Family Album of Sound Memories

Degree Project

Interaction Design

Umeå Institute of Design

Year / Duration

2011 / 20 weeks

In collaboration with

Interactive Institute


The final design is a set of tangible interfaces that enables people to recall and share memories through the use of auditory digital media. 

The Family Album of Sound Memories strengthen the family bonds between visually impaired people and their relatives by offering a new user experience for sharing memories through digital media.

Video scenario

This is the story of Andrew (visually impaired) recording and sharing his sound experiences with her sighted cousin.


Inspiration projects

Bringing back memories is a very emotional human aspect. Exploring the experience of sharing digital sound media as a memories carrier was one of the starting points for this project.

This project considers the visually impaired and blind people as the power users, although the main goal of the project is to propose an inclusive rather that exclusive experience for a specific group of people.  

Audito based interface

During the last years, there has been an amazing increment in the development of graphic user interfaces. Unfortunately most of these interfaces have focused on the visual appearance and rarely thinking of sound and haptic feedback.

The possibility of exploring more sound and tangible interfaces was also an important factor when selecting this topic.

Blind people and technology

There are some groups in the society that have physical disabilities who do not have another option than use and enhance the physical abilities they count on.

One of these groups are the visual impaired people whose perception of the world mainly comes from the auditory sense, the sense of touch and smell.

Inclusive experience design

Fundamental in an inclusive approach is to involve “critical” users in the design process. Critical users are those who will likely have difficulties or be excluded from an activity or social context.

By taking the blind people as the power users, the development of inclusive experiences, which can be reached by a broader part of the population, can be achieved in a more successful way.

User research

Talking to people to get inspiration, observe how they perform everyday activities in context and involve them during the design process is definitely worthy if we think that the purpose of design is to improve people’s experiences .

This video shows some of the key insights from the user research interviews done on the first stage of the project.

User-centered design

Interviews with several visually impaired people were made thoughout the development of the project. The interviewees had different levels of blindness going from low vision as a side effect of another disease of the age, color blindness and blindness from birth.

Very interesting insights about initial thoughts gave many important insights to start sketching some ideas to test the next meeting with them.  



Workshops with sighted people

Even though the main part of the research was made with visually impaired people, during the process I also talked to sighted people in order to test around the ideas so far at that point.

This allowed to know their point of view and aspect to consider to achieve an inclusive design project.

Auditory vs. Visual Perception

Sound has the time factor which represent that the sound has a length. When perceiving sound on the streets, the input is received from all the directions omnidirectional), there is no way to be selective and to choose what sounds do you want to hear/record.

The sound perception also has a relation with the space. The sound input a person gets is different depending on the distance between the sound source is located and the person, and the intensity and the type of signal from the source.

Experience prototyping

The fact that most of the participants were visually impaired led me to have a very hands-on and explorative method using prototyping tools to communicate my concepts, generate discussions and involve the users throughout the design process.

This method resulted to be very effective from a user-centered design perspective when working with people with special abilities, since it was practically impossible to use traditional methods based on visual representations with them.



User testing / Generating, test and validate concepts

The purpose of all the sketches in hardware made was to be able to show them to the participants in order to generate,evaluate and validate ideas.

Having these material was a great help to get richer feedback from the users not only concerning the physical representation of the interfaces but also about managing auditory digital media.


Design Guidelines

1. Sound is the driver of the experience.The use of a different kinds of output is used to support
the sound experience.

2. Sound perception in time and space. Possibility to navigate whithin the sound memory while playing it.

3. Sharing memories within the family. Multi sensory solutions to make it interesting and
usable for more people.

Experience prototype

Functional prototype to show the proposed experience on the playback and browsing mode. 

It is important to point out that the decision of building a high fidelity  prototype was based on the fact that any other prototype technique would be as efficient as this for validating the idea with both blind, visually impaired and sighted people.



Sharing sound memories

The final concept considers the implementation of a multi sensory interface containing elements in audio, haptics and visuals to control the object.

The output considered as the result of interacting with this device is the sound memory. To navigate through the sound memory in 3D space, the user utilizes physical input though the two main tangible interfaces: the album and the player.


The tangible albums

The albums of sound memories are tangible interfaces that allow the user to access to up to 16 files on each

The user is able to choose and get albums with a generic shapes or with a special theme such as holidays, birthday, childhood or family albums.

The kind of album can be identified by touching the icon on high- relief or by simple looking at it. If there is a series of albums with the same theme, the user can either read the number in braille or identify it visually. 


Browsing the memories within each album

After the user selects the album he/she wants to play, the album has to be placed on the center of the device.

When placing the album on the player, the assembly between the album and the placeholder in the center forms a knob that the user can rotate.

In order to identify which sound memory is saved on each position, the device will play a 3 seconds long ‘sound thumbnail’ that will give the user an overview of the content in the sound fi le. When the user finds the sound to play, he/she has to press the memory holder to confirm and go to playback mode.



Zooming in within the sound memory on the player.

When the user chooses the sound file to listen to, the player offers the possibility of browsing through it by filtering out the sound in different directions. To do so, the user has to control the navigation pad around the album by pushing it down with their hand.

The input from the physical control is mapped out to the way the sound is output on the played by using four different speakers pointing out to different directions.



Final experience prototype

For the construction of the fi nal prototype, it was necessary to tune all the features that were developed on the previous experience prototypes.

The final prototype was programmed in Arduino and Processing talking to each other through serial communication.

The physical model was developed in a 3D software and pinted out in 3D in order to have more control of the necessary space for the electronics and sensors that need to be fi t inside the device.



Importance of Sketching on Hardware


The fact that I developed a functional prototype at the end, allowed me to communicate my concept and demonstrate how it could potentially work to different groups of users.

This was not only good for enabling a communication with the visually impaired people, but also for the design process and the communication and brainstorming with my fellow design students.

Having demos to show your ideas is a very powerful tool to engage people and to make your design more understandable for the people outside the design field.