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Virtual Answer Machine

Conventional home answering machines are awkward to use for a number of reasons. It is difficult to see at a glance who has called and who the messages are for. It is cumbersome to navigate through the messages, and to save and forward them. In this project we ask what would happen if voice messages were made visible to imbue them with many properties they currently don't have.

Our first design is called the 'Bubble Board' and is a touchscreen designed to be attached to the kitchen wall for family messaging. It is another example of a person-to-place messaging allowing friends and family members to 'call the kitchen' and leave messages for all and anyone in a household (see also HomeNote).

Bubble Board uses the metaphor of water bubbles to visualise speech. When a voice message is left, a bubble is created floating to the top of the screen. As time passes, they slide down to the bottom of the screen. Alternatively they can be dragged to the plug hole to be deleted. Within the bubble, an image of the person leaving the message is also shown. How many messages there are, who they are from and when they were left can therefore be seen at a glance.

An additional affordance of Bubble Board is that messages can be dragged to the side of the screen so that they can be left for other people, saved or otherwise drawn attention to.

Bubble Board will be deployed in local households in the upcoming months so that we can fully explore the affordances of this new take on an old communications genre.


Richard Harper
Abigail Sellen
Richard Banks
Tim Regan