Category Archives: Captivating Memories

Sensory Cushion Final Design


memories a3Sensory Cushion final design

The final Design for the Captivating Memories brief. The cushion was designed to be used by adults as well as babies. The shape of the hand is molded to the shape of a human body, with the thumb there for the feeling of hugging someone, and the little finger positioned to hug the person back. For babies, the end of the finger can be wrapped around, clipping onto the thumb using a stud for efficiency. This creates the perfect cradle shape, with the baby supported by the sides of the hand. The fingers curve up on a slight incline, making it comfortable to sleep on without hurting the neck, and helping to sooth babied with colic and other respiratory problems.

Inspired by the many variations of LED cushions on the market, and the beneficial soothing qualities of this kind of soft, shifting light on infants, I decided to include it as a feature of the design. LEDs inside the cushion are powered by a small removable battery pack, and they help to set a relaxed, contemplative mood, perfect for the recreation of memories of youth


Captivating Memories – concepts


I had many different ideas that I really like when thinking about an object to inspire or capture memories, so to help me finally decide on which one I think has the most potential, I placed my 3 main ideas next to each other to compare side by side

conceptual proposalsConceptual proposals

In my earlier designs the focus was more on the texture of the object – I loved the idea of using rough wood as a way of either ingraining a memory into that texture, or inspiring a memory of a previous experience. However, I do feel that the hand cushion has more potential, both as a sale-able item and as a practical object

Clay Prototype


cushion clay prototype

While developing my idea for a hand cushion that simulates a hug, I ran across some trouble with scale and proportion. I wanted the hand shape to be softened and moulded to the shape of a sleeping person for comfort. However, I also wanted to include a way for the hand to be used as a cradle for babies, which in itself has it’s own design needs. I never realized how dangerous it was for babies to sleep in an inappropriate bed, what with the danger of turning and suffocating, becoming trapped under the pillow, or slipping into a dangerous position.

To help me find the right scale for the cushion, and a shape suitably molded both to adult and infant body shapes, I made a small prototype using Super Sculpey modelling clay. I included small figures of a baby and a mother in roughly the correct proportions to help me visualize the way the cushion could be used

The models helped me visualize my design, in particular the areas that need to be altered. When I was making the models, my design for the cushion was still quite large, impractically so, and the long thin fingers needed to be shortened and rounded for a more welcoming appearance. Having read about parents raising the height of a babies head to help with Colic and congestion, I decided to raise the fingertips to form a slight incline – useful for babies and comfortable for adults.

I also decided to keep the clay unbaked, as the dual use of my design is made possible by a flexible tail part that can be moved depending on the user, so I wanted to keep the model flexible. It meant that the model is rough, with new dents and fingerprints added all the time but it still works perfectly as a visual reference when drawing or modelling from unusual angles


The power of touch


As I wanted to create an object that brought back unconscious memories of childhood, I looked deeper into the work to psychologists like Harry Harlow, and his attempts to determine the cause of infant attachment to parents.

While he expected to find a link to physical need such as food, Harlow was surprised to find that the power of the comforting embrace of the mother was far more necessary to the emotional development of the monkeys than anyone had thought. The baby monkeys unconsciously use the mothers hug as a way of dealing with their environment, growing more confident and curious, and eventually relaxing into new environments happily and normally. Monkeys deprived of this resembled autistic children in their attempts  to deal with new situations.

Similar results have been found in orphanages where contact with the children was discouraged.

It was the power of this touch in human and animal development that made me consider using my hand design for a baby aswell as an adult. While it does not substitute for the hugs of the mother, feel of a hand embracing them might be beneficial for helping them sleep.



A New Direction


During a critique with my class we discussed my idea for a 3D hand sculpture, possibly containing hidden compartments, which was to be made of rough wood for added stimulation of memory. During the development of my design, I became particularly focuses on using hands and a gateway to unlocking memories. I love the idea of touching a hand made of natural materials, smooth but scarred, and being reminded of an experience that many children have – being fascinated at the aged hands of grandparents. At that age there is no judging or worry about mortality, but elderly hands are powerful – the wrinkles and scars telling the story of a life lived.

However, many people in the class felt that the detail in the hands that I wanted to fully capture these memories was perhaps too creepy to appeal to the general public, and there is a danger that any ornament would resemble a severed hand. I must make sure that in the future I am not only designing for myself.

One suggestion made was that the idea of a hand as a powerful source of memories was good, but the shapes needed to be softened and stylized if they are to avoid the realism that makes them creepy.

Incidentally, Wikipedia has a fascinating page about the Uncanny Valley effect, whereby human features are so life-like that they are almost real, but the result is often eerie to look at. Theories range about why the Uncanny Valley effect exists, ranging from natural selection (fewer faults been better genes), to fear of infection (if someone looks wrong, they could be dangerous), and there are also a few basic design guidelines to follow to avoid it, mostly centered on keeping the realism of the design to a constant throughout all elements of the design. For example, mixing realistic texture with non human proportions, or human voices with robotic characters.


Thinking about Cushions

With the feedback from my critique in mind, I decided to go back to one of my earliest designs and develop it further – a cushion that simulates a loving embrace. While furniture that hugs you back has been around for years in many different forms, I decided to keep my hand theme, and use the dormant memory within everyone of being held as a baby. There is evidence that many of the sensations that we find comforting as adults stem from situations in infancy, and I think this could be an interesting route to explore

I am hoping that the hand shape will appear softer and more appealing as a cushion that hugs.  I want the product to bring out dormant feelings in adults of childhood, or even simply to feel like a comforting embrace during lonely times.


Irelands 1st Department Store



As the object design and theme of memories was proposed by the Austins Department Store to celebrate its long historical ties to Derry, I visited the store to get some inspiration

The Department Store has a fascinating history. Its opened back in 1830 as a drapery store owned by Thomas Austin, and designed by an architect who when on to design the Guild Hall. The store is famous for its unique design inside and out, defining features include a large old wooden staircase and original lift.

It is a remarkable design, untypical of restrained Edwardian buildings, and makes the most of its wonderful corner site. Inside, the main feature was an open stair well running through the floors, topped with a fine glass atrium.

However, many of the objects for sale are wildly varied and unorganized – there is little meaning to them in the context of the historical importance of the store. One reason for this may be that having stood for more then 100 years, the store has become a mish-mash or varying styles from all different time periods.

I took reference photos of the most interesting and memorable parts of the store for me, and while some of the objects for sale are interesting, it was the textures of the staircase and wallpaper that sparked my interest

Down the years Austins has also had a large ‘family’ of loyal staff. In the 1930s, staff and apprentices lived in a dormitory above McKinlays in the Diamond, which was owned by Austins

The possibilities for memorial objects are particularly varied, as the store has stood through many important Irish events such as the famine and the Troubles, and I also found interesting details about how people lived and the technology they used that could be re-imagined to link the store to its history

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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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