How can we prevent chronic loneliness? 
By helping to create connections between people and the place where they live.
Feeling lonely?
Have you ever wondered about loneliness? I didn’t, not really, but it’s a curious topic. We all know about loneliness and have dealt with it at some point in our lives. But what happens when we don’t notice it? It turns out, it can develop into a prolonged state that affects our health. Chronic loneliness has an unsettling tendency to creep up on you. It becomes compost for other diseases, like heart attack or depression.

Loneliness was the topic of my assignment for UX Philosophy’s UX course. I found the topic fascinating, but obscure. To learn more, I started researching. According to Australian data, loneliness is becoming an epidemic that threatens our health and wellbeing.

In a recent study 1 in 4 Australians reported feeling lonely. Lonely, so feeling a lack of deeper connection. And it’s about quality, not quantity in this case. If you think about 4 people you know, maybe you see them every day - that’s probably not one of them. But the guy waiting for coffee in front of you or that new girl at work might be affected. Physically affected, because loneliness becomes a physical and mental health threat.
UX process
If being lonely is so common, how do you begin to tackle this? To take the first step, I decided to talk to people. I asked about their experience with loneliness to learn what they think, feel and do when that feeling surfaces. 
Notes from interviews
What did they say?
Results were all over the place. It turns out that we feel lonely in many different ways and many different times in our lives. Many of us have strategies in place that minimise possibility of loneliness. We avoid the feeling as much as we can, but nevertheless it hits us in unexpected moments.

Interestingly, some people are less affected than others, people who like being alone and who don’t feel lonely while being alone. It is an interesting distinction. But I've also found one commonality.
Affinity mapping helped to sort through information and find insights
Apparently almost everybody, even people who enjoy being alone, felt lonely at a specific time and place - right after they moved to a new city. At that point in life we deal with a set of stressful factors and it seems that it sparks noticeable loneliness.
a lack of network + new area + a disconnection from old = loneliness?
Ok, but who actually am I working with and for? What do I know about people who feel lonely right after moving into a new city? I checked my data and looked for more information about who move in Australia.
Lisa - user persona of a newcomer
Using this data as a starting point, I did Crazy 8s to come up with a final proposal of a solution. It felt like some small pieces of puzzles started fitting together. Now imagine we have two strangers, one local and one newcomer, a nice place for a walk and maybe some shared interest to spark the conversation. Let's say that two people with vague interest in history go for a walk around the Rocks. That part of Sydney is rich with history. If our strangers develop a connection, they can explore it further and maybe become friends. That would be great, mission accomplished! If they don’t connect, that’s ok, there will be another opportunity. Maybe another walk?
Crazy 8s - or in that case Crazy12s
So how can we facilitate that meeting? It would be best to have something personal and easily available, like an app on your phone, that shows you a couple options and allows you to set up a meeting. It would be nice if after a walk, you could also show that spot to another person. You just took a step to becoming a local yourself. ​​​​​​​
I used a Minimum Viable Product matrix to further narrow down the features required for the first iteration.  
MVP and features
Ok, now let’s consider the process itself. I thought about what Lisa would need to do, step by step, to get to a meeting with somebody local. Initial versions of user flow were very simple but I reworked it until I could encompass all features and situations I could think of.
User flow
After setting on an actionable user flow I could finally start to add muscle to the skeleton. Once I created the wireframes, I structured the interactions and came up with a prototype that could be used for testing.
The first round of user testing consisted of 3 interviews. I prepared a simple scenario to check how testers would go about achieving the goal of setting up a meeting with a local. Those meetings were fascinating. I documented the tests, results and all the comments and notes so that I could decide on changes to the next iteration.
So, in the end, how does it work?
The app, called NewLocal, takes the guesswork out of meeting people in a new city. The app gives you the who and the where, so all you need to do is show up and have a chat.

Imagine the awkwardness of initiating a conversation - imagine it melting away, replaced by conversation that flows naturally to the rhythm of your steps. Conversation starters that are literally all around you since you are on a walk. You  don’t have to figure out what to do with your hands, you can just put them into our pockets and dive into the chat.
But do we actually need it?
You might ask if there is a need for an app like that? And what about the competition? First set of tests showed a very positive response to the idea. 
Additionally, people who I spoke to already used similar tactics in the past. They employed recommendations and research to find things to do and therefore meet people. Sometimes, it would have been a cousin of a friend, contacted by family overseas and asked to show the newcomer around. Or a friend of a friend, who would get recommended as the person to talk to get things organised. What if you don’t have a cousin of a friend or any other connection to the city? 
Similarly, the competition seems to be focused on either groups (f.e. Meetup) or creating connections based on shared interests (Bumble BBF). I didn’t find a product that would connect people to a place - a product that would help to make a new city theirs.
Competition Analysis
NewLocal facilitates a 1 on 1 meeting in a place where you are not a tourist - it’s your city, just new. NewLocal is designed to minimise that “new city loneliness” before it becomes a problem. Moving cities is already stressful enough, surely we can simplify the messy stuff (processes) that comes afterwards.
One of the more important elements of the app is safety of the user and their data. I would like it to be clear to the users that if something doesn’t feel right, users can just walk away. Starting point would be to have guidelines describing how to minimise risk while using the app and meeting people. The next step requires deep research into the best practices and technological constraints.
Sore issue. To be honest, this app is designed to be funded, not earn money. Potentially, it could be a part of a government or a city sponsored program to tackle loneliness and curb down its cost on the population. 
This project allowed me to understand better the feeling of loneliness and how it affects us. While I achieved the goal of finding a digital solution to some part of loneliness, this project became much more. The process of finding, proposing and testing my proposition made use of my curiosity and gave me immense joy. To imagine that I could help to lessen the burden of being lonely was exciting and became a driving force for me. I hope you find this app interesting and maybe it will spark your own curiosity.
3. Albury, K, Byron, P, McCosker, A, Pym, T, Walshe, J, Race, K, Salon, D, Reeders, D, Wark, T, Botfield, J & Dietzel, C 2019, Safety, Risk and Wellbeing on Dating Apps: Final Report, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne.
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