Tool Stories: Music Box

Supporting interaction

The second of our Tool Stories series features a tool made one of our design researchers, Jeroen Blom.

He was part of the team working on The Box project, which aimed to develop a flexible and creative way in which to make the delivery of therapy-based musical interactions achievable for all, regardless of musical ability. Initiated by BW & FM Sherret Ltd, a company based in Nairn, The Box project was supported technically and creatively by the University of the Highlands and Islands and The Glasgow School of Art, working in partnership.

The Experience Labs team visited a primary school unit for children with various complex needs, as well as a children’s hospice. Various musical interaction tools were created, one of which was a music box that played four different sounds – drums, guitar, bells and organ – with the tone changing depending on how hard the coloured pads were pressed.

Music box

One of the musical devices made for The Box project. Image credit: Hannah Laycock.

Here, Jeroen tells the InDI blog how the tool was used by the children:

“Some of the children couldn’t move any limbs but because the object vibrates, a parent can put it on a leg or an arm, or the tummy, and press it. Since there is a clear link between sound and vibration, the children understand that if someone does something to it, it vibrates and that’s what you feel and that’s what you hear.

“The shape seemed suitable because it’s a nice shape for two people to hold.  Using different colours was something that came from the observations done before. Clearly the children like the visual stimuli so different colours means different things.

“As a thing to support and trigger interaction, the musical tool worked really well. We gave it to them and said if you press that it makes sounds and it will vibrate and they understand that. There’s nothing more to it but they were still using it for 10 or 15 minutes because they liked the vibration and they liked to do something to each other or with each other. That was a real sign that even though that particular musical tool is a very simple thing and not going to be an end solution, it’s already something that people value for their own interaction.

“There were two little girls who didn’t have any motor skills or any verbal interaction. It was difficult for me to read in them how they were feeling. But I saw their eyes light up at some points, particularly with the bell sound that they liked a lot. When their mum figured that out, she just kept closer and kept playing with the bell sound.

“It’s up to the people to find the real meaning in the interaction and the girls looked at it and smiled: it’s those meaningful moments that you want your tool to offer. You can then see what they respond to and that’s what you want to focus more on in the next iteration.”

Music device components

The music device and its various components. Image credit: Hannah Laycock


You can find out more about the work of our Design Innovation researchers here.

Tool Stories: Swallows

Capturing conversations

Design researcher Leigh-Anne Hepburn is the first to pick a tool from the Experience Labs for our Tool Stories series.

Leigh-Anne led the recent Crossreach Confidential Connections project. Crossreach is a charity providing counselling services across Scotland. Their main centres are in the central belt, although they have outreach posts in other areas, including the Highlands and Islands, and Moray. Due to increasing demand for perinatal depression counselling, Crossreach wishes to consider opportunities for using digital technology to deliver services.

The Labs explored the experience of counselling, from the perspective of both people experiencing perinatal depression and counsellor. Participants’ experiences were recorded using specially designed tools bearing the image of a swallow.

Here, Leigh-Anne describes the tool and the effect it had on participants.

Design researcher Leigh-Anne Hepburn with swallow cards

Design researcher Leigh-Anne Hepburn with some of the items from the CrossReach project. Image credit: Hannah Laycock.

“For Crossreach, we were looking for something that represented a journey. We came up with the idea of the swallow.

“It has a lot of cultural interpretations. It’s used in seafaring – sailors used to get tattoos for every 5,000 miles of a journey. But there are also other interpretations: freedom, motherhood, faith, steadiness and lifelong partnership. Those interpretations fitted in quite well with the Crossreach values and about that journey through a counselling experience.

“We laser-cut swallow tags and while participants were sharing their experiences, we used the swallows to capture conversations. The swallows were hung in a row so that as well as people sharing, their stories were visualised. Everything that went up on the line became shared knowledge.

“We asked both groups, health professionals and past service users, to map their journey of experience through the counselling service. We used the swallows to map the points of interaction with the service and what it felt like for them. The swallows represented each point of their journey.

“As well as acting as a prompt to begin conversations and sharing of experiences, the tool worked to break down barriers. Because the Crossreach project tackled a very sensitive topic, it was often challenging for participants. This was perhaps the first time they had recounted their own personal experience. They were going back to a point in their lives that was challenging and something they hadn’t revisited in a long time.

“I feel the tools enabled them to do that in a much more careful and considered way.”

Swallow templates Crossreach

Participants filled in the swallow templates and hung them on a line. Image credit: Hannah Laycock

Read more about the Experience Labs on our Research pages.