MFA Thesis | Spring 2016 | Umeå Institute of Design
*The term biophony refers to the collective soundscape produced by animals and insects.
Setup the sound recording device, the Collector in a chosen a nature reserve.
Listen to the wildlife through the Biophone and mark new species.
Learn to interpret sounds and report new species sightings on the Mesh.
To help establish routines around the activity of listening, the patron is provided with a listening device, a Biophone (from biophony that refers to the wildlife soundscape). The light on the biophone is a realtime translation of the sonic activity at the nature site.
1. Lift the glass lid to open the realtime audio connection to the site.
2. When you hear sounds that you want to save for later inspection, press the button on the side.
3. Close the lid to close the stream.
Biofonia works with entities that drive the creation of new protected areas, and acts as a bridge to citizens interested in supporting them.
People can contribute to the establishment of a protected area by setting up sound recording devices, Collectors, in the area, the data of which is valuable to track the success of the project.
The data collected acts as evidence of the species inhabiting the area, which can be used to communicate the importance of the nature reserve.
People also pay a small fee for the maintenance of the Collector, and thus help fund the nature reserve employees.
Biofonia aims to help people create a connection to a single location, learn which species inhabit the space, and at which seasons of the year they tend to come and go. Through the understanding of the cycles of life within a single location, with time, we will learn to recognise when something is out of sync. What does it mean when a particular species arrives much later than usually, or perhaps, does not arrive at all? Conversely, what does it mean when an entirely new species arrives to the area?
In order to provide a supported learning process, Biofonia connects the users with collaborating scientific communities and nature reserves around the world. An online platfrom, the Mesh, serves both as a learning platform and as a connection point between users, scientists, and nature reserve staff.
I was interested in understanding the apparent disregard many of us in the Western world displayed towards the environment. To begin the foundational research for my thesis, I posed myself the following question:
One of the major reasons for why people living in the urban Western world do not display concern about environmental degradation is because they have little relation to it*. With increasing urbanisation, we nowadays spend more than 90 % of our daily lives indoors, and therefore have little contact with the outdoor natural environment. In order to give value to the environment, we need to have relation to it. And to have relation to it, we need experiences with it.
After identifying one of the core problems for why we allocate little value to the environment, I re-focused my question for qualitative research.
The aspects that drew fascination for nature.
The aspects that made it harder for people to relate to, or have experiences with nature.
Basing on research analysis results, I determined that the following principles were key in creating a solution that helps people develop and maintain an interest towards the natural environment.
A handful of biologists have been recording soundscapes in natural habitats for over 50 years. These soundscapes, also known as biophonies provide a 360-degree view of the life onsite. Soundscape Ecology, has become an invaluable way to measure biodiversity.
Small groups were formed around each of the four fictional characters (based on character types identified via interviews). Groups were given three different questions to ideate on, while keeping in mind my design guidelines and the notions of listening and sound. Four themes emerged: Memories and place attachment, Sense of community, Sense of agency.
Based on these I ideated further and developed the concepts:
The Sound Hunter concept was tested by having participants use their phones to record anything they regarded as nature.
Although the Sound Hunter concept was successful in motivating people to listen to the environment, the most crucial downfall was that the recordings were never listened to again.
The Nature Calling concept was tested with the Wizard of Oz method. Participants were given birdhouses that they could place anywhere in nature. They were then given a listening device that streamed the soundscape from the birdhouse (Wizard of Oz).
This concept was easier to engage with, as the soundscapes were listened to as background noise while working via the sound playing device.
Drawing from prototype feedback and findings, the following guidelines were set to steer the refinement phase of concept development:
The results from the two prototyping spurts lead me to decide to take further the Nature Calling concept. During prototyping the following issues were identified with the concept:
I also aimed to move away from a conceptual solution to a more realistic outcome. Staff from the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat helped address the technical challenges of the concept.
Providing a service
A light that signals heightened activity at the nature site
From birdhouse to a simpler sound collecting device