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We spoke to Chloe about how traditional making techniques can work with technology to improve lives.

Chloe is a designer and inventor who specialises in designing with people, rather than for them, to create social change. At the moment, she’s developing Music Memory Box for people with dementia and their families and carers and Trove, her new product especially for children in care and adopted children. Both products allow people to record their personal stories and histories, and attach them to precious objects, transforming their possession into their own private storykeepers, or allowing them to retain and share their stories and memories with others. We caught up with Chloe to find out more.

MusicMemoryBox MusicMemoryBox

Q: What’s your background?

A: I did a 3D design course at Brighton University, working with woods, metals, plastics and ceramics. It was really a hands on degree, all about making, traditional making, not much modern making, but how to make moulds and ceramics and all different materials. At the time there wasn't much technology I was interested in on the course, so I started going to Build Brighton, a hackspace in Brighton, to learn more about electronics and how to incorporate them into my work. Understanding an object and the material it's made out of and then using technology to trigger something creates lots of possibilities. There’s a lot to explore if the crafted object has technology inside it as well.

Q: Tell us about the Music Memory Box.

A: The Music Memory Box is simply a shoe box that you put your precious trinkets and objects in. You can attach a small sticker to the bottom of one of your objects, which allows the object to become musical when it's placed in the centre of the box.  So objects, music and photographs come together to trigger stories and memories for people with dementia. I was in Japan for a month over October and in CodeBase, working with the design centre Kiito; a design centre based in an old silk factory that specialises in working with the community. I was there with my Music Memory Box, working with people with dementia. I’ve just sent them a Japanese style Music Memory Box which is going to be in an exhibition for a month.

Q: What inspired you to create Music Memory Box?

A: My great-gran had dementia and I remember visiting her, she still played the piano and remembered loads of different songs but she couldn't remember day to day things. After she played a song she’d then be able to talk about a specific memory it triggered, so I saw this relationship between music and dementia. When I was at uni, there was a competition brief to design for older people so I chose dementia and then I chose specifically from my personal experience to design it around something to do with music and objects because I understood from my course about craft and the meaning of objects, so I tried to bring them together.

Q: How do you create this kind of object for people who don’t necessarily have a relationship with technology? 

A: I looked at rituals. We all store objects with memories, usually in a shoebox, that's why the Music Memory Box looks similar to a shoebox. It's just about going back into what humans do anyway naturally, for example, if you had a box in front of you, you'd normally open it. There's no screen so really it's just part of what we already do, and embedding technology but making sure it's hidden.

Q: As a designer, you tend to tackle problems the user experience point of view.  What do you think the relationship is between designing and making?

A: If you're designing anything physical, you have to understand the materials, processes and how things go together. You can't really design something if you don't understand how you're going to make it. I think the two are really interlinked. It's really important because you don't want to be designing something out of glass that is impossible to make. Also, you can get lots of ideas through the making process about how your design can change and how it can get better.

Q: Can you tell us about your other main project Trove?

A: Trove is the result of a collaboration with Debbie Watson from the University of Bristol. Based on her research with children in care and adopted children, we’re creating Trove which has been designed with a group of 6-12 year olds. Trove is a kids treasure chest sent from the future. The children who play with Trove have to look after the stories and memories within it. With Trove, children can record stories and attach them to objects. There’s a big record button which they press and then it records their voices, and they can play it back, edit or archive it. Kids collect objects anyway, but having your own voice attached to something, like a pebble or a twig, is really special. It’s really important for children in care and adopted children because they are moving around a lot and to have something, when you're struggling with your identity, that’s got all these different bits of your life is really helpful. We've just been testing it with adopted children to see how it helps them and the benefits are really positive.

Q: Both these products are very much about enabling people to tell their unheard stories. What is it about allowing people or helping people tell their own personal stories that appeals to you?

A: That's quite a difficult question. Every person's story is valuable, especially people with dementia who are starting to lose some stories and family really wanting to connect with their loved ones.  Stories are a really good way to gather people and to connect with someone and I guess that's similar with the children's stories. If you've just been adopted, your adoptive parents are trying to get to know you, trying to understand things, so Trove could help out there too. I think it's a sharing of the story.

Q: What do you think is the best way that we can tell stories through technology?

A: Everyone's telling their story constantly through loads of different platforms. I’m interested in the stories that I’ve been hearing through working with people with dementia and children. It's important for the person. No one I’m working with on these projects wants to broadcast their story, it's just really important for the family. They're getting benefit out of it from just speaking to their close family. Whilst everyone is telling their story online, maybe more physical storytelling will shape the next stage. We don't really have an emotional attachment to technology currently.  Everyone says ‘I love my iPhone, I’d be lost without it’ but it's the more the data, the photographs, all the content on it. It's not the actual physical thing. I’m interested in the actual physical thing having an emotional attachment to it, so you wouldn't just put it in a draw when it's old.

Q: Could you share a story from someone using Music Memory Box?

A:  There’s an example of a piece of music and an object coming together to trigger a story. For one man I’ve worked with - a cassette tape is one of the objects in his Music Memory Box, and picking it up sets off a particular song which reminds him of his late wife. When they were apart, they used to send each other a cassette tape and the start and end would always be this particular song. When he listens to it, he points at himself in the photograph, which before he didn’t recognise, but through this particular song he remembers himself and then can tell loads of stories about his late wife and being in the navy. But without it, if you ask him ‘who's your wife?’, he'll say ‘I’ve never had a wife’. The Music Memory Box is just another way in.

Q: What’s next for Music Memory Box and Trove?

A: My plan is to launch the Music Memory Box at a dementia show in London this summer to launch its minimum viable product. It won’t have everything that I want it to have in the long term but it’ll have enough for people to use and benefit people’s lives. I’m also hoping to put it on Kickstarter. Watch this space.

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