Ancient Artifacts Augmented With Enhanced Technologies

The Kintsugi Upgrades project imagines an alternate future where ancient artifacts are discovered by a more advanced civilization than us who rebuild and augment them with enhanced technologies.

The ancient Japanese art of Kintsugi – which literally translates to “join with gold” – perfectly embodied the spirit of these objects. Through the process of repair and reconstruction, we imagined these objects being even more valuable than the original.

The unearthed Kashan ware vessel

An alternate future where ancient artifacts are discovered by a more advanced civilization than us who rebuild and augment them with enhanced technologies

The vessel cleaned and ready to go through the upgrade process

In this first collection, we have reconstructed and reimagined an 11th century glazed ceramic water jug from Kashan, Persia. Renowned for its high-quality ceramic production, Kāshānware features delicate decorative motifs and is often decorated with luster.

Once the vessel has been unearthed and goes through the Upgrade process, it comes out similar but in many ways different. We preserved the object’s delicate beauty, healed its scars with gold while integrating new technologies into it to change what it can do. Instead of being able to just being a water vessel, the device can scan a a person’s body to better understand what minerals they are lacking and then regulate the contents within the vessel to provide a nutritional beverage that is perfectly tuned to keep their body and mind functioning at an optimal level.

This medieval ceramic jug now combines its exquisite design with 3d printed augmentations and enhanced digital functionality.

Kintugi Upgrade complete

The Process

This project began when we came across high quality 3D models of ancient cultural artifacts that had been scanned by internationally recognised museums. We saw huge potential and wanted to being to create objects that blur the boundaries between the very old and the very futuristic.

Our process to rebuild and upgrade the original object begins with an initial assessment of the piece. How is it damaged? What can be salvaged? What has been forever lost? How can we preserve and enhance its aesthetics and purpose? From here we establish the different stages of the project. The first step involves scanning the fractured parts to reconstruct all the pieces of the puzzle digitally. The scanned mesh serves as a reference for modeling the upgraded part in CAD. We then began to imagine what the conditions of a future civilization might be and the idea of optimizing our health and body felt like a natural path that humans would want to progress along. We delicately reassembling the fractured object and applied gold lacquer to celebrate the vessel’s scars.

by Afshin Mehin and Anna Savina

We are in the very early days of brain-computer interfaces (BCI) and there are still years of scientific research that needs to be carried out to get anywhere near creating powerful consumer-based BCI products. But, as designers, we believe it’s important to imagine what types of experiences this technology would enable in order to create the human-centered future for BCI.

In this article, we will use our empathy and creativity to describe how possible BCI-enabled user experiences of the future may look. By starting early and following the research closely, we can have some space to think of different paths for BCI and create truly relevant and helpful devices in the future.

“A Day in the Mind” – a short video we’ve created to develop a Point of View around possible User Experiences of future BCI technologies.

The long road: A quick primer on BCI 

Over the past several decades, computer interfaces made several massive leaps, and each of them led to new, more intuitive ways for people to interact with computers. We went from graphical user interfaces (GUI) and operating big desktop computers with the help of a keyboard and a mouth, to laptops, and then touch interfaces used for modern smartphones and tablets. And though smartphones allow us to have a powerful computer whenever we go, this was just a start. 

In recent years, computers have become almost invisible, they are just a part of the ambiance. The maturation of natural language processing has allowed voice assistants to understand verbal commands and allow for a hands free experience. In the meantime, modern sensors and radars allowed designers to create smart clothing that can be controlled with touch — for example, Google ATAP’s Project Jacquard developed a jacket that helps the owner navigate the city without interacting with a screen. 

Smartphones, smart speakers, and wearable devices became an extension of our bodies, and, naturally, scientists started exploring the idea of humans directly controlling computers with their brain alone. What’s really appealing about BCI is that our brains have a huge bandwidth for processing information which means that if BCIs work, there will be no delay between our intention and a desired action/outcome. 

However, existing BCIs are slow and don’t operate like smart interfaces from sci-fi movies and books. Right now, BCI researchers are working on replicating the speed of typing or speech — exceeding this speed is still an aspiration, not a reality.  

The present day BCI’s are primarily serving people with disabilities to control technologies with their thoughts. Krishna Shenoy’s lab at Stanford University is leveraging electrodes located in the motor cortex of patients with locked-in syndrome to move a cursor to select objects on the screen or to use a cursor to write in “graffiti” by imagining that a patient is using their hands to write with. The Chang Lab is able to read brain signals that control the ability to create speech in order to decode language but the speeds are still far lower than typing on regular keyboard. 

Many scientists agree that with enough electrodes getting closer to firing neurons (via invasive or non-invasive BCI), enough machine learning capabilities, and, of course, enough academic research we will eventually be able to use our understanding of the brain to create very mature BCIs that are way faster and more effective than what is available now. 

What BCIs can be really good at

So what if BCI extends beyond enabling people with physical disabilities? What would that new interface look like and why would it be better than what we have now? Let’s assume that BCI unlocks the potential of high bandwidth communication. The idea of being able to think faster than you can talk or type is undoubtedly one of the most appealing elements for anyone who would develop consumer products based on BCI. But that is not the only possibility for this new type of technology. We decided to go further and outline key advantages of brain-powered technology. 

One superpower of BCI is the sheer covertness of thinking. That can lead to many different outcomes.

The "Neural Sculptor" App shows how a BCI could enable people to work faster than they could with their hands.
The “Neural Sculptor” App shows how a BCI could enable people to work faster than they could with their hands.

First, it can allow you to prompt your internal AI with questions or data queries and as a result, the system would you feel like you have superhuman intelligence. Because of the speed that BCI enables, it would look like you didn’t use a computer to search for a fact but just knew what 2324 multiplied by 8 is, what is the capital of Uruguay, etc. Also, BCI would make your everyday life and navigation easier as a lot of services like maps, Yelp recommendations, and weather could be accessed without looking at your phone or computer. 

It can also allow you to communicate with people without others around you noticing. That can mean you would be able to have more immediate access to your loved ones and connect with them without feeling like you have a technological layer separating you. Another benefit of this BCI use case is communicating in a noisy place or sharing private details in a public setting.

Another big advantage of BCIs is their versatility and intuitiveness. Scientists use machine learning to unpack and make sense of the neuronal signals. That same technology can be also used to understand an individual’s brain structure and create a unique and adaptable system that can fit a person better over time like a pair of well worn leather gloves.

What BCIs can be really bad at

Products based on BCIs can unlock a lot of new opportunities and make their owners feel almost superhuman but a lot of people are scared of them because allowing a computer working in close contact with human consciousness has always been a theme of dystopian sci-fi. Assuming that the process of installing (invasive or non-invasive) BCI is safe, the next concern is privacy and loss of control. 

And those naysayers have a right to be scared, especially if we look at the current state of computing and the types of problems Web 2.0 created. A lot of skeptics imagine that BCI can become another platform for targeted ads and surveillance.

If our thoughts aren’t 100% off limits for companies, governments, or malicious actors, there is very little left for us to feel like we truly have free will. Since BCI is still super new, companies are proposing different system architecture that would theoretically protect people’s data, such as Federated Learning and Differential privacy, but it’s still early days so there is still a lot to be learned about what security will actually look like for BCIs

The idea of BCI’s adaptability mentioned earlier is also a potential risk. Just as a person learns to adjust to a new user experience over time, people who get used to BCI could find it very difficult to navigate the world without a computer helping them and providing them with suggestions, advice, and directions at all times.There is a possibility that people may actually get less intelligent over time with the introduction of BCIs.

Designing safe and human-centric BCI devices

As we were thinking of BCI and working on projects like the early Neuralink hardware prototype, we came up with several principles that we would like to maintain when we design BCI devices of the future. 

Design principle #1: Ensure privacy and transparency

In the future, we want people to be sure their thoughts remain their own. That means that the  engineers and scientists that are building out BCI technology need to create a layer that is separated from the internet.

Bringing the idea of privacy to the forefront of the BCI user experience by "Securing Neural Connections"
Bringing the idea of privacy to the forefront of the BCI user experience by “Securing Neural Connections”

In terms of how that technology is communicated to the user, this should feel like a moated castle for your mind that filters and limits what kind of information comes and goes into your brain. That’s why in the “A Day in the Mind” POV video we created, the protagonist is prompted to turn on and connect his “encrypted” neural connection to his HeadOS before starting to use it. These types of interactions are inspired by consumer data protection startups like Winston and Helm that simplify data protection and make it accessible for consumers.

We believe that it would be necessary that BCI system interface and user interactions enable a high level of accountability and transparency so that users really do have control and visibility into what is passing into and out of their mind. 

Design principle #2: Enable control 

It’s crucial to create interfaces that prioritize users’ safety and control. That’s why we wanted to provide a user with a sense of agency. Things should never feel overwhelming or happening without the user being fully aware of them. 

"HeadOS" - A secure Operating System BCI that gives users protection and visibility into what goes in and out of their brain.
“HeadOS” – A secure Operating System that gives users protection and visibility into what goes in and out of their brain.

In our “Day in the Mind” POV video, when the protagonist wakes up, he activates his BCI by swiping on his smartphone. No matter how archaic it might feel to swipe with your finger when he has a BCI, the important thing is that he initiates the connection with his digital assistant. Later in the video, when the main character is at work and he is being flooded with notifications, he is able to shut them down by asking his digital assistant to pause all notifications until later. 

Design principle #3: Carefully design default settings

Decisions that designers make in this space will impact how people think, we need to be especially careful when we are creating  default settings for BCI-enabled devices. The way  these options are set up will have a tremendous influence on how people will be encouraged to think. This connection between default settings and interactions they create is described  in the book “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness”. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have also seen dark UI patterns that encourage people to make decisions that were not in their best interest.

Design principle #4: An integrated hardware architecture

If BCI’s do reach their amazing potential, we will also need new kinds of smart hardware devices to provide a seamless user experience. Possibly, we will see innovative glasses or smart contact lenses that can provide users with quick visual feedback to confirm that their outgoing BCI controls are working. This combination will make the experience much more intuitive since we are all used to interacting with visual interfaces. We will need other types of new technologies as well — for example, bone conduction audio to create a “voice in your head” for a digital assistant accompanying BCIs.

Looking into the crystal ball of the future, it’s still unclear how powerful BCIs can become. But as we unlock the inner workings of the brain, it’s exciting to imagine what kind of interfaces we can create. Regardless of whether or not BCIs would give us superpowers, understanding the brain gives us a lot of insight for designing better products and services. We hope that if we leverage scientific research, we will be able to create a future that looks more like Tales From The Loop than an episode of Black Mirror — more empathetic, human, and warm.

As we head into 2022, our design studio took a moment to take stock of which direction the fields of design, culture and technology are heading towards and seeing how well they line up with who we are. We are excited about 2022, and we decided to share major design and technology trends that we hope to explore in the next 12 months. 

Web3: A Happy Upheaval

Let’s start out with the word that’s on the tip of everyone’s tongue — Web3. The world is connecting in new ways across borders and cultures, and everyone in the world of tech is questioning dominant platforms, old business models and visual aesthetics. This upcoming year will mark an exciting new start for everyone who’s been longing for a new version of the Internet, digital art, and online connectivity.

A lot of technologies that created a foundation for this year’s major trends aren’t new (a seminal Blockchain whitepaper by Satoshi Nakamoto recently turned 13), but in 2021, we finally created a new language to talk about long-term implications of these technologies. The term ‘Web3’ became unavoidable. ‘Web3, the future internet we’re moving towards, is a decentralized internet. Under Web3, the internet is shared online and governed by the collective “we,” rather than owned by centralized entities. […] Web3 is about rearchitecting internet services and products so that they benefit people rather than entities,’ writes Maven Ventures’ Jay Drain Jr. Web3 imagines an environment that is more user-friendly compared to our current reality of Web2 where users can’t control their data and where newsfeeds and algorithms create dangerous echo chambers.

Another popular 2021 term, Metaverse, offers an even bigger vision for the future — an immersive, interactive version of The Internet straight from futuristic sci-fi novels. Even though the term Web3 and Metaverse are often used interchangeably, they are not the same. ‘The metaverse feels vague and speculative because it is […] While some technologists want to anchor the vision along the lines of Meta’s Ready Player One-esque keynote presentation, the reality is the metaverse will require everyone’s input and participation to truly take form,’ says Senior Product Manager at Roblox the host of the “Hello Metaverse” podcast Annie Zhang. Even though the Metaverse isn’t fully defined yet, it’s a useful concept that a lot of Web2 companies looking for a rebrand are using. This year, Facebook became Meta while Square changed its name to Block. In the meantime,

Square & Block
Square rebranded as Block

Microsoft is betting on its Metaverse-inspired Mesh collaboration tool for Microsoft Teams. And we are all patiently waiting to see what Apple’s VR/AR glasses will do to enable new Metaverse experiences.

Even though big players are trying to enter this new market, 2021 in tech was all about celebrating underdogs. Many artists and designers (including those who built their careers creating digital art) have been operating within constraints of conservative art market. The NFT boom allowed creators to gain more control over their work and financial situation. Moreover, it offers a space where industrial designers, architects, and musicians can experiment and imagine virtual worlds that we will soon inhabit.

‘It should not be surprising that a growing number of us–especially we who are most intensely online — are embracing the concept of ‘owning’ online things. A belief in the value of NFTs is a logical extension of the vitality of online experience and existence,’ writes a group of authors behind Dark Star DAO. This year at Card79, we were excited to enter a new world as well and create a series of NFT’s named ‘Kintsugi Upgrades’ that carry on our core values into the Metaverse.

The Kintsugi Upgrades project imagines an alternate future where ancient artifacts are discovered by a more advanced civilization than ours and then they rebuild and augment these artifacts with enhanced technologies. The ancient Japanese art of Kintsugi – which literally translates to “join with gold” – perfectly embodied the spirit of merging old and new to make something better. Through the process of repair and reconstruction, we imagined these objects being even more valuable than the original.

Digital Kintsugi NFT 2022 Design Trends

The Kintsugi Upgrades project was enabled by digital scans of ancient artifacts donated by world leading museums (like the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the Malopolska’s Virtual Museums) that we were able to digitally shatter and rebuild in 3D modeling software. Then we modeled upgrades to give each piece a whole new functionality. 

Afshin Mehin founded Card79 based on the belief that blurring the boundaries between digital and physical product design would be an important theme with design. That’s why as a studio, we love combining our practice of designing and developing mass manufactured physical products and this new type of product design that involves digital-first NFT artifacts. 

Sustainable Futures

This year, a record number of people were affected by extreme weather conditions and felt the impact of the climate crisis. In the U.S. only, we lived through Hurricane Ida on the East coast, wildfires in California, megadrought in the West, floods all over, and much more. ‘Overall, consumers are hyperaware of the condition of the environment. Forrester data reveals that a third of US online adults say they spend more time thinking about the climate than they did before the Covid-19 pandemic,’ writes Forbes.

Whether we are designing digital or physical products, we have to ask ourselves about the impact it will have on our planet and our future. The NFT boom spurred conversation about skyrocketing physical costs of supporting the metaverse. Some companies – for example, CurrencyWorks, are promoting ways to make blockchain technology more energy-efficient.

Both legacy companies and emerging brands are betting on sustainability. VW and Porsche now demand that all their 30.000+ suppliers pass a sustainability rating while AllBirds that had an IPO this year made sustainability one of its most important value propositions. In the meantime, Dell is committing to manufacturing laptops that are easier to recycle.

We haven’t eliminated planned obsolescence yet, but 2021 marked a big milestone for the ‘right to repair’ movement that is gaining traction worldwide. This November, Apple announced long-awaited Self Service Repair. In Australia, the Productivity Commission is discussing a policy that will address consumers’ rights to get products that don’t have an ‘expiry date.’

This year, we worked with Relish Life to create a monthly subscription pack that  gets rid of as many inessential elements of packaging as possible while still delighting customers. This project aligned with our goal to optimize customer value while minimizing usage of wasteful materials.

Relish Life Packaging Design

Ethical UX

Consumers are also driving another big trend in product design — more ethical user interfaces, especially when it comes to smartphones and IoT. This trend has been going on for a few years but in 2021, it gained even more traction as the idea of data ownership is becoming a topic of debate. From screen time trackers to introducing more data privacy settings, electronics manufacturers are approaching design with more consideration of people’s  mental well-being (avoiding dark patterns in UX) and long-term future (working towards more sustainable ways of production).

Here at Card79, we are committed to building a better future. When designing interfaces, we are betting on ethical and user-friendly UX. When we were working on ‘A Day In the Mind’ project that explored the future of brain-computer interfaces, we focused on ensuring privacy and transparency, enabling control, carefully designing default settings, and creating an integrated hardware architecture.

2022 Design Trend: Internet of Things

Internet of Things: A new generation of devices

Even though connected devices have been around for a while now, this market is still growing and maturing. The pandemic became a catalyst for innovation in the field of healthcare IoT devices. Deloitte Global expects that ‘320 million consumer health and wellness wearable devices will ship worldwide in 2022.’ And we will see even more growth in the next couple of years. By 2024, there will be around 440 million devices. It’s not just electronics for social distancing and enforcing pandemic measures. ‘[IoT devices] also allow doctors to potentially examine, diagnose and treat larger numbers of patients, as well as expand healthcare to regions where physical access to doctors or hospitals is difficult due to remoteness or difficulty of access,’ writes author and technology advisor Bernard Marr.

And it’s not just about healthcare. We can expect more IoT everywhere — our computers are becoming less noticeable, yet more powerful and almost ubiquitous. So-called ‘ambient computing’ is all about smaller devices for everyday life — in this space, innovation is fueled by advancements in AI, voice interfaces, gesture recognition, and radar sensing. Tech giants like Google and Amazon are entering the market with more and more specialized smart home devices that disappear into the background. 

‘We have just started to figure out how to think about the societal implications of smartphones; now, we’ve got robots and teleconference board game systems for children. It’s all happening very fast,’ writes the Verge Executive Editor Dieter Bohn. At Card79, we are focusing on designing human-centric and ethical devices for the new era of IoT. When working on healthcare tech (like Neuralink R1 robot), smart home appliances (for example, Sepura garburator), or wearables (Slice bracelet), we are focusing on data transparency, user-friendly interfaces without ‘dark patterns,’ and durable materials. 

In 2022, we are excited to work on more projects that allow us to center our work around  these principles of being human-centered, inclusive and sustainable. We look onto the year ahead to see how we can do to tackle new challenges within our industry.

Words by Heba Malaeb and  Afshin Mehin, Illustrations by Giovanna Giuliano

One of my guilty pleasures is watching videos of people walking with their eyes glued to their phone screens, when suddenly they fall down a staircase, bump into a lamppost, trip into a fountain, or collide with a fellow pedestrian. It’s hilarious, and if the countless video compilations of texting-and-walking-fails are an indication, it’s more common than you think. To most of us, it seems like technology is pretty great at disconnecting us from our physical surroundings; so it might be counter-intuitive to think that tech could actually help heighten our experience of the outdoors, and create stronger connections between people and their environment.

As a studio that has one foot in beautiful British Columbia and the other in Silicon Valley, we spend a lot of time thinking about the relationship between the outdoors and technology. From GPS to Pokémon GO, all kinds of digital technologies have become a commonplace part of the outdoor experience. Through the use of tech, people are interacting with nature and the outdoors in increasingly varied ways. As designers, we’re always seeking to better understand these interactions, and the needs and motivations of the people having them.

The technominimalist

The classic user of technology in the outdoors has always been the technominimalist, who seeks the outdoors as a way to escape modern life and get in touch with their pre-Twitter brains. They do this by scaling back their technology to the bare essentials — ironically, if you’re hoping to “unplug”, there are apps for that. Cairn is one app that allows you to download maps in advance for easy offline access, and offers real-time location tracking as well as information on where to find cell service. The app also automatically alerts your “safety circle” if you’re overdue for a check-in, sharing with them pertinent details about your route.




If a tree falls…

The most recent and widespread example of digital technology intermixing with the outdoors is happening on Instagram. For many, a great hike into the woods or a walk by the ocean would not be complete without posting it to Instagram. As a result, parks have seen a significant rise in number of visitors, as well as increasingly diverse crowds. People are also becoming better observers of nature, albeit through the lens of their camera phones. But this hasn’t been without consequence, whether it’s death by selfie or natural landscapes suffering from too much traffic because of geotagging. Yet people continue to document and share their time outside with their followers — and who of us hasn’t vicariously enjoyed an Instagram-story hike on a lazy Sunday morning in bed? 

Digital daredevils

But for the IRL-adventure-inclined, technology can help keep thrill-seeking safe — enabling extreme fun without extreme danger. Experienced climbers, hikers, and explorers can rely on advanced outdoor tech like avalanche beacons and GPS devices that provide real-time tracking and SOS features, which can be life-saving in emergency situations. GPS gadgets can even be repurposed for lower-intensity outdoor applications; for example, LynQ’s People Compass is a friend-tracker that is as useful at a music festival as it is on a mountain. 

Training by numbers

For the performance-driven who go outdoors to train and push their physical limits, tech acts as a way to get deeper in touch with their bodies, by providing insight into their heart rate, speed, distance tracked, etc. When we worked on the Recon Jet smart glasses UX, we wanted to create an experience that allowed competitive cyclists and runners to easily glance at their body data while training. Similarly, sports watches like those from Polar and Suunto offer specialized features to fit specific user needs — whether that’s a barometric altimeter or an underwater heart rate monitor. This kind of outdoor tech gives users access to detailed data logs of their own performance, lending an extra level of rigor to their training.

Nature educators

Others venturing outdoors might want increased insight into nature itself — using technology almost like a digital magnifying glass. A quick look in the App Store shows tens of plant-identification apps (one popular one is the Seek app) you could download  to have an on-the-go learning tool. For these users with calm and inquisitive minds, our studio designed Tzoa, an environment tracker that measures air quality and particulate matter. Through demystifying something as intangible as air, Tzoa allows users to engage with their surroundings more deeply, and gain new understandings of their environment.  And sometimes tech even encourages people to go outside in the first place; for example, scavenger-hunt-style geocaching games use GPS technology to lead players to certain locations where items are hidden. According to personal testimony and subsequent studies, the AR game Pokémon GO had an unintended positive effect on players’ mental health, by incentivizing outdoor exploration, necessitating social interaction, and giving players an increased sense of purpose.

For millennia the interaction between humans and nature has driven scientific advancement, philosophical thought, and just plain enjoyment. As with all new tools, it’s important to find ways to adapt technology to serve different types of needs, contexts, and situations. And as a future-facing design studio that prioritizes user experience, we view each new project as an opportunity to connect people to the outdoors in new ways — and an opportunity to get out into the great outdoors ourselves!