Designing for Slowness

The Association for Computing Machinery’s (ACM) Conference on Human Factors in Computer Systems (CHI) is an annual event where many researchers in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) meet to present novel findings and various studies. In 2014, several awards for Best Paper were distributed. One award was given for a paper entitled, Designing for Slowness, Anticipation, and Re-visitation: A Long Term Field Study of the Photobox. [1] This paper is an interesting study in which researchers placed wooden boxes containing computers and a printer in participants’ homes. These boxes had access to each participant’s Flickr archives, and would randomly select 4-5 photos from participants’ digital photo archives to print out each month at unspecified intervals. The study prompted an investigation into the ways in which individuals use the physical artifacts of photos to reflect on, and revisit experiences or periods of time that were previously captured and stored in their digital Flickr archive.

The study ultimately found that:

“Experiences of living with slow technology provoked participants to broadly reflect on the role of technology in their everyday lives. The Photobox was ultimately successful at opening up new experiences for participants with their photo collections, and in some cases, older photo curation processes emerged.” [1]

In our world today, we are inundated by the latest technologies, and digital methods which help to organize our lives. Personal planners with worn and stained pages are rarely seen and have rather been replaced by digital calendars that alert us every time an item is due. Our music collections are no longer frustrated by the scratched CD’s or damaged cassette tapes piled in our car’s center console, they are instead crammed into Gigabytes on our iPods and smartphones.  Similarly, the number of pictures that we store on our telephones and computers has grown to an enormous size. This Photobox study is an interesting process of slowing technology down and taking a moment to revert to the physical artifacts of photographs.

The process of slowing technology down is a prime opportunity for reflection. Each participant in the study was reminded of events past as photographs arrived at random intervals. As we dive into what reflection means for ourselves and for students, we can be reminded that the process of slowing technology and approaches down can be helpful. Could we promote slow reflection? Many students are used to instantaneous results or communication – gone are the days of waiting to receive a letter in the mail from a loved one – cherishing it and re-reading it until the ink smears and the letter tears. How could our approach to reflection be modified to rekindle the effects of slowed, meaningful, and purposeful reflection?

Technology has many benefits that enable incredible technology to be a part of our lives, but value remains in slowing life down to reflect on the past to inform and enrich our lives as they move ahead.

Lauren Sepp is a graduate student in the department of Human Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington. She is also a  research assistant for CPREE. (

Link to Paper:
[1] W. Odom, A. Sellen, R. Banks, D. Kirk, T. Regan, M. Selby, J. Forlizzi and J. Zimmerman, “Designing for Slowness, Anticipation, and Re-visitation: A Long Term Field Study of the Photobox,” in CHI, Toronto, 2014.