Sketching In Narrative Form

Written on November 11, 2020

“Chrutsssh”. I put my keys into the door and open it. I just have been out for a walk again. Alone. There is nothing else that one can do outside these times. I close the door and put up my jacket when I see the one segment being flipped at the box hanging in my hallway. I always hang it there to hopefully get a little delight when coming back home, just as I did right now.

With a smile on my face, I grab it and take it to my sofa. ‘Who might this be?’ I think. The small black box lies in my hands. One of the dots is flipped which means I got one message. I press the small button that is located on the case. Immediately the dots start flipping. It is the brief moment of excitement, of anticipation of what is about to come! With a brief sweep, I see the “message” in front of me appearing. It is an abstract symbol — the message is neither text nor an image, it is something that I have to interpret. A shape that somehow makes me remember a vacation I had with my brother. I press the button again and it disappears, again with a gentle sweep.

Usually, I have the device standing on my table. It is a reminder that, even though it sometimes feels like it, I am not alone, that my friends and family are still around. The clicking noise every now and then feels like someone else is in the room, rummaging around. Of course, it annoys me sometimes, but that is the downside of living together. Compromising that we have to listen to each other’s day-to-day behavior. So, in some sort, I even appreciate being annoyed by it as it keeps me in a social space.

A couple of my friends also have such a device at home and often it is not enough to abstractly be connected. We then connect simply via one of the many video communication services that constantly float around these days. As it is not an official meeting we never really have a specific time set, but we started a new habit: Every time one is ready to meet, they double press the button, initiating a ring, like at a doorbell, and from this moment on, every device of everyone who is part of the group starts slowly flipping each dot, once every ten seconds. It slowly fades from all black to completely yellow. Within these ten minutes, everyone is signalized that a meeting is about to begin, not seeing the exact time, but getting a feeling. The soft clicking sound lets one anticipate the get-together, filling myself with excitement and joy to see my friends again.

It is this object that does not directly improve my communication, nor does it help to get a message instantly and directly to someone else, but it gives me the opportunity to slow down a little bit while still staying connected. It gives me the feeling of comfort of not being alone.

Note: I initially thought I wanted to use a LED matrix, as it represents an abstract way of a display. However, I stumbled across this tweet and was mesmerized:

As @andreasgysin mentioned, I asked myself ‘why RGB’? I like the physical, non-digital aspect of a flip dot matrix bringing the device into a more physical realm while also being abstract.

The clicking sounds along with the clear on and off states provide a design constraint while also playing with the object-specific characteristics that the matrix brings into the room. One can automatically hear when the screen is changing, it is not lightning up and thus destroying the lighting of the environment. It does not feel as much as another intrusive digital device while at the same time fostering communication. It represents to me the perfect intersection of digital and physical.