Creative Assignment 2: Ambient Awareness a.k.a. Show me the Money

tl;dr: Prepare a conceptual design and realize a working prototype of an ambient object that presents online data in a physical space and that helps with financial planning/wellbeing.

Type: Collaborative

Due: Wednesday 3rd February, 10pm. No late work.

Submit to:

Team Assignments: Will be shared on Slack

Learning Objectives

As part of this assignment you’ll be asked to:


Ambient objects aim to make data glanceable. They connect us to complex information like weather and traffic in an extremely accessible format. They don’t intrude like our phones which buzz and whirr to demand attention, instead they subtly nudge us to act when we happen to glance in their direction. They are calm and they distill information from the broader world into the minimum we need to know in order to act.

At its core, ambient objects are about embodying data in the real world. They enable us to engage with digital information in a physical space. They allow us to perceive the conditions of the world beyond where we are at any moment. They are specific, purposeful, elegantly simple abstractions of data placed around us to give us value.

David Rose in Enchanted objects explains these abilities and the design process as follows:

“I see seven “abilities” that differentiate enchanted objects from smartphones and their apps. This translates into how we learn them and they learn us. Their ability to engender trust, for them to act as respectful agents of our time and attention. The most important: glanceability, gestureability, affordability, wearability, indestructibility, usability, and loveability. “ … What is the process of enchanting an object? What are the steps involved? Are there degrees of enchantment? … This five-step, organized approach to thinking and creating products will deliver on the seven abilities of enchantment… The higher the object climbs on the ladder, the more sophisticated or enchanting it becomes. Not every object need reach the top, but value can be added at each step: 1. Connection: adding sensing/sensor capabilities by connecting to the cloud. 2. Personalization: adding and leveraging personal information. 3. Socialization: adding connections to friends, loved ones, and colleagues. 4. Gamification: adding the fun and motivational elements of videogames. 5. Story-ification: adding a human narrative for the product, service, or user.

Examples of Ambient Devices

Ambient Orb

Ambient Orb

Perhaps the best example of an ambient object is the Ambient Orb. A simple 1 pixel display, it has all of these qualities. It is flexible and adaptable giving users a web-based interface to map a range of information sources to changes in light and color. For example, stock prices ups and downs are mapped into shifts from green to red.

Forecast Ambient Umbrella

Forecast Ambient Umbrella

Forecast is an umbrella with a handle that can tell you what the weather is like. It can subtly indicate if you need to take it with you when leaving the house in the morning.

Cryoscope - touchable forecasts

Cryoscope - touchable forecasts

Vitality’s [Glow Caps](

Vitality’s Glow Caps

In the same vein, Cryoscope allows you to touch the weather. It allows for simple understanding of temperature through your natural ability to determine hot and cold. The metal slab is simply heated or cooled to the desired temperature. To receive a forecast of tomorrow’s temperature, the user touches the Cryoscope—the device’s surface is cooled or heated to reflect the forecasted temperature.

Vitality’s Glow Caps connect a pill bottle to online calendars given an ambient visual cue to if you have taken your medication or if you need to

People often struggle to manage budgets with credit and debit cards because they don’t have a visible indication of how much they spend. The Proverbial Wallet can inflate or shrink your wallet to give a tangible cue to the amount of money in your bank account or can make it harder to open your wallet if you’ve gone over budget for the month.

Show-me gives a visible indication of household water consumption where it matters - in the shower. It attempts to create better water use behaviors by giving clearer indication of how much is being used when in one of the most heavy use water activities - showering. Many other examples of ambient displays create indications of energy use to better manage household spending and to encourage greener behaviors.



A whole slew of new ambient wearables and jewelry is designed to subtly alert you to things you might want to know. Ringly uses vibration and color to give you a cue to apps or notifications on your phone that are important. Cuff and Kovert are very similar

The Discrete Window “is a blind that provides visual feedback for a home-office environment about the users’ work activity. As an ambient display, The Discreet Window is a membrane that communicates the work intensity to both the home-office space and the outside. The more the user works, the less light is coming inside the room. Thus, the less visual contact there is between both sides of the window.”

Berg’s #flock is “a set of four houses, three contain colourful birds which react to Twitter triggers, the fourth is a simple clock. A new follower, a retweet or an @message will trigger one of the birds to pop out of its house, each with a different movement. Optional birdsong can accompany each action, the volume controlled with a small dial.”

Berg’s #flock

Berg’s #flock

Context / Problem Space

We have less and less money in our wallets, but we have a lot of plastic. Credit and debit cards have revolutionised how we pay for goods and services and they rank among the top inventions of the 20th century. More and more, our payments, and our financial planning is digital. Online banking, and tools like,,, Acorns, and Qapital allow us to manage, plan, save and invest with new ease. Apple Pay let’s us pay faster and more seamlessly without even using our wallet or credit cards. Not to mention entirely digital currencies like BitCoin..

This move to digital money and transactions means there’s less tangibility! Cash is a real thing. You can touch and hold it. There’s value associated with it. Credit cards and apple pay are concepts. And it turns out tangibility and physicality is a really important factor in financial decision making. For example, an MIT study in 2000 shows that those who pay with credit cards have a higher willingness to pay. Another study reports that people can spend almost 20% more using credit cards instead of cash. And they lead to increases in impulse buying. Why does this matter? Impulse buying and poor financial decisions leads to anxiety, unhappiness and general bad stuff. Financial planning is full of this stuff: wishful thinking, overconfidence in budgets, biases, misconceptions and aversions.

Can we use ambient technologies to give presence to digital money, transactions and decisions? How can calm technologies help consumer’s improve their financial decision-making, and in turn their emotional well-being?

Like the wallet above there’s lots of things we can imagine:

What would you like to design?

Project Outline

Your project is to create a device that supports ambient information awareness.

You should identify a simple money challenge and design a solution that solves it. In addition it must meet these requirements:

Hint: IFTTT makes it easy to connect to lots of online content and is really useful for ambient explorations. There’s lots of tutorials, guides, code samples and ways to access / use this data.

You are not required to create a fully implemented product prototype, but should have a working demonstration.

Your project documentation should:

Using Online Material: It is perfectly fine to use examples, code, tutorials, and things you find on the web to help you realize your project. That’s part of the open-source mentality that surrounds much of Making, Arduino and microcontrollers. However, you cannot just copy and paste these solutions. In your documentation you must acknowledge where you got this content from. Include a link to any tutorials, guides, or code that are part of your final solution.

Final Documentation:

Projects should be added to the IDeATe Gallery. You should provide a clear and concise description of your project, your process, and the outcomes. It should be quick to get an overview of the project. Ideally, your description of the outcomes should be repeatable too i.e. anyone in the class can replicate it easily from the information provided.