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Collaboration with Ning Ren, Qinru Shi, Wanting Chen, Wanying Zhang

The group project explored the cultural and technical implications of developing solutions that integrate digital network technologies with established design methodologies. I played the role of ‘thinker’ to contribute ideas to the group and ‘maker’ to produce the final artefact. The artefact, the Vanishing Echo turntable, introduces the concept of a dualism between the material and immaterial nature of things that has previously meant that material objects were separate from their data. The project applied an empirical method from a framework used by designers working with data: to design from, with and by data.





The project started from a data context. The National Trust for Scotland (NTS)  provided their Species Records Database to the design group, involving the distribution of species information based on occurrence records and changes in their population over time. The measurable features were focused on by the group as starting points to inspire ideas. By analysing the distribution of animal species in Edinburgh, the group found that Holyrood Park is a remarkable landscape which demonstrates a diversity of species. As a result, the group chose the species of Holyrood Park as the theme to investigate.


Visualisation of spieces data

The group analysed the recorded data of different classes of species in Holyrood Park taken from the database. The results show that birds are the largest group of animals in the park and molluscs and mammals are also a considerable group in the park. The group raised the hypothesis that these three classes of species might often be seen by visitors and attract their attention.



The group visited Holyrood Park to observe the visitors in order to understand their identities and behaviours. The designers walked around the park and documented the visitors using photographs. The group also interviewed some staff members from Holyrood Park. From the interviews, the group found that the most attractive animals in the park are birds, which include the rarest species in the park. The staff in the park state that there are a great many birdwatchers who come to the park as it boasts some habitats that are not typically found in the city. Staff members also pointed out that the visitors might not always see the animals but they are highly likely to hear them.


Photos taken during the observation and interview

Based on analysis of the observation, the group made personas to present the identities, habits and behaviours of the visitors. The five personas represented five main categories visitors to Holyrood Park.
There is a visitor centre in Holyrood Park which has potential to be a place where visitors interact with data. From the personas, the group identified that the audience of the project might be bird watchers, parents with children and all visitors who visit the park for the first time.

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From human-centred research, the group find that the birds in Holyrood Park might represent a design opportunity. The group further explored the bird data in the NTS species database. By comparing two official red lists (lists of birds who are globally threatened and severely declining in the UK) provided by the staff in Holyrood Park, the group filtered out five rare birds that have declined dramatically in the last 20 years from the NTS database: Skylark, Merlin, Ring Ouzel, Scaup and Lesser Redpoll. As mentioned during the interviews, even the rangers only see these species once or twice. Based on the occurrence records, the group visualised their distributions on the map of Holyrood Park. Finally, the group decided to ppresent the information of these five spiceces on the discs.

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The Vanishing Echo record player is an installation artefact designed to help people learn about endangered birds through auditory effects in the information centre. The vinyl discs record the sounds of five nationally-endangered species, whose numbers have reduced in recent years. With RFID technology built into the player, users could listen the voice of each piece and mix all the species’ voices together.

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The Vanish Echo record player provides visitors with an auditory experience of the environment of five endangered birds which are widely distributed in the park. Users place the vinyl disc on the record player to listen to the warbles of each species and can mix birdsongs together.

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Video introducing the artefact



The record player was tested by users at an exhibition at the Edinburgh College of Art. It streamed the usage data online through Wi-Fi. The usage data shows how many birdsongs have been mixed together over time. Designers could therefore take into account the flows of data through systems and the need to sustain and enhance human values in order to modify the design such as the layout of the disc and the number of discs placed on the table according to the live data.


The protype presented at show


Visitors interated with the prototype at the show


The usage data collected by the prototype in a day



In the future development of the project, it will not be only an artefact but a system. In the system, the data will replace humans as the designer to decide on the image on the disc and the sounds. In the circular system, objects are shaped by data rather than human beings. The system could apply to any visitor centre in a nature park with precious bird species.

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During the final show, most visitors gave positive feedback. However, there were still a few issues that appeared. A tutor noticed that some lights are hidden under the tonearm when they move it back to the original position, which makes it inconvenient for the user to get feedback from the lights. She also suggested that speakers could be embedded in the record player to fit the setting of being displayed in visitor centre. Some people folded two discs once on the player, which might disturb the RFID reader. These problems could be avoided by redesigning the spindle.

The project applied practical design methods of working with data and demonstrated data’s role in design. Designing from data helps designers to see when the use of established ethnographic and design methods for gathering data is required. Designing with data enables designers to know if the sustained flows of data require a design. Designing by data, which turns data into designers, allows data to replace designers to make decisions in designing objects and services.

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