Digital Portraits


Digital portraits is a workshop process developed to explore the presentation of self using digital media. Participants are given portrait packs with inspiration tokens to generate ideas on the things that are valuable in their lives, including objects, places, people and sensory experiences. Participants then take part in workshops to create short video portraits using collage, photography, sound, music and words. Workshops were initially developed with an international women’s centre in the UK for women experiencing domestic violence to explore experiences that were important as they were moving on and re-building their lives. Short videos were made as a way of both imagining and expressing how individuals wanted their lives to be in the future and both shared in groups and taken home to discuss with family members.


Photo-parshiya: Digital photo-album


Parshiya is an ancient word that means to be part of a group, family, community, or collective. The photo-parshiya is a digital photo-album designed to support the sharing of cultural heritage in an international women’s centre in the UK. It can be held like a book and is portable or can be docked as a double touch screen tablet display on a bespoke crafted wooden base. Learners who come to the centre have made individually designed necklaces that reflect aspects of their identities. These necklaces are networked with the tablet displays to create personalized photo-collections and have been used to accompany workshops exploring women’s heritage and migration stories. In using the photo-parshiya, many women have described how this has supported greater feelings of pride, confidence and curiosity in using digital technology to share their cultural heritage with others.


Spheres of Wellbeing

The Spheres of Wellbeing are a set of artefacts specifically designed for a group of six women who live in the medium secure services of a forensic hospital in the UK.

These women present a very vulnerable group due to the severity of their mental health problems, extremely challenging behaviors and their motivational difficulties to engage in therapeutic treatment. The Spheres are designed to promote the mental wellbeing of the women and to help them in the learning and practice of vital skills of their specialist treatment Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).

The Spheres of Wellbeing or Spheres constitute three artefacts: the Mindfulness Sphere, Calming Sphere and Identity Sphere.

The Mindfulness Sphere was conceived to cultivate awareness by externalizing an inner sensation of the body, the heartbeat, and how it unfolds moment by moment. This Sphere is designed to have the appearance of a crystal ball and is made from transparent resin. Small copper disks are safely attached to its left- and right-hand-sides that upon touch senses the person’s heartbeat and translates it into a visual representation through 6 multicolor LEDs that fade-in and fade-out with every heartbeat.

The Calming Sphere was purposely designed as a simple, non-digital bracelet that can be used as non-secular worry beads, which the women can hold on to and use for self-distraction when they feel nervous or anxious.

The Identity Sphere aims to strengthen the women’s sense of self by promoting a more positive self-perception and raising their self-esteem. The artefact takes the form of a leather purse that safely encases technology. This Sphere is activated by pressing the button at the top of the purse, which causes it to recognize QR codes that are embedded at the centre of Mandala images and trigger the playback of short personalized videos on the screen inside. The videos are co-created with each woman to reflect their individual interests and represent enjoyable and meaningful experiences,   as   well   as  to   reference  other people who are of personal significance to them.

While the design concepts had been primarily informed by hospital staff and the literature, the importance to also actively and sensitively involve the women into a co-design of their artefacts became very apparent. The design specifications of the Spheres therefore make the starting point in a creative process, whereby each woman contributes to a personalised design of her Spheres through a series of creative activities with the researcher.


Tales of I

Tales of I is a installation developed in collaboration with an adult mental health and learning disability development unit. Many residents of the unit have chronic dementia, and the room is intended to help trigger pleasant memories. Tales of I consists of two bespoke pieces of furniture, a wall cabinet and a television cabinet. The wall cabinet holds seven small, themed, resin globes that encase colourful images and sculptures. Each globe has a RFID tag on its base. The television unit has a RFID reader in the top of it, so that when users place a globe on the television, it plays a short film relating to the theme of the globe.

There is also an “All About Me” aspect to the project, in that staff at the unit can create personal films for individual residents. We created this to be an extension of the existing staff practice of making books for each resident, which contain scanned photographs and details of the resident’s life. These are used to de-escalate situations when residents are upset, as they enable discussion of comforting, familiar aspects of residents’ lives.

Part of the Social Inclusion through the Digital Economy (SiDE) project.

See the entry for the Reminiscence Room on the SiDE website.


Designing Technology to Support Mental Wellbeing

Many therapies available to combat mental health problems such as clinical depression, borderline personality disorder or dementia are intended to combat negative symptoms. For this PhD, we posit that we can complement these existing healthcare practices with digital technology that will encourage positivity as well as diminish negativity. For example, we could support individuals while they are coping with emotional distress, help them form and maintain positive interpersonal relationships, foster a sense of self and identity, and motivate engagement in activities that make life meaningful.


The research involves a number of projects, including:

• Thinking Objects, an investigation into how the handling of ancient artefacts can be beneficial to people’s wellbeing. This will inform aspects of the design of other interactive artefacts to promote wellbeing.
Spheres of Wellbeing, a collection of objects intended to help users engage in practices of mindfulness, tolerate emotional distress and strengthen their sense of self, to be created in a participatory design process with women who have the dual diagnosis of learning disability and Borderline Personality Disorder.

Start Date: October 2010

Project supervisor: Thomas Meyer (Institute of Neuroscience), Patrick Olivier and Peter Wright

Co-supervisors: Jayne Wallace (Northumbria University) and Siân Lindley (Microsoft Research Cambridge)

Funding: Microsoft Research, SiDE

Quantifying Human Motion for Medical Applications

Often, high accuracy activity recognition can be performed using relatively simple methods, such as through the use of sensors like accelerometers and gyroscopes. This means that activity segmentation, meaning the extraction of continuous sequences of a specific activity, is readily available for many applications. However, so far there has been relatively little work into the detailed analysis of these segments, in spite of the benefits information about the way people perform could offer for many different domains and applications, in particular medicine.

The main aim of this PhD project, therefore, is to develop and investigate suitable methods that will allow for the quantifying of differences in motor performance, as observed through the use of body-worn and pervasive sensors. Working closely with people with Parkinson’s Disease, we intend to apply and evaluated these methods in order to develop suitable outcome measures for motor deficiencies such as Bradykinesia and Dyskinesia.

Sundroids: Energetic Workshops


Sundroids was a series of workshops developed with secondary schools to explore solar electronic kits and kinetic sculpture. A design team of artists, engineers, and education researchers from University of Bremen, and Culture Lab worked together with a sustainable environmental and arts education facility in rural County Durham between June and October 2010. Existing and re-designed kits were trailed, used and adapted by secondary schools to incorporate into the Art and Design curriculum to promote discussion and creative exploration on sustainable energy and the natural environment.


My Great North Run

The Great North Run is the largest half marathon in the world, and has been taking place in the North East of England every year since 1981. To celebrate thirty years of the Run, the Great North Museum ran an exhibition called “In the Long Run”, open to the public between July and October 2010. We developed a multimodal installation to be deployed as part of the exhibition.

My Great North Run interactive

The intention behind the installation was to capture, share and celebrate the diverse ways people have taken part in the event throughout the years. It consisted of a nine-metre table containing thirteen touch-screens, one for every mile of the Run. Visitors could explore preloaded stories and photographs from runners who had taken part in every year of the run. The purpose of this was to both celebrate the runners’ individual achievements and encourage visitors to add their own stories, drawings and messages using the digital (Anoto) pens and pads provided. People could also view the content of and contribute to the exhibit from home using an accompanying website; all new content loaded onto the site could be explored on the interactive installation and vice versa. By the time the exhibition had finished its run, the installation had extensively archived the experiences of runners through the years, having received over 12,000 submissions from around 100,000 visitors.

Date: March 2010 – Oct 2010

Funding: OneNorthEast £30,000

Researchers: Patrick Olivier (PI), Areti Galani (CI) – School of Arts & Cuture , Rachel Clarke, Tom Bartindale, John Shearer

Collaborators: SiDE: Social Inclusion through the Digital Economy, RCUK Digital Economy, Bupa Great North Run Culture Programme, Tyne and wear Archives and Museums, Great North Museum: Hancock.

Press release: In the long run: thirty years of Great North Running

See My Great North Run entry on the SiDE Website.

[mendeley type=”folder” id=”8070971″ groupby=”year” filter=”title=Bridging the Gap: Implementing Interaction Through Multi-user Design”]

Lovers’ Box

The Lovers’ Box is a digital artefact designed to engage couples in reflections on their relationship. Users open their personalised wooden box with a key that they then place on an RFID reader inside to play a recorded message. This can be anything the couples want: a video, a slideshow, an audio message and so on.

We conducted a field study involving five couples. We asked the ten people to exchange personal audio and video messages with their partner using the Lovers’ box over the course of five weeks. We discovered that the box became meaningful to participants: many perceived it as a keepsake or digital storybook of their meaningful experiences, enjoyed sharing it with their partner as a hobby, and saw it as providing them a snapshot into their partner’s mind and thoughts. This suggested that a regular positive exchange of intimate and personally meaningful content through the interaction with the box could support people’s emotional wellbeing.

Date: April 2009 – July 2010

Researcher: Anja Thieme

Collaborators: Prof. Nicole Krämer (University of Duisburg-Essen).

Part of the Social Inclusion through the Digital Economy (SiDE) project.

See the entry for Lovers’ Box on the SiDE website.

[mendeley type=”folder” id=”8070971″ groupby=”year” filter=”title=Lovers’ Box”]

[mendeley type=”folder” id=”8070971″ filter=”title=Digital Artifact in Different Contexts”]