Distraction free communication with E-mories

Meaningful conversations between friends and family.

Makings of a design artefact

Behind the scenes - designing E-mories

Reflecting on the outcome

Comparing the ideal to the actual

Introducing E-mories


E-mories is a distraction free and personalised communication platform that allows you to keep in touch with close friends and family when unable to meet in person. As a decoration for your home, the sphere illuminates your room in soothing colours when a close friend or family member sends you a message.

E-mories' mantra is to share positive emotions with close-ones remotely.


Our team was tasked to conceptualise and build a novel physical interaction, with or through technology, that should be designed for playful and open-ended interactions in everyday life.

Team Supparoo

  • Marie Thoresen
  • Thomas Vincent Saly
  • Sigurd Sæther Sørensen
  • Tuva Ødegård


In the early stages of the design process, we chose to explore the domain Emotional Intelligence. In short, Emotional Intelligence is our ability to recognise emotions, know how to act in social settings, empathise and self-motivate [1] .

Research Question

After having conducted background research and initial user interviews, we devised the following research question:

"How can we encourage others to share positive emotions with close ones remotely?"


In response to the brief and domain, we built a set of physical devices to facilitate personalised one-to-one asynchronous communication that would blend into your home. E-mories are provided in pairs, one for you and one for your close friend or family member.

How it Works

To send a message using E-mories you simply:

  1. Squeeze to record your message;
  2. Rotate to browse through colours; (changed from shake)
  3. Squeeze to lock in the colour which best represent the mood of your message, and;
  4. Throw up in the air to send your message

After you've sent your message, your friend's E-mories will start to glow the colour you chose in step three. They can then proceed to listen to your message by squeezing their E-mories device.


Intended Experience

interaction plan [2] Interaction Plan


As shown in the interaction plan and explained through our mantra, E-mories intends to facilitate sharing positive emotions with close-ones remotely. When an E-mories ball lights up, it acts as a tangible representation of the sender and their mood, illuminating your home with soothing colours. Although users are free to use E-mories for whatever they like, it is our belief that a colour with happy connotations sent from a close friend will brighten people's day. Moreover, we believe that when receiving a negative colour, people will empathise and take care of each other, thus helping each other back to a positive state of mind. In handing the reins over to the user and giving people the agency to define their mood through colour, meaning that they entrust onto the receiver a sneak peek into their state of mind, which is to be decoded using their shared meaning of that colour.


For some, E-mories may provide a personal style of communication among two people, while others may want to use E-mories to convey meaningful messages to show close-ones how important they are to them. E-mories can offer a new and exciting medium for tech enthusiasts, or for those of us who feel like social media can be overwhelming, it can be a much needed decluttered and simplistic platform. E-mories isn't for one particular person or audience, but rather for people who share the situation of wanting a personal, meaningful and distraction free communication platform.


Individual Focus

When building E-mories, we chose to explore each our aspect of the overall product to rapidly user test different features of the product. We then used the knowledge gained from these individual explorations to build one common solution. Although all prototypes currently have all functionality in common, we are still actively user testing different aspects of the overall concept and therefore have built slight variations of the same product to gather more usability data. The focus of my prototype exploration is to find a suitable method for notifying users of incoming messages, a suitable interaction for playing the incoming audio message, and whether E-mories can amplify a shared experience between people, even when shared remotely.

intended experience [3] Concept Drawing & Intended Experience
prototype: ball glowing red prototype: ball glowing purple

Our background research, initial interview and first prototype test led me to the current solution which utilises squeeze to listen to recordings, pulsating lights to display notifications and haptic feedback to emphasise when a user interacts with the E-mories device. Moreover, for this prototype, I have used a transparent rubber ball filled with glitter water to explore a suitable material for E-mories and how to make the device a personal artefact for the user,by providing a

touch of personalisation to the E-mories device.

prototype with water

What's Working & What's Simulated?

All audio playback for my prototype and recording for Thomas’ prototype had to be simulated due to one piece of hardware we found to be faulty, meaning that we can't play or record audio messages from within the ball. Although audio is a core feature of the prototype, we will still be able to gather the data we need by simulating audio. The features we have working are the squeeze interaction to record and listen to messages, a notification system for incoming messages, a colour picking system, and sending and receiving data to the other E-mories devices in our team through a server.


Our Process

Prior to forming a team, the entire class worked collaboratively to establish domains using methods such as World Café, from a set of initial concepts that was presented in class. One domain that emerged was from this exercise was Emotional Intelligence, which our team formed around. As an initial concept, we came up with the idea Emotional Birds, a game revolved around in-the-moment emotions. Emotional Birds would let users choose a ball to throw representing a specific emotion and then try to hit a target. The combined data from velocity and colour of the ball would drip a similar coloured drop of water into an oil tank which would represent that user's in-the-moment emotion for all bystanders to see. Based on feedback we received, it became apparent that Emotional Birds did not fully meet the brief of being an everyday activity. Some of the feedback we received at this stage is part of the final prototype as presented on this website. These are, to let users make their own mixture of emotions, combined from clay or colours, move the concept into the home to meet the everyday aspect of the brief, and to combine senses such as exploring shape, material and colour together. We decided to pivot our project and instead came up with a cylinder containing one ball per person in a household. This cylinder would track the household’s emotions throughout the day and act as a mediator to talk about emotions in the home. However, we still had to out how to make the concept more interactive.

To better understand our concept and potential users, we conducted an interview with young adults to understand their emotional sharing habits. Our findings showed that people were uncomfortable talking about their emotions and that they mostly talked about emotions with those closest to them.

Another interesting finding was that people did not intentionally sit down to talk about their positive emotions either. This sparked the idea of focusing on sharing positive emotions to get meaningful conversations going. After looking more closely at what we wanted users to leave with after having used our concept, we ended up focusing on lifting the spirit in the home. This goal was further refined to encourage positive emotional sharing with close-ones remotely, which is when the concept of E-mories emerged.

At this stage we started to work on our individual explorations while at the same time developing the overall concept together. As for my exploration, I drew upon the work of Boothby, Clark and Bargh to explore whether E-mories could provide a personal enough connection for people to share emotions and whether sharing an experience from remote could enhance the experience for those sharing in it [4] . Moreover, I set out to explore a suitable interaction for listening to recordings and a suitable notification system. From the initial interview and our background research, we had already decided to start off with prototyping squeeze as an interaction for recording and listening to audio, shake to determine colour and throwing to send data. Moreover, we had decided to prototype colours as a notification of incoming messages and implement a microphone and speaker for audio recording and playback. When building the first prototype, it turned out that we had some faulty hardware, thus making it difficult to implement audio into the ball itself, which is the reason audio is simulated. Findings from user tests indicated that the E-mories, in its current form, do not enhance a remotely shared experience, material needs to be explored, and colours are perceived differently from person to person, although there are some similarities. The squeeze interaction and notification lights were generally well received except for some minor fine tuning required for the next prototype.


From these findings one question emerged, what makes this different to use than a phone? When presenting our concept to the class, we used the opportunity to ask questions, such as the previously mentioned question, to explore other people’s perspectives. The feedback we received on the presentation, mostly correlated with our user test findings from before. As with the user test findings, here too our feedback suggested that we should explore material in addition to looking at how we could make E-mories more of a personal artefact. Moreover, one team suggested that we should focus on one-to-one communication instead of small groups of devices connected.

For the second prototype, I listened to the feedback we had received and focused on exploring a suitable material for E-mories. Wanting to test both form and material at the same time, I tried to create a semi-translucent cube out of silicone, but when the mixture still hadn’t dried after several days, I started over from scratch. For the next attempt I chose to use a rubber ball from K-mart. This ball had an interesting pattern to it and contained glitter water inside which I thought could make for a neat effect if light illuminated it in the correct way, which I could user test to see if it makes E-mories more of a personal artefact than the previous prototype.

In the material study that Thomas and I did together, we A/B tested our prototype materials and found that users preferred the size of smaller ball (mine), but the feel of the silicone ball (Thomas’).

Moreover, participant found the silicone ball was too hard to squeeze and it was difficult to see the light coming through. As for whether my prototype made for a more personal prototype, I received some conflicting results. One participant mentioned that, if they could fill the ball with whatever they like, it would be a nice way of making it personal. Another participant said that it didn’t make it more personal, but it seemed like an item that would be fun to just sit and watch all the various colour effects of. In terms of future work, this feedback will prove valuable to further determine a better material and feel for the prototype, which seems to be a middle ground between the two we presented. Moreover, it would be interesting to find other aspects that could amplify the feeling of a personalised device. I believe an exploration of what makes an item personal to people would be beneficial and also testing the effects of letting users choose their own colour patterns and notification mode when using E-mories.

In the end, we ended up with the following interaction flow. Although, we did face some technical issues that restricted us from having the full interaction flow working at the same time.

interaction flow [5] Interaction Flow

Ideal Product

E-mories is inspired by the memory spheres in the 2015 Pixar movie Inside Out. Ideally, E-mories would make use of several mediums and senses to form a combined memory from various sources. These data sources could be a combination of smells, images, movie clips, touch and more, as together, they would play to several different human senses. An interesting technology to implement would be electro tactile feedback to allow users to feel various materials when touching the E-mories device, such as the fur of your dog while replaying a happy memory of your pet. Additionally, my ideal solution would also allow for E-mories devices to replay old memories and build upon them with new memories, either from friends reflecting on their memories together or when one of them is visiting the same place again. Moreover, I would like to see a functionality which encourages users to interact with old memories as they slowly fade over time if not interacted with, and for people to store memories that are important to them, to be revisited at any time. However, given that we are not designing for ourselves, the ideal product may look entirely different to our users than what an ideal product looks like to its designers. So far in our process, we haven't uncovered any ideal solution from the users’ perspective in our findings. Although, users are, for the most part, happy with how the device have turned out so far.

GIF showing interaction with a memory in Inside Out [6] "Riley's Memories" Clip - Inside Out GIF

Technical Details

E-mories is built using an Arduino Uno connected over serial to a local JavaScript client which in turn connects via a web socket to a Node.js server.

Image showing the five steps included in sending a message

This server’s job is to retrieve messages when they have been sent from one computer and to forward the message to the correct receiver. The server is a standard node.js server using the express framework and socket.io library.

The client is the layer that ties the server and Arduino together. It’s a locally run JavaScript file that retrieves and sends data over the serial port to and from the Arduino in addition to sending and retrieving data from a web socket connection to the server.

An Arduino is set up to control the E-mories ball and all of its sensors. Inside of the ball, there is a MPU6050 Accelerometer using the MPU6050_tockn library,a NeoPixel strip using Adafruit_NeoPixel library, a bend sensor and a haptic vibration motor. We use the accelerometer when choosing a colour to accompany the message and to throw the ball in the air to send the message, as these movements require us to observe

the ball’s rotation and acceleration. To display notifications, show visual feedback when recording and picking a colour, we use the LED strip to display coloured lights. The bend sensor is what allows us to sense when a user squeezes the ball, and the haptic vibration motor lets us use vibration as feedback to let users know when something is happening.

A typical sequence would be that a user records a message using the E-mories ball using the bend sensor to indicate to the system that he or she wishes to record a message. When done recording the user presses the bend sensor a second time to let the system know that it has been completed. Next, the user will pick a colour by tilting and rotating the accelerometer, before they again press the bend sensor to let the system know they have picked a colour. Lastly, he or she throws the ball in the air, again using the accelerometer which indicates to the system that the message should be sent. The Arduino sends the message and colour over to the JavaScript file on the computer through the serial

port (USB). The JavaScript file forwards the data to the server via a web socket connection where it’s final destination will be determined and sent off to. The server then sends the data to the receiving computer over a similar web socket connection which is caught by an identical JavaScript file as to the first computer. When receiving information from the server, this file forwards it to another Arduino connected to its serial port. The Arduino then uses the LED strip to indicate that an incoming message has been received.


All team members have built their E-mories ball slightly different as we are still testing various aspects of the overall concept. My ball is built using a transparent rubber ball filled with all previously mentioned Arduino sensors covered in silicone and then filled with glitter water. The glitter water is intended to, in combination with the LED light, create interesting reflections which is one way of making the device more of a personal artefact for some users.


Outcome Reflection

The obvious challenge of the ideal product, being similar to the memories of the movie Inside Out, is its complexity. Where the final prototype display emotions using lights and uses haptic feedback to enhance the feeling of interacting with the ball in addition to relying on audio as its medium, memories from Inside Out have a far more complex combination of mediums to convey meaningful memories. I believe an important point of having an ideal product, in the first place, is to have a goal that is just out of reach to strive for. Although the state of E-mories is far from its ideal self, we have successfully been able to user test a subset of the ideal product and found it to be a useful path to pursue. There is no doubt that implementing more mediums than audio alone would drastically alter the product and how users could interact with it and therefore also what it could be used for. Thus, to fully explore the ideal product, where its value lies and whether it would serve as a meaningful alternative to existing solutions, a more comprehensive prototype ought to be built. The desired outcome of the project has changed several times throughout the design process and due to restricted user testing conditions, we have had to be flexible in terms of choosing what aspects of the concept to test that would provide us with the most valuable data. Our team has, to some extent, been successful in combining all our prototypes to one, allowing us to communicate remotely. We have found promising data that has altered our design drastically from where we started, but which also made a more comprehensive experience. Other goals were more difficult to reach, such as testing the effects of haptic feedback and feel of materials as COVID-19 made it unethical to perform in-person user testing other than with those in the same household. This means that the feedback we received on material and feel of the product was limited in terms of having but a few participants.

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