Creative Assignment 3: Devices for Sharing - Connected Intimacy

tl;dr: Prepare a conceptual design and realize a working prototype of a product for connected intimacy designed for moments of conflict and tension in relationships separated over distances.

Team Assignments: Will be shared on Slack

  • Type: Collaborative
  • Due: 15th February, 10.30am. No late work.
  • Submit to: Connected Intimacy
  • Team Assignments: Will be shared on Slack

Note: There is a discovery attached to this project. This is due on 5th Feb 2017 midnight.

Outcomes: View Inventory of Ambients

Learning Objectives

As part of this assignment you’ll be asked to:

  • Explore opportunities for enriching human relationships and creating attachment through products

  • Develop your working knowledge of co-ordinating communications and network-interactions between devices

  • Work collaboratively to explore and develop a well realized conceptual design and working prototype for a paired device.


For years, technology has empowered new forms of human-to-human connections. Mobile phones and SMS are an incredible example of this - they have radically transformed when, where and how we can reach out to other people.

While the Internet of Things is often talked about in terms of sensors, hardware and functional utility, it also creates new opportunities to enrich human experience; to not just connect objects, devices and things to one another but to help us better connect with the people in our lives.

Connected objects have much potential to create more intimate understanding between two or more geographically separated people. They can allow us to understand and empathize with one another by giving us a window into some facet of another person’s daily experience or by allowing us to share a facet of our day.

Examples of Remote Communication and Connected Intimacy

There are already many examples of ways that connected objects can do this.

Many projects explore simple ‘gestures’ that can be transmitted through connected objects. How can a handshake, a pat on the back or a hug be sent between two people across distances?

The Tangible Media Group at MIT created inTouch in 1998. It is designed to explore “new forms of interpersonal communication through touch”. It allows a gesture to be sent from one allowing two sets of connected rollers. Rolling the cylinders on one devices creates the corresponding action on the paired device, and vice versa, allowing two people to share

They continued this line of exploration with LumiTouch in 2001 where they developed a series of paired picture frames. Touches on the frames are sensed and when it is held the other frame lights up as an indication that the other person is thinking about them. It allows for a moment of intimacy to be shared and for new interpersonal communications with subtle gestures.

The Good Night Lamp is a kickstarter backed projectwhich connects a series of bedside lamps. “Good Night Lamp is a physicalsocial network. It allows you to keep in touch with people all over the world. When you buy Good Night Lamp it comes as a set of two lamps: a Big Lamp and a Little Lamp. When you turn on your Big Lamp, the Little Lamp turns on too. You can send your Little Lamp to your friend or family member anywhere in the world. There is no lengthy setup and no internet connection needed.”

Lover’s cups sees drinking as ‘a new communication channel’ and a shared ritual between two people for example, to share a toast at distances. The cups ‘enable people to share the time of drinking with someone they care about in different places. Using a wireless connection, an otherwise ordinary pair of cups becomes a communication device, amplifying the social aspect of drinking behavior.’

Telesound allows sonic emoji to be shared between two remote individuals. Using a mobile device you can choose from a series of audio clips and develop multiple clips into a ‘grammar’ or vocabulary. Once the audio emoji is built, it can be shared with any friend’s speaker.

Pillow Talk is “an interactive product aimed at bringing long distance lovers together. Each person has a special pillow on their bed and goes to sleep wearing a wireless ring sensor. When one half of the couple goes to bed, the pillow on the other’s bed begins to glow softly. Placing their head on the glowing pillow, one can instantly hear the real-time heartbeat of their lover and feel closely connected, regardless of distance.”

[Lovebox]( by Jean Gregoire

Lovebox by Jean Gregoire

Lovebox by Jean Gregoire was designed because he wanted to send his love to his fiancée back in France. He designed a modern take on the ‘love note’ - a gift box emblazoned with a pixelated heart on the outside spins when a new message is received and opening the lid reveals a personalized message on a digital screen.

Twin Objects ECAL/Elise Migraine

Created by Elise Migraine at ECAL, “Twin Objects is a collection of devices designed to act as a ‘hotline’ in attempt to nurture intimacy and telepresence that long-distance relationships need… Twin Objects is a playful solution to enhance the experience of instant messaging using the possibilities of the Internet of Things (IoT).” - via *

Love Letters by Jonathan Sher, see also article on Designboom explores the same opportunities for intimate communications through playful, affective interactions with devices:

present day technology allows us to hear, text, see, and use pictures and icons to express how we feel. however, there are physical and emotional dimensions that exist only when we’re close to loved ones. in response to this problem, daniel sher asked herself, ‘how can I use technology to bring people closer in a different yet familiar way? it was important to me not to try to reenact the feelings of touch, pressure and warmth we feel when we hug of caress our loved one. trying to imitate that will always feel fake.’ with this understanding of human interaction, she wanted to create new experiences for those who wish to express their love and affection. as a result, for her final project at holon institute of technology, sher, along with ben hagin, has developed ‘saying things that can’t be said’, a series of objects that revolve around people in long-distance relationships.

Other projects have explored: sharing pulse readings or biometrics between partners, activating scents remotely and many other variations but fundamentally they are designed to let two people say “I’m thinking of you.”


Prepare a conceptual design and realize a working prototype of a product for connected intimacy.

You are asked to imagine a device that will be shared between two people (a couple, etc.) allowing them to communicate over distances.

Project Requirements

Your project is to create two connected devices for simple interpersonal communication.

  • The devices should be identical (i.e. create two of the same device)

  • Each device should be capable of sending and receiving a ‘gesture’ to/from the other

  • The devices should work across distances (not require two people to be together to operate)

You should identify a simple communication problem and design for that context.

You are not required to create a fully implemented product prototype, but should have a working demonstration.

Food for thought:

Remote intimacy often considers sending ‘gestures’ that help couples coordinate and communicate over a distance. They normally think about adding missing cues to enhance a relationship. Have we considered the fully messyness of social relationships? Take cues from this weeks readings and consider the complex socio-cultural implications of maintaining relationships over distances. Here’s some examples:

  • Objects already play a role in relationship management. Giving gifts. Photos of important moments. Smashing plates or slamming doors in a heated moment. A potted plant as a proxy for a child. What are the everyday actions with objects that might not exist or could be amplified to work over distances? Why are they important
    • sidenote: it’s perfectly OK to design a tool for a specific couple. It doesn’t have to be a generalizable thing. In fact personalizing it might make it much richer and give it a compelling context.
  • Technology is already embedded and intertwined with relationships. Think about the technologies that effect relationships when people are together and explore what they could be in the context of distance relationships? See: Use technology to avoid relationship conflict
  • Could you design for conflict not just connection? It’s not just about enriching and maintaining a relationship. “There is no such thing as a relationship without conflict.” - conflict is an inherent part of relatiosnhips. Don’t overlook it. As much as bringing people together and maintaining a feeling of prescence is needed, so is technology that might help mediate the less beautiful moments of a relationship: see: Relationship Conflict: Healthy or Unhealthy
  • It doesn’t have to be about an existing relationship. Could your tool help to cement a new relationship in new ways? Or could it help with it’s dissolution - Pixelated Heartbreak: The Unparalleled Pain of a Digital Breakup
  • There’s a real the anguish of separation. This recent article in the NYTimes gives a compelling example of just how vital technologies for remote intimacy can be. Love, Interrupted: A Travel Ban Separates Couples

Planning your project (i.e. discovery)

The first phase of your project is planning. This is a quick assignment designed to help you gather some inspirational resources and assets you’ll need to complete it.

Precedent Discovery: Each person in the group should research and report on a strategy for managing relationships over distances. As part of this exercise, you can choose to focus on a reference project that explores a technology, product, or reference project that plays a role in relationships over distances. You should identify and critically review the reference and how it illustrates exciting, new or compelling way to interact with people through objects or spaces over distances.

The emphasis for this work is discovery so it should be a project that you haven’t encountered before and that hasn’t been presented in class or introduced in provided course materials.

Create a Post in the #discoveries channel on slack that includes the label “#connectedintimacy” for grading purposes e.g. ‘Love Letters by Jonathan Sher #connectedintimacy’. For more details, see discoveries.

Constraints: No two students may submit the same work. Claim early.

Links and Resources

To start your search, look at the following aggregators, feeds, and forums:

Note: This is by no means an exhaustive list, there’s many more in the Resources section too. You should explore beyond these!


  • Conceptual Design: Provide a high level design overview that considers and describes: what context it operates in ; what it does and how it behaves; how someone would or could interact with it; and how these interactions unfold to lead to the desired outcome? Detail your design proposal with a series of illustrations.

  • Prototype: Deliver a functional mock up of the paired device prototyped using Particle.

  • Storyboard: Create a storyboard showing the proposed interaction and workflow with the device.

  • Video: Create a short (1-2 minute) video illustrating how the device would be used. This should illustrate the intended scenarios, interactions, etc.

Outcomes should be reasonably well developed and documentation should be submitted to the Gallery on or before the deadline.

Final Documentation:

Projects should be added to the Gallery. You should provide a clear and concise description of your project, your process, and the outcomes. It should be quick to get an overview of the project. Ideally, your description of the outcomes should be repeatable too i.e. anyone in the class can replicate it easily from the information provided.

Your project documentation should:

  • Clearly explain and provide a succinct overview of the problem and how the proposed product solves that problem

  • Briefly describe the design process (iterations, refinements, challenges encountered)

  • Document the outcome itself (code, circuit diagrams, photos, design files, 3d models, video demonstrations, etc. as required) and provide a short narrative. A bill of materials (sensors, input devices, actuators, and other components) should be provided. This documentation should be sufficiently rich to allow anyone to repeat / recreate it.

Using Online Material:

It is perfectly fine to use examples, code, tutorials, and things you find on the web to help you realize your project. That’s part of the open-source mentality that surrounds much of Making, Arduino and microcontrollers. However, you cannot just copy and paste these solutions. In your documentation you must acknowledge where you got this content from. Include a link to any tutorials, guides, or code that are part of your final solution.