ListeningCups: a set of 3D printed porcelain cups embedded with datasets of everyday ambient sounds. During a one-week pilot project, a ceramic artist and an interaction design researcher collaborated to explore meaning making around everyday data (sound in our case). We developed a workflow to capture data, prepare datasets, transcribe data from decibels to G-code, and create a set of 3D printed porcelain cups which represent this data in a textural and tactile form. We discuss how our work also included aesthetic investigative practices as well as data accidents. We conclude by contributing two concepts—data tactility and data stories—that can serve as starting points for designers, artists, or researchers interested in the inter-section of materiality, data, fabrication, and ceramics.
Listening cups give data a highly tactile and familiar shape to spur imagination, memory, and reflection of data.
We were curious about trends of sound levels over time and how much sound changed over the course of a day. For the purpose of the design residency, we recorded short clips of ambient audio data that could represent different audio spaces and times.
We used a 48 sided polygon instead of a circle, to create a more controlled set of points that could be modified by the sound data.
Step 3. The data are cleaned to keep only the actions or phrases, and timestamps, removing other meta data. For example, here are data from a voice assistant. We see how the participant asked the voice assistant to translate phrases between English and French, they asked the temperature in Paris, change the volume, and set and stopped a timer.
Step 4. If the data are numerical, we create a visual graph of the data over the period of a month. Here, thermostat data shows temperature ranging from 64 F to 84 F during the month of March.
Step 5. The data are sent to a fiction writer, who reads and interprets the data to write a short fiction story. The writer can choose to integrate the data however they want in the story. With voice data, they may include them verbatim. With numerical data, they may look for trends or outliers as inspiring narrative points.
Step 6. We typeset the story into a small booklet.
We used a Potterbot7 to 3d print the cups.
Our process involved translating decibel levels to bumps on the cups. To produce the bumps, we edited the G-code to insert pauses. Pausing the printer's movement allowed for more clay to come out of the nozzle. Longer pauses created larger bumps.
Our work contributes a starting point to discuss how data stories are crafted through subjectivity in the making process and in the imaginative ways people engage with the data physicalizations.
Since the pilot was completed (September 2018), we have been living with the cups. They have been in our homes, our studios, and our offices.
Experimenting with different nozzles, layer heights, clay humidity, and pause lengths, turned out to be an integral part to our creative and craft process. Data tactility is contingent on the material, tools, and processes of making.