Design Concept • Illustrations • Branding • School

Chord —
Reimagining How We Share Memories

A explorative design concept for those with nomadic lives to share memories and connect with their loved ones.

March - June 2021

Skills + Tools

Figma, UX Research, Illustrations, Branding, Visual Design

My Role
Research, Ideation, Illustration, Icons, Storyboard

Lily Liu, Shelley Tsui, Emily Wang


What is Chord?

What does it mean to go back? Van-dwelling is powerful, freeing — and sometimes lonely. While we can’t always go back to the places we’d like and see the people we want, technology has provided some remedies in the form of social media.

But captioned photos only offer so much to a memory. With Chord, we wanted to provide a way to go back to the sights and remember the sounds as if you are really there. Chord are trading cards that are tailored for van-dwellers. With Chord, you can go back and cherish the sounds sounds of your van dwelling trips; Chord helps you revisit the echoes of the Grand Canyon or the waves by Santa Monica pier, and allows you to share and those sounds and memories with others.


What do we design for?

This project was for my final capstone in University of Washington's Interaction Design program. Therefore, the scope and deliverables of the project was wholly up to the team. Our team started by narrowing down on some topics that we were all passionate about and would like to design for.

Sustainability, energy-consumption, and furniture design were some of the initial spaces we explored. However, based on further feedback about how these problem spaces could be too broad, we decided to narrow down to a design space and situation that was more specific yet encompassed all these topics we were interested in: van-dwelling.

What is the project goals?

As an interdisciplinary group consisting of a UX/UI, visual, and industrial designer, as well as computer science student, we wanted to make sure the final project could reflect the interdisciplinary nature of our team;
  • The final deliverables should ideally involve all design disciplines.
  • Create a marketable product which we could design the whole brand and customer experience for.

Van-dwelling is the lifestyle of living full or part-time in a vehicle, usually a modified van. The lifestyle is typically chosen for being more sustainable, cost-saving, and/or because it is the most viable living option.


What are the design opportunities for van-dwelling?

Once we narrowed down to van-dwelling, we began researching what we could design for that problem space.
Observations of online communities
We scoured online to understand the lifestyle, exploring existing communities on van-dwelling.
Literature Reviews
Reading design research journals about designing for a mobile home, and how people come to perceive the home as temporary or transient in the van-dwelling lifestyle.
Our primary research was through 4 interviews we did with van-dwellers.


Van-dwellers not only perceive their lifestyle but also their relationships as transient. They often deal with loneliness and having a smaller circle of friends.

Van-dwellers want to connect with others but are often unsure how. Passive, low-effort interactions are preferred.
Sharing photos is not an immersive and reflective experience. Recreational van-dwelling is often tied to how it is perceived on social media (Instagram). Thus, our solution should be encourage more immersive reflection and sharing of the van-dwelling experience.


How did we get to Chord?

These are some of our initial ideas before narrowing down to Chord. Our group struggled a lot with narrowing down on a design space and idea we all liked, therefore there were a lot of in-depth and built-out ideas before Chord.

A lamp that can mimic the warmth of a campfire and the conversations you have with others. As van-dwellers mostly live alone, they would connect their lamp to another van-dweller or family’s lamp. The lamp’s “fire” would mimic their conversation’s ambience and also emit warmth, providing some aid to the loneliness.
A compass and watch that can show where your loved one’s are. It can also track your past journey and where you’ve travelled, encouraging you to always remember to come back home once you’ve completed your van-dwelling journey. Being able to easily check and see where your loved one are in relation to you would provide comfort and a sense of reassurance to each others' safety amidst van-dwelling/travelling.

A dashboard camera and voice recorder that can send short snippets of your van’s dashboard view to a loved on, providing some connection during those long and lonely drives.

Why Chord?

  1. Trading cards as a deliverable allowed more creative freedom, and fun illustration potentials — involving other design disciplines apart from industrial design in the final product.
  2. Compared to some of our other ideas and iterations, Chord was less complicated; it was a relatively simple & passive way to share experiences with others. The trading card was also a recognizable physical metaphor, which we made more immersive by attaching sounds to.

Designing Phase

What is Chord?

Chord are trading cards that are tailored for van-dwellers. With Chord, you can go back and cherish the sounds sounds of your van dwelling trips; Chord helps you revisit the echoes of the Grand Canyon or the waves by Santa Monica pier, and allows you to share and those sounds and memories with others.

How does Chord work?

How Chord works is primarily based on research on an existing trading card & music mixing product — namely,  Dropmix by Hasbro

Why not an app?

Our group was aware that making Chord an app, with digital cards and/or an app/QR as the card reader was possible. However, based on our own research, we believe that using physical card readers & trading cards was the right choice for these reasons:

It’s easier. Every phone has NFC antenna in different place. As a result, it can be difficult to find the right read point.

It’s more meaningful. Physical cards encourage in-person sharing and communication. Moreover, they serve as a physical aide for story-telling and personal reflection.