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Caseboard

[image description]: An old-fashioned typeblock case elevated on a 30º angle wedge. In place of the empty spaces where metal typeblocks would normally sit are shiny metal heys with letters etched into them. A long piece of paper is printing out of the left hand side with large capital letters printed across it.

Digital communication has been a double-edged sword. We now have faster typing speeds, but “um”s and “ah”s are more prevalent in speech than ever before. Have we become too dependant on the extra time the “send” button provides us?

Using Caseboard, you can type messages, but there is no backspace. If you wait too long between words, stalling phrases are added. This interface asks users to reflect on their own speech patterns. Do your online and offline selves... uh... talk in different tones? Do you feel at ease when a keyboard... like... doesn’t wait for you?

[image description]: The Caseboard on a wooden table in an exhibition, with a person pressing one of the keys. On the other side of the caseboard is a huge pile of printed receipt paper.

[image description]: The Caseboard on a wooden table with a transparent plastic top, standing on the wooden floor of an art gallery. A large pile of receipt paper has collected under the table. The word "KINGSTON!" is written on a visible part of the paper.

Caseboard was made usable for the 2016 Kingston Graphic Design degree show. Created in response to the randomly selected brief "Digital/Physical," it was designed to make users assess the way their tone of voice changes when speaking in real life vs. when communicating through written text.

[image description]: a close-up shot of a long piece of till-receipt paper looped over itself. Large capital letters are printed on it, with the small phrases phrases "uh..., "like..." and "kind of..." acting as ellipses.

The form of a traditional type-block case was turned into a functioning keyboard that printed all text typed on it out the side, meaning there was no way of erasing what you had written. The code used to print the text was time sensetive: if users took too long to type words out, stalling phrases would be added as ellipses, mimmicking the "ums and ahs" we put into everyday speech when we can't find the right word.

[image description]: A selection of black, jagged, pixellated lowercase serif letterforms, reading from A to Z on a white background.

When Cameron and I developed the typeface, we wanted to create something that mirrored the caseboard itself. We put together a lowercase and uppercase alphabet with standard punctuation glyphs inspired by low x-height serif typefaces such as Bembo and Caslon, as we felt they juxtaposed more readable sans-serif typefaces like Helvetica and Lucida used by modern tech companies like Apple and Facebook, through which we communicate every day.

From here, we digitally compressed them, scaled them back up and redrew the corrupted forms. We felt this was a good way to not only continue the theme of "Digital/Physical", but also to suggest to the user that their interactions with this object wouldn't be as smooth as writing on Facebook Messenger.

[image description]: Three images.

Image 1: A hand with a paint brush, preparing a large zinc plate for etching. The plate is covered in a light blue film.

Image 2: The zinc place submerged in a plastic bowl of acid.

Image 3: The zinc plate after the acid is washed off and the blue film has been removed, showing a close up of some of the freshly etched letters.

These were etched onto each individual key. The slow, laborious process of etching felt more appropriate than sending the plates off to be printed and the impressions left in the zinc provided a great sense of tactility when the buttons were pressed.

[image description]: A close-up detail shot of the keys. They are polished zinc and the letters on them are jagged, digitised versions of the traditional capital serif letters.

[image description]: Another detail shot of the keys, this time focusing on the lowercase letters.

The process of manufacturing the caseboard's inner workings was an even longer process. Starting with a simple mockup to test input and outputs on, I built up the wiring system button placement and code from scratch using an arduino.

[image description]: An arduino circuitboard on a black surface connected with multi-coloured to a plastic pin-matrix with exposed yellow plastic buttons.

[image description]: A more complicated series of colour-coded wires and circuitboards on a light wooden base. Soldering tools can be seen around the tabletop it is sitting on.

[image description]: The black type-block case on the workshop table with the wires from the previous image pushed through holes in the case and temporarily secured with electrical tape.

[image description]: A photo of some of the zinc keys before they were placed into the caseboard. Each one has a small spring positioned under each corner and a chunky wooden depressor underneath it.

The buttons were pre-coded to match the position of each button. When pressed, these sent a signal to the built-in thermal printer to produce an ASCII interpretation of the corresponding letter. Every time this was pressed, a timer was reset. If a certain amount of time passed before the next button was pressed, a stalling phrase was printed.

[image description]: A close-up shot of the first image.