Encouraging New Encounters: Digital Design Patterns to Support Social Wellbeing

Robb Mitchell, Kay Pallaris

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Interpersonal contact can be crucial to subjective wellbeing (Miesen and Schaafsma, 2008) as social isolation can create vicious spirals of self-destructive behaviour that further decreases lonely individuals’ social skills and motivations towards sociability (Caccioppo and Patrick, 2009). Lacking social connection has also been argued to have negative impacts on physiological health (ibid).

However, developing new interpersonal connections is an elixir that is easy to prescribe but difficult to supply. Initiating a conversation with strangers is difficult for many people (Crozier, 1990) and successfully approaching strangers in public places necessitates considerable skills (Mondada, 2009). Computer scientists, interaction designers, new media artists and other inventive practitioners and researchers have undertaken a wide variety of experimentation with digital means to support social icebreaking, and reduce inhibitions on initiating new encounters. Formats and media range from responsive architecture, installations and dynamic furniture to handheld gadgets and wearables. But despite the breadth and novelty of design concepts, these efforts seem to have made little headway in reducing social isolation.

Addressing this challenge is hindered by several factors including a) how prior work for sparking new interpersonal contacts is scattered across many different fields and disciplines b) the challenge of articulating the complexity and unpredictability of interpersonal interactions and c) the lack of shared vocabularies for how digital mechanisms, technologies and techniques may influence how people perceive and act towards each other.

In this paper, we present findings from a participatory and iterative review of design examples (Mitchell 2015, Mitchell and Olsson 2017). To support interdisciplinary exchange, we present the results of our review in the accessible format of design patterns. Design patterns are illustrated abstractions capturing re-usable solutions to recurring problems (Alexander, 1977). We conducted an iterative, and participatory design space review that connected clusters of diverse inventions with explanations of specific difficulties with initiating new encounters that they might each support. Expert interviews with diverse practitioners critiqued and fine-tuned our initial results. Furthermore, we will un pack our latest digital design patterns for social wellbeing through comparisons with less novel technologies and insights from social science literature.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication 2nd Digital Health & Wellbeing Conference
Publication date2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Event2nd Digital Health & Wellbeing Conference 2018: Fusion – All things Digital Health & Wellbeing - Open University , Milton Keynes, United Kingdom
Duration: 1. May 20183. May 2018


Conference2nd Digital Health & Wellbeing Conference 2018
LocationOpen University
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
CityMilton Keynes
Internet address


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