • Physical environment preferences are one of the biggest points of disagreement.
  • Working couples feel they have enough personal time throughout the day, so prefer to spend the rest of the evening together.
  • To maintain a healthy relationship, they tend to solve problems even before they become problems.
  • It is easy to solve conflict between two if they go to a bed at the same time.
  • Often think they have problem during the sleep, but actually the point that they have argument about is getting ready for sleep.
  • They value the time right before they fall in a sleep which they can engaged into each other’s conversation.
  • If a problem somehow occurs and turns to an argument, they tend to solve it through two-way verbal communication, apologizing.
  • Partners are aware that living together depends mutual negotiation on any differences, that they have throughout their co-living.
  • One of their most relevant difference is about their sleep schedules ,which they actively trying to find ways, behaviors to adapt this difference.
  • Couples, especially very newly cohabitated, are trying to spend their time with each other as much as possible and sometimes give up their private times for their mutual times.

We also created an early rough draft territory map:

As we first began to discuss sleep and family health, a few different family contexts interested us from the start. We ultimately decided to narrow in on cohabitating couples. We thought it could bring an interesting take on family health, health being not just the physical health but also the relationship’s health. There are also so many moments of negotiation in taking two lives of two autonomous adults and creating a functioning cohabitation out of them. Our research methods have ranged from reading academic literature, as well as pieces by journalists, creating a survey with open-ended questions, and conducting more in depth interviews which included showing some design provocations to our potential users.
From all of this research we began to formulate an understanding of the phases couples go through from the moment they decide to cohabitate. The first phase is the period of anticipation. In this period, across the board, couples are excited to embark on this new part of their life together. Second to that is stress, brought on by the logistics of the move as well as any unknown factors about cohabitation. Once partners move in together, they begin the period of adjustment. This is a feeling-out process by which they make arrangements, negotiate their individual needs, and consider those of their partner. This period can include some frustrations, but when it works well, it is a fair give-and-take by which each individual attempts to change their behaviors to please their partner, and at the same time, attempts to accept that their partner may be unable to change entirely. Once the couple achieves some kind of rhythm in their cohabitation, they will continue to have moments of adjustment but much less frequently and only as required to maintain their established rhythm.
Nehal: So where do these necessary adjustments and conflicts arise, especially when thinking about sleep? From our research, we diagrammed our insights and found that they clustered around three areas of interest for our project: (1) incompatible sleep behaviors, (2) different sleep cycles and patterns, and (3) balancing privacy and intimacy.
We developed a scenario based on a story we heard in our interview that shows how these three areas intersect. Meet Kelsey and Luke. Kelsey is more of an introvert while Luke is more of an extrovert. Kelsey finds that she needs a little more private, alone time than her husband does. Kelsey and Luke have different sleep patterns, especially during the workweek. Since he has to wake up early for work, Luke goes to bed first. Kelsey stays up about an hour longer reading or watching TV to decompress and get her necessary “me” time. By the time Kelsey is ready for bed, Luke is often sleeping deeply and is snoring. This behavior can make it difficult for Kelsey to fall asleep. She usually moves him a bit so that he’ll quiet down enough so she can fall asleep. Since noise bothers Kelsey when she’s sleeping, she tried using earplugs but found them uncomfortable to wear. So, when Luke wakes up before her, he has to be careful not to make too much noise or turn on too many lights, or he’ll wake her up. She has had to get used to the fact that her sleep will probably be disturbed a little each morning. When he leaves, he says goodbye to her, and she sleeps a little longer before she has to get ready for work.
Julia: Considering these three areas, we developed two provocative future scenarios, each based on the divergent concepts of utopia and dystopia. We defined a dystopic solution as one that allowed individuals to continue living their own discordant patterns and behaviors, while a utopic solution would force a couple to find a place of harmony and balance. Together, we hoped that these divergent concepts could form a kind of bounding box for our next stage concepts and test the limits of what was acceptable to our potential users. We showed these extreme solutions to our interviewees and were able to elicit some pretty strong emotional reactions from them, as well as gauge their level of comfort with certain technologies.
In this first dystopic take on incompatible sleep behaviors, Toby and Val sleep with a barrier that prevents the transmission of light, sound, and movement across it. In this scenario, Toby and Val are unable to bother each other during the night. When Val gets up an hour before Toby, he is able to sleep soundly, even as Val’s hair dryer makes noise. The feedback from our interviewees was strong. While some couples felt this was something that would be useful in their morning and nightly routines, others felt it disrupted the relationship and appeared to be a physical manifestation of a problem between two people. Our utopic take on sleep behavior incompatibilities introduces a therapist bot into the bedroom. This device monitors the couple during the night and records events of interest. In this scenario, Drew kicks Taylor during the night, and the next evening before bed, they discuss the incident using the AI and the recording as a mediator. While some couples thought this was a “game changer” others were more concerned about the unhealthy dynamic of providing and demanding proof that it could create in a relationship. Our dystopic scenario for different sleep cycles involves some kind of surrogate for the partner in the bed. This storyboard shows Parker on a business trip while Sage remains at home. Sage is able to sleep with a digital/physical surrogate of Parker so that she can feel close to him and less alone. We learned that an important consideration for these couples would be the level of representation of the image. How much does it look like the partner? How much does it feel like the partner? How much similarity do you need for effectiveness of the solution? How much similarity is too much, is creepy?
On the utopic side, this scenario shows Charlie and Quinn hearing a device that alerts them to prepare for bed. Over time their divergent sleep patterns converge, so that they are able to go to sleep and wake up together. While some couples felt they needed autonomy in making decisions about bedtime, others felt some kind of device in the home could help remind them of their routines and convince them to change their more unhealthy behaviors. One interesting insight into this concept was that this kind of product would be something you’d buy with the intention to change. A concern that was brought up was about the partners and fairness: who would be doing more of the compromising to reach a dyadic sleep cycle. In a dystopic scenario relating privacy and intimacy, Jamie sees that Kelly is busy working. Kelly is in her zone and cannot hear or see Jamie. So, Jamie leaves a message with Kelly’s machine. Later when Kelly is on a break, Jamie receives a notification to inform him to check in with her before she gets back to work. One couple was horrified about the idea of losing the humane approach and transferring control over to machines while another couple felt it was a fair chance for each couple to utilize their personal space in a way they wish to. Really interesting pointers that a few couples suggested were introduction of an emergency switch to intervene in such cases, options for pre-notifications about the break time. In a utopic scenario, a competitive game might encourage couples to spend as much time as possible together. In this storyboard, Max and Morgan gain points for doing activities at home together and lose points for spending time apart. At night before bed, they can check the leaderboard to see the status of their relationship compared to that of their couple friends. This definitely created some strong reactions in our research participants. One couple was convinced that this would be real in the future, but they were horrified at the thought. Others were motivated by the aspect of competition. One concern brought up was whether couples would be doing activities for points rather than for each other.
All of our research has lead to these three key insights about cohabitating couples in relation to their sleep and the time surrounding sleep. The first insight is that establishing healthy patterns and arrangements early on, helps couples to have an easier time for maintaining their relationship. The second is fairness is important to many couples. They want every arrangement to be a give-and-take. The third is that dyadic sleep cycles cause the fewest problems in relationships, but even knowing that, many couples would rather stick to their own behaviors than attempt to change. From these insights we asked questions and developed principles for our design going forward. Thinking about how a smooth onboarding could help couples later on, we wondered how our solution might assist in this transition period and provide long-term support. This lead to our principle: Design for Easing the Onboarding and Maintenance of Cohabitation. Thinking about couple’s concern for give and take, we wondered how our solution might help couples feel like they are each making equal contributions and sacrifices when it comes to decision making. This lead to our principle: Design for Empowering Negotiation.
If dyadic sleep is better for couples, but individuals aren’t interested in changing their set ways, how could our solution better frame sleep cycle optimization? This led to our design principle: Design for Encouragement, Not Prescription. Going forward, we’ll be brainstorming a wide range of the forms and functions that our solution might take, and do some mixing and match between them. In a double diamond model of the design process, our next step will be diverging on ideas before converging again on solutions.

We got a lot of interesting and helpful feedback and ideas on next steps from our client visitors:

  • Consider the design function. Are we designing to innovate, differentiate, optimize, etc.? Are we designing for behavior change, such as lifestyle changes or increasing motivations? If we are designing for behavior change, what is our theory of change?
  • Continue the trend toward digital innovation in our process. Think about new insights and new ways of thinking about interactions and services.
  • Think holistically. Consider the whole environment and the entire health continuum. Investigate other analogous parts of a couple’s life together. For example, we pay attention to how our money is organized, but not as much about our health and health data. How might we apply the same technology to different markets, settings, user bases, etc.
  • Consider communication. How might a solution connect multiple technologies and offerings together, giving the right info at right moment?
  • Be positive in our approach. Think about this from a consumer space, not like from a health space where products are more about preventing discomfort.
  • Come as one in our perspective and our beliefs on what sleep should be. Is sleep a necessary evil? Is it something you enjoy doing? Is it something you enjoy doing together? It may be much more powerful if you believe that.
  • Frame our design challenge in our beliefs. What is optimal? Thinking about habits and attitudes, belief is powerful.

To explore the solution space, we brainstormed on ideal sleep, on technologies, and how we might mix and match the two.

Clustering adjectives on ideal sleep
Clustering technologies


Writer. Reader. Designer. Sly portraitist. Wise fairy. Believer in kairos. People over pixels.


Writer. Reader. Designer. Sly portraitist. Wise fairy. Believer in kairos. People over pixels.