Allison Crank’s VR Cheshire cat guides the stressed-out to dreamland

Replacing the hypnotherapist with Alice in Wonderland’s Cheshire cat, Allison Crank turns VR into virtual recovery – inviting the stressed and overworked to recuperate in her dream world. In ‘The Challenge’, we feature forward-looking design concepts that address a topical issue. Alarmed by the increasing cases of burnout, insomnia and other stress-related conditions in working professionals (of an increasingly younger age) around the world, in Frame 119 we commissioned five emerging designers to conceptualize a product, space or service to reduce stress and improve mental wellbeing. Working at the intersection of technology, media and architecture, Crank proposes a personal virtual-reality spirit animal cum sleep guide.

Talk us through your concept. 
ALLISON CRANK: Like the immaterial forces that cause so much of today’s stress – looming emails, social pressures, et cetera – my design is largely intangible: a hypnotherapeutic dream world in which you’re guided to focus on finding balance and whose virtual-reality component is affected by your physiological senses.

What does the guide do – and who is it?
None other than Alice in Wonderland’s Cheshire cat. He guides your hypnotic state – ‘you are getting very sleepy’ – by instructing you to concentrate on your breathing in an attempt to relax both body and mind. But the beauty of working with virtual elements lies in the opportunity to transform and customize the world you inhabit. For some, the therapist could be a Cheshire cat, while others may prefer a Cheshire goat.

Allison Crank works at the intersection of technology, media and architecture, which makes her an interesting contributor to ‘The Challenge’.

What will it look like?  
The visual and experiential language of props, characters and atmosphere constitutes a dreamlike space, with nebulas, flowing fabrics and billowing clouds.

What happens there?
Occasionally, the Cheshire cat instructs you to move props through space by relaxing specific areas of your body. Your physiological data controls the speed, direction and progression of the props and environment in real time. With each deep breath, you sink further into the dream world, until only a faint glimmer of the surrounding elements – such as the cat’s grin – remains. The movement involved is a virtual simulation that is akin to sinking into one’s chair, an instruction many hypnotherapists ask their clients to imagine.

Physiological data – gained when the user relaxes different areas of the body – is needed to control the props inside Allison Crank’s otherworldly virtual environment.

How do props and background aid the process of de-stressing?
Many people suffering from stress find that their breathing feels restricted and shallow. The goal of the session is to focus on your breathing and thus lower your galvanic skin response, an indicator of stress. In my visualization, clocks are slowed down, lengthening the perception of time, and breathing is augmented in real time by the swelling of an orb. Such visual feedback heightens the awareness of your breathing and your goal: getting the world to slow down.

How long does the process take?
It depends. Ten minutes could be enough, but you might need much longer. The most important thing is that you are in control of the session and can choose to leave whenever you please, so you never have to hear a voice say Our time’s up, I’ll see you again next week when you feel as if you could use ten more minutes.

More from this issue

Frame 119

This issue of Frame explores how offices that adapt to their digitally empowered personnel are sparking a revolution. Studio RHE asks buildings for feedback, and Space Encounters designs an adaptive office for Sony Music.

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