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1st Round of Prototyping

Last night, with the help of my brother, Will, I completed my first round of prototyping for Memori. Will was perfect for this session because 1) Memori is about reliving past experiences, which in this case was our early childhood in Manhattan and 2) our experiences were very similar since we are only a year apart in age.

Before my first round of prototyping, I had a list of questions along with some assumptions that I wanted to validate.

  • What information medium effectively triggers memories and emotions, e.g. photos, text, audio, video?
  • Would someone want to contribute to a memory tree?
  • Does a memory die with an associated landmark?
  • How does one feel after visiting several memory trees?
  • Which memories are most valuable? Is it based on lifetime period? General events? or event-specific knowledge (ESK)?

Prototyping Plans
A few days prior, I had a chance to explore by foot the area that we grew up in during the early 1980s. This region covered parts of the Lower East Side (Rivington and Allen St.) and Chinatown. At each significant location, I took either a photo or wrote a message about what made that place special to me. I also had my mother do a voice recording via voicemail with her memories about raising us in the neighborhood. This piece of content was associated to the front doorstep of the apartment we used to live at on Allen street.  I then placed these pieces of content into envelopes which would then be opened at their respective locations. For content that required a digital device, such as my mom’s recording, additional instructions were placed into the envelope on how to access that data.

Prototyping materials - envelopers, notes, and photos

Prototyping materials - envelopers, notes, and photos

Here’s the list of locations that were plotted out for Will to visit including the type of media that was presented in an envelope at each spot:

  1. 129 Mott Street (written note) – My dad used to visit this fish market when ordering stock for his restaurant
  2. Bowery and Hester (photo) – This was where the Great Wall of Chinatown used to be along with the Music Palace movie theater
  3. 62 East Broadway (written note) – The barber shop that provided us with the classic bowl haircut
  4. Market Street and East Broadway (written note and photo) – Used to have lunch here while waiting for my parents to get their food shopping done
  5. Eldridge and Delancey (written note) – There used to be a playground here
  6. Eldridge and Rivington (written note) – The daycare center with the blue cots and Nilla cookies served with a glass of milk
  7. 157 Allen Street (written note, photo, and audio) – My family’s first apartment
The path we walked in order to relive our childhood

The path we walked in order to relive our childhood

We skipped location #1 since the fish market was closed by the time we got there.

When we got to Bowery and Hester (#2), Will remembered the wall of graffiti that existed on the corner of the street, but it didn’t trigger the memory of the Music Palace movie theater that was located right next to it. After revealing the contents of the envelope, which consisted of the photo pictured below, he not only remembered the movie theater, but he also quickly recalled a memory about watching a Cantonese movie with my aunt when we were kids.

The Great Wall of Chinatown and the Music Palace (courtesy of Harris Graber)

The Great Wall of Chinatown and the Music Palace (courtesy of Harris Graber)

For the next location, 62 East Broadway (#3), my brother and I stood in front of the underground barber shop talking about how the barber was basically babysitting us while our mom was busy running errands. At one point, my brother mentioned the oscillating fan that used to sit in the corner of the shop, which was also one of my key memories of the place. That one memory helped to validate my own past memories and also further established a common ground between what we were reminiscing about.

At Market street and East Broadway (#4), the memory that he recalled wasn’t as important because, according to him, it was “still too recent.” Afterwards, as we made our way over to Allen street, Will all of a sudden stopped in his tracks and excitedly said “There’s this wafting smell of what seems like coffee.” Going back to the question of this being in a home vs. a city, this sensorial stimulation proves that this service should exist within the city landscape rather than a confined area such as a home because a city offers more variety in the types of memory cues.

Next stop, Eldridge and Delancey (#5). Will didn’t recall a playground ever being there, even after I gave him some details about the recreation area.

Before reaching our final destination, we walked by the school at Eldridge and Rivington (#6), where we used to attend daycare. Will didn’t remember the building, but he did remember certain events that happened inside such as the blue cots that we used to nap on.

As we finally reached 157 Allen street (#7), I handed Will a pair of headphones along with my iPhone. On it was a voice message that my mom left behind with some of the memories that she still retained about raising us in the neighborhood. In the video clip below, the facial expression and the overall reaction that Will displayed demonstrates that the audio piece was a powerful memory trigger. It’s also important to note that my mom’s memories about her getting us cakes for our birthdays triggered Will’s event-specific knowledge of getting a Smurf’s cake for his birthday.

Afterwards, Will mentioned that listening to the audio at that specific location motivated him to “try to go back in time to try to remember how it all happened.”

In hindsight, watching Will react the way he did was meaningful to me. It validated how we both felt about our childhood (lifetime period).


  • More recent general events tend to not be as meaningful to rediscover unless it pertains to an event-specific knowledge
  • Photos are efficient in triggering memory
  • Audio is efficient in triggering emotional memory
  • Contribution of memories to a memory tree at a specific location should not be restricted to having to be at that location
  • Leaving memories behind should require as very little bio-cost as possible (voice)
  • Capturing the reaction of a person to a memory should be considered

Next Steps

  • Do some research with geotagging voice recordings (Twilio, etc.)
  • Prep for second prototype with my youngest brother using what I’ve learned from this first prototype
  • Prototype the experience of leaving behind and discovering a memory
  • What’s the incentive to leaving behind a memory?
  • How will the interface look?
  • What are the advantages/disadvantages of memories being public vs. private?

Related Links

Will also writes at The Quantum Lobe Chronicles when he’s not busy with grad school over at Yeshiva University

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  • 17 Feb 2011

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