CHI 2012 Design Competition: fridgeTop – Interactive Fridge Surface
The project aims to help international students who left home to re-create home-like experiences through an interactive fridge surface. We offer the fridgeTop fridge surface in connecting multiple kitchen spaces, allowing users to experience the subtle presence of family members through a shared fridge screen. The results from our usability testing was that remote sharing on an interactive fridge surface with distant family was universally applauded by our users.
The prompt of the CHI 2012 Student Design Competition was to design an object, interface, system or service that challenges us to provoke awareness, understanding and appreciation in the domestic setting as it relates to space, place and threshold.
My team and I started the project by interviewing 16 international students from India, China, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and South Korea. All of the interviewees had lived in the US for less than two years after leaving their country for the first time. We focused on the challenges they faced while settling into a new environment, and on comparing and contrasting the different coping strategies they employed in their home re-creation process.
Study 1. Affinity Diagram
We collected 289 notes from our interviews and created an affinity diagram. We analyzed the interview data by creating an affinity wall. The most prominent categories in regards to how students approached remembering their homes were: food-related rituals, communication with family, and memorable objects. To further elicit insights about our users’ perceptions of home re-creation, we designed a home-making model.
Study 2. Home-Making Model
This model shows the three main phases involved in building home-like experiences. The first phase highlights the different factors that shape perceptions of home. The second phase illustrates the different ways in which users try to re-create home-like experiences when they first move out of the home. The third phase shows the redefinition phase where people extend their definition of home.
In the home-making model, we discovered that the process of home re-creation is challenging and sometimes fails. When faced with stress, people try to increase communication with their family. Despite using modern communication methods that rely heavily on direct communication, our user group still felt vulnerable and disconnected. This prompted our interest to focus on less deliberate methods of connecting family members which could be established in passing. We also learned that people keep special objects around their environment to create familiar spaces.
Study 3. Kitchen Study through Home-Visits
In order to understand how people interact with kitchen space, we conducted a study through home-visits with 4 users. We asked participants to place 10 generic dummy items, which included: pictures of parents and siblings, letter from a close friend, birthday card from a sister, recipe sent from mom, to-do list of homework, reminder note to pick-up friend from airport, memo from apartment leasing office, Internet bill for the month, class-schedule for the semester, and a small toy cat gifted by a close friend.
Main Insights from the Kitchen Study:
- Personal items like photos and notes cannot be permanently displayed in a shared space
- Bills, notes, memos, and schedules are better managed through online digital tools
- Fridge doubtlessly serves as the most inviting interactive surface in the kitchen.
Our finding exhibits the drastic shift in the perception of the kitchen space, specifically when people live in shared accommodated spaces. We created personas that helped us to define critical user behaviors, needs and goals.
Phase 1. Brainstorming and Reiterative Design Brainstorming Sessions
After analyzing all the research data, we ideated and brainstormed for potential solutions through sketching exercises on the whiteboard. An interactive refrigerator application was thought of as a viable solution to all the identified problems. At the end of the session, we decided to focus on four features to elaborate in detail: user detection, avatar representation, memorable photos, and delayed messages.
Phase 2. Brainstorm and Whiteboarding of Initial Ideas:
Phase 3. First Reiteration of Design Concepts:
Phase 4. Second Reiteration of Design Concepts and Low-fidelity Mock-ups:
Phase 5. Storyboard to Examine End-to-end Experience:
Phase 6. Third Reiteration of Prototype:
Phase 7. Concept Testing with Users
Phase 8. Fourth Reiteration of fridgeTop:
Phase 9. Experience Prototyping with parents and students:
Our Solution – fridgeTop
We propose a touch-based fridge surface application, fridgeTop, which aims to create a home-like experience within kitchen space in shared accommodations. This solution allows family members living in separate locations to engage in the familiar home-activity of placing items on a fridge surface. Some features that are included in our design were: Photos and Notes, fridgeTop Family Circle (FFC), Memory Box, Avatar and Presence Indicator. In terms of implementation, we researched different technologies to understand application feasibility, including user detection and identification, and cross-platform collaboration between heterogeneous devices.
- Photos and Notes:
Each user can put photos into the ‘fridgeTop Photo’ folder available on their mobile or desktop, and access them from the ‘photos’ tab on the fridge surface. Using this tab, users can select the photos to be shared on the surface within the FFC. Users can directly write and place notes on the fridge surface using a stylus or keyboard. The user detected closest to the fridge surface will be tagged automatically as the author of that note. Once a photo or note is placed users can move, resize, or rotate them on the interactive fridge surface to form different arrangements.
Avatars and Presence indicator:
Users can create a cartooned avatar in the system by using the their own picture. The system also allows the modification of avatars of others within the FFC to support some playful family interactions. The system also detects presence of any user within the kitchen space in interaction distance of the fridgetop surface. On the top band, a glowing avatar on the left side indicates surface control access of a user, and the right side shows the presence of the corresponding FFC members.
Privacy and Sharing Concerns:
By default, the placed photos and notes are only shared with the FFC members. But users have the option of making a note or photo public, in which case the item shows/stays up on the fridge surface even if a new user is detected by the system. If a roommate walks in, the system switches the surface to public mode, showing only the items that have been made public, hiding all others.
Concept Testing and Experience Prototyping:
We gained valuable feedback by conducting four concept-testing sessions with Asian international students (two Chinese, one Taiwanese, and one Indian) and four session of usability testing (“experience prototype”) with parents. The testing was done on a mid-fi prototype of the fridgeTop application developed from paper prototypes and storyboards. These prototypes were translated into refined screens using Photoshop and Illustrator and converted into an interactive PDF projected onto a fridge screen.
The main concept of remotely sharing notes and photos on the fridge surface with distantly located family members was liked by all the users and was confirmed as an activity they would like to do in their temporary kitchen space. Also they could easily connect to the concept owing to their similar past experiences – “We used to do this at home!”, “This makes sense!”. Users mentioned that compared to traditional sharing technologies, fridgeTop would make it much easier to connect with family while they were cooking and had spare time in the kitchen.
In this project, one of the biggest take-away I had was in the selection of appropriate design methods. At one point, we didn’t find any conventional UX methods that was appropriate for us. Instead, we designed our own methods through a systematic manner where we were inspired by conducting ethnography, home-visits in the kitchen space. My role in the team aligned heavily along the lines of project manager and lead interaction designer, where I set agenda plans and guided the team through discussions. I also performed graphic design both to the model-making and the interface design of the fridge. I also took the initiative and enacted the storyboard to guide the end-to-end experience of how users will interact with fridgeTop.