In Hackney (northeast London), there is a community of elders who gather at a computer learning centre. Rosie, Josh, Paula, Matthew, Carlos... This is a diverse and vibrant group of people.

My team and I spent over a month observing and interacting with these elders to find a creative solution.

  1. SOCIAL:  These elders come to the centre to avoid being alone.
  2. TECHNOLOGICAL: They also wish to avoid being excluded from the digital world, but the "intangible" aspect of digital interactions is extremely difficult for them to grasp. 
  3. CULTURAL: Hackney’s recent gentrification has been changing its landscape.

How do we empower these elders in the digital age, and restore their vitality when they feel alienated by their own neighbourhood?

We learned that music has a profound effect on these elders. Certain songs re-kindled their past memories, which gave them energy and stories to share. In fact, it turns out that Hackney had been built on refugees and immigrants sharing their native music on the streets. 

In such context, they had become a generation robbed of its past, and my team was looking for ways to fill the void by considering the following challenges. 

  • Make music communal again
  • Avoid alienating the elders with complex digital technology
  • Maximise tangible interactions
  • Encourage Hackney to share, interact and become one again

We thought about the emotional and social experience that music brings, and identified three scopes of conversations that music can create.

We then designed Tumble, a hand-held music box that plays three playlists that correspond to the three scopes above. It plays music only through speakers, rather than headphones, and its controls are purely gestural. 


When we brought in the prototype, they immediately held it tight in their hands, and even added visual expressions on the surfaces to make their Tumble cubes their own. 

I was a part of a ‘perfect team’ made up of an ever-friendly videographer, a left-brained strategist, a trouble maker who just want to see the world burn, an introverted artist with the most poetic ideas, and me - their mum. 

The project was awarded ‘Highly Recommended’ by Blackberry.

See the full story here.