The social experiences of older adults are explored far less than the medical aspects of aging. So we chose this as our focus. To better understand this space, we reached out to the Wallingford Community Senior Center in Seattle. Some of us even started serving lunch and visiting the center, to understand their social contexts through observation.
One thing we noticed was the popularity of table-top games like dominos or bridge, and the director of the center shared a related insight:
We were especially inspired by the senior center’s 40 year old knitting circle, which continues to bring people to sit together and have conversations. The knitting circle became a metaphor that inspired us to create physical prompts for conversation and storytelling. This led us to Loom, a tool for weaving these conversations and memories.
As people talk about a family photo, they might begin with one story and branch off to another, revealing details that aren’t immediately visible. Loom traces the connections made between these memories, in addition to the memories themselves.
We wanted to try our idea with Yoko and Eiichi, a couple we met at the senior center. We rapidly prototyped our concept and spent time with Yoko and Eiichi as they shared their family stories with us. Our video is an unscripted documentation of their experience:
By spending time with Eiichi, we saw how excited he was to use Loom to share stories and recount his family history. We also learned a few things about how our concept could be improve.
For example, we realized that our prototype was a little too small, so we’re imaging that our system could be applied across any number of devices larger in size. That means that even old devices could be upcycled with simple wooden frames, as these have a warmer feel and are nicer to to the touch.
We learned that we take the complexity of touch interactions for granted, as Eiichi did not discern the distinctions between a tap and and a tap + hold. So we minimized the touch interface, thinking that voice interactions would create a more accessible multi-input experience.
The microphone records Eiichi talking, connecting an audio layer to the photo.
All of the content lives in the cloud. These might be photos existing in photo sharing services like Facebook or Instagram that Loom builds on top of or photos that people add.
Cloud based content allows Eiichi to access his photos at home, the senior center, or when he’s visiting family or friends. In these moments, multiple devices allows for the kind of collaborative activity that prompts conversation, like in the knitting circle. The system supports any number of devices, allowing for flexibility.
As seen in the video, we played with the idea of arrangements but discovered the tile placement is not critical. What’s more important is that Loom captures the individual threads linking the stories together.
To give an example, when Eiichi Yoko are talking about the Mt. Rainier photo, Loom pairs the audio with gestures made on this photo, visualizing the experience of the conversation: who told which story, who pointed out details in photos, or who contributed new content.
This narrative context adds a deeper layer of meaning that can be played back and provides family and friends with details that go beyond what’s immediately apparent in the photo. When shared across generations, these memories become real.
What Loom offers can be applied to other settings: for example, group projects in classrooms, in archives at museums, or collaborations in the workplace, or any social context where a physical object prompts conversation.
At the end of the video, Mary says to Eiichi “You talk!” because she had never really seen him speak. This is because Eiichi’s loss of hearing sometimes makes it difficult for him to participate in conversations.
But we saw him open up to tell his stories, when he had family photos in front of him, and then it was actually hard to get him to stop talking.
It is these unexpected moments that show the potential value of Loom.
Like an actual loom, the system is a tool that you weave with. The outcome of this is a continuously growing fabric composed of narrative threads from the most important people in your life.
Nine Weeks, Spring 2015
Microsoft Design Expo:
Disability / Inclusive Design
Jennifer Cheng, Jaewon Hwuang, Catherine Lim, Charlotte Ziob
Researching, analyzing use-case scenarios, ideating, wireframing, prototyping, visual design, storyboarding, filming and post-production