PROJECTS / Vent

BRIEF

The aim of this project was to create a physical/digital product, which satisfied the need to share secrets.

RESEARCH

We set out to gain an understanding of what leads us to keeping secrets, we started by looking at why it can be difficult to discuss these with others. We talked with people about how they felt about the subject. Most of the conversations we had shared the same outcome. We found that secrets, by definition, are something completely personal to the individual, and in some cases these are shared with others.

Bringing secrets and technology together was an abstract idea. If we were to understand secrets, we’d have to understand the relationship we have with technology and product. Vent was born from this need for exploration.

IDEAS

We wanted the ability to share our secrets in a manner that still keeps them to ourselves. We wanted to simulate the feeling of telling a secret to a person we trust, expecting that secret to be kept. Our solution was to allow the user to manipulate the sound and would fade over time, giving the sense of security and release.

SOUND

Vent was an opportunity for me to explore Pure Data (a visual programming language, for sound). My previous experience with MAX/MSP (also a visual programming language) meant I was able to quickly grasp the workflow, and allowed me to put together prototypes quickly. I experimented with how the sound can change over time, and be controlled by the user using various sensors. For this, the project adopted an arduino to bring together the physical interaction with the sound.

INTERACTION

In order to encourage an experience driven by our own secrets, the interaction with the device needed to be as seamless and intuitive as possible. This was so the user easily understood what would happen once they spoke to the device. We looked at several interactions, such as cupping the device (as you would to whisper into someone ear) and using proximity sensors to establish and initiate the experience. Testing these out with unsuspecting users showed that these interactions offered no affordance and left the user confused. We found that the action of turning a knob or platform would be better suited. We also added a button, in order to suggest it was to be pushed to begin the experience.

PHYSICAL

Now we had the fundamental experience of Vent realised, it was time to bring it together into the physical world. The device had to be stable. We wanted Vent to reflect the personality of those we feel comfortable sharing our own secrets with.

We looked at creating a circular shape with two parts. The top half would be the knob. Turning this would manipulate the sound. The bottom half would act as a solid base. This solution didn't have the stability we sought for the experience. This process of evaluating the shapes and interactions led us to our final solution, a solid base with a circular platform, at the top, to act as the knob.

Prototypes considered and reflecting what we’ve learned throughout the process, we were ready to finalise the design. We sourced some beautiful black walnut from a local supplier which we intended to mill. I went ahead and created a one-piece design in Rhino, modelled from our final prototype. This was milled and finished by hand. I designed the enclosure with the intention of snuggly fitting each component. The faceplate was black acrylic, laser cut for the components, such as the knob and button. Each one of us had to assist the tedious job of bending the acrylic, with assistance from a heat gun. We shaped the knob from a cut-off from the black walnut, drilled the recess for the potentiometer to fit in.

PRODUCT

After placing all the components together, we were satisfied our solution. The video demonstration is available here.

Vent was displayed at the Atelier Whisper exhibition at DJCAD, Dundee in December 2014.