How might we bring the soft environmental cues of face-to-face communication to our online interactions with other people?
Nunchi Lamp :: Contextual Cues in Online Conversations
Harvard GSD Research Seminar :: Domestic Logistics :: Fall 2020
A Collaboration with Idael Cardenas. Instructors :: Allen Sayegh, Humbi Song
Part of the winning portfolio submission for the GSD Digital Design Prize 2021
Recently Featured by Harvard Responsive Environments and Artefacts Lab
This project prototypes a pair of IOT-connected desk lamps that exchange contextual cues between two remote users. Where many have become familiar with the difficulties of understanding environmental context when deciding when and how to approach someone through Zoom during COVID quarantines, our design for the paired Nunchi lamps help users "read the room" when socializing online with a coworker, loved one, or friend.
Problem Space :: Digital Nunchi
Working through COVID quarantines for over a year, many have become familiar with the challenges of communicating effectively through online tools like Zoom or WhatsApp. Users struggle to read soft conversational cues, and to understand environmental context when deciding when and how to approach someone through Zoom or WhatsApp.
A recent article in Wired titled “Read the (Virtual) Room! How to Improve your Digital Nunchi” speaks to the common anxiety people experience trying to be more empathetic communicators through online tools, drawing a unique parallel between online communication struggles and the Korean concept of “nunchi.” Nunchi may be interpreted as “eye measure,” “reading the room” to help us understand how to react or behave without explicitness, and “the act of figuring out what our counterpart thinks and feels in a certain situation and acting accordingly.
Our prototype for a Nunchi Lamp tries to address this gap between “reading the room” by listening and emitting acoustic and visual cues that signal the more environmental cues around us. The paired device splits apart and is given to a coworker, relative, or loved one, helping the two acknowledge each other’s presence and get a feel for their respective environments. The lamp senses and relays acoustic environments, pulses with a soft glow in tune with the other user’s soundscape, and vibrates softly in step with the other user’s activity.
Watch the video below to see two users interacting with each other remotely using the Nunchi lamp
Designing Nunchi Lamp
The Nunchi lamp is a paired device loaded with speakers and wireless communication tools, that transmits ambient information about one's workspace to their partner's lamp via Firebase online communication. Privacy-driven interactions with the device were a core design concern: As opposed to the visual cues one might typically associate with nunchi, our devices relay softer information like sound and physical vibration. Users can control this information by simply flipping their lamp up and down, toggling it between two modes:
Flipped Up :: Communication Mode
When flipped up, the device can collect data and transmit to its pair, and its horn-like form language is referential to things like megaphones or early telephones.
Flipped Down :: Lamp Mode
When flipped upside-down, the object’s plastic casing physically blocks its sensors from collecting sound and vibration data, and gives it a lamp-like form that physically glows to indicate when the other half of the paired device is active.
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