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Project: Amber
Year: 2013
Awards: Emil Jacques Silver Medal of Fine Arts by the Department of Art, Art History, and Design at the University of Notre Dame

This project was also presented at the Mellon-ISLA Interdisciplinary Graduate Student Workshop on “New Media: From the Middle Ages to the Digital Age” at the University of Notre Dame and at the AIGA Head, Heart and Hand Conference in 2013.

Experiencing the complex process behind each industrial design project has taught me very well the importance of documentation. I have also found that documentation of personal life is important, because it allows me to recollect the past, project the future, and communicate with others. From oral tradition through today, saving memories has been influenced by culture and enabled by technology. Here, designers have great opportunity and great responsibility.

A discursive thesis project in response to today's explosion of media, Amber is a hybrid notebook and hard drive that sparks the spirit of discovery and gives each user the tools to make sense of their own experiences and histories.

 

“We’re living lives that are so fragmented, so moment-to-moment... There’s not that time to create stories to make sense of your experience.”

– Jonathan Harris
Artist and founder of
Cowbird storytelling platform

When we can document literally everything... what are we losing?

 

Our growing capability to document everything suggests that it is becoming an integral part of everyday life. To put this in perspective, over 3.5 trillion photos have been taken since the invention of photography – ten percent of which were taken in 2012 alone.1  Through platforms like Facebook and Pinterest, our identities, real or aspirational, are increasingly connected to collections of images and other media. 

When we can save everything... how do we find anything?

 

Fueling our obsession with documentation, online platforms have grown varied and fragmented to the point where there are now services that automatically sort and distribute content for us. We have so many ways to collect and archive that our documented content becomes less meaningful; our interactions become empty engagements.

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“It’s kind of a pendulum: we move between the virtual and the real a great deal. And we have historically – that’s hardly a new thing. I suspect that part of what we’re seeing ... is a need for physical things, because so much has become digital.”

– Genevieve Bell
Director of Intel Corporation’s Interaction and Experience Research

The rate at which technology is changing brings a constant threat of obsolescence, and the proliferation of photographs and other media makes finding specific memories extremely difficult. How does one stay organized while recapturing the meaningful nature of the documentation?

The goal of the project became to simplify saving, curating, and looking at mementos by merging physical and digital attributes of items in a way that is sustainable over time.

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Amber builds on the form language of a book, as books have an established presence in daily life and the cover makes it a self-protecting unit. The system then consists of a removable, blank notebook, and a tri-fold hard cover, which has a solid state hard drive and processor with a touch screen embedded into the back cover. 

When the binding of the notebook is engaged with the spine of the cover, the pages of the notebook communicate with the contents of the hard drive through conductive ink channels. On the hard drive, documents are organized by tags – both automatically applied, like date, location, and facial recognition, as well as user-defined. The tri-fold design of the cover allows it to function alone as a book, alone as a hard drive, or as a book and hard drive in tandem. When one notebook is filled up, the user replaces it with a new notebook.

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Photos used to illustrate Amber's interface belong to Naomi Davis. Her blog can be found at  Love Taza .

Photos used to illustrate Amber's interface belong to Naomi Davis. Her blog can be found at Love Taza.

My primary goal is to provoke thought and debate around the degradation of memories through a designed object that acts as the access point to saved data.

Amber is an analog notebook printed with conductive ink that interacts with a digital hard drive embedded into the back cover. By combining new technologies, familiar traditions, and established user behavior, Amber enhances access to ever-increasing numbers of personal memories and records.

The purpose of this project became to simplify saving, curating, and looking at mementos by merging the physical and digital attributes of these items in a secure way; my solution is to collate physical materials with digital materials. Ultimately, this thesis is an exploration of how closely analog and digital media can be combined in a way beneficial for personal archival access. 

Exhibit in the  Snite Museum of Art .

Exhibit in the Snite Museum of Art.