My thesis at Domus Academy focused on designing a friendly, usable interface for the collection and analysis of personal data. I worked from a brief on the Internet of Things by Massimo Banzi and Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino of the (sadly, no longer existing) IoT consultancy Tinker.it.
I worked from the emerging trend of simple sensors and web services allowing people to instrument their lives and gain an understanding of their personal environments, bodies and emotions. However, I found design of these quite invasive objects tended towards the bland and impersonal while the presentation of data was always oriented towards screen-based solutions filled with attention-demanding graphs. Visualizations are neat, but, at a certain level, numbing: as if you are part of a stock ticker.
Visualizations are useful for certain types of analysis, but they are not intimate or personable
I developed and prototyped a more domesticated personal sensor system based on audio and tangible interactions that brings a playful, relatable quality to data collection and representation. The sensors are engaging characters whose forms suggest what they sense. And, instead of relying on a screen, you configure your sensors via an audio interface which uses speech to text to take commands and text to speech to provide you a generative news program that interprets your data based on historical trends and other sensors nearby.
The project envisioned interactions not requiring a GUI
Instead of using buttons, I designed interactions with the radio object to be physical and intimate
The applications of such an interface are diverse, but by using audio, which may fold into common home activities such as listening to music, the design provides a calm layer of ambient information which invites casual encounters and does not demand the level of attention of a screen-based interface.
To further explore the concept, I programmed a working generative radio stream in Processing that used text-to-speech to turn data from a pressure sensor under a chair into a simple radio program.
I built a prototype for our final exhibition with Processing and Arduino using readings from a pressure sensor on a chair to create a generative radio program
A simple pressure sensor hooked to an Arduino provided data for the program
Around three years later, technology facilitates a continuing push of little devices and sensors linked by the cloud into our lives. However, there is still a remaining question, that this work starts to address, of how people can customize these devices to fit their lives and benefit from the data they produce.