For the University of Washington Undergraduate Design Methods course, our four-person group was assigned to look at purposeful tunes and explore how music can contribute to health and wellness. Our group was specifically interested in how impactful connections can be strengthened with music and how musically connected memories can increase mental wellness. We approached this design research course by retrieving feedback from surveys and interviews, ideating, adapting, seeking out critique, requesting more feedback, and then finally by prototyping and using user feedback to improve our prototype and create our final product.
Over the course of several days, we shared an online survey and collected responses from participants of varying ages to understand the general relationship between listening habits and life experiences across generations. Building on their responses, we selected participants and invited them to elaborate further and provide specific examples of memories and experiences with music in their families.
We began this in-depth user research by surveying participants with questionnaires, mind mapping & storytelling exercises, and graffiti walls. We placed a focus on relationships with music and memories because this was our desired area of inquiry. We reached out to people in our community and we found that difficulties specifically with sharing music are a universal experience. It has proven difficult for family members with generational gaps to share music with one another because of the social and emotional distance that comes with age differences and because of the varying forms of technology different generations grow accustomed to. We learned that music sharing is significant to families because of its ability to build relationships based on shared personal memories and exchange experiences. We found that almost every participant had a specific memory tied back to a genre, artist, or individual song demonstrating how powerful the connection between music and memory can be.
From this process of ideating and adapting, we took away that differences in life experiences, lack of conversation, and physical distance can all result in a disconnect between generations. We also developed evidence to show that music is a key part of our identity, contributing to how we perceive and relate to one another through experiences. This makes purposeful tunes an impactful and widely applicable research topic, providing much room for areas of improvement. We have observed that the music-listening experience is built into almost every individual’s life however every individual’s relationship with this experience and way of approaching music-listening varies.
Initially, we had expected to create an object or experience that would connect people. However, through discussions with research participants, we found a common issue that arose among young adults, teens, and parents of older generations was the ability to feel connected and understood by one another through music. Over time a lot of different forms of technology have been released and updated to allow the music listening experience to be improved. As a result, a lot of families have trouble sharing music with each other. We didn’t expect to receive so many notes of parents and grandparents not being able to send music or listen to music they received from their younger generations but once we identified this large problem area we were able to decide on the direction we wanted to move forward with for our research.
We also were surprised by the unnecessary complexity we began to realize a lot of music-sharing platforms and devices suffer from. After deciding that our product is a physical listening object we began to draft prototypes of the visual interface. However, when meeting with our participants we noticed a lot of individuals pointed out how they preferred simplicity in buttons to complicated voice commands and applications on their smartphone devices. This pushed us to move in the direction of simple dials and sliders and challenged us not to overcomplicate the actions our device would require. As a result for our final product, we aimed to have simplified buttons and dials with easily understandable visual cues. We also included a physical slider as the send button because we noticed a lot of our users found the pushing of buttons to be too repetitive and found it helpful to have a physically different motion for the final action needed to send a message.
When considering the element of our product and what we wanted it to accomplish in the end, we kept in mind the storytelling aspect that all our participants shared along with their preferences in music listening and sharing. Rather than simply stating, “Prince is my favorite artist” we received answers such as “Prince is my favorite artist because my mom showed them to me on our road trip to Los Angeles last summer and we listened to all of her favorite albums of his”. These personal moments which are so easily connected via “melodic memories” is why we took our product in the direction that we did and why the intention of Melodic Memo is to bridge the generational gap which exists within music sharing today.
Created by Leela Aji, Iris Eden Sizemore, Kenneth Tran, & Jessy Irvine
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