JENA MCWHIRTER

Echo

Fall 2019 — interactive furniture
TASK

Create a working prototype of a piece of furniture that senses and responds to human interaction and present a product video.

DESIGN RESPONSE

The Echo bench plays a previously recorded message when someone sits down and offers an opportunity to record a new message to be played for the next person.

MY ROLE:

Ideation, physical computing research, basic Arduino coding and wiring, construction and aesthetics, illustrations, After Effects video editing, and presentation writing.

CONTEXT

— 8 weeks
— Team Project: Verli Chen and Kevin Oh
— Physical Computing Class

FINDING AND DEFINING THE SITUATION

We were first tasked to explore situations and spaces that could provide an intriguing opportunity for a responsive piece of furniture.

When brainstorming situations, I asked my fellow teammates what values they'd like to express in our project. We synthesized our interests into two themes:

1. Collaborative / Shared Experience
2. Subversive Design

Next, we utilized these themes to brainstorm a variety of specific situations and focused on three spaces.

1. Modern Stairwell
2. Outdoor Walkway
3. Shared Workplace

IDEATION

1. Speak Up Stool: Placed around a table within a collaborative workplace. The stool would rise or lower depending on the audio levels recorded from the sitter.

2. Quirky Pillow: Placed within a public workplace/relaxation stairwell, the Quirky Pillow would act like a "hot potato" and wiggle and squeak depending on audio levels recorded from a group of people.

3. Messenger Bench: Placed within a public outdoor space, the messenger bench would allow people to leave an anonymous message for the next sitter to hear.

REFINEMENT

As a team, we decided to pursue the messenger bench idea within an outdoor walkway space. We believed this idea offered the most potential to utilize our design themes, challenge ourselves within the scope of our time constraints, and offer an uncommon and engaging platform for human-computer interaction.

SENSING, PROCESSING, AND ACTUATION

Before we began coding, we identified what our bench needed to sense, process, and actuate. We selected various interactions in the user journey that the bench would need to respond to. I created a diagram to reference back to when compiling our code.

CODING, TROUBLESHOOTING, AND BUILDING

Pulling from various open-source resources online, we compiled an effective code and adjusted variables to suit our project's needs.

When we ran into coding obstacles, such as setting the internal timing for the 10 second LED, we would isolate sections of code and inspect each line until the functions were working independently. Then, we would reintegrate the code and move forward.

We created our bench from an IKEA table and restructured it to fit our computing hardware. We used a vinyl printer for aesthetic branding and typography.

FINAL DESIGN

The Echo Bench would be placed near a public walkway so that people could sit, reflect, and leave their message in a serendipitous moment. The interaction provides an opportunity for people to reach out to the world; to express concerns and hope within the safety of anonymity. People can express themself freely; whether that be voice, song, or other forms of audio. We defined this experience as "Echo: a messenger who reflects and reverberates the introspective expressions of humanity."

MOVING FORWARD

In the coming months (after COVID) we plan to coordinate alongside UW faculty to install Echo in a public space on campus. We hope to gain insight on how the experience is perceived, how it can be improved, and how to navigate the potential for both positive and negative impact inherent in anonymous messaging.