Did you wake up this morning to the annoying sound of an incessant alarm tone? Is your day a perpetual cacophonous symphony of annoyances under the guise of notifications? While the integration of digital devices in our lives is generally seen as a net positive in regards to connectivity, convenience, and communication, many of us are beginning to evaluate the trade-offs in relation to our mental wellness when our senses and attentions are perpetually at the beckon of notifications. Google’s Seed Studio’s collaborative effort with Map Project Office, Little Signals, imagines six conceptual objects designed to calmly gain our attention through a gentler use of movement, shadows, and sounds.
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You might already be aware of efforts to address sensory overload in other categories of devices. Alarm clocks like the analog-ish OneClock and ambient Loftie both set out to offer more pleasant forms of device-to-user engagement, retaining function while subtracting the sounds that might induce a wince (now do this for dentist drills already!).
Similarly the six concept Little Signals devices investigate different modes of gaining our attention without the psychologically jarring affecting methods traditionally used to notify.
• Button combines scale and sound to communicate and provide control. The top twists – right for more details, left for less – and grows as it receives information.
• Air interacts with its close surroundings. Pulses of air move nearby objects, like the leaves of a plant, to attract attention.
• Shadow communicates through the movements of the shadow it casts. They show the object’s status, like gently breathing when active or stretching in response to presence.
• Movement features seven pegs that graphically represent information – like a calendar or timer – through their height and motion. The pegs work individually or as a group, and are tapped for simple input.
• Tap makes use of surfaces to create sounds that act as notifications. A stronger tap means more pressing news.
• Rhythm generates ambient sounds. Qualities of the melody convey qualities of the information, like its importance, urgency, or tone. A wave over the object, or simply turning it over, mutes it.
With the ubiquity of digital devices and proliferation of smart devices entering into every aspect of our lives, different methods of device-to-person engagement will become an increasingly vital realm for technologists to investigate. Little Signals may seem conceptual today, but do not be surprised when certain elements of these devices make their way into our everyday lives in future devices operating beyond today’s “make noise and blink” notification paradigm.
All imagery courtesy of Google and Map Project Office. Lifestyle photos by Taran Wilkhu.