Why.
Virtual, visual and sonic consumerism involves an important part of what communication is today. The development of virtual environments has allowed us to create alternative personas, evolving and adapting towards a new set of communication rituals. The incorporation of spoken word has been an attempt, in response to the need of using our senses in these environments. I believe more shall follow in the near future. “Without sound one is distanced in reality from the reaction, making it more abstract. Once a sound is made, however, your body receives confirmation that the event is not imagined but real.” (Maeda, 2000)
 
Keeping the same emotional wavelength while communicating with another person is crucial, as our brain’s circuitry mimics what happens in the other person’s brain. Coleman (2007) also mentions that when the brain encounters a computer screen, there are no on-line channels for the signals used to calibrate emotion.  This has been discovered as a design flaw.
 
What. How.
I set myself up for a challenge: conceptually explore the field of spoken word and self image representation, as a reaction to the growing culture of impersonal digital interaction and superficial personal images. Project VAIN (Voice Avatar Image Node) was born by looking at the impact of technology in society, the future of identity and the communication process. I aimed to answer the question “How can the ritual of presenting yourself, morphed by the consumerism of digital social networks, be challenged?” In doing so, I found a set of fresh questions:  “Is there, at the moment, a social need for clarity in communication?  Is what your voice looks like now, a path for achieving that clarity and focusing on the message?
 
Whilst testing the concept with professionals in the related fields, it was pointed out that perhaps my interest involved sound (Charlotte Coulais, designer RCA) and encouragement to reshape avatars was initiated (Alex Spyropoulos, Pink Tank). I began to stretch myself by stepping into unknown fields of sound, sociology, psychology, interactive software and virtual environments. This took me to the core of communication: voice. That enabled me to develop relationships with external re-viewers from the fields of interactive environments (Despina Hadjilouca, Like People Do), sound research (Angus Carlyle, CRISAP), contemporary media art (Paul Sermon) and media labs (Jan Misker, V2 Lab), which also were supporters of the project.
 
VAIN’s design process evolved through artifacts of physical-virtual blogs, exploring digital social networks, designing sound visuals, laser voice drums, drawing voice workshops, a visual card game and digital interactive interfaces. These served to expose the concept to the user, whilst collecting voice and visual samples. The testers became more expressive once engaged with the experiences. A setback occurred by the lack of programming skills to continue developing a digital version of the concept. However it prompted the design of an analog version that enriched the experience.
Now.
The visual production system (based on principals of seeing sound waves) makes analogy to concepts of clarity and light (laser pointer), self-reflection (mirror) and extension of self (amplifier / speaker). A digital camera captured an image of 3.2 seconds of speech, associating ideas of framing time, abstraction, meaning, detachment and body. The notion of voice being the warmest, most personal and unique of our senses was neglected when the visuals created had clinical associations with the viewers. This demanded the exploration of dimension and context, taking the concept into other territories.
 
Initial thoughts of the process came together as a concept that suggests an alternative to communication, playing a role that challenges the perception of emerging technology. As a designer, I discovered a personal interest in design’s approach to social issues, conceptual thinking and interaction design. Focusing on the importance of the message I also learned to zoom out and see a greater picture, whilst benefiting from the opportunities presented by the context.
 
Future applications of VAIN are being considered, however it’s potential for development include areas of music, speech recognition, special education, distant communications and studies of social interaction. I propose to improve and duplicate the system, keeping its simplicity and relationship to the individual. Additionally, allow interaction between several users and the space they find themselves in.