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Reimagining Social media 
for self-expression


A Master's capstone project, conducted individually over a year on a topic of our choosing. Being really passionate and curious about the new age internet, I chose Social Media and its impact on individuals.


Timeline -​ Aug 2020 to Apr 2021.

Skills - Interaction design, Survey, Co-design ideation, Interviews, Literature Review

Tools - Figma


In real life, you are able to vary yourself in front of different groups, i.e. different contexts.  In front of different groups of people, different parts of your identities come out.

But online on social media like Facebook and Instagram, everyone under one umbrella term 'friends', with equal access to you and what you share. This is called as context collapse.


People cope by adopting the lowest common denominator strategy i.e. only sharing content that's acceptable to all. Not being able to vary yourself leads to people feeling stuck and restricted online.

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Context Collapse affects self-expression on Social media.
8 new Interaction Models

From my research, I ideated and created 8 new interaction models that can overcome context collapse and re-imagine social media as a safe space.

How can social media be reimagined to enhance self-expression rather than suppress it?
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A short summary of my process
Secondary Research
Exemplar Collection
Ideation & Design
Co-design sessions & Iterations


Online opinions and academic journals

Social media platforms started off as outlets for connectivity, creativity, self expression. But with time, different forms of toxicity came up, challenging mental health and well-being. These issues have been known for quite a while but I wanted to dig deeper.​

I started collecting online opinions around social media shared by regular people, and read academic papers talking about social media affordances, philosophy, identity.

perfection pressure

From initial research, the theme of perfection pressure came up. People often highlight only their wins online, and in return everyone feels the pressure to do the same. I had questions about:

  • Why did the idea of perfectionism become so widespread?

  • Is this perfectionism inauthentic? If yes, then what would our true selves on social media look like?

eyes of the audience

There is a huge desire to share what's truly on people's mind but they were hyperaware of who their "audience" was. 

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As I dug deeper, a major finding came up: Identity is considered fluid, not fixed by philosophers. We play roles all the times, with different people. There's no "one true identity" lurking beneath the roles.


Multiplicity is an inherent property of identity rather than somehow dishonest or false.
People only post things online that will be acceptable to everyone, due to context collapse. This is not necessarily inauthentic but rather a result of rigidity and lack of privacy from not supporting multiplicity.


What solutions are out there already?

For inspiration, I looked at different social media apps launched in 2020/21. They all encouraged one thing - Being spontaneous in the moment. 

It was helpful to look at their design patterns and communities as they set out to challenge the status quo established by bigger social media networks.

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Ideating and choosing a design direction

I sketched out as many wild/creative ideas as I could even if they seemed implausible. I wanted to imagine what a future social media could be like. I fleshed out multiple ideas and combined them into 6 main design ideas.

Not many design solutions existed to manage your followers or what they see, so I picked that design direction and chose ideas #1, 2 and 3 as they felt most in-line with my capstone goal.

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Designing the interaction models

I started with 3 building blocks in order to start wireframing the interaction models. I kept the look of these blocks simple and low fidelity to focus on communicating the interaction idea.

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Co-designing with participants helped me iterate new models

To ensure the models resonate with users, I conducted co-design workshops with 5 participants, allowing them to deeply empathize with the problem.

The 60-minutes sessions would start with a basic introduction to the problem, interview questions and then reactions to the design. Many felt encouraged to come up with new ideas themselves.

From the insights generated here, I also iterated newer interaction models.

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An urgent desire to manage

“I am worried that posts will be scandalous (like wearing smaller dresses) for the church people in my friend list”

“I don’t want younger people in my friend list to see wrong kind of things from me”

“Family members, older ex-colleagues don’t understand my posts. It is very awkward and annoying honestly”

“I would love a decoy profile for my family”


How the final 8 interaction models came to be
Multiple accounts

What if a single person could quickly set up different accounts and giving each account's access to different audiences?

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Setting up an account is difficult, and apps make users jump through hoops. Users might not want that.

Not being invited to a new account might be seen as breaking a social obligation.

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Multiple Ids or Usernames

Creating multiple usernames instead of multiple accounts, since generating usernames is easier. This iterates on model #1. 

When a user meets someone new, they can decide which username they prefer to give.

"Having the power to choose a pseudonym isn’t just an Internet tradition, it’s a user-centred design pattern that actively nurtures empowerment” - Quote from secondary research

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Regular mode vs. secret mode

Another iteration on model 1 which makes it easier to post under 2 “identities”. The user can invite select people to this secret mode without others knowing.

One way to reach your secret mode could be swiping down. The color contrast between regular and secret helps avoid any posting mistakes.

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Circles of Trust

What if you could divide your friend list into 3 circles? These circles can be created based on intimacy, or other factors.

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Many loved the idea of separation, as they could see the long term benefit.


However, again people are aware of how feelings can get hurt in this process. 


Some were concerned if friends could see what circles they are in, it might cause awkwardness & break an unsaid expectation.

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Based on this insight, I iterated 4 more versions of model #4


4 more interactions for faster reassigning of circles

If Circle 1 consists of closest friends and Circle 3 of strangers/acquaintances, it is expected they will be the smallest in numbers on average. 

Circle 2 is expected to consist of regular friends and be the biggest. It will have the highest need for re-assigning into 1 or 3. 

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“One good thing about deleting Instagram is that there were people I forgot about… that I was honestly meant to forget about”

“Whenever I share feminist posts, this 1 guy friend always comments and fights on it… feels like being harassed” 

- Participant Quotes

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Anonymous Posting

What if you could post anonymously to your friend list? A safe way to express feelings without your friends knowing your exact identity.

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Revealed the strongest and fastest reactions from participants. Seeing anonymity automatically makes the human mind curious enough to start guessing which of their friends it might be. Major concerns for feature being used for bullying.

Revealed that posting content can lead to bonding with others, which anonymous identity removes the chances of happening.

Acknowledgment that it can relieve pressure to be perfect online.

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Hide post from all contacts

What if users could still post anonymously with the increased safety of their friends never seeing it (and hence not guessing the identity)?

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Posting about interests is a form of bonding but you need to find and reach the exact audience.

“I sometimes feel like posting about Korean stuff, which maybe only 5 of my friends understand. But I don’t post it because everytime I post someone will ask me what it is”

“I want to post about Beyonce sometimes, but don’t want to bother/spam everyone with it”

“I wish I could post about inspirational things on Instagram. It sucks because the post has to be perfect. People assume the purpose of inspirational posts would be to gain followers and not actually connect.”


Share based on interests or groups

What if you could share specific content with only those who share the specific interest or with people from a particular group (based on life experiences)?

This could also be a way to find more people with your shared commonalities.

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Collaborative profiles

What if you could create collaborative profiles with other people?

The idea here is to envision social media to be more about shared interests and beliefs, rather than about singular people (and the pressure that comes with it).

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At the time of submitting this capstone (May 2021), Instagram had started prodding users to create second accounts, Facebook & Whatsapp have secret messaging modes, Twitter is reportedly testing an audience picker feature.

© 2022 Riya Rana.  Crafted with much delight!

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