These heart-shaped devices are helping people stay emotionally connected during lockdown

Technology keeps us connected, but it can’t replace the emotional connection we get from actually being around the people we love. Heartfelt, a LEXUS DESIGN AWARD 2021 finalist project, is hoping to change that. The idea for Heartfelt was born after one of the designers attended a virtual funeral of a family member during lockdown. Realizing that the physical separation affected the grieving process and prevented people from really emotionally connecting and healing together, designers Gayle Lee and Jessica Vea began working on Heartfelt, a device that added a physical element to the now-commonly used phrase “sending virtual hugs”.

Heartfelt works across long distances, and in pairs. It comes in the shape of a heart, and works when you hold it with both hands. Place your thumb onto the indentations and they light up in red and blue to notify the other person. When both people hold their Heartfelt devices at the same time, the hearts warm-up, creating the warmth associated with hugging someone. “While video-calling helps, most people seem to miss the warmth that a physical hug brings, and we hope to somehow reproduce that comforting feeling”, say Gayle and Jessica. Sensors within both Heartfelt devices will read your body’s current temperature, letting the opposite person feel ‘your warmth’ based on your body temperature. The hearts will even gently pulsate, allowing you to really connect with the person on the other side of the device, and the soft, skin-like outer material will give you the impression of actually hugging another person.

The technology within Heartfelt isn’t new, but its application comes at a critical time when social disconnection is at an all-time high. While modern-day technology allows us to see and listen to each other, Heartfelt was designed to build actual connections, share emotions, and be vulnerable around each other by focusing on the one thing social media and the internet today can’t do… enabling physical proximity. When used together, Heartfelt devices help people connect, heal, and de-stress naturally by enabling the brain to release endorphins, or the ‘happy hormones’ associated with physical contact.

This human-centric ability led to Heartfelt getting selected as one of six finalists at the LEXUS DESIGN AWARD 2021. Currently in its 9th year, the Lexus Design Award is on a mission to ideate and innovate for a better future for humanity as well as for the planet. With the theme of “Design for a Better Tomorrow”, the awards program looks at solutions that have a uniquely positive impact on society, humanity, and in the process, to reward a new generation of designers by helping bring their impactful ideas to fruition. Along with accelerating, developing, and promoting design projects, the Lexus Design Award helps kickstart design careers too, with exclusive mentorships from international design stalwarts like Joe Doucet, Mariam Kamara, Sabine Marcelis and Sputniko!, as well as funding for prototypes (up to 3 million Japanese Yen or $25,000 per project) and the opportunity to have your work judged by the biggest figures in design in the final Grand Prix competition. This year’s judges include Paola Antonelli (Senior Curator at MoMA), Dong Gong (Founder and Principal Designer at Vector Architects), Greg Lynn (Architect and CEO at Piaggio Fast Forward), and Simon Humphries (Head of Toyota and Lexus Global Design).

Heartfelt is one of the six finalists of the LEXUS DESIGN AWARD 2021. Stay tuned as we feature all the finalist designs following the Grand Prix Winner Announcement here on Yanko Design!

Designers: Gayle Lee & Jessica Vea

Click Here to See All Six Lexus Design Awards Finalists!

Heartfelt – A Device that Enables Virtual Hugs

Heartfelt aims to explore what ‘being present’ might look like during the age of a pandemic, and seeks to assist with the anxiety and emotional stresses of being alone through simple long-distance devices. “Small device, big heart.”

Heartfelt will work long-distance and come in pairs. While one person cradles their device in their hands, the other sister device will warm to the same temperature at the same time. The temperature will reflect the person holding it, and if not being held, will drop to room temperature (neutral). This seeks to imitate what it would be like holding or hugging another person. Furthermore, an LED will be used for the visual expression of both heartbeats, 2 differing LEDs pulsing at the same time, each half of the heart lit up in different colors to represent each user.

Click Here to See All Six Lexus Design Awards Finalists!