Designing for Chance memories

(PhD research, completed February 2015) Designs for chance memories introduce proposals that promote new thinking around how design might support personal remembering.

People give huge importance to preserving their memories as a way of understanding who they are and what they are about.  Current memory support systems, however, favour people self-prescribing time and space to collect, store and maintain explicit memory triggers (e.g.photographs, videos, memorabilia).  Finding time to access such systems and their potential triggers to engage in reminiscence is a process requiring great effort, organisation and dedication.

The proposals presented in the accompanying book build on the view that it is not the supports that contain the memory but people to explore new systems that hint at memories rather than serving as repositories.  This offers great scope for designers, as systems no longer have to be designed around personal memory evidence alleviating the need for people to contribute, update and retrieve personal content.

To achieve this, understanding around involuntary memory provides inspiration and is explored more and more as the proposals develop. The proposals build on current methods for capturing, archiving and accessing memory triggers, through to understanding how the nature of memory, specifically triggering unexpected memories, might introduce new spaces for memory support.

Overall, these proposals offer a new distinctive approach for supporting personal memories as an alternative to prescribing explicit, intense and pro-active memory recall instalments.  They present ideas that are sympathetic to how people naturally remember and their need for spontaneous,  lightweight memory recall.

The aim of these proposals is not to offer solutions to concerns around personal memories, but to stimulate thought and discussion of what might happen with such systems in place.  The proposals reveal how people’s experiences of memories could be extended and altered beyond memory support systems and practices currently available.



trending shelf

Trending shelf

This shelf takes the physical properties of memorabilia objects as access points to additional information stored in online databases.  Memorabilia objects are often kept as physical markers to personal memories but when on permanent display, over time they may loose their ability to cue memories as they become almost unnoticed.

The shelf gives objects a refreshed display by searching for, and displaying, recent digital content based on associated key words.  This content may come from current news stories, comments from recent visitors or similarly related information.  Displayed on the front of the shelf in a ticker tape-like display feed, other people’s discussions and news around the object’s current significance might prompt and refresh our own associated memories.



car boot coffee

Car boot coffee table

The table displays items currently for sale on online second-hand selling sites.  The table has a display beneath a glass top that haphazardly displays items on the screen, similar to table-tops at car boot sales.  When used as a coffee table, having the display beneath ensures it becomes obscured at times offering limited views that warrant physical interaction for further discovery.

The items appear on the table when listed on an online selling site (such as Ebay, Freecycle or Oxfam), and disappear when sold.  This produces a frequently changing, evolving and chaotic display of many layers.  Similar to a car boot sale, the objects on display offer occasional triggers to memories, where living with the display over time is likely to offer many unexpected discoveries of forgotten memories.



flickr map

Flickr world map

This proposal illustrates how an existing database of information that uses keyword filters to search for information can be re-appropriated to trigger personal memories.  The proposal consists of a large map of the world on the wall with reposition able display frames.  Using the frames, people are encouraged to create a collage of discovered photos from around the world by mooring the frames over the map.  As places are chosen the system recognises the frame’s location and collects photos from the Flickr website tagged to that place.

With different styles of frames, the system offers additional search filters to location, such as photos tagged as family, wedding, anniversary, university, school, holiday etc.  Using the system people are likely to choose places and filters with personal resonance; places they studied, family holidays, architectural landmarks.  Though the images displayed belong to other people, it is possible to imagine the user’s own personal memories being triggered from seeing such photos.



word generator

Word generator

Consisting of a collection of boxes, each offers a pre-defined one-word search option of your acquaintances online account activity.  Using a key word to generate searches, the boxes display random matches from a friend’s status, providing new spaces to imagine and reflect upon past experiences and understanding, and moments for forming new associations.  Other applications might see a separate box for each acquaintance, with updates whittled down to a single-word display of recent online presence.

Providing a window into the general activity or mood of a group of people could encourage reflection on current activity through vague references and past understanding.  These boxes might provide reassurance that your community is content, or concern over an unexpected clue that needs further investigation.  They might also offer occasional and unexpected prompts to the past when words resonate personally and the box becomes momentarily disassociated with the creator.  Words, whether associated directly with their source or taken out of context, can often offer hints and cues to memories.  These boxes begin to explore ways of collecting and presenting words to encourage imagining around their source and current display, offering spaces to explore and make connections.




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