This week’s assignment was to create a device that can sit on a desktop and account for single increments of change, counting either up or down. Our clients are people with desk jobs, who want a physical reminder of their progress. Having a full-time desk job, I am fully cognizant of the despair of an office environment, so I also considered what might be fun, pleasant, and satisfying, while also somewhat conservative to suit different office environments.
I looked around my office, went on instagram, I surveyed my coworkers, and googled to gather data on what people’s favorite desk-things are. I found that people love their plants and mugs. I also found that the hashtags #desk, #mydesk, and their variations have a surprisingly large number of posts. And I found out what Marissa Meyer and Mark Zuckerberg keep on their desks. I personally do not have a favorite desk item, although my favorite thing in my vicinity used to be my polar bear calendar (cute, bleak, and functional, like me).
Inspired by the simplicity and cleverness of perpetual calendars and hourglasses, I tried to come up with counting devices that might mimic this kind of interaction while serving a counting function. I also liked the idea that the device could stay analog, requiring no batteries or any other annoying maintenance.
I thought about twisting and rolling as movements to increment, and envisioned these designs to be made of brass, like an old perpetual calendar.
None of these ideas allowed for a visualization of progress made. I struggled trying to incorporate this. I also tried to think of more satisfying interaction, like spinning a wheel or twisting a key that gives auditory feedback or even just a click at one revolution.
I was struggling with aesthetics and form, and trying to be deliberate with color. I looked at ancient imagery for inspiration, because I think there must be reasons imagery like this persists and is inherently compelling. There’s also something so sterile and depressing about most offices. I think natural forms help mitigate this a bit. Even better would be to introduce something actually fun. I thought of the use of balls on a lot of desktop toys and gadgets, small basketball hoops, and the pleasure of watching internal mechanisms at work. I began to think of using sliding or spiraling marbles that could serve as a physical reminder of progress, as well as make the act of incrementing last longer and be more fun.
This snake (left) almost looks like its being held in a vase, like its at once an animal and a plant.
(these are from Language of the Goddess)
I thought the face of the snake (or plant) could include a small hole (eye or mouth) that could detect when a marble passed through and increment a digital display accordingly. The marble would then roll down into a reservoir that could continue to grow, or, since the main interaction is pushing the marble through the hole, could simply be re-used. I thought marbles could be pushed into one hole to increment up and the other to increment down, but it still seemed most clear to me to have a reversible device, so that there was an obvious visual cue as to whether you were incrementing up or down.
I created a (very rough) prototype of the device with a mouth hole that would contain a sensor. The eyes would display numbers that would increment as marbles pass through. I built it out of a plastic cup, wire, foam, tape, and marbles.
I realized I hadn’t allowed for setting a starting count, so I belatedly added a knob (a thumb tack) on top that could be spun in either direction to quickly increment to the correct starting number. I’m not an engineer, but I think to feasibly function the vase/cup base would have to be broader, and the spiral would have to be larger to keep marbles from flying off.