By Dara Wren//
ABSTRACT// The Polaroid SX-70 was a device that became a symbol of family memories for Stefan in Sherry Turkle’s book, ‘Evocative Objects’. This essay was a starting point to design a transformative object based on the essay ‘The Polaroid SX-70 Camera’. The design intent was to transform the emotional relationships to memory and family into an inanimate object. ‘Instant Memory’ was the game created to jostle the subconscious of an individual suffering from dementia. Like photographic technology, the device was designed to stir thoughts and memories of the past through visual and auditory repetition. This redesign was intended to serve as a recollection tool to stir memories from the past and try and retain them for the future.
KEY WORDS// Evocative Objects, Dementia, Re-design, Memory Game, Design for the Elderly, Process.
INTRODUCTION// Jorge Frascara states that “design transcends the realm of aesthetics” in his design methodology. (1996) This outlook on design research was fundamental for Emily Carr University’s 2008 fall semester Core Studio. This design challenge focused on the meaning of objects beyond their aesthetic value. Sherry Turkle’s book Evocative Objects: Things We Think With was the basis for this studio project. The objectives from the design brief (2008) were “to select an object from the book and re-design it such that the meaning and the evocative qualities expressed in the story become intrinsic to the object itself through a reconsideration of shape, form, texture, detail, function, color etc.” This new object would be designed based on feeling and meaning instead of simply three dimensional and two dimensional forms. I selected the essay ‘The SX-70 Instant Camera’ by Stefan Helmreich.
EVOCATIVE OBJECTS// An evocative object generates a personal connection to something that can be seen or touched because it brings strong memories, images, and feelings to mind. Primary research came directly from the essay in Turkle’s book where the meaning of the camera became integral to my design process.
In my primary research I first identified keywords from Helmreich’s essay: instant, pictures, mylar membrane, color film, layers, experimentation, subconscious, and images. From these keywords it was important to investigate why Stefan considered the Polaroid SX-70 camera an evocative object. The Polaroid camera was much more than an object that took instant pictures. This device was an object that connected him to his family and more specifically his grandfather. It was an important family object because his grandfather invented it. Instead of just a camera the device became a symbol of his family memories throughout the years of his grandfathers inventing. All of their family photographs were captured using Polaroid film products. Helmreich believed that “the family was a stimulus for jostling his (grandfather’s) subconscious.” (Turkle, 2007)
The object itself was very evocative; you could hear the image capture of a photograph and touch the images seconds after the chemicals preserved the moment in time. This object instantly captured moments, ideas, and memories.
The relationship between Stefan’s grandfather and the instant camera evoked a sense that the Polaroid camera turned into a handheld subconscious. The object held his grandfathers ideas about technology, inventing, and photography, as well as the family memories they preserved with the film. Turkle believed that “certain authors reflected on an objects role in a significant life transition – an object serves as a marker for a relationship and emotional connection.” (Turkle, 2007) Stefan’s essay was presented in the chapter titled mourning and memory. The SX-70 was an object of memory.
TRANSFORMATION// What about memory was evocative to me? How could I transform this memory device? To answer these questions my process began with brainstorming. In each essay “the author focuses not on the objects instrumental power – but on the object as a companion of life and experience: how it connects to the emotional world.” (Turkle, 2007) The connections I gathered between family and Stefan’s evocative object became the basis for my conceptual development. My family was going through a transition that was directly related to memory: memory loss. That same year Polaroid went out of business. The very object I was transforming had lost its capability to store memories. My primary research concluded that this new object would be a memory storage device.
THESIS// With the discontinuation of Polaroid film technology I proposed to transform the evocative qualities of the SX-70 that are now in the past to the present. Photo technology captures memories from the past and preserves them for the future. My final prototype was created as a memory game to serve elderly suffering from early dementia through personalization.
USER PROFILE// Vera was used as a model to show how the game ‘Instant Memory’ can be tailored to individual perspectives. Vera is ninety-nine years old. At the age of ninety-seven, Vera suffered an injury to her hip. Requiring surgery, Vera went under anesthetic. Post-op she suffered a condition called Post Operative Cognitive Decline. Old age combined with this new memory loss resulted in her diagnosis of dementia. “Dementia is a chronic or persistent disorder of the mental health processes caused by brain disease or injury and is marked by memory disorders, personality changes, and impaired reasoning.” (Oxford American Dictionary, 1996) This condition affects every facet of Vera’s life.
Memories// Polaroids are now a symbol of the past. I used this notion as inspiration to collect photographs from various points in Vera’s life. A method of reflecting the personal nature of memory was collecting data about the user. I interviewed family members to get their perspective on important hobbies, memories and photographs to include in the device. According to Nancy Mace, “a program geared specifically to the individual’s needs and abilities will offer stimulation that the person can access and use meaningfully” (Mace, 1990). Through my primary experiences with the user I reflected on my participation in her life. Through family participation I assembled a complete inventory both visually and typographically.
Letterpress technology was the visual structure used to communicate my concept. Letterpress is a technology grounded in history and involves a personal interaction with moveable type. This relationship of the physical assembly of words linked appropriately to the literal assembly of Vera’s portable memory in the game “Instant Memory.” The typeface selections became objective. The most important element was for the typefaces to be readable by an elderly audience. Following feedback from my design proposal I began to develop my concept into a visual form.
PROTOTYPES// The game was designed to emulate the ‘instant’ effect of capturing an image. A photograph captures an event or place that you see for generations to come; likewise, a memory stores an event or place that you see in your long term memory to be recalled as you please. The prototyping process involved both three dimensional and two dimensional forms. Prototype one was essentially a card game. Like photographs these cards would display images of family members. Each card was designed as a pair with coordinating pictures and names. The game would focus on matching and making visual connections to family members. Formally the cards mimicked the dimensions of Polaroid pictures with a series of Mylar layers. Initially my intent was to remain within my comfort zone and produce a two dimensional form. With further critique from my classmates and professor my second prototype took an unexpected form.
Utilizing the collected data from my previous iteration I was challenged to make the type and photos more interactive for the user. The cards worked to establish connections but lacked the extended time for the cards to be handled by the user which would better support memory retention. This iteration was developed into a board game with moveable pieces that worked together with Velcro. Speech bubbles incorporated names of family members and events were places on caption bars. This iteration was a 3D sketch model constructed out of cardboard.
The final prototype was the most refined in system and visual form. It included all the data needed to play “Instant Memory” and incorporated color theory to support memory retention. Speech bubbles were black and white for readability with a red background to evoke an increased reaction time.
USER EXPERIENCE// How the user interacts with the game is critical to their ability to retain information. “Amongst the most innocent yet painful questions asked of the memory impaired persons are: Do you remember what we did last week, or you know who I am don’t you?” (Mace, 1990). As a learning device this design was intended to avoid these problematic questions. The process of playing the game involves no right or wrong answers to promote a healthy learning environment. The game relies on the player’s personal interpretation in order to avoid frustration or anger. As a two-player game the images and text create a dialogue to promote memory activation. By analyzing how the images and words are linked, meaning enters into the user’s short-term memory. This allows the user to make connections to long-term memories they share with the individuals they are analyzing. This dialogue relies on voluntary participation, which is influenced by the users mood or willingness to play the ! game.
FINDINGS// “Design research is a systematic inquiry whose goal is knowledge of, or in the embodiment of configuration, composition, structure, purpose, value and meaning in man-made things and systems” (Bayazit, 2004). This approach to design research accurately suits an evocative object. The execution of this project was in depth with constant sketching and researching to influence both the three dimensional and two dimensional deliverables. The goal of this project was to connect to the essay physically and mentally; I believe that my personal content supported this goal. Using research to provide meaning to my transformative object was the most important step in all my process.
One concern was that proposing a game for memory recovery would be problematic because dementia has no proven cure. Creating an activity grounded in personal memories “is an important concept because it supports the idea that the person’s decline can be slowed by meaningful activity and stimulation. In this way, it offers caregivers some recourse at a time when the untreatable nature of dementia is its most publicized characteristic” (Bayazit, 2004). Research into the nature of dementia gave my project the precedence needed to develop a three dimensional form.
The development of the device also helped to support both the user and the family participants in this transitional time. “A program of appropriate and socially valued activities is one way of demonstrating to family and friends what the person is still capable of doing when the proper circumstances are made available. At a time when the person’s disability is the main object of attention, a therapeutic activity program can help shift the focus in a more positive direction, that is, toward the person’s abilities and retained skills” (Mace, 1990).
CONCLUSIONS// “Transitional times are rich with creative possibility” (Turkle, 2007). This object redesign transformed into an evocative object for me. This project is a reflection of my relationship with my nanny and it will forever preserve the memories and thoughts I shared through these explorations.
In retrospect, my final prototype would benefit from written directions that correspond with the visual form. With further development “Instant Memory” could become a working model for many families, not just my own, to help a family member suffering from dementia. More extensive user testing would have aided in the transition of the final design in becoming a working model.
Personally, the value in this project came from reflection and pushing beyond my preferred two dimensional medium. Conceptually I am pleased with my connection to Stefan Helmreich’s essay. In many ways I believe that his essay helped me to establish my own relationship to an object of mourning and memory dealing with my nanny’s memory loss.
1. Frascara, Jorge. (1996). Graphic Design: fine art or social science. In Victor Margolin & Richard Buchanan (Eds.), The idea of design: a reader. London & Cambridge: MIT Press, 44-55
2. Bayazit, Nigan. Investigating Design: A Review of Fourty Years of Design Research. http://mitpress.mit.edu/journals/pdf/desi_20_1_16_0.pdf
3. Dementia. (1996). Oxford American Dictionary and Thesaurus. Oxford University Press.
4. Mace, L. Nancy. (1990). Dementia Care: Patient, Family, & Community. Baltimore & London: The John Hopkins University Press, 148-172
5. Turkle, Shelly. (2007). Introduction: The Things That Matter http://mitpress.mit.edu/books chapters/0262201682intro1.pdf
Figure 1. Dara Wren (2008)
Figure 2. Julie Wren (1992)
Figure 3. Dara Wren (2008)
Figure 4. Dara Wren (2008)