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Ph.D. Research


Lusha`s ph.d. research


1.1 Personal Motivation

There is a specific personal background to this research. I was raised by my grandparents in their home in mainland China. My grandfather was a renowned professor of ophthalmology, specialising in ocular fundus diseases. I witnessed hundreds of patients making a special trip to my grandfather’s home and I continually observed the profound appreciation expressed by his patients after their vision had been restored. It made me realise how critical the faculty of sight is to everyone, and it raised my awareness of the suffering faced by those people with visual impairments.

Having graduated from the School of Visual Arts in New York City with a Master degree in Industrial and Interaction Design, I was previously an industrial designer, creating consumer products for companies such as Polycom and Belkin at Pip Tompkins Studio in Los Angeles. On a business trip to the CES (Consumer Electronic Show) in Las Vegas, I encountered hundreds of electronic products which were being presented at the show. It made me realise that designers have to invest considerable effort into designing products to enable them to enhance their quality of life. However, only a relatively small number of products are designed specifically for people with visual impairments. Consequently, this motivated me to assess the needs of people with visual impairments with a view to bringing enjoyment and fulfilment to them. This would also address the issue of the reduced quality of life they currently have compared with sighted individuals. To enhance the iOS applications to be developed, which will be referred to as ‘apps’ in this study, I decided to investigate the psychology related to visual impairments.

I became interested in this specific area of travelling from my past experience in designing a digital traveling website based on Google Night Walk (with Frog Design in New York City).

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The key research question

How can the travel experience of people with visual impairments be enhanced through a mobile application?

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My first visually impaired interviewee in Los Angeles :)

My first visually impaired interviewee in Los Angeles :)

When I traveled to the suburbs, my friend only told me that there was a forest, waterfall and river in front of me. That’s boring and nonsense.
— Subject B
Yes, I really want to travel abroad by myself. I have never tried it before. No matter how difficult or what the result is, I would like to have this experience at least once.
— Subject E

Some of the experts involved in this project are shown in the following.


User Journey

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The software be used for this Ph.D project.


This research was a great way for me to look at a product from not only a researcher or designer's point of view, but from a developer's as well. I have worked closely with mobile developers before in my previous projects, but it was a whole new ball game to develop my design into an app from scratch that actually dive into hybrid app, Swift, and Xcode.

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Conducting user testing

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Final App Design

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Users can choose from two experiences:

a. exploration version - they will receive several missions including finding local people for a photo sharing opportunity; or finding the hidden voices through a narrative; and discovering hidden virtual objects through a vibration pathway.
b. chill version - the app will suggest the places to visit for meditation or relaxation.

Theoretical Models

Narrative, challenge, fellowship, discovery and submission in LeBlanc’s 8 Kinds of Fun (2004). Social call to action builds on “surprise” and “unexpected delight” from the social engagement loop (Zichermann & Cunningham, 2011).The feature provides “easy fun” from four kinds of fun concept (Lazzaro, 2004).



The app recommends nearby tourist attractions, sights, restaurants, and shops. This feature utilises a checklist and goal-setting to encourage users to visit new locations. According to the participants, users with visual impairment are typically keen to visit new locations but lack the incentive and knowledge of what is available.

Theoretical Models

This feature involves ‘missions’ from motivations for gamification design (Zichermann & Cunningham, 2011), and goals and strategy from hard fun in four kinds of fun concept (Lazzaro, 2004).



The app plays audio clips automatically to describe the stories and advice from different senses when users pass by a new spot within an attraction.

Theoretical Models

The feature draws on creating a sense of achievement from arriving at attractions (‘unlocking’ them) and triggering curiosity by feeding new knowledge without user prompting (Zichermann & Cunningham, 2011) as well as improvement of knowledge and competence from accomplishments (Seligman, 2011). The feature encourages the exploration of the space at the destination (‘easy fun’ in Lazzaro, 2004).



After visiting a spot, users can receive a reward automatically. The reward can be a part of a song or points for a coupon. In order to receive the whole song or a coupon, the user should try to visit and check all the spots that the app suggests in the area.

Theoretical Models

Collecting, surprise, gifting, reward system, and external coupons build on ideas presented by Zichermann and Cunningham (2011) and Lazzaro (2004), while the positive emotions of joy and gratitude are the related positive emotions (Seligman, 2011).



Users can leave a message before they leave, such as a hint, or their feelings, or their experiences for other visually impaired people. The message can be liked by other app users, with the top ten most-liked messages shown on the leaderboard of the app. Users can discover the best experiences with helpful and meaningful tips from their peers whom they can trust in each attraction. Users can also post questions that everyone can answer.

Theoretical Models

Sharing, leaderboard, gaining status, fame, getting attention, competition, and “a social call” to action refer to recommendations made by Zichermann and Cunningham (2011), while Lazarro’s (2004) ideas on communication and social aspects of fun serve to establish the basis of positive emotions.



With a growing community, users can contribute towards detailed databases of localized information. The information grows with the community, creating an utterly crowd-sourced tourism map of the world.

Theoretical Models

Increasing content, community, co-creativity, status in the community, collaboration, and feeling of “growing” are primarily inspired by Zichermann and Cunningham (2011).

“Audio description” (AD) was critical for my project because I wanted to make the travel app similar to a local companion for the visually impaired. The American Council of the Blind (2003) stated that audio descriptions can offer the visually impaired a verbal description of the visual matter to help them to access information and knowledge while travelling. The following is one of the sample of audio description in this app. Please play and check.

With their permissions, the following is one video clip from the user testing.

Enabled VoiceOver function on iPhone to use the app.