Responding to social distancing brought about by the pandemic, we sought new ways to create a sense of "togetherness” while physically distant. The result was Azalea: a smartphone-based design comprising a bespoke app and a tactile cushion which envelops the phone.
A pair of Azaleas can be used by two people to enrich a phone call. The artifact is brought to life by inserting the phone into the cushion while running the Azalea app. Doing so, the user "sacrifices" the phone, invoking a "magical" communication experience where the mediating hardware is out of sight.
The design activates the phone's flash to project light, through laser-cut shapes on the back of the cushion, into the user’s environment. The phone's screen glows in color through the pattern on the front, reacting to the intensity of the conversation. A shared soundscape of crackling fire, ocean waves, and singing bowls frames the conversation, driven by subtle motions of the artifacts held in the users' hands.
Most designs for enriching remote conversations increase the quantity and fidelity of what is communicated. Azalea follows a different design ethos we call "diminished reality" – it removes and obfuscates signals as well as distractions, creating space to focus on what really matters.
As a research project, Azalea demonstrates leveraging subtle capabilities of everyday computational artifacts – like smartphones – in symbiosis with physical product design, instantiates "diminished reality" as a design ethos, and expands the "somaesthetic design" approach to novel ground.
Sjoerd Hendriks, Simon Mare, Mafalda Samuelsson-Gamboa, & Mehmet Aydın Baytaş (2021). Azalea: Co-experience in Remote Dialog through Diminished Reality and Somaesthetic Interaction Design. In Proceedings of the 2021 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’21). [PDF]
Simon Mare & Sjoerd Hendriks (2020). Azalea: Designing for co-experience of embodied information in remote communication. Master’s thesis submitted to the joint Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Chalmers University of Technology and University of Gothenburg.
Simon Mare, Sjoerd Hendriks, Mehmet Aydın Baytaş, & Mafalda Samuelsson-Gamboa (2020). Azalea: Co-experiencing Embodied Information in Remote Communication. In Proceedings of the 22nd International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services (MobileHCI 2020). [PDF]