THE UX OF MEMORY | UX Studio Practices

Yiwei Han (David)
8 min readJan 17, 2021

12/11/20–26/11/20 (2 weeks)

📃Brief: Design an experience that externalises the nature of memory.

🤝Group Members: Manali Panchal, Sue Heeyeon An, Tatiana Bohsali, Yiwei Han(David).

“ For this project we will be using two distinct research methods:

Artefact Analysis & Directed Storytelling.”

Want to know what it is? Read the article below!

From Multiple Themes to One — Directed Storytelling & Artefact Analysis

Brainstorming (Made by Group).

In our first discussion, we brainstormed and categorised memory into various themes such as ‘dream’, ‘trauma’, ‘homelands’. Tatiana suggested that it might be helpful to choose a specific theme for our further research, and we all agreed with that.

Multiple Themes to choose trauma (Made by Sue).

So during our second meeting, we decided to start with the special topic of ‘trauma’ which interested us, we also listed the different traumatic events and discussed the guiding questions to be used for Directly Storytelling.

One Story about PTSD after COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan (Edited by David).

Given the sensitivity of the topic, we agreed that storytellers could stop during the conversation if they felt uncomfortable. We talked to 13 friends who had experienced different traumas and writing the basic content in text form. (which contains a wide range of experiences: COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, Beirut Explosion, Car Accidents, Sexual Harassment, Domestic Violence, etc.)

Group discussion after directed storytelling (Photos by Manali).

Then the texts were synthesised to capture similar features or patterns and clustered in categories with the three main processes of the memory process (encoding, storage, and retrieval).

Synthesis Diagram (Made by Sue). [From this method, we found that storytellers seem to have a ‘trigger’ mechanism for their traumatic memories, i.e. a specific signal can trigger their painful memories and they remember specific details well.]

Under the brief, we have also selected three representative objects from the story for Artefact Analysis. This method is absolutely an informative tool to help understand physical and digital objects, but it did not have a substantial impact on our design decisions.

Artefact Analysis based on stories (Made by Group & Designed by Manali).

In other words, Directly Storytelling provided us with enough references and inspiration to generate three initial ideas.

In the first tutorial, John recommended a book on traumatic memories and offered suggestions on our three initial ideas, he also pointed out that we need to qualify a bit some claims we’re making just based on the experience of 13 alone and reminded us of the need to take responsibility as designers when we undertake research on such ethical themes; we need to be really careful about what we say and do.

“ As I listened to my friends share their stories with me, I heard their occasional shaky voices and I could feel their fear and nervousness, which made me feel guilty about what we are doing.

Here, Design research is rigid and cold, it is just guidance on a procedural level and lack humanity and ethical care. And this is exactly where we designers need constantly think and learn how to improve and bridge this gap.”

From One Theme to two ideas — Validation & First presentation

We worked together to read ‘The body keeps the score’, recommended by John and took reading notes. We learned some concepts like fragmentation (i.e. in traumatic memory, only specific sensory fragmented memories are profound and other memories or details are blocked) and body memory.

Triggering mechanisms diagram based on the book & directly storytelling (Courtesy of David).

“Memories were quite incoherent and fragmentary.”

“We remember insults and injuries best.” (Van Der Kolk, 2015)

To express the concept of fragmentation, I came up with an idea of throwing memory fragments to a filter. Tatiana came up with another idea of the past-present bond based on the features of traumatic body memory.

Introducing two ideas (Made by Group).
Testing of Idea 1 (Courtesy of David).
The first presentation (Courtesy of David & Manali).

On Thursday class, John said after the class that the idea of fragmentation was too simplistic and that there were massive variations in it because of different levels of trauma or people. For the ‘past-present’ idea, can we add more timelines? Does it become more dynamic? Does it allow for more people to engage or connected?

“Our bodies are the texts that carry the memories and therefore remembering is no less than reincarnation. — Katie Cannon.”

“Our past memories depend on our present experiences, and our present experiences are limited by our past memories.”

From two ideas to one — Refinement & Prototyping & Testing

Based on Thursday’s feedback, we wanted to give the entire concept a complete upgrade by breaking the time barrier of “Past- Present” body memory connection and exploring the complex relationship between past and present — Memory is a non-directional pattern. It’s an infinity loop.

So the question is, how do we externalise it, adding timelines, increasing the level of engagement, improving interactivity?

Intense group discussions (Courtesy of Manali & Tatiana).

Each idea iteration resulted from group discussion, which meant that we went through many intense discussions about all aspects. Explanatory power was key in this process. And as the whole concept slowly became more complex, communication became more of a challenge but drawing helped us a lot.

Then we started to seek the best ideas by doing. Through prototyping, we kept testing and iterating to generate a solution that best conveyed our ideas.

Testing of movement, speaking, listening & drawing (Courtesy of David & Tatiana).

We tested a variety of signal transmission methods and the final idea decided to keep the sound transmission (paper cups with strings) and the visual transmission (drawing). We designed the whole experience in three stages from easy to difficult: 1. Sound Transmission, 2. Visual Transmission and 3. Sync Sound-Visual Transmission (infinite chaos).

Concept Diagrams: Fig. 1, Sound Transmission Part; Fig. 2&3, Visual Transmission (Made by Sue).
Final Concept: ‘Infinity Echo’ (Courtesy of David).

From one to infinity ∞ — Final Presentation

Sound Transmission Part (Courtesy of Alaistair).
Visual Transmission Part & Feedbacking (Courtesy of Manali & Tatiana & David).

The overall experience was very successful as all four participants were very cooperative with our instruction. Sound transmission, drawing and mixed chaos all went well, except for Ines who was unable to experience very well due to her personal hearing impairment. The final comparison of the drawings also revealed interferences and mutual influences between the participants (Memory signals).

Alaistair commented:

“The system is really beautiful and intriguing.” — Alaistair Steele

But he also throws out questions that don’t require an immediate answer: “How do we recreate or share this experience again? ” “From a pragmatic level, how to market it?” “If it is a new research method or performative experience for people to experience, does it need to be considered for its representation?”.

Reflection:

One of the key reasons this project was more than the last was that there were more face-to-face meetings, more iterations of ideas, then the final outcome was naturally more comprehensive and complex.

But it could be done better, or rather, more standardised. For example, if we had more time, we could test out the signal transmission pattern between each line (variables include: the angle between two signals, the length of the line, etc.). This way we could show it anywhere in the future.

Timeline of UX of Memory

📚Reference:

  1. Government of Canada, D. of J. (2017). PART III — How Trauma Affects Memory and Recall — The Impact of Trauma on Adult Sexual Assault Victims. [online] www.justice.gc.ca. Available at: https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/jr/trauma/p4.html [Accessed 17 Jan. 2021].
  2. Hanington, B. (2019). Universal Methods Of Design. S.L.: Rockport Publishers.
  3. Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust (2013). Lancashire Traumatic Stress Service HOW TRAUMA AFFECTS THE WAY IN WHICH WE ENCODE AND STORE MEMORIES.
  4. Rubin, D.C., Boals, A. and Berntsen, D. (2008). Memory in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Properties of voluntary and involuntary, traumatic and non-traumatic autobiographical memories in people with and without PTSD symptoms. Journal of experimental psychology. General, [online] 137(4), pp.591–614. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2597428/ [Accessed 17 Jan. 2021].
  5. Van Der Kolk, B. (2015). The body keeps the score: brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. New York, New York: Penguin Books.

🎬Post-credits scene

Memory Dream Team (Courtesy of David).

[Memory]: It was a creative and very logically challenging experience; we came up with countless ideas, tried various experiments; we politely argued with each other through deduction and induction and understood each other through drawing and cultural discussions. Most importantly, it is an amazing experience that creates friendships.

Fist Online & Second Mix-line Meeting.

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Yiwei Han (David)

MA User Experience Design - University of the Arts London