Material Reminiscence: Using material probes to retreive old memories

10th Jan, 2019

Designers and researchers are looking for ways to design personalized technology for people to meet the agendas of Third-wave HCI. One way of doing this is to play with the form and material of artifacts, which in their current state are determined by the rules around efficiency and market standardization. In a course project done with Dr. Michael Nitsche at Georgia Tech, I explored how material probes can be used to help people access their positive memories, and how these memories can then be used to design effective technology practices for the participants. The probe kit was designed based on the hypothesis that encounter with object can connect the participants to personal memories related to similar objects, which is related to the connectivist theories in Cognitive Science, and the exisiting understanding of the spatial nature of memories.


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The figure shows a festive lights case, that James loves to put on his phone. The case is designed to resemble the form of the facade of James’ old home, where he grew up. As a child, James loved to decorate his home on festivals, like on Christmas. James remembers the time when he was accompanied by his father to hang colorful electronic lights on the facade and stared at them for hours as they glowed in the dark. In a more general sense, these memories make James reflect on his creative nature, on how he embraces the little things in life. The artifact is designed to be a reminder of these feelings. The brick pattern and the colors resemble the materials of the actual facade. The colorful LED bulbs (the festive lights) arranged in a hanging pattern glow when someone sends James a “Merry Christmas!” message or any good news in general (on iMessage, WhatsApp, or one of the dozen other messaging apps). The artifact serves as the first example of how reminiscing about old, powerful memories can make a typically bland technology practice (message notification in this case) more meaningful and effective.