The emergence and integration of new technologies in recent years has provided designers with the opportunity to further innovate their products and services. The Physical Digital Products module that I worked on in third year aimed to enhance our skills in designing dynamic products, by working in teams that probed the influence of copper upon modern day society.
After extensive individual research, my group was formed due to the common interest in coppers role in the development of communication, and how it seemed to be a constant presence from the electric telegraph to the modern day circuitry of the mobile phone. Forming our group around this particular theme, we identified that we wanted to create a thought provoking product that made people think about the way that they communicate. Initially wanting to create a piece of critical design as a response to the overwhelming usage of social devices, we became more inspired by developing a device that assists the people who find it most difficult to communicate.
The electrical telegraph and the Morse Code was a symbol that permeated our group research, specifically the message of SOS. One of the most recognisable commands used on a telegraph, the SOS message was one that instantly communicated a person’s desire – help. In regards to the interaction of a product, the clicking of a telegraph dial was reminiscent of a 19th century physical digital product – a clear inspiration for what the brief was asking. With the significance of the SOS both metaphorically and physically, we decided to make the message the definition of our project.
Yet in what way would we make the SOS command engage with the user? We investigated who could suffer from an inability to communicate, or at least those who had trouble expressing the issues present in their lives. Focusing upon individuals who suffered from conditions such as depression and anxiety, we explored the issues they found in expressing their problems. With further investigation, we discovered that individuals suffering from PTSD had their conditions triggered by events or even possessions and items. Yet for the sufferers of these conditions, sometimes they were unsure of the event or why it affected them in such a way. We then began to create a product which would easily document these triggers, allowing them to collate this data and bring it along to talking therapy, an essential part of their treatment that they struggled to discuss in. Inspired by the telegraph, I sketched ideas that collected information based on the users interaction with a tree-shaped sculpture placed within the home. However, the sculpture did not seem a suitable means of communicating the necessary information on behalf of the user. Using quick blue foam prototyping, we realised that the best means of collecting the information of a user’s triggers would be a mobile device, resembling that of the mobile phones from which we found original influence.
To create the final model, Ryan developed our earlier prototypes using Supernormal design (a design philosophy coined by Jasper Morrison and Naoto Fukasawa) in order for the physical device to be as inconspicuous as possible, ensuring that the device would not draw attention to its user. Continuous prototyping allowed us to discover more about the size and form of the device, as well as how it fit in the hand and operated. An Arduino sensor would detect when the SOS command had been pressed into the device, and relay the data to Processing where an interactive database of button presses would be visualised onscreen, allowing a therapist or even the user to access the information and talk about in therapy. I focused on the brand identity of the product, using the commonly used copper colour and Morse Code imagery. The visualisation, which I created, allowed whoever was viewing the visualisation to track time, location, and ambient sound to fully illustrate the situation in which the user found themselves in.