Capturing Memories


For our second 3D brief, we were tasked with creating an item to be sold in Austins department store in Derry that evokes memories in the buyer.

Many items already in the store contain nostalgic elements, large old-style clocks and ornaments of past technologies such as typewriters that may have been sold when the store first opened. While many of these may trigger memories for many different people, such as old clocks or technology and the effects of nostalgia, for my object I wanted to focus on more personal memories, not simply nostalgia for a time period but for a subconscious feeling instead.

Long after we’ve left childhood, we all can be deeply affected by this relaxing rocking motion. Think of the peaceful glide of a porch swing, sleeping on a boat or the calming sway of a hammock nap

My first thoughts when it came to memory inducing sensations is the instinctive memories that we all have from childhood. The fact that sensations felt while in the womb can have a relaxing effect on people is already well known – common ‘womb’ situations are used by many people every day without them even realizing why it is relaxing-

  • Rocking (such as when rocking a baby to sleep)
  • Darkness
  • The sound of a heartbeat
  • Water beds
  • The fetal position (the most common sleep position into adulthood)

It is these deep subconscious connections that I am interesting in exploring in object form, as they are universal to anyone that was in a womb during development, and so capable of emotionally effecting a larger audience. Even animals show traits learned during pregnancy when comforting themselves.

I like the idea of designing an object that could mimic this, perhaps a chair or recliner in the shape of cradling arms, or a cushion that hugs you back. Something that taps into this part of our subconscious could perhaps also fit with my research into the health of the elderly, a chair than mimics a comforting embrace could possibly help with depression or loneliness caused by the loss of a partner, or by helping with insomnia

The Importance of Touch

Harlow’s first observation was that monkeys who had a choice of mothers spent far more time clinging to the terry cloth surrogates, even when their physical nourishment came from bottles mounted on the bare wire mothers

wire motherSomething that also came to mind was psychologist Harry Harlow, who spent much time in the 1950’s experimenting with maternal deprivation in Rhesus monkeys. In one experiment – the ‘wire mother’ isolated infant monkey were given the choice of two ‘mothers’ – a mock ‘mother’ made from wire with a feeding bottle attached, and a soft cloth covered ‘mother’ with no bottle

Monkeys in these experiments showed just how importance comfort and touch. In a similar experiment, monkeys who only had access to the soft ‘mother’ behaved normally when scared – holding the soft cloth and calming down from a sudden fright. Monkeys with the wire ‘mother’ behaved strikingly differently – screaming and rocking themselves much the same as autistic children when scared

While the experiments of Harry Harlow mostly concern the vital importance of nurture for emotional development, the importance of texture when it comes to emotion and relaxation stays with us as we grow, and is central to the connection with infant memories that I am considering in my design.

I also found an interesting essay specifically about the relationship between touch and memory.

Student Essay

In it, the author talks about his research into the subject, and the theory that hand-made or natural textures trigger or hold memories for us far better than synthetic materials or p[plastic. This could link back to the monkey experiment – warm, rough, natural textures hold strong emotional memories from infancy, as they link back to the touch of the ‘mother’

Because of this, the author suggested that natural materials such as wood, sand, grass or wool could be used in common meeting places to help form future memories and associations, such as cafe decor, flooring or accessories that are most often touched during a visit.

there are several applications of this idea that I would also be interested in looking into

  • A Memory Box – in the shape of- or made from natural materials such as wood or stone
  • Alzheimer’s Assistance – a memory box of some kind, being made from memorable materials and containing key trinkets could help with recollection for Alzheimer’s sufferers
  • Dolls or Collectablespatchwork materials, such as in a patchwork quilt, could even be designed to be written on, or signed
  • The Family Tree – an item that works as a family tree could have far more impact or nostalgia if made from old or meaningful materials – could also have a customisable way of adding new branches (ie. charm bracelet)





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