the Subtle Remembering experience
In a world of destruction, long-time-no-see’s, and in the search of new lives, how might we feel at home at all, anywhere?
Ember is the result of a 10 week long individual design fiction project at Umeå Institute of Design, autumn 2018, known as the "Faceless Interaction" project.
My personal goal in this project was to further develop building probes, storytelling skills, model making, product photography, and film production.
Keywords: Affirmative Design Fiction, Design Methodology, Product Design, Interaction Design
How might we experience the feeling of home in a future where humanity will have to leave the physical places - and the people within them - due to increased globalization and climate change?
We decorate our walls and shelves with pictures and treasured mementos as a way to remind ourselves of fond past events.
What if we could revisit memories through our olfactory system? What if we could make our geographical homes feel like the places we used to call home in our past?
The feeling of home consist of physical places we call home, but even more so of the things and people within these places which we call home.
With Ember, we are making memories of people we love easily available through a subtle remembering experience of smell.
Umeå Institute of Design interviewed me about this project, which can be read here.
The Final Concept | The Ember Family
Allows you to access 9 memories of people you love. You construct the Ember Memory Sticks upon ordering of the Ember system. You can select to have it on "A"-utomatic and it will release scents based on facial recognition and mood assessment. You can also choose to revisit a spesific memory of a person by turning the dial.
Receives a signal from the Memory Switchboard when it should release scents. Can blend and produce a range of scents based on generic scent components - similar to a printer blending colors. Recommended to be positioned in a place with neutral smell, such as a bedroom or living room.
Listens to you and observes your facial expressions. Sends its diagnostic of your mood to the Memory Switchboard at strategic times, such as when you are sad and need some cheering up, and tell the Memory Switchboard to release the scent of a happy memory.
The Ember Effect | The Users
The Effect of Accessible Memories
What would happen if we could revisit our memories of loved ones by the turn of a button? This video explores the positive and negative side-effects by interviewing two users - one pragmatic super user and one widowed over-user.
With the increased demand of remembering the places we used to call home and the people within them - or simply just having an obsession towards someone we do not even know - there is no surprise that an underground network evolves as a respond to the demand. In this video, listen to the interview with the Baroness of Memory talking about her involvement in the black market of Ember memory sticks.
Ember was inspired by mainly 3 things: The BRAUN SK2 Radio, the Black Mirror Episode “San Junipero” (S3, E4), and the ambition of contextual smells that were introduced through so-called "Smell-O-Visions" from the 60's.
Probing the Future | Defining Fiction and Finding Direction
It can be challenging being a designer doing design fiction, but it can also be an advantage. You become a bridge builder from the now to an unknown future, and you are capable of telling that story not only in words, but also in visuals. This makes it exponentially easier for laymen to immerse themselves into the final design fiction and thus join the open discussion about the nuances which the design fiction represent.
The first thing I had to do when designing the fiction which Ember lives within was to decide the society works within the boundaries which you have decided. These boundaries were found in weak signal analysis of the future, where climate change were undeniably the strongest. Because of this, I decided to explore:
How will we connect to the memories of the people we love and the places we used to call home in a future where million of us will have to leave those geographical places due to climate change (Climate Refugees), and most of us will not be working or studying in our native country due to globalization?
I decided to take an affirmative design fiction approach when I chose to pursue the concept of creating a device to recollect memories of people we love in the future.
Using your surrounding to curate information is an easy way to achieve momentum in your mental processes. When working with the future as your foundation it can be difficult to drive a project forward as you are missing a reference frame for whatever you are designing. Additionally, you do not know what design opportunities you are presented with until this fictional world is built.
In this project, building a future to use as a reference frame was a constant iterative process. It became very much like the infamous onion, where you through-out the project added a new layer or filter which reshaped or modified the future you were designing for. This iterative future building came to be mainly through conversations with multi-cultural students and staff at Umeå Arts Campus.
The Arts Campus in Umeå represent a diverse group of individuals from different nations, with different ages, genders, backgrounds, and all the nuances which a human inhabit. Most importantly, these students and staff were easily available, making it possible to curate a lot of information in a short time and with less effort than seeking outside the campus. When time is a factor, doing this can add richness to your project within your project timeframe.Future building follows a more organic and ethnographic research approach than an user-centered design approach - and everyone can have an opinion about it.
By leveraging traditional design methodology I tried to create immersive workshops, probes, and surveys which easily available surrounding participants could easily join in on. I wished to create an arena my fiction became easier to discuss, understand, capture, and qualify, and in the end, add rationales, value, and richness to the story of the future I was trying to tell.
I chose to make these arenas for future building and discussion through taking use of near, at hand resources, such as my peers, and low-fidelity materials like printouts, sticky notes, glue, and pens. I also chose to place all my probes on a trolley for maximum mobility and opportunity to meet people where they are, instead of having them come to me.
Home is Where the Heart is?
As one of the main topics of the project were future home, first step in that process were to understand what people consider being a home. In order to learn what people identify as home, I created a survey with the title “Home Is Where the Heart is”. The survey requested, in exchange for a caramel, a random selection of people to fill in a series of questions asking about home.
“Home is where my family is. Where I feel safe, carefree, and relaxed. And not alone.”
“My heart is where my loved ones are. They are the reason I am who I am and the ones I share my life with.”
Through merging the 24 responses, a heatmap emerged across the questions. Throughout almost all the questions the top responses were, perhaps not surprisingly: Family - Friends - Loved ones
The Burning Home
If your house was burning and you could only save 3 things, what would you save? This is the question both random and 15 selected people were asked in the probe and survey: “The Burning Home”. This probe and survey was done to learn what materialistic items people would save from a fire and thus reveal what people truly hold dear of their belongings.
12 would save physical photo albums and keepsakes. 8 would save their external hard drives. 7 would save their laptops/computers. 5 would save nostalgic items and 5 would save different pieces of clothing. 3 would save their passports and legal papers, 3 would save pocket essentials, such as id and wallet, 3 would save watches and jewelry, and 3 would save physical notebooks and journals. 2 would save their camera. 1 would save their phone.
The conclusion drawn from this probe and survey were that people do care about memories from their past, such as physical and digital photography and other keepsakes. In Ember, this was used as an argument for why one could assume that people in the future will also be interested in saving memories from their past.
Are we able to retrieve memories through scent? Research suggests that we can, and this is one topic which I were interested in exploring, as it fits together with both topics of home and memory. I created the probe “Twenty One Smells”. 21 unique smells were put into separate cups with lids and placed onto a trolley that I walked around with throughout the campus over the span of a couple of days. People were asked to smell through the 21 smells, and if a memory popped up as they moved through the smells, they were asked to write down what the smell made them think of and how it made them feel on prepared “Memory Cards”. A vast number of randomly selected people from different nationalities were asked, and curated a total of 245 memories based on the 21 smells.
One of the more interesting discoveries were that people were somewhat reluctant to approach the probe and go through the process, but when they first started smelling and searching for memories, they stayed for a while and often exclaimed “This was fun!” when they were finished. An assumption based on this contrast in reaction is that people generally enjoy revisiting unexpected memories from their past, and in this probe most of the smells were intended to be pleasant or, at least, not unpleasant.
As we talked about the past, most of the memories were from 10+ years ago, and only a handful from recent past, such as 1-2 years ago. What is interesting to consider is that the memories that we fondly experience today did you necessarily have the same impact shortly after they were established. This means that as we live in the current, we are creating memories which will be meaningful in the future. This realization was important for the project, as it opened up the discussion on how we can become more mindful in the present about our experiences and what memories we capture in anticipation of their meaningful impact in the future.
4 out of 245 Memories
Smell No. 12 - Vanilla Sugar
“Makes me think of every Saturday afternoon. An ice cream van still come at my place in Italy. When I was young vanilla ice cream was mandatory. Makes me feel happy and free.“
Smell No. 19 - Peppermint
“Makes me think of when I visited my grandmother’s lady friends with her when I was a kid. They always gave me mint candies. Makes me feel cosy, but a bit bored.“
Smell No. 5 - Clementines
“Makes me think of picking olives from trees with my father in our family garden in order to make olive oil. We always eat mandarins when we do that. Makes me feel happy and nostalgic.“
Smell No. 18 - Norwegian Spruce
“Makes me think of my scout camp trips when I was 10 years old. We spent a lot of time in the forest. Makes me feel calm and adventurous.“
The Making of Ember | UX + ID
Tensions and UX Design Trade-Offs
In the effort of understanding how people would like to interact with their memories, I created an exercise where I asked a random selection of people to position 6 pairs of opposite qualities on a scale from "Yes" to "No", and whether the memory was of a person that was deceased or alive. The positions which people placed the cards were later synthesized and a heat-map was created to serve as a design guideline.
This design guideline helped create the basic outline for both the UX, product design, and the overall functions which the system should offer. The yellow marked qualities below are the selected tensions which I incorporated into the final concept.
Coming from an Industrial Design background I enjoy combining my knowledge about product construction and interaction design in my projects. I wished to add some interactive components within the product and created the backlight through Arduino and a self-made circuit of neopixels.