Category Archives: Blog

Making Memories Day 2018

On 22 March the Materialising Memories team (and some MM friends) left their offices to embark on their fifth Making Memories Day. Our team outing started in the afternoon in The Rocks, the oldest part of Sydney, for an Urban Hunt (interactive scavenger hunt). We split up in two teams and via an interactive Messenger chat we received questions and cryptic clues. By following these cryptic walking directions and searching for the right answers, we passed small alleys and historical places and facts in The Rocks we had never seen or known before.

After a short Ferry and Light Rail ride we arrived at our dinner place, The Tramsheds. Some more team members joined us here who were not able to attend our afternoon activity. We enjoyed our dinner in a restored Sydney tram.


Xenia attended ACE 2017

Written by Xenia Zürn, MM-alumnus:

From 14-16 December ACE 2017 (14th international conference on Advances in Computer Entertaiment technology) was held. The conference was held in The Shard, which is the tallest building in the United Kingdom, and provided us with an amazing view over London.

The amazing view from the Shard. Can you see the Tower Bridge?

On this conference I presented my (first!) paper ‘Photo Curation Practices on Smartphones’. The paper resulted from a master course at the Eindhoven University of Technology that was also connected to Materialising Memories. It was also my first encounter with the topic photo curation that led me to Materialising Memories in Sydney, where I did my research semester as part of my masters.

Nervous but excited: On my way to London!

At the conference, I started my presentation by asking my audience to take a look at their smartphones and tell me how many photos their smartphone photo collection includes. After people were still raising their hands at more than 10,000 photos, the person with the most photos had over 16,000(!) photos on his smartphone. The smartphone is certainly a device to take into account if we talk about photo activities!

How many photos do you have on your smartphone?

In this study we conducted semi-structured interviews with 11 participants and which we asked them to talk about and to show us how they perform photo curation activities on their smartphones. From the findings we identified design opportunities that can support and improve photo curation practices on smartphones.

The topics of the presentations were really diverse. I have seen presentations about games in the broadest terms, implementations of virtual reality and augmented reality, but also things like robots presenting parts of presentations, levitating food, something that reminded me of Guitar Hero to learn how to play a Koto (Japanese instrument), concepts on how to document dance and a ‘dance DJ’ that shows a dancing audience how to move.

Koto learning support method

The organisation of the conference led us to Blackheat, a historic area of London, for the welcome reception and we had dinner in the Royal Institution building, home to the organisation devoted to scientific education and research. The atmosphere at the conference was very good and this also led me to Christmas decorated pubs to have a pint with fellow researches and exploring the British nightlife;)

Me at the conference dinner in the Royal Institution building

Well done Xenia! For the paper, see:
Zürn, X., Damen, K., Leiden, F. van, Broekhuijsen, M. and Markopoulos, P. (2017). Photo Curation Practices on Smartphones. In: Proceedings of ACE 2017: 14th International Conference on Advances in Computer Entertainment Technology, December 14 – 16, 2017, London, UK. Springer.



Live Talk ‘Take Care to Repair’

Last week, Materialising Memories team member Annemarie Zijlema (me) participated in the Disruptive Innovation Festival. She took part in the panel discussion ‘Take Care to Repair’ with moderator Walter Stahel (founder-director of the Product-Life Institute in Geneva). The panel discussed the question how we get people to take care and repair their products, to increase the longevity of products to achieve sustainability. Annemarie talked about why some products are preserved, while others are discarded, from a memory perspective (starting at app. 24:48 minutes). The discussion was broadcasted live, and can be viewed back till 9 December 2017 via the following link:

The session was initiated by and recorded during the PLATE conference (Product Lifetimes and the Environment) at TU Delft. Annemarie presented her paper on ‘preserving objects, preserving memories’ on the role of traces on objects and repair on remembering. The proceedings are published open access on the PLATE website:

Candidature Assessment Stage 3 presentation

On Tuesday 6 June 2017 I (Annemarie) will present my thesis for the Stage 3 Candidature Assessment in the Faculty of Engineering and IT. The presentation is public, and you are welcome to join. The details of the event are as follows:

• Date: Tuesday 6 June 2017
• Time: 10.30AM to 11:30AM (presentation till 11AM, questions till 11.30AM)
• Venue: CCS studio, CB.11.06.402 (UTS FEIT)
Degree: Joint PhD UTS and TU/e (Eindhoven University of Technology, the Netherlands)

Supervised by: Professor Dr Elise van den Hoven MTD (UTS and TU/e), and Professor Dr Ir Berry Eggen (TU/e and Adj Prof UTS)

Panel Chair:
Dr Sam Ferguson (UTS)
Assessor 1: Professor Dr Ir Kees Dorst (UTS)
Assessor 2: Professor Dr Amanda Barnier (Macquarie University)

Thesis Title: 
Cuing autobiographical memories by external memory cues in the personal environment


The encounter with personal possessions in everyday life, such as souvenirs, jewellery, or digital photos, can bring the past back to mind. Sometimes cuing a quick and fleeting memory, other times it brings back vivid and emotional responses. The research presented in this Candidature Assessment investigated the item-memories relation. Through three qualitative studies, this PhD research has provided insights into the aspects that influence the item-memory relation and the process of cuing memories by personal possessions (external memory cues), for physical as well as digital items. We found that possessions can cue different types of cuing responses. We discovered that different uses of objects influence their potential to cue memories, and also tensions in the relationship with objects affected their cuing. A longitudinal study revealed several reasons why the memory responses cued by personal items changed over time. Further, based on interviews with repair professionals and object owners, we gained insights on the role of objects’ traces and ageing on cuing memories. At the end of this presentation, we will reflect on and discuss how the gained knowledge can facilitate design for remembering with design considerations for designers and HCI practitioners.

Attending ECCE’16

Last month yours truly returned from a trip that took me to Nottingham and back again. Along the way I spent considerable time aboard aircraft and managed to squeeze in a little sightseeing tour of London. The latter proved it’s possible to see quite a few of the city’s landmarks on foot in an afternoon but that it’s not necessarily a good plan to carry all luggage (as my sore shoulders could attest to later).

I was there to attend the European Conference on Cognitive Ergonomics and present my paper on the phenomenology of remembered experience. This concept is relevant to how people think about their past and how they would like to remember that past. For my study I interviewed 22 people and had them compare several of their own past experiences (that is, their memories) with each other. From there, I was able to categorise the ways in which they spoke about this and I also attempted to structure this visually. The intention is that this outcome will provide a base structure for future evaluation of people’s responses to remembering as probed by a prototype of an interactive system. The full paper is available online.

The conference room during a panel session. Crappy picture credit all mine.

Other topics at the conference included various approaches to human factors, effective visualisation of data, and studies into the best ways to apply augmented and virtual reality. Despite its relatively small size of about 50 participants, the conference managed to present quite a variety of topics. Another nice thing is that the single track set-up of the conference takes away the need to optimise which presentations to attend and which to ignore.

I was not the sole representative of the Materialising Memories team. David Blezinger, who visited us in Sydney in late 2014, took home the best paper award for his study on storytelling through and with objects.

At least to me, Nottingham was probably most strongly related to the stories of Robin Hood. And the area certainly doesn’t disappoint with gentle hills, green surroundings, lots of buildings that have been there for ages, and so on. The campus on which the conference was held stood in stark contrast with new, modern buildings throughout. I forgot to take a photo so I’m unable to share the visual glory with you here. Instead, I give you the house of Batman as this large manor was apparently host to some scenes in recent movies.

There was actually a stuffed bat inside this manor, in case you were wondering.

And Robin Hood? He lives on as namesake to a public transport card.

Report presented at the Art and Dementia research launch

Last Tuesday, the Art and Dementia research launch took place at the Art Gallery of NSW. At this event, the results were presented of a study that evaluated the art access program for people living with dementia at the Art Gallery of NSW. The study was conducted by Materialising Memories member dr. Gail Kenning (together with Annemarie Zijlema as a research assistant), who observed and analysed four sessions at the Gallery, and besides that interviewed and surveyed the attendees, professional care staff and volunteers, family members, and the program facilitators of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The following video provides an impression of the access program:

Associate professor dr. Roger Dunston (also a member of Materialising Memories) presented the findings, as deputy for dr. Gail Kenning, who is currently overseas. The report can be downloaded here.

A game character enjoying the scenery

Memories of games

Most of us who have followed a story felt attachment to the main characters. Maybe you yelled at the puppet show as a kid to warn them of the character in the dark who was about to knock, or you revelled in the danger and you felt a little empty after the story was over. Such feelings of attachment can be even stronger when you take up the role of the character, that is, to become the one who knocks, or jumps, or solves puzzles, and saves the dragon. Yes, kids, save the dragon. Rescuing the damsel in distress is so yesteryear.

The avatars we play may not be us. But in some games we get a lot of options to tune the avatar to our liking, and perhaps play a bit with our own understanding of our identity. They may look better, behave far better, or act as indiscriminate rogues, and you may think of them as more dateable than you are. Despite differences between the virtual world and real life (here on earth dragons are merely some sunbathing lizards), in-game experiences can transfer beyond the fantasy realm into everyday life and contribute to our understanding of ourselves. This touches upon our project interests, because we do have memories of those experiences.

In fact, those memories pop up in everyday life. A recent study by Poels, IJsselsteijn, and de Kort (2014) surveyed players of the online role-playing game World of Warcraft to see in what way the game influenced the thinking and dreaming of frequent players. They indeed found evidence for elements of the game to play a role in daydreaming and mundane thoughts. Additionally, their results indicated that objects in normal life may remind people of their virtual exploits. Unfortunately no examples of such objects and thoughts were included. It would have been interesting to see how real things relate to experiences in another realm. We do not need to wear our ‘Epic Hat of Uncertain Principles’ to reminisce about experiences we had while wearing that hat.

Three years ago I started to take screenshots of a game I was playing at the time, the role-playing fantasy game Skyrim. I thought it strange that we do photograph a day trip to a theme park, but not keep evidence of the countless hours we spend in an elaborate fantasy world. Perhaps we are too busy just being entertained by the game, or perhaps it is a social stigma to not show those unfettered glimpses into what we really prefer for enjoyment. After all, there is something of us in the choices we made for an avatar, even if it’s just to explore an alter ego. For example, a fairly large proportion of men play as female characters and certainly not always in skimpy, revealing outfits as you may expect. Similar experimenting happens the other way around as well. Maybe it is exactly this playing with identity that keeps it separate from our idea of who we are, and therefore any screenshots do not end up in a visual narrative of our life.

Yet, here I am writing this because I did take some screenshots that ended up alongside my other, personal pictures. Looking over my photos, there was no distinction between my life and that of my game characters.

My Skyrim game character CruelaOne of the screenshots I took more than a year ago. Yes, that is my beloved character named Cruela with whom I spent somewhere close to 270 hours in-game. Make of that what you will.

This leaves me with a few questions. Do people capture any visual material from in-game experiences? Do they construct a narrative to go along with it? To what extent does that story relate to their real lives? Do they ever look back? If they do look back, is it ever shared with others? I wonder. For a games industry that builds on giving us enjoyable experiences, obtainable achievements, and in MMO’s also some amount of social status, seemingly little flows over into our everyday lives when it comes to remembering all those things.

While the actual gaming experience and avatars used to attain those are perhaps under-represented in the publicly observable realm of memory-supporting media, cosplay has seen quite a bit of popularity in the past decades. Cosplay, or dressing up as your favourite game, comic, movie, or series hero, is a way of expressing fandom through often elaborate self-made costumes. Even though doing so does not express the personal experiences of playing a game or watching fiction, it does indicate the cosplayer was in some way infatuated with that piece of popular culture and not afraid to show it.

Looking into personal memories of gaming and other forms of fandom provides a nice bridge between media studies and the study of everyday remembering. Would you be willing to share your stories? And do you consider those part of your personal past?

Sharing good memory in the daily life

How time flies! I have been in Sydney for a month and everything here is fresh for me. Sydney is really a vibrant, beautiful and pleasant city. I am very lucky to know so many nice people in the Materialising Memories Lab. What’s more, they are so hard working people which really made me shocked. All these give me a good impression about life and experience here. I would like to share these good memories with my family and friends. How should I do? It seems that there are so many ways I could do. I could call them, send messages and pictures, or make a video call or send a postcard. I am thinking whether we could use a special media to communicate with our family and friends, sharing these good memories with them and giving them a comprehensive sensory experience.

In my previous research and design, I didn’t pay much attention to the emotion. Now I find that the real design could make people moved which means they can transmit emotion, bring back memories and give people surprises. Good design is a poem about life and it could bring people into deep thinking. The emotional memory is people’s memory of emotional experience in the daily life and it has the feature of vividness and impressiveness, and it is one of the most effective way to help people remember. So I would like to do some research on emotional memory and the design of media products.

Items are able to stimulate vivid experience of the past. Interactive devices can stimulate similar functions through cues, for example, photos, audio recording, the objects he used before. I will explore which objects/use behavior would give people positive emotion memory (e.g., wonderful childhood memory) and how do these cues impact on people’s positive emotion memory in the next step. Finally, I hope these study could be used in the design of media products for the sharing of good memories in our daily life.

A First-Hand Study of Technology that Supports Relationships

My PhD research is focussed on Digital Separations – looking at what happens when a couple come to the end of a relationship with regards to their digital memory cues, and how technology can be used to support the individuals.

Although I am primarily based at the University of Dundee in (chilly) Scotland, I have had the good fortune to also enrol at UTS and become part of the Materialising Memories programme, spending time in (the much sunnier) Sydney. While preparing to spend time at UTS earlier this year I stumbled across an ironic problem – though I was investigating how technology can support people ending relationships, I needed to find technology to help me maintain my relationship with my partner while we were halfway around the world from one another.

Suddenly I had a vested interest in how technology could support people staying together.

The more I thought about it, the more I came to realise that the ways in which Shauna and I stay in contact during a typical day might fall short across nine and a half thousand miles, an 11 hour time difference and a reversal of seasons. Writing an email about what I’m up to, or receiving texts from Shauna about the project she’s working on would keep us up to date on each other’s lives, but we would want more than just various updates scattered across apps.

We decided that we wanted to communicate with one another using a variety of media within one channel to give each other a fuller picture of our time apart; this is what led us to Couple.

Couple is an app that’s billed as “An Intimate Place For Two”; upon creating an account you choose a partner to communicate with through the app. You can only have one partner linked to your account, creating a private space on your device that is separate from all other communications.

While in Sydney, everything Shauna and I sent to one another through Couple was stored in a timeline – text, images and video were all displayed in chronological order in one place. We shared voice recordings, location updates, and sketches with one another, as well as a handy pre-set “thinking of you” illustrated message.

One of my favourite features of the app was the Thumb Kiss. Both users press their thumbs to the same point on their respective screens and once the thumbs have been held in place for a few seconds, the screens glow red and the devices vibrate, mimicking physical contact. It’s beyond cheesy, but also kinda cute, and a strangely tangible way of connecting across a digital medium. It’s one of the few features that required both me and Shauna to be actively using the app at the same time, creating an intimate little interaction.

When Shauna joined me in Sydney for the last two weeks of my trip we continued using Couple to document our time together in Australia. Once we returned to Scotland, we came to realise that our Couple Timeline, which once acted as a very successful communication medium, had taken on a different role. It now acts as a diary of our adventures in Australia together, my first experiences of being at UTS and Shauna’s time as a single parent to our dog. The timeline contains cue after cue for memories of our time apart and together in Oz, and has ended up becoming a powerful tool for reminiscing.

In the end, creating digital memory cues and sharing them with Shauna helped us maintain our relationship during my time in Sydney. I gained valuable first hand experience in just how important digital memory cues can be to a relationship, and I can now more realistically imagine how difficult it must be having to confront them when a relationship comes to an end.

CHI 2015 paper video preview

Ahead of the 2015 CHI conference in Seoul, Korea (coming up later this month), I made a short video preview to go along with a 10 page paper titled ‘Things That Make Us Reminisce: Everyday Memory Cues as Opportunities for Interaction Design.’ It’s only 30 seconds and can be seen below.

Behind the scenes

It takes a surprisingly long time to make a short video like this. It took me about a full working day, including the editing, adding overlays, and exporting the final result. So here’s a bit on the making of, including tens of cast members, hundreds of extras, and a couple of undisciplined dragons.

Just kidding.

First up, the setting. I wanted a home-like environment for the video, with enough light to get a good image, plus an environment that would be quiet enough to get a decent audio recording. Eventually I settled on using my own studio apartment as I would have everything on hand there. The clear downside is of course having to use my bed and empty wall as the enigmatic backdrop for my narration. Rather than doing just a voice over I decided to show myself, tell why the paper is relevant, and show a bit of our method. As such, the video is more of a teaser from an information point of view.

I faced a few challenges in getting my video recorded. With only myself on deck (all the others ended up hunting loose dragons), how to hold my camera phone steady? I have another still camera that mounts to my tripod, so I opted to tie my phone to the bigger camera with elastic cord. A voice recorder was placed on my office chair just outside camera view, with a notepad acting as my cue sheet. I couldn’t actually read my script this way, so it took quite a few takes to get it right (I would make a bad actor). The desire to wear decent clothes while the room temperature reflected the heat and humidity of an Australian Summer didn’t help things either. I had to take a few breaks to cool down, and yes, it does explain my expression during the first second or two.

Camera with phone strapped on
I felt sad for the old camera, as it was merely used as a surface for my phone to be strapped onto. With some elastic rope.

The method section was filmed in our MM lab,  with the diaries and other snippets and pieces from the analysis spread out along a table. I stood behind the camera, did the diary browsing, and then panned the camera to get the other items recorded. Later, in editing the footage was sped up. The rest of the footage was cut to fit only the most important bits within the limit of thirty seconds. Finally, I added the text overlays and a blur and vignetting effect to move the focus away from the somewhat lacklustre setting.

Looking back, there are a few things I’d like to improve about my little video. The location isn’t great, and I feel I could get more information into the thirty seconds. Perhaps I could have shot a couple of things that made people reminisce for an introduction, and only briefly show how we got there with our diaries. It seems I need to get another paper accepted to put these ideas to the test!

The actual paper presentation will be during a session titled ‘Digital Collections, Practice & Legacy’ on Thursday, 23 April, starting at 9:30 in Room E1/E2. If you happen to be at CHI 2015, come and have a look.