Soft Fading explores Internet of Things (IoT) data transparency, offering a reimagined data encounter in the home.
This analog device collects sunlight data by fading a cylinder of revolving turmeric dyed fabric. Once removed, the fabric reveals an archive of UV data local to your home. Soft Fading is a part of the Odd Interpreters, a research study at Studio Tilt.
Contribution Design Research Lead Fabricator Studio Member Co–Author
Collaborators Audrey Desjardins Jeremy Viny Jena McWhirter Eve Peng
Data collection in the context of home IoT is often considered as digital, precise, and instantaneous. Soft Fading encourages people to rethink these conventions by reframing sunlight as a form of data, and utilizing its natural ability to fade (over the course of a few months) as the method for data collection. We as a studio arrived at this guiding theme of diffuse ways of noticing after various rounds of ideation methods including 8x8 sketching, brainstorming, idea clustering, and more.
The Odd Interpreters were built to be used in ethnographic studies to understand how living with the artifacts could encourage home dwellers to engage with their data from new perspectives. While our intention with Soft Fading was to create an artifact that could generate subtle, imprecise, and interpretive data, we were faced with an ironic need for a high level of precision to accomplish its basic functionality.
Original Sketch After brainstorming various design directions we narrowed the idea into a single direction.
Fabric + Dyes The concept relies on the fading of fabric. After researching, we tested turmeric dye and madder root on three types of fabric.
Fading Outcomes The top swatch is the original fabric (not exposed to UV) and the bottom swatch is after being exposed in a window for 6.5 weeks.
Modeling While considering the mechanics, opening experience, and aesthetics, we 3D modeled the casing design using Fusion 360.
Code In order to ensure the fabric would make one rotation per day, we programmed the stepper motor to move one step every 7.2 minutes.
Painting We then hand painted the artifacts in the studio to ensure a consistent design language between the three separate devices.
Form Prototypes After confirming the fabric's ability to fade, we began using cardboard prototyping to explore form factors that the artifact could take.
Color Matching After rounds of 3D printing, we selected colors for the entire Odd Interpreter Family, and color matched them into paints.
Photographing Once the artifacts were ready, we did a round of photo documentation before sending them off into separate participant homes.
Debugging After the first participant study, we redesigned the cylinder to ensure smoother rotation (and a higher level of precision).
Participants living with Soft Fading are presented with a choice: When should I remove the fabric? In a participant's reflection they wrote, “I had been imagining the fading pattern on Soft Fading to be sort of geometric, with gradients of stripes. But seeing this leaf’s shadow makes me wonder about how my little desk environment will imprint its data onto the fabric? Even the little folds and wrinkles on the fabric are creating shadows and patterns.” This quote depicts how the artifact, by withholding instant access to data, forced the participant to confront it as it happened.
To conclude the Odd Interpreters research study, we wrote a paper entitled The Odd Interpreters: Destabilizing Home IoT Data Encounters. The paper discusses the three artifacts in detail, and shares specific insights from the participant studies. In addition to the paper, the Odd Interpreters periodically go on display in private galleries, including the Jacob Lawrence.