Investigating the social adoption of nicotine addiction with the JUUL-S

Documenting your child’s growth
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With a focus of learning to conduct safe, ethical, and formal user reserach, my teammates and I decided to research the recent phenomena of e-cigarette products among our age group—a generation that grew up indoctrinated under anti-tobacco campaigns.


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10 Weeks

Field Studies Course

University of Washington

What I did

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juul hero image

A USB or e-cigarette?

In 2016, 11.3% of high school students used e-cigarettes, compared to 3.2% of adults.

The JUUL is by far the most popular e-cigarette brand, controlling nearly 3⁄4 of the US e-cig market with a valuation of $16 billion. Yet 63% of young people do not know JUULs always contains nicotine.

Though marketed as a safer alternative to combustible tobacco, it’s become highly popular amongst high school and college-age students. Observing this, we as a team sought out to learn more about how JUULs became affected by and effected social factors in these groups.

Our research question

What social factors contribute to college students’ disposition toward e-cigarettes?

Research session breakdown

Student users (5 participants)

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30 minute interview

Personal inventory

Behavioral mapping

Love/break-up letter

Nicotine expert (1) & non-user (1)

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60 minute interview

affinity diagramming photo

Making sense of our research

The most challenging part was being able to organize all our data in order to create our main insights. We realized that although there were some interesting categories to pursue, there was most emphasis and connection within the social impact that using a JUUL had. Many
post-its were used and crumpled in this phase.

A lot of (sensemaking) maps.

Personal & empathy map

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Since the JUUL attracted a fairly homogeneous audience in age and socioeconomic status, a persona and empathy map helped us identify how certain goals and actions aligned with JUUL usage, and as their dependence on it grows over time.

Influence map

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There are a range of stakeholders who contribute to the role JUUL plays in Sarah’s life. Everyone from designers to the FDA play a role in a complex web of interactions. There’s a heavy imbalance of factors that encourage someone’s JUUL usage, most of which are social factors like their social circle, social group, and social media.

journey map

Journey map

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We mapped the the amount of nicotine consumption, a user’s attitude towards the JUUL, and the amount of social influence on juuling habits over the 4-year timeline of a typical college-student based on our research.

The most interesting finding was the point in which a user’s attitude about juuling turns more negative due to finaincial strain and social tension, despite their nicotine consumption continuously rising. This diagram was pivitol in giving us a focus for our design response.

Research insights

Social circles determine whether or not someone juuls and their pattern of use. The interpersonal relationships in that circle define norms around sharing, frequency of use, environments in which it is acceptable, ect.

Social media increases exposure to and accelerates the spread of juuling. Social media is a virtual extension of the impact that social circles have on JUUL usage.

The overall positive experience of juuling leads to ever greater attachment. The design of the device is sleek and sexy, employs a chemically addictive substance, and acts as a social crutch for its users.

Users see no reason to stop juuling due to misconceptions around long-term effects. Misinformation from unverified sources, doubt in the information due to vaping’s novelty, or simply not making the effort to do the research all contribute to an inaccurate assessment of
long-term risks.

Stigma around addiction prevents honest conversations about increased use. Portrayals of addiction through media and culture have led to it being associated with criminality, low socio-economic status, and unattractive physical symptoms that users don’t want to associate themselves with.

Unless social norms shift, current trends point to continued JUUL usage. If current trends are left unchecked, users see no reason to quit, especially for those who are less concerned with using JUUL to fit in.

Design principles

Don’t be authoritative. Top-down decision making around vaping may backfire and end up reinforcing the rebellious/cool appeal. The FDA and CDC are already filling this role, we don’t have to.

Influence beyond the individual. Acknowledge the network effect that drives the use of the JUUL.

Avoid a single story. Be intentional in not targeting the users who are benefiting from juuling as cessation.

Don’t stigmatize. Creating shame or stigma can be ineffective when it comes to changing behavior.

Prototype: Cloak

What does it do?

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Cloak is a JUUL sleeve that begins to advocate for itself as it is used, gradually gaining [apparent] self-awareness and building a relationship with its user.

By intentionally introducing friction into the JUUL user experience, we aim to provoke discussion and reflection around juuling habits and addiction.

Focus areas for improvement

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The shape hindered the original aesthetic and accessibility of the JUUL.

It was unclear that the user’s increasing attachment to the JUUL is what fuels the Cloak’s responses.

Be more explicit about why someone would use this in the first place.

Introducing the JUUL-S

What does it do?

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JUUL-S promotes connection among users. By giving it access to location services and social media accounts via smartphone, it can create a map of your social circle and notifies you when friends are also juuling.

Using a directional indicator, JUUL-S can also lead the user to the location of their friends. When in a high-consumption, social atmosphere, the device is able to deliver a more concentrated dosage of nicotine.

Seems creepy, why did we make this?

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With our concept, we examine the idea of agency in the age of social media with a critical lens. Our prototype video focuses on the point at which social pressure to juul drops off, and becomes an individual habit.

JUUL-S makes the personal public, similar to the constant connectivity and presence of social media in our lives. It has implications on personal autonomy and behavior since the user cannot escape the surveillance of their social circle.

Interested?                                                                                        Interested?                                                                                        Interested?                                                                                       Interested?