The international panel of judges unanimously voted the temstem app by Reframing Studio and Parnassia Groep as the winner of the 2013 Rotterdam Design Prize.
Temstem is an app for smartphones and tablets that enables the user to actively suppress the voices in his or her head by means of language games. As well as its distractive properties, the app can also have therapeutic effects in the longer term. The app lets users tackle their problem directly and take control. The app is not a replacement for a psychiatrist or medication, but it does offer an innovative and effective self-help resource for people who suffer from this psychosis.
From the jury report
‘The jury believes that “temstem” is a brilliant example of the impact that de- sign can have on real problems. The joint research by the health professionals of the Parnassia Groep and the Reframing Studio designers has resulted in a genuine tool that can have a major impact on the lives of its users. The app addresses a problem in one of the main arenas in contemporary design—the health care sector—and does it with the latest media. The international jud- ging panel is in unanimous agreement with scout Caroline Hummels that temstem is an exemplary product on the cutting edge of research and design, and consequently awards it the 2013 Rotterdam design Prize.’
Jury: Caroline Baumann, director of the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Edwin Heathcote, architecture and design critic, Virginia Tassinari, assistant professor social spaces aan MAD University in Genk.
I nominate Reframing Studio and the Parnassia Groep for Temstem, which operates at the boundary of design and research to take up the challenge of giving people with psychosis back control over their own lives.
This app overloads the auditory working memory of patients with psychosis who frequently hear voices, thereby lessening those voices. Temstem guides the user through the transition from playing a game as a simple distraction to actively confronting the voices and hence reducing their long-term severity and malignity. The user gets assistance from Tim, a fictional character who acts as a “buddy” and is always available to help with gaining control over the voices.
Temstem’s significance and beauty derives first of all from its subject. Health care presents one of the Netherlands’ greatest social challenges, one that in my opinion we must tackle by seeking the proper balance between professional help, social connection and support, and personal responsibility and action. Where professional help is seen as the only solution for psychosis, temstem can help to balance the available aid. It provides the patient with an easily accessible, prescription-free tool, fostering a sense of personal responsibility and control.
The design also harnesses the power of technology, specifically mobile phones. Since the voices can appear at any given moment, using technology people have close to hand is a good idea. Though in general I strongly advocate tangible interaction with interactive products, an app is highly suitable here. A mismatch often exists between a product’s medium and its users’ physical activity in context. When social interaction is your primary concern, why place a monitor between people? And when physical environment is important, why do things on a mobile? But psychosis affects an individual’s cognition and can strike unexpectedly, so here the chosen medium is ideal.
In addition, temstem focuses entirely on the effects and experience it provides for the patient, and that makes it strong from a design standpoint.
Various partners worked together on this project in an effort to use design in the service of a healthy, sustainable society, so in its own way it belongs to the world of the transformation economy. The project reaches beyond the disciplines of the involved parties in various ways. As a finished product, the app helps the patient, but the project also serves as a research instrument, so the project integrates the two purposes. Temstem does an impressive job of linking health care and design, creating new scope for innovation. This collaborative project expands the purview of design, and this is a boon and a blessing in an era that faces so many complex social challenges.