Nandini Pasumarthy

(she/her)

Design researcher, Human-Computer Interaction (HCI)

I’m an Interaction Designer and User-Experience Researcher with design experience at the intersection of games & play, health, and reflection. I am actively looking for design research opportunities within the health and well-being space, spanning academic and industry settings.

@nandinipasumarthy

camera
Graduation Hat Icon

Bio

Hi, I’m Nandini, an interaction designer and HCI researcher pursuing my doctoral studies at the HAFP Research Lab at RMIT University, Australia, under the supervision of Dr Rohit Ashok Khot, Dr Jessica Danaher, and Prof. Elise van den Hoven. My research focuses on the design for gut health engagement and reflection through interactive and playful approaches. Specifically, my work aims to understand the process involved in the deconstruction of health science information and its translation into playful interactions to support everyday health reflection. I’m passionate about interdisciplinary collaborations that utilise play-based interactions to break down complex health topics, with a focus on user experience and embodied interaction design. I also draw from my prior educational background in sociological and management studies to interpret and conduct my research. Interdisciplinary collaborations spanning health science, psychology, nutrition, game design, and embodied cognition sciences excite me, mainly where the focus lies in design and its translation to support real-world initiatives.


The future of HCI research and interaction design in the context of play, human health, and well-being is promising. By embracing interdisciplinary collaborations that leverage cutting-edge science and technology, we can design engaging and impactful play experiences that allow us to interact with and learn about complex bodily processes, promoting opportunities for a deeper understanding of our health and its reflection.

case studies

Facilitating Play-Based Engagement with Gut Health Factors Through a Physical Board Game

Facilitating Real-world Activity Engagement for Gut Health Through an Exploratory Smartphone Game

Case Study:

Gooey Gut Trail

-Facilitating Play-Based Engagement with Gut Health Factors Through a Physical Board Game

Our gastrointestinal health is influenced by complex interactions between our gut bacteria and multiple external factors. A wider understanding of these concepts is vital to help make gut-friendly decisions in everyday life; however, its complexity can challenge public understanding if not approached systematically. Research suggests that board games can help to playfully navigate complex subjects. We present Gooey Gut Trail (GGT), a board game to help players understand the multifactorial interactions that influence and sustain gut microbial diversity. Through the embodied enactment of in-game activities, players learn how their habits surrounding diet, physical activity, emotions, and lifestyle influence the gut microbial population. A qualitative field study with 15 participants revealed important facets of our game design that increased participants’ awareness, causing them to reflect upon their habits that influence gut health.

Design Brief & Process

Problem: Gut health, a complex topic is currently a widely used term in social media, however, the general public understanding of factors that influence gut health is still at a nascent stage. Furthermore, traditional information sources on gut health like journals, blogs, and news articles are often too scientific thus increasing the complexity in public comprehension of the topic. Moreover, the ‘ick’ factor surrounding the topic suggests the need for social discourse. The overall lack of interactive approaches to engage with this topic motivated our research approach.

Factors Influencing Gut Microbiome and Health

mode of birth

early microbial

exposure

genetics

antibiotics

diet

interaction with

plants and soil

emotions

environment

physical activity

Black Basic Arrow Right

Friendly biome

Balanced and Happy Gut

Unfriendly biome

Imbalanced and Unhappy Gut

Black Basic Arrow Right

Research Approach: I approached this challenge through the lens of structured play and designed Gooey Gut Trail (GGT), a board game that leverages hands-on tactile play and playful visualisation facilitating a safe space for the exchange of health information between players through social mechanics.


Design Process: The “Research through Design” (RtD) methodology was used to develop the game. The iterative process resulted in three versions over a duration of eight months. The design of GGT was carried out by a multidisciplinary team and the design decisions were informed by scientific literature from the fields of gastrointestinal health, food science, game design, psychology, sociology, product & UX design. My role was that of the lead designer and user-experience design researcher.

Initial mapping of science aspects

Digital playtesting

Low fidelity prototype

Iterative design and testing

The game was designed in the following process:

1. Identification and mapping of scientific literature on gut health and the real-world contexts that influence it.

2. Identifying the current design space for interactive health engagement through play

3. Conceptualisation of key design elements and the design features

4. Crafting game mechanics

5. Prototyping and testing was conducted as a cyclical process.

The GGT game was designed using sustainable materials such as cardboard, air-dry clay, MDF board, linen bags, brown craft paper, magnetic sheets and repurposed cardboard containers to hold game components. The design goals of GGT were in alignment with the design ideals of our team that focused on reducing the impact of our design choices on the environment. The final research product was tested through a field study with 15 participants revealing that the game led to a new-found understanding of the intricacies involved in gut health.

Research Outcomes: A qualitative user study with 15 participants revealed that player experience of the game was positive and engaging with real-world relevance of game insights for player adoption into their daily lives. We further noted that important facets of the design contributed towards an increased awareness in participants, causing some participants to reflect upon personal habits that influence gut health. Key highlights include the material and tactile representation that offered playful visualisation, enabling learning by doing. The use of real-world scenarios led to reflection on everyday habits suggesting the usefulness of health information gathered through the game. Widening player understanding of gut health factors beyond just diet. The balance of fun and scientific insights through game mechanics led to player engagement.

Participant Quotes:

“Frankly, for most of my adult life, I’ve had the ritual of consuming bacon and eggs for breakfast during the weekend. But now I find myself going well; maybe I won’t do that today, maybe I’ll do something different, or I won’t do it as often.”


“Engaging with the game scenarios like community interaction or having a picnic in the botanical garden offered a new understanding of what these activities mean to my gut health.”


“Now at the supermarket, it’s making us rethink our choices, saying ‘we should go with that one instead of this’. It’s got us thinking better about our choices.”

Research Impact:

Grounded.

This research is grounded in the literature on gut health, sociology, and game design concepts. Our focus on engaging players with gut health information through play remains at the level of “functional scientific literacy” – which posits that individuals should possess minimum practical skills informed through science to make thoughtful decisions and function effectively in a particular setting. In contrast to the traditional sources of information on gut health, we focus on engaging players through playful experiences that are grounded in scientific literature and game design. This research facilitates learning about the gut and its interrelationship with factors like diet, lifestyle, environment, and emotion, thus preparing players to take this experience and the gathered insights into their real-life practices.

Contextual.

Research suggests embedding complex science topics into the social and societal constructs of their occurrence can offer people a contextual understanding of the topic being communicated. The context in which information is presented directly affects the way it is perceived by an individual. It further decides the validity of the information gathered, as well as its translation into real-world actions. Understanding real-world contexts of the factors affecting gut health can play a vital role in everyday health decision-making. We integrate real-world scenarios like bio-diverse landscapes with rich organic soil, forest air, and public spaces that affect our gut health in the gameplay to provide a contextual understanding of our gut health.

Case Study: Go-Go Biome

-Facilitating Real-world Activity Engagement for Gut Health Through an Exploratory Smartphone Game

Go-Go Biome, is a smartphone game that encourages learning and reflection on gut health through solo real-world activity engagement directed by self-led, reflective, unstructured play mechanics. The game mimics the growth of friendly microbes to help establish cognitive links between diverse activities and gut microbial diversity. The game also invites players to reflect on their daily dietary and lifestyle habits through playful biome narratives. It integrates real-world activity engagement with game mechanics that reflect the gut's biology, aiming to foster a reflective understanding of gut health. Pilot testing with 14 participants revealed four design lenses—bio-temporality, visceral conversations, wellness comparison, and inner discovery—contributing to educational technology and extending theories on design for reflection.

Design Brief & Process

Factors such as physical activity, nature interaction, and mindfulness are generally known to promote health and well-being. However, there is less public understanding of the influence of these factors on gut microbial diversity and health. Experts emphasise that maintaining a healthy gut microbial balance requires the public to understand and actively engage with these factors daily. To address this, we designed Go-Go Biome (GGB), a smartphone game to promote activity engagement for gut health and its reflection.


Go-Go Biome is a PhD case study that explores the design of unstructured play to engage users in real-world activities that can influence gut microbial diversity. Through a mobile application and interactive game features, users are invited to explore various activities that support gut health, categorised under four activity decks: Go Green, Get Active, Get Social, and Get Zen. Through playful visualisations, the game informs users about the increase in their friendly biome population on the home screen, encouraging them to engage in as many diverse activities from the four activity decks as possible. By completing these activities and documenting them on the app, users increase their friendly biome population and decrease the unfriendly biome population, ultimately reaching a state of balance or homeostasis in the game. The game features a map in the form of a gut trail, where users can help the friendly biome progress forward while slaying the unfriendly biome along the way and gaining energy for each completed activity.

With a reset in the biome population every night, users are encouraged to engage in diverse activities every day to maintain a healthy gut. Player engagement in diverse activities allows them to change the game’s background scene moving from a dull eerie space to a vibrant space filled with friendly biome. Players also unlock new friendly biome the following day based on the diversity of their activities each day.

Go Green

Includes interaction with soil, plants, trees, pets, bio-diverse environments, breathing forest air

Get Active

Includes, walking, stretching, gym, yoga, pilates, aerobics, cycling, swimming, jogging etc.

Get Social

Includes meeting people outdoors, indoors, public spaces, markets, community activities etc.

Go Zen

Includes mindfulness activities such as meditation, time alone, silence, flow activities, qi-gong, tai-chi, self-care etc.

Activity Decks

Design Process: The game was developed using the “Research through Design” (RtD) methodology. The iterative design process resulted in five versions (V) over a duration of eight months. We incorporated prior frameworks on reflective design to support player reflection on everyday activities that may affect gut health. Specifically, we used temporal, conversational, comparative, and discovery resources put forth by Bentvelzen et al. (2022) to support player reflection. The design of GGB was carried out by a multidisciplinary team and the design decisions were informed by scientific literature from the fields of gastrointestinal health, nutritional science, and directed by experts in the fields of interaction design, game design, and software development. My role was that of the lead designer and user-experience design researcher.

Iterative design process- sample of prototypes

V1

V5

Photo of Apple iPhone 12 Pro in Black, Cutout With Shadow in Portrait

V2

Figure 6: Image shows the iterative design of the home screen of Go-Go Biome across four versions.

V3

Figure 6: Image shows the iterative design of the home screen of Go-Go Biome across four versions.

V4

Figure 6: Image shows the iterative design of the home screen of Go-Go Biome across four versions.

Outcomes and Impact: A qualitative study with 14 participants revealed that participants were reminded of the needs of their biome as separate from their own when interacting with some of the features of GGB. For example, some game reminders caused participants to think beyond themselves and focus instead on the friendly biome’s struggles and needs in the game thus bringing attention to their gut biome and health in the process. This led them to engage spontaneously in an activity to help the friendly biome. Based on these findings we suggest that designers consider the ‘biological self’ and its processes when designing for health reflection. To achieve this we propose four design lenses and a corresponding design strategy under each lens to design for health reflection. The lenses include bio-temporality (body clock- mimicry), visceral conversations (conversations with the self), wellness comparison (personal or normative health goals as reference), and inner discovery (contextualisation, externalisation of bodily events).

Participant Quotes:

Engaging in the game activities was about holding myself accountable.”


“I found the biome emojis in the flashcards particularly impactful as they shifted my focus from playing for my game character to realising that the game was ultimately for the benefit of my gut biome, making me more self-conscious and aware."


“Whenever I receive a low energy notification, I’d think, ’Oh no, the bacteria! The balance must be off, and the bad biome might have increased. Let me do an activity!”


“I imagined the friendly biome in my gut increasing and taking over, and I feel like I’ve contributed positively towards its improvement.”

Research Impact

Publications

2024

Nandini Pasumarthy, Shreyas Nisal, Jessica Danaher, Elise van den Hoven, and Rohit Ashok Khot. 2024. Go-Go Biome: Evaluation of a Casual Game for Gut Health Engagement and Reflection. In Proceedings of the 2024 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’24). https://doi.org/10.1145/3613904.3642742 (Acceptance rate: 22%)

Florian ‘Floyd’ Mueller, Marianna Obrist, Ferran Altarriba Bertran, Neharika Makam, Soh Kim, Christopher Dawes, Patrizia Marti, Maurizio Mancini, Eleonora Ceccaldi, Nandini Pasumarthy, Sahej Claire, Kyung seo Jung, Jialin Deng, Jürgen Steimle, Nadejda Krasteva, Matti Schwalk, Harald Reiterer, Hongyue Wang, Yan Wang, Grand challenges in human-food interaction, International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, Volume 183, 2024, 103197, ISSN 1071-5819, Link to the paper (Acceptance rate: 16.7%)

2023

Florian `Floyd' Mueller, Marianna Obrist, Soh Kim, Masahiko Inami, and Jialin Deng. Eat-IT: Towards Understanding Interactive Technology and Food (Dagstuhl Seminar 22272). In Dagstuhl Reports, Volume 12, Issue 7, pp. 19-40, Schloss Dagstuhl - Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2023) Link to the paper

Pasumarthy N, Tai YL, Khot RA, Danaher J. Gut microbes and human factors: engaging with science through board game play. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 2023;82(OCE2):E188. Link to the poster (Impact Factor in 2022: 7)


Nandini Pasumarthy. 2023. Designing Interactive Experiences For Gut Health Engagement and Reflection. In Extended Abstracts of the 2023 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI EA '23). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, Article 494, 1–6. Link to the paper (Acceptance rate: 25%)


Yi Ling (Ellie) Tai, Jason Ng, Nandini Pasumarthy, Deepti Aggarwal, and Rohit Ashok Khot. 2023. Rethinking Domestic Food Consumption through a Multi-modal Open Pantry. In Proceedings of the Seventeenth International Conference on Tangible, Embedded, and Embodied Interaction (TEI '23). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, Article 23, 1–15. Link to the paper (Acceptance rate: 25%)

2022

Rohit Ashok Khot, Deepti Aggarwal, and Nandini Pasumarthy. 2022. Understanding Screen-based Dining Practices through the Lens of Mindful Eating. In Proceedings of the 2022 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '22). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, Article 456, 1–19. Link to the paper (Acceptance rate: 25%)

Nandini Pasumarthy, Rakesh Patibanda, Yi Ling (Ellie) Tai, Elise van den Hoven, Jessica Danaher, and Rohit Ashok Khot. 2022. Gooey Gut Trail: Board Game Play to Understand Human-Microbial Interactions. Proc. ACM Hum.-Comput. Interact. 6, CHI PLAY, Article 239 (October 2022), 31 pages. Link to the paper (Acceptance rate: 25%)

2021

Nandini Pasumarthy, Yi Ling (Ellie) Tai, Rohit Ashok Khot, and Jessica Danaher. 2021. Gooey Gut Trail :Demystifying Human Gut Health Through a Board Game. In Proceedings of the 13th Conference on Creativity and Cognition (C&C '21). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, Article 19, 1–16. Link to the paper (Acceptance rate: 26%)