Tangible Memories

Project Objective

Our objective was to design a system that would allow users to record memories in a more meaningful way. We aimed to make a tangible and an engaging system for storing and accessing memories, minimizing the dependence on mobile phones and laptops as the only tools to capture and revisit memorable incidents. Thus, we proposed a system that would let the users record their memories as well as their narrations in an audio-visual form and associate these memories to a tangible object - introducing TUI to a GUI dominant activity.


Our work draws inspiration from the Disney movie - Inside Out. We created a tangible system similar to the one portrayed inside Riley’s mind for making and storing memories. Each memory has an emotion attached to it and is stored in a ball where the color of the ball signifies the emotion. The balls can be picked up and the memory associated with it is displayed. Important memories are called core memories as they shape the personality of the person. Similarly, in our system, each memory is associated with a colored ball. The memory can be played by picking up the ball and placing it on the system. The more times a user interacts with a certain memory, the more important it becomes and thus the system gives a visualization indicating the same.

Project Description

Type: Group project
Role: UX Designer/Developer
Course: Advanced Ubiquitous Computing and Interaction
Duration: 3 months
Tools used: Arduino, RFID tags and reader, Color sensor and motors, Cardboard boxes, Plastic balls
Academic Paper

Current Prototype

The user sits in front of the setup to record new memories. We constructed the memory recording and storage platform out of cardboard boxes. The user interacts with balls to record or view memories (we currently use a laptop's webcam for that). We put RFID tags inside plastic balls and painted them. The balls represent recordings, and the color of the ball ties to the emotion of the memory with Red - representing an angry mood, Blue - representing a depressed mood, and Green - representing a happy emotion. The storage box is divided into slots, where each slot is dedicated to a particular ball. Once the user is done recording, an LED in one of the slots lights up, signifying where to place the ball. The color of the LED matches the emotion of the memory. Each time the user plays a particular memory, the LED in that ball’s slot turns brighter, signifying that the memory is an important one.

Here's a video of the platform in action, walking you through the complete flow of the system.

Usability testing

The system was tested with about 7 graduate students at UCI. After having them record and access their memories, and then explore the system, they were asked about the overall experience with the system , their suggestions and how they would use the system Though a few struggled to take out an old memory from the storage, all of them enjoyed the engaging with the system overall. We also observed that a few people were hesitant to sit in front of a camera and record. Many users were intrigued by the motors and color sensing mechanism. One of the users tried to test out the color sensor as she said, “So, it can recognize the blue ball even if I mess up the sequence. What if I put two blue balls? Oh, this works.” Users also played around with the balls and gave us more ideas for the dynamic color detection. One of the users wanted to record a narrative on top of her memory. This too has been taken care of in the diegetic prototype. While a few users understood how to record and view the memory quite fast, some users were still trying to access the laptop to control the video. In hindsight, we should have made only the screen of the laptop visible to the users. This also shows that people have tuned themselves into the way technology has been made. In the end, users were asked if they would use the system in any other way. One suggested, that it could be used in houses where the family members don’t see each other much due to their busy lifestyles; it could be used to leave messages for each other and the color coding would help identify which message is for whom. They also came up with ideas such as dream recording, child therapy and making to-do lists - brilliant, right?.

Diegetic Prototype

To describe an ideal system scenario, we designed a diegetic prototype, to walk through a story on how a user would interact with the memory recording system. Situating a new technology within a narrative helps us designers to envision the usage of system.

What I learned

  • Designing and developing a diegetic prototype
  • Usability testings can also get new ideas out of the users
  • Diegesis can help envision the usage of a system