CHALLENGE:To conceive, fund and build an digital interactive art experience exploring anonymous human connection between the UK and India
1 WEB PLATFORM
TO VISUALISE THE DATA
1 iOS APP
TO HOST THE INTERACTIONS
TO EXPLORE THE INTERACTIONS
TO SHARE YOUR LIFE WITH A STRANGER
WHAT IS DUET?
Duet is a year-long interpersonal experience hosted through an iOS app, which facilitates an anonymous conversation between strangers in India and the UK.
It is an artistically motivated collaboration between Quicksand and Invisible Flock (an interactive art studio), funded by the British Council.
The project arose from a mutual fascination with technology's disruptive presence in our lives. We hypothesised that by stripping a layer away and reverting to anonymous text, a deeper connection would occur.
When I joined Quicksand in 2015, through previous editions of it's festival of cross-disciplinary collaboration, Unbox, the studio had already established a relationship with the UK-based interactive art studio, Invisible Flock.
Aware of upcoming British Council grant funding available for India/UK cross-cultural collaborations, we were eager to explore the idea of anonymous connection using technology. In effect, our idea was to reinvent the 'pen-pal' for the digital age.
This was a fairly unconventional design challenge, fulfilling no obvious commercial need, but rather exploring the potential of everyday modern technologies for artistic purposes.
I joined a lean team of three (interaction design, business strategy and technology) at Quicksand, and each of us were deeply involved in all stages of development. I represented expertise in interaction design, and content strategy.
At Invisible Flock, the team rotated in smaller numbers between their four full-time staff (visual designer, author, technologist and project manager).
PROOF OF CONCEPT & FUNDING // The challenge of taking the idea from thought to action through prototyping to secure grant funding.
PRODUCT MANAGEMENT & LEAN UX // The challenge of envisioning a user flow, and managing the development of the app using 3rd party developers.
BRANDING, PR & LAUNCH // The challenge of securing enough publicity and interest to ensure the project satisfied the grant conditions.
At the outset of the project, we were armed only with an idea that had been discussed. We needed funding, but initally were only able to give a certain amount of time to the projects as a cultural exploration for the studio.
We began to map out what would be needed for us to a) build a digital experience b) to script a year of engaging content c) to consider how to present ways to interact with the data using technology.
Agreeing that we would need to build a entire platform (web app and iOS app), to ensure complete control over the data, we began to sketch user flows through the system. Meanwhile our technologists began to prototype a version of our backend database.
We needed to ensure that a given user experienced a personal connection with another, but also needed the data to be uniform for installations. We decided that the app should be structured as a twist on a simple messaging app.
Two anonymous users - one from each country - would be paired automatically, and in turn both would respond to one question released by the app per day for a year. Our idea was that over the course of the year, prompted by our carefully chosen questions, the users would get to know one another in an more intimate way than usual.
The team set up a WhatsApp channel to share and trial new questions to use, whilst we considered what kind of narrative arc would keep our users engaged for a whole year.
With our ideas fleshed out, we build a proposal and sent it to cultural institutions in the UK and India. We secured grant-funding from the British Council to fund the development, and commissioned an Indian app development company to build a prototype.
Whilst the app was being built, simultaneously our team would share wireframes of the platform with developers and visual assets. We built a closed testing bed of users to fine-tune the content, and test for bugs.
Once the web platform and mobile app had been launched and were slowly building traction, we knew that the public installations would cement the success of the project.
Within the constraints of our budget our team managed to travel with Arduino controlled LED panels between India and London to install displays in public spaces.
These would surface anonymous responses occurring on the platform in real-time, allowing people to watch connections unfold with a global perspective.
Duet is live, and has completed six of seven planned interactive art installations in both India and the UK - most recently at MozFest in London.
At the time of writing, the platform currently has over 800 users.
"By removing agency through anonymity the power behind the words exchanged has the ability to move you."