Exploring people’s relationship with the digital world and the tension between the value of physical and digital “things”. With ubiquitous access to massive online databases of content, how does this affect our feelings of meaning and value? Collaborating with psychologists, it promotes a healthy and mindful way of making parts of our digital lives more tangible and precious.
What’s in the box?
Pre-printed with subtle conductive ink markings, each spread is unique. It offers a blank canvas for the user to write about important events and memories, adding small related mementos.
The bookmark clips discreetly to the cover, and becomes a link to the digital world. When the bookmark is placed on a page, it automatically returns the related digital content on the nearest smart device running the app.
The base becomes the hub which links the physical and digital. Any content added to a story is automatically pulled to the hard drive, making it off-grid, away from the ever evolving landscape of platforms online.
HOW DOES THE CONDUCTIVE INK WORK?
The margin of each spread is printed in conductive ink as a pattern of up to 12 markings, each one acting as an embedded switch, forming a unique binary code.
When the bookmark lays on the page, a small amount of electrical charge is sent through the page markings. Based on which lines are printed, the bookmark can decipher the code based on which switches are turned on.
The code is then relayed to your device over bluetooth, and the matching content retrieved and presented.
Writing a story
Prompt, write and illustrate memories and stories. Users can control the exercise including notifications and routine. A simple moment of reflection and mindfulness.
Attach pictures, video and music from across digital services and devices using simple dynamic filters. A digital-physical journal to hold your most important moments and memories.
A physical trigger, which can bring important memories back to the surface instead of hidden in hard-drives and behind logins. Quickly dip into and explore stories and content.
EXPLORING YOUR STORIES
Story overview level shows main collection image, as well as title and book reference. Simply swiping down takes users into the collection.
Story title and reference transitions to the top of the screen within collection view, indicating to the user that they are within a collection.
When an item is selected it fills the screen, and simple overlay controls become visible depending on the type of content.
The digital world is growing, but we still respond uniquely to physical artefacts. What are users’ concerns and desires around technology and how they use it?
Contemporary studies and reports highlighted how quickly we are moving into a primarily digital world, and how vast these databases have become.
An online survey of 30 individuals, asking about their digital habits, highlighted an underlying reluctance in moving from physical to digital.
What is important to you in your digital and physical libraries? Do you feel the same about them? What are the differences?
5 different interviews and observations were completed, each one showing examples of a kind of digital hoarding, building bloated databases of “stuff”. In contrast, objects were more evocative, acting as magnets for stories and memory.
Map out your family and friends and then add a layer of the common interests and influences that come to mind when you think of them.
This abstract activity uncovered the subtle relationships between the digital content we produce and consume and the people we care about.
3 emerging strategies
The object music box embedded playlists of music into evocative objects, and could be played back.
Closing the loop between objects, people and music gave a novel way of triggering digital content, using embedded RFID chips.
Pulling a random image from your digital collection, the photoframe mechanically recreates it over time.
Using delayed gratification as a technique to create impact, an image emerges line by line over a period of days.
Building a personal nostalgia bank over time, out of sync with technological updates.
Connecting physical stories with the digital world. Tactile QR stamps give an off-grid, tangible ritual for managing our memories.
Consult the Experts
Building on the investigation into the psychological benefits of nostalgia and enduring technology, I sought advice and feedback from pioneers in the field.
Nostalgia fulfils basic psychological needs, such as a sense of social connectedness, meaning of life, self esteem but it also makes people more optimistic about the future… bringing themselves mentally outside of the timeline and looking at their lives, they happen to be looking backwards but it also gives them the opportunity to see forwards.
Dr Jacob Juhl, Nostalgia Research Group, interviewed February 2015. Leaders in publishing on the psychological mechanisms of memory.
Richard Banks, Principle Design Manager, Microsoft Cambridge, interviewed March 2015. Creater of “Technology Heirlooms” project and author of “The Future of Looking Back”.
How can we make parts of the intangible digital world more precious?
What kind of user embodies the technological and psychological concerns in this project? What are their drivers and desires?
The personas were modelled around the previous interviews and the potential target group. They also symbolise “users in transition” a key component of the psychological theory. These users show the most benefit from reminiscing, and formed the reasoning behind users chosen for the empathy probe.
Users living with a simplified prototype as a means to understand how a product could be used.
Reminisicing once a day for a week using prompts to write a story, using the prototype to add digital content to each story, highlighted frustrations around collating their digital archives.
How did you feel about the exercise? Was the act of writing therapeutic? What were the issues?
Each user commented on the act of writing in this way being novel and engaging, but that their digital worlds were dispersed and impossible to navigate when they had something particular in mind.
What could a product like this look like? Where would it live and how would you want it to work?
Using quick and dirty physical prototypes, and acting through scenarios as a group based on their experiences, helped open up possibilities and underlying preferences.
Based on insights, working through different scenarios of use.
Using simple storyboards early in the design process helped experiment with different interactions, and different combinations of insights gained from the empathy probe.
Further development of configuration and form, working through different languages for this new type of enduring technology product.
Agile & Final Prototype
Quick paper and foam modelling with different designs, before finalising the concept and refining the material and finish of the visual prototype.
The process became about simplifying further and further until only the minimal form remained. The concept is part-technology, part-heirloom product, and so getting the right balance of enduring materials and finish was key. The final model was built from Danish Elm and brushed aluminium.
Proof of Concept Prototype
A new application of an emerging technology, but is it feasible?
The use of conductive ink on the page as a trigger for digital content was a novel application. Through numerous iterations of Arduino circuitry and code a working prototype was built, from which different UI animations could be triggered by placing the bookmark on each page.
Charting the full user process of the system, and how the analogue and digital intertwined.
This is version 4 of the user flow, after refining and removing as many steps as possible.
Formalising the UI details, information architecture, and how the screens would relate to each other.
A UI which works across phone and tablet
Wireframes were completed for both phone and tablet, although as the tablet provides the best user experience it became the main focus.