Focus: faceless interaction, speculative design, design fiction, 2036
What is the idea of "home" in an ever-increasing mobile society?
In an increasingly mobile world, people are on the go more often than ever before. The idea of home is no longer static. Home is no longer a physical place, but a concept, different and malleable for every person. However, for most people, home is a familiar place with our family and friends. Throughout history, a meal together is not just about stopping hunger, but a way for humans to build and maintain emotional connections. Family meal time is especially important in maintaining the bond between members. It nourishes us both physically and psychologically. Not only is who we are eating with important, but also what we are eating. Whether it is dad’s bbq or mom’s lasagna, different food evokes different memories and emotions.
My project “Dine Together” is about maintaining those relationships over a physical divide.
With the connected utensils, it allows two people, physically separated, to not only share a meal in time, but also share the taste of food. Do you miss your wife’s special pasta while traveling? Now you can taste the same food together despite the separation. It gives someone away from home the ability to maintain that connection to home, via shared meal and shared taste.
With a target date of 2036 in mind, I began I started by creating a series of fictional personas:
- Anthony, the Wall Street type in Manhattan who forgot his medication on the way to his flight but stuck in future gridlock.
- Sarah, the student winner of a trip on a commercial space flight.
- Maja, looking for a way home from the airport in a snowstorm.
- Matt, trapped at home during serious flooding.
These stories reflect a future with advance in technology, mobility, and dystopian climate. Within each, the common thread that emerged is each character's connection to their home.
Based on the themes above, I focused my research on the idea of home, and the mobile lifestyle The research began looking at what is currently available: For the mobile life, what environments do they spend a lot of time in? Is it hotels, airplanes, airport lounges, offices, corporate apartments, or some others? Next, what activities do we associate with home currently, aside from the bare essentials (sleep, hygiene, nourishment)? After the first round of exploration, I performed more in-depth research by looking at online forums focused on frequent traveller, have conversations with a variety of people who travels frequently for various reason, and produced surveys targeted at the frequent traveler crowd. Based on my findings, I came away with three impressions:
- For the majority, they still subscribe to the traditional idea of home being static, not something they find on the road.
- Family is the most important link to make someone feel connected to home
- Food is an important reminder of home.
Based on the above results, I began to sketch out ideas of connecting someone to their home. One aspect that I’ve come across in life and in various media, fiction or nonfiction, is the importance of the family dinner, the idea that everyone comes together during a meal time. For many of us, mealtime is where we build connections with others, be it with strangers, friends, or family members. In fact, it is how strangers become friends, friends become “family”, and family become even closer.
With that in mind, I start developing two prototypes.
- A generic food “object”. It is tasteless and bland, but with the right nutritional needs. However, when “activated” externally, physically it remains the same but it will adopt the taste of other flavors, thus mimicking other foods. This allows one to enjoy the “taste from home” even though they are physically away with no access to the real thing.
- An utensil that connects people by sharing the same taste. When two people are using these utensils, they can be linked together, one acts as transmitter and the other a receiver. This allow two people who are physically apart to be able to taste the same flavor, even though they may be eating different things.
For the first prototypes, a trip to the hobby / craft store netted me crafting clay, which when the label is removed, just resemble a generic blank block that can be molded to resemble other things physically, a mental leap away to mimicking flavors.
For the second, I looked at standard utensils such as forks, knives, spoons, and chopsticks, eventually settling on chopsticks. The choice is made based on both their simple form, and their unique status in that most people know what they are, but they are not as ubiquitous as others, therefore just interesting enough.
A video is one of the best way for me to describe my concept. To begin I I wrote a script featuring a husband is traveling and is home sick, and really wants to enjoy his wife’s cooking. I went on a two day trip, visiting seven airports around Europe and captured many b-rolls. These are using to convey the idea of the weariness of travelling. Then with the help of classmates, I shot the husband in a hotel room and the wife in an apartment, and combined the footage in a split screen fashion. For the chopsticks, effects were added to convey their function.