Nhớ — A collective artifact recording activity designed for families

Family members are increasingly becoming geographically and culturally dispersed throughout the world. An older family member may collect a lifetime of valuable stories they’d like to share with the rest of their family. Artifacts like fine china, old photos, and oral stories may remind them of a time and place in their lives and are often passed down to the next generation.

As much as young people want to learn about their elders, elders also want to learn more about their younger family members. If we can help family members across generations participate in artifact sharing and storytelling, we can help people lead lives enriched with the wisdom and life lessons centered around their family lineage.

I / Brainstorming — Our affinity for preserving families’ cultures

Unifying our design values

Before we could design together, we had to understand each others’ cultural, academic, and professional backgrounds. From engineering to research, public service to medicine, our scope of interests were wide: cities, music, emotion, medicine, life artifacts/organization, digital literacy, digital afterlife, learning languages, and low-tech.

Rallying around the Digital Afterlife”

The digital afterlife” was an easy idea to embrace. The throughline weaving each others’ backgrounds is a passion for sustaining intergenerational cultural exchange.

Cultural belonging, inheriting family wisdom across language and age, and traditions dissolved by immigration and elders passing–these were concerns our we’ve navigated to varying success.

We grew confident in our pursuit that this project could serve a similarly afflicted population of multicultural families.

Examining families’ preservation practices

Our line of questioning gradually foregrounded the role of passing down artifacts:

Why do cultural practices dissolve?

To what extent do older populations document their lives for future generations?

How do inherited objects pass down culture to the next generation?

How does a life of accumulated artifacts represent one’s culture?

How can young people access their cultural history through family artifacts?

How can we document and preserve the stories of our elders for future generations to learn from?

II / Discovery — Examining the challenges families face when preserving their history

Three research methods revealed how modern families are communicating, passing down stories, sharing traditions, and immortalizing their legacies:

Literature Review — How have academics characterized family relationships?

We identified academic papers that elucidated intergenerational storytelling, life archival, and the digital afterlife. These findings covered the big ideas in this problem space so that we could contextualize the day-to-day insights we were hearing from interviewed populations.

Survey (x30) — Who needs help understanding their family history?

A Google Forms survey revealed the ways University students, friends, and family learn about their family and history. Our survey comprised questions like:

Likert scale questions: Rank your level of agreement with the following statement: My family’s history, stories, and traditions will likely be preserved and passed down to younger generations”

Open-ended prompts: What challenges do you foresee with preserving your history, stories, and traditions for future generations?”).

A lot of American families have whole treasure troves and albums and videotapes. We didn’t have that back in Vietnam… I wish I knew more. They couldn’t really bring all that stuff to the US.” — Interview Participant

Interviews (x8) — What is hindering today’s families from connecting?

Our target population included anyone who wanted to better understand their family. Eight representative individuals were interviewed using a semi-structured script that asked about life stories, memorializing strategies, and family communication.

A thematic analysis revealed that the same challenges in family connection concerned 10 year olds and 88 year olds alike.

We parsed thematic findings across research methods.We parsed thematic findings across research methods.

Synthesis — With an enriched understanding of families, Nhớ advocates for three generation-motivated personas who are interested in story telling, story reception, and story facilitation:

  • Intergenerational communication can take many shapes and forms. Families use video calls, social media, text, and email.
  • Verbal storytelling is practiced across most families.
  • The prospect of organizing one’s life belongings is overwhelming and intimidating.
  • People regret, fear, or worry over not documenting enough of their families’ histories.
  • Reluctance stemming from cultural differences and age-related power dynamics prohibit deeper, frequent conversations.

Matriarchal Boomer

When I was young, collecting bone china cups was a thing. Now the younger generation just uses mugs all the time. Nobody wants a cup and a saucer so I don’t know what I’m going to do about that.”

The Matriachal Boomer is a 83 year-old who lives alone. Some of her immediate family lives nearby while other family members are scattered across the country. As the oldest living member of her family, she’s lived through many historic hardships and many life celebrations. As a result, she wants to share more stories than she has time to pass down.

Her challenges:

  • Prefers low tech, but grandkids help
  • Global family dispersed
  • Overwhelmed by artifacts accumulated throughout life

Her goals:

  • Help descendants learn from her stories and wisdom before she passes
  • Sort through and select valuables to pass down

Uprooted Millenial

I want to learn more about my family, but my grandparents are losing their memory…I’m afraid I don’t have a lot to go off of.”

The Uprooted Millenial is a 33 year-old, who is part of the second generation of her family’s immigration to the States. Her parents fled as refugees thirty-two years ago from their home countnry and made a new home in California. While she sees her immediate family often, she feeld disconnected from her extended family who live back in her parent’s home country.

Her challenges:

  • Low native language literacy
  • Dissolving kinship with relatives abroad after immigration
  • Little access to heritage learning, relatives don’t bond

Her goals:

  • Mend intergenerational gaps
  • Bilingually document stories from grandma recently diagnosed with Dementia
  • Learn about family lineage

Incurious Zoomer

I think I’d like to know more of my family’s background, but I don’t know how. I haven’t even met that many of my relatives yet.”

The Incurious Zoomer just turned 9 years old and is the youngest in his family. His parents’ home was passed down from his mom’s side, so they have inherited many cultural artefacts brought from his great-grandparents’ home country. He’s only been to one of his family’s bi-annual family reunions and is still learning about his family history.

His challenges:

  • Dreads grandparents visits; barely knows them.
  • Doesn’t know extended fam
  • Lacks curiosity about heritage; it’s not interesting

His goals:

  • Have more fun when visiting
  • Share pictures of his life with some of the cousins he knows
  • Learning about his family through a fun project

III / Ideating — Scoping from digital afterlife to family artifact-sharing

We started fresh with a refined design question:

How can we help inspire and sustain an intergenerational story-sharing practice within families despite their geographic and language barriers?

We began asking How might we…”:

…protect digital artifacts from dissolving as technology progresses? …help families with language barriers feel comfortable speaking together?

By zooming into the sub-problems of our design question, we could wrangle smaller questions. Toggling between big- and small-picture helped us generate abstract and novel concepts from moon-located storage, to hypnosis, to memory palaces, to visual communication cards.

We interrogated anti-ideas.We interrogated anti-ideas.

This exercise illuminated some design aversions we shared:

  • Avoiding discriminatory systems
  • Managing data to avoid corruption, deletion, or obsolescence over time
  • Avoiding data that is challenging to access (inspired by a tough to crack pistachio amongst our ideation snacks)
  • Minimizing games-of-telephone” where ideas get morphed and reinterpreted over transmission
  • Respecting the privacy of intimate stories
  • Upholding truth in data, absent of propaganda or manipulation

We went for quantity.We went for quantity.

We used the 8x8 method to rapidly dump 32 total concepts onto shareable stickies. Individual ideas and shared them to the group, before iterating second time.

Critique moved our best ideas to the foreground.Critique moved our best ideas to the foreground.

Affinity diagraming on the basis of persona alignment and feasibility helped us group ideas with common threads. The map helped us zoom back out and identify unique idea categories that had great potential:

  • stories (e.g. podcast and holograms, book of regrets, and campfire storytelling rituals, translation services)
  • archives (e.g. time capsule, projection mapping, memory boxes, family trees)
  • collaborative artifacts (e.g. cave art, pilgrimage site with a shrine, creating family quilts, art, ceramics, clothing, furniture, totems, modular bricks/legos/tiles/patches, family crests),
  • guided activities (e.g. “get to know your family” discussion deck, card games, smart speakers)
  • socialization services (e.g. postcard subscription, VR video games, social media communities, world heritage day holiday, record stories for the future)

We then synthesized ideas independently and matured concepts collectively.

Sharing our sketches and storyboards with the team virtually.Sharing our sketches and storyboards with the team virtually.

Developing three concepts.Developing three concepts.

Concept 1 – Cave Painting

A multimedia storytelling gallery, Cave Painting is an expanding digital canvas that comprises stitched-together hand-composed and digitally-composed panels crafted by family members locally and globally. Our personas have three entry points to engage with their family’s Cave Painting through crafting, digitizing, and celebrating.

Concept 2 – Curiosity Box

A box that stores a user’s 10 most meaningful artifacts. Users can choose objects by theme (e.g. childhood, adolescence, and adulthood) or by decade.

The box works in concert with an app, digital twin”, that captures 3D models of the objects. Users are engaged with show-and-tell prompts that ask the user to explain objects’ stories and enrich them objects with supplemental media (oral stories, photos/videos, text…).

Concept 3 – Nhớ Card Game

Nhớ is a card game for families. Each card in the deck has a unique prompt that players address. Nhớ in Vietnamese means to miss or remember, which ties back to our goal of collecting family stories and memories.

Players can offer a verbal response, written response, recorded response, or photos. Prompts range from open-ended to narrow, as well as difficult” to easy questions. A QR code on each card helps players document their responses digitally.

Advanced Concept: Family Gallery

We were excited about the collaborative cave painting idea, but thought the memory box idea was too static and the card game missing a visual component.

Once we began to incorporate parts from each concept together, we found our solution started serving our users’ needs more faithfully.

The family experience we designed draws from our three preliminary concepts:

  1. Nho Card Game: a monthly prompt card with questions ranging from the meaningful to the mundane.
  2. Curiosity Box: helping users respond to the prompt by scanning a relevant object and uploading media to enrich the story.
  3. Cave Painting: celebrating a family’s collection of responses in a virtual family museum.

IV / Prototyping — Identifying the core interactions of Nhớ

Storyboarding revealed how Nho’s success relies on the careful consideration of these tasks:

Left Storyboard: 1 Prompt Distribution, 2 Contemplation, 3 Artifact Retrieval, 4 Artifact Digitization, 5 Family gallery indexing, 6 Artifact appreciation and discovery. Right Storyboard: 1 Heritage curiosity, 2 Artifact catalogue indexing, 3 History immersion, 4 Contextualizing with family.Left Storyboard: 1 Prompt Distribution, 2 Contemplation, 3 Artifact Retrieval, 4 Artifact Digitization, 5 Family gallery indexing, 6 Artifact appreciation and discovery. Right Storyboard: 1 Heritage curiosity, 2 Artifact catalogue indexing, 3 History immersion, 4 Contextualizing with family.

Task A) Artifact digitization: turning a meaningful personal object into a digitally shareable treasure

Task B) Artifact location: sorting and filtering a family’s collection of objects so users can locate specific objects and make meaning of objects with shared symbols and stories.

Task C) Artifact presentation: visually displaying a network of treasures so their significance, dignity, and concerted meaning can be best appreciated.

We developed prototypes that helped us examine how well Nhớ helps users achieve these tasks:

Prototype A) Hand-drawn interactive mock-up: Digitizing an object to respond to a prompt. Participants used this prototype to imagine how they might respond to a prompt by taking a photo of their meaningful object and adding voice or text to describe the object.

Prototype B) Hand-drawn interactive mock-up: Configuring the gallery view to efficiently locate specific family artifacts.This prototype helped participants locate a set of artifacts by providing tools for filtering and sorting artifacts within the family gallery.

Prototype C) Physical models that mimic different virtual reality (VR) presentation formats: Learning how users spatially organize artifacts to synthesize their meaning. Users were presented a diorama walls that represent a museum gallery space in which a family’s artifact collection might be presented.This physical dioramas represented a VR gallery space, where participants could rapidly rearrange objects within 3D space, relieved of the fuss of modeling software. Participants were provided a collection of fifteen digitized artifacts”, which were instead clay models that they could arrange throughout the gallery.

V / Evaluating and iterating — Uncovering gaps in Nho’s early implementation

Scenes from our user evaluation.Scenes from our user evaluation.

Each prototype’s evaluation revealed ways we can better serve our users.

Prototype A advocated for all-around simplicity that favors older adults’ digital experience.

In response, the current iteration of Nho presents a virtual gallery that is navigable with only left-right arrow keys.

Prototype B motivated the development of a more straightforward alternative to VR immersion

Users needed a more straightforward way to view the artifact collection. (VR/3D immersion is not the only way people want to view artifacts). Consequently, we developed a List View for viewing artifacts that eases any trouble folks might have. We also learned that the difference between filter’ and sort’ tools was poorly communicated in earlier iterations. We reduced this behavior to only essential functionality so we could clearly communicate the tools for users. Participants also helped us understand the challenges navigating in virtual reality opened up opportunities for parent-child tutorial. Overall, they highlighted that 3D immersion is valuable and enriching.

Prototype C revealed the heuristics by which participants group, sort, and arrange family artifacts to glean artifacts’ interdependent narratives.

In response, our prototype provides users the ability to sort family artifacts based on time, person, other searchable terms. Users would have avatars and the ability to engage in the gallery simultaneously (and the ability for users to help onboard others).

We matured prototypes so they represented our consideration of users’ feedback.

Our homepage flow incorporated tactile and physical sign-in to remind people that the experience grows more meaningful with persistent interaction.Our homepage flow incorporated tactile and physical sign-in to remind people that the experience grows more meaningful with persistent interaction.

We had to provide people with ways to create an artifact that spanned as simple as written word and as complex as a concert of video and 3D scanning.We had to provide people with ways to create an artifact that spanned as simple as written word and as complex as a concert of video and 3D scanning.

Viewing the collection of objects required a simpler alternative for those hesitant toward virtual reality. List view fills that need. Gallery View helps users configure the museum to their liking before entering. Entering the gallery is a real celebration of collected artifacts.Viewing the collection of objects required a simpler alternative for those hesitant toward virtual reality. List view fills that need. Gallery View helps users configure the museum to their liking before entering. Entering the gallery is a real celebration of collected artifacts.

We used existing 3D modeling tools like Mozilla Hubs to show how people might view family artifacts in a virtual reality museum.We used existing 3D modeling tools like Mozilla Hubs to show how people might view family artifacts in a virtual reality museum.

Presenting our project to the HCDE community.Presenting our project to the HCDE community.

VI / Looking to the future — Learning how to better serve families

The constructive response from our peers highlighted some big lessons:

  • People are eager to understand their families and dignify their family histories.
    • We share the same challenges. This was an immediately understood problem.
    • We can reclaim museums and gallery spaces for the deeply personal and everyday objects. Familial heritage deserves the same significance ascribed to fine art. We can consult secondary stakeholders like cultural museums for future development.
  • But, we must avoid burdening disjointed families with confusion; the design intervention must be simple to pick up.
    • Prototyping is most effective when we creatively adapt existing tools to communicate our ideas.
    • We built with clay and cardboard to visualize 3D space, we used Mozilla Hubs to render a digital gallery.
  • Good ideas might remain out of scope when prioritizing minimum viability.
    • Shoutout to great features that must join future iterations: full 3D exploration, parent-child video calling tutorials, co-creative artifacts, system backup
  • Our team worked well when we embraced big ideas early on. Success relied on understanding each others’ passions.