Family Rituals - Family Three

September 2013 - September 2015

electronics, software, bespoke design, ethnography, openlab

Family Three is David, Irene and their two teenage children Rikard and Rebecca, and Charlie the family cat. The family home is in Northern Sweden where Irene works as an IT manager; David works in Sheffield as a lecturer and returns home at the end of each academic semester. Whilst in England, David lives in a small town close to his parents and brother, making a daily commute on the train to Sheffield. David, Irene, Rikard and Rebecca are one of the five families we worked with in the Family Rituals 2.0 study.

We designed and built a bespoke technology for David, Irene, Rikard and Rebecca that would create moments of reflection for them; allowing us to talk about their work/life balance and their attitudes to working away from home. We framed this around the everyday rituals of the home, which are missed in this separation.

We got to know David, Irene, Rikard and Rebecca through interviews and the materials they generated from a set of cultural probes. David told us that he has two homes; one in the UK, where he works (his "work-home") and one in Sweden, (his "home-home"). We saw how the family made heavy use of technologies, particularly video Skype, to stay in daily contact. They reflected on how the housework and shopping is shared when David is home and when is away.

It's just like a burden is lifted from our shoulders [when Dad is home]. We have less responsibility for the house, which is quite nice to have (Rikard)

I would say when he's coming home, they are in a way in a holiday. It's really noticeable going from two grownups to one. It's really noticeable the amount of work that's really split between the two of us. Even though if you're two of you, you can think about sometimes, well, I do most and he's not going to do nothing. Then you realize when he's not around, a lot of things that he usually does do, and you don't think about it. It's really noticeable, that is, to be one instead of two. (Irene)

We became interested in how the patterns of daily life continue in these two spaces and how this changes when they are together. Mischievously, we wondered how we might allow David to contribute to the daily chores in Sweden whilst away. We began to develop sketches based on an adapted Roomba, the commercially available robot vacuum cleaner. We decided to make David's daily travel routines apparent through the behaviour of the vacuum.

Connecting Through Housework transforms David's movements when in the UK into the movements of the robot vacuum cleaner in Sweden - a kind of digital possession. David carries a mobile device that measures his speed by GPS. When he walks at a leisurely pace, the robot moves silently around the house. When his speed increases by taking some form of transportation, the robot begins to clean the house. When he returns to his "work-home" the vacuum seeks out its recharging station. In this way it reveals the pattern of David's activities and potentially contributes to the housework.

Both the robot and mobile device share a colour display language. This communicates states such as a low battery or the lose of a data connection, but also a representation of David's location. The colour for a location is calculated based on the HSV colour wheel, where the compass bearing to home determines the hue; and the distance from home the saturation. A location directly north from home will be shown as red. When close to home the colour be white, when further away it becomes more saturated. In this way different places have recognisably different colours, without revealing a precise location.

David's device is an Android phone that running custom software measuring his speed by GPS, communicating this across the Internet to the vacuum. The vacuum is a modified Roomba 650 controlled by an Arduino Yun and custom PCB which connects to the home WiFi network and uses the iRobot Serial Interface to control the the Roomba's behaviour. We use to operate behind the home router.

Displayed at the London Design Festival (September 2015).

This was developed at Open Lab, Newcastle University in collaboration with the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the Royal College of Art, as part of the Family Rituals 2.0 project funded by the EPSRC.

Ethnography: Paulina Yurman, David Chatting.
Design: David Chatting, Paulina Yurman, David Kirk.
Fabrication: Paulina Yurman, David Chatting.
Electronics and Software: David Chatting, Diana Nowacka.
Film: David Green, David Chatting (with thanks to Dan Jackson).