Project description

TalkTags are social wearable badges or accessories that use inbuilt voice notes to engage people in conversations. The TalkTags are designed such that each tag has a unique pattern that can tag on to another TalkTag. When they are stacked on one another, it activates and the users can switch through different conversation starters to invite a ‘real-world chat’. They were inspired by the mobile phone etiquette of putting phones face down in social settings to indicate that one is eager to hear and engage in a conversation IRL.

Mentor: Kate Hartman
Course: Advanced Wearables, Digital Futures | OCAD University

Keywords: interaction, design, wearable, electronics, emotions, social


Project Context

Sherry Turkle’s globally acclaimed research in the space of social dynamics in the technological world is elaborately narrated in her book Reclaiming Conversations. In one chapter about Family she narrates a dinner scene and there comes the mobile phone, the ultimate antagonist of the social conversation. The description sparked off the sketch of the mobile phone etiquette we follow in meeting rooms and social gatherings, where we put down our phone face-down as an indication that ‘you have my attention’. It was this nuanced moment that sparked the idea of the TalkTags. A wearable badge that, when we meet people, we pull out and stack-up on the table and it by virtue of the inbuilt interactions invites the users to start a conversation. Leon Lu’s thesis project Social Medium (image below) also has a similar interaction inbuilt in a table where the surface flattens down for use only when the user put down their phones.

Leon Lu's thesis project Social Medium table

Wearables by their nature have the potential to impact in-person social interactions, like clothing and accessories they add to the history, the social-cultural dynamics, the lifestyle and the way of being or feeling in the moment of wearing them or interacting with someone adorning them. Similar explorations have been done in the space of social wearables which set the context and the precedent work for the project.

Lågom is a social wearables prototype

Lågom is a social wearables prototype (image above), i.e. a wearable that augments collocated social interaction. This design is meant to support people to be aware of and better regulate their verbal participation in group discussions. Lågom takes the shape of a colourful, bulky and funny looking flower that senses the wearer’s speaking and responds with haptic and visual feedback. The haptic feedback to increase self-awareness of participation, and to help people better regulate their participation in group discussions. The device was designed to be worn like a brooch around the lapel area technically, for the microphone orientation and the haptic feedback was intended to be felt close to the shoulder to emulate a tap-on-the-shoulder-style reminder, and the visual output needed to be in proximity to the speaker’s face/chest area so that others’ focus on the device would not impede simultaneous monitoring of the speaker’s gestures while speaking (Dagan,
Taking into account the cognitive and the ergonomic details of the Lågom device placement, the TalkTags were designed to have a visual graphic on them so that the user knows that one tag fits into the other or there has to be a physical ‘puzzle piece fit’ like interaction to activate the device. The wearable should also be accommodative to different wearing or carrying behaviours. The feedback for when the device is on, active, off should also be evident to the users as they built conversation around it. The device should also not be obtrusive that in starting a conversation, it should not then become an obstacle in the process.


DURR is a simple, colourful little watch, from Skrekkøgle, that shivers every 5 minutes. By giving a quick shiver every five minutes, Durr is more about reminding the wearer to make the most of their daylight than being a timepiece. It’s also to further investigate the subjective nature of time. By shivering every 5 minutes, the wearer can clearly feel how 5 minutes of waiting can feel extremely different than 5 minutes of watching TV. The haptic feedback in this product was a fascinating one to have like when the TalkTags are tapped on or when they are separated or could indicate when another person with a TalkTag is around.

Another project in a wearable pendant space is a The Karma coin, a speculative fiction piece which exists in a diegetic world where, “The more good you do, the high will be the value of your coin.” The coin has a number display to indicate the deed score. The coin alerts its user through temperature also. It gets warm when you do a good deed and it gets cold if you do a crime or a bad deed. The value on the coin also changes with the deed. The more good you do, the high will be the value. This coin is used for your daily transactions and it only works when used by the owner himself.
The wearable here is used as a personal tracker and a reminder of the person’s daily deeds with respect to society deeds as a whole. With the TalkTags, I wanted it to be a personal wearable and imagined it in a world where the physical conversation could be tracked with an intent to reclaim conversations.

Process of Making

I started the making process with exploring how I could store sound files in the Adafruit CPX board or in simple ways to ‘make it talk’. As per the Adafruit reference documentation, it was more straightforward to use Circuit Python for the code and not Arduino IDE. With Circuit Python I was able to have the board work like a small storage drive and load recorded voice notes in it. I initially tested it with sound files from and later recorded my voice note, edited the sampling rate in audacity and then used those .wav files in the final version.


The Interactions
The key intent with the TalkTags was to have a way to physical make people meet and the meet-up would only activate the devices. The idea was to use the IR sensor to detect the presence or use a proximity sensor ad eventually I decided to use the nature of textile sensors i.e. create a Bridge Switch. The user adorns a TalkTag, a small pendant like wearable with strap affording different ways of carrying it. The TalkTag has two faces, one with the conductive fabric pattern and the other side with the interface for the active mode.


The pattern face on the two TalkTags is designed to be the positive-negative patterns of each other such that they indicate to the user that one fits into the other, like the couple’s pendant jewellery pieces that become a whole when put together. Once the TalkTags are superimposed or stacked up to match the pattern the switch turns on and the device is activated with a green light indication.  When the TalkTags are stacked over each other the pattern on one Tag bridges the broken switch connection on the other and the device is activated.


The other face of the TalkTag had the interface for when the device is activated. The face has a circular dial which includes a window in the felt for the neopixels on the board, and two capacitive switches to play the voice notes, recorded as icebreaker questions to spark conversation.


Wearability Assessment
For the wearable form, I wanted it to be palm size and something that could be carried in different ways like around the neck, on the wrist, hooked on-to a belt loop like a pocket watch, or fitting into a pocket. I used Felt for the casing to make it like a pouch with a button loop. The button loop would serve as a hook to add a strap to carry the Tags and also as a pouch opening to be able to access the electronics inside. All electronic connections were made using conductive thread and conductive fabric.




Choice of Aesthetics
I chose the TalkTags to have a circular form keeping in line with the circular form of the Adafruit CPX and using the holes in the board along the circumference to make the connections with conductive thread. The pattern design was inspired from Celtic knots as they serve as a symbol of being intertwined in the moment of the conversations and it was modified to work as a Bridge switch. The circular dial like pattern of the interface was sketched keeping in with the circular arrangement of the neopixels on the board which were used to give visual feedback. Building on that I designed the capacitive switches to be part of a dial, a reminder of dial interfaces in consumer electronics that are used as controllers in music or voice devices.

files for wearables

Materials & Making

Felt, Conductive Fabric, Conductive Thread, Fabric, Embroidery Thread, Adafruit Circuit Playground Express, & coded in Circuit Python








Circuit/Schematic Diagram

Link to code on GitHub



Next Steps
For the next version of the wearable, it would be interesting to explore a series of the TalkTags where they have a system of patterns and can be used to interact amongst the set i.e. trying out a network of more than two. Other interactions I could explore would be using the Mic on the board to listen to the sounds of the conversation and have feedback or interaction. Taking inspiration from the Lågom wearable, haptic feedback could be explored to indicate a TalkTag presence nearby.

User analysis of socially using the wearable would be an interrogation into how wearables affect awareness of self-participation, impact participation patterns and impact on conversation dynamics. The initial attempt of the TalkTag was to make people look up from their phones and engage in real conversations, but the wearable could also be accessory on the phone that runs with an application built around the same behaviour harnessed here.

In the context of Social-distancing (Covid-19)
Though the project began with an exploration into social wearables and voice as an interface in the context, it evolved into a social wearable for inviting conversation with a small diegetic narrative to hear explaining the context of use.

As I was proposing this project, the world was being enveloped by the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic that reached over 192 countries pushing us all indoors into our homes and making social-distancing the new normal for the many months to come. The pandemic crisis is being tackled with extreme and unforeseen measures in terms of healthcare, logistics and policies but my ethnographic side can’t stop pondering over the changing social behaviour and its associated outcomes.

It is January 2021, twelve months post the pandemic first hit global news, people are finally starting to come out of their houses, not wearing masks and allowed to shake-hands with the abortion of the six feet social-distancing policy. The fear of the infection and the daily in-graining of social-distancing has crept into our social behaviour and we are having a tough time to make conversations or to share social spaces. My friend Sonia and I approach each other, each adorning the TalkTag, a small pendant like wearable which is designed as a token to invite conversation. Sonia wearing it around her neck and I have my Tag hooked on to my belt. We greet each other from across the park and find a bench. We sit on either side of the bench counter and pull our TalkTags. We don’t shake hands but we tap our Tags and stack them on the table, the green light turns on. With a quick tap on the TalkTag we switch between our pre-stored conversation starters and hear them out. On one such tap, the device voices out, “What was your favourite movie as a child?” and it makes us both look at each other and smile. We just knew it and out, come to the nostalgia-filled stories of our teenage years when we would have stay-over Harry Potter movie nights with ice-creams and pizzas. The conversation goes on for hours and we have completely forgotten how we hadn’t physically met and spoken for months at a stretch.



  1. Circuit Playground Express ID: 3333 – $24.95? Adafruit Industries, Unique & fun DIY electronics and kits. Retrieved January 15, 2020 from Creatron Inc, Toronto
  2. Dagan, Ella, et al. “Design Framework for Social Wearables.” Proceedings of the 2019 on Designing Interactive Systems Conference  – DIS ’19, ACM Press, 2019, pp. 1001–15. (Crossref), doi:10.1145/3322276.3322291.
  3. Dagan, Ella, et al. “‘Not Too Much, Not Too Little’ Wearables For Group Discussions.” Extended Abstracts of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Association for Computing Machinery, 2018, pp. 1–6. ACM Digital Library, doi:10.1145/3170427.3188500.
  4. “Durr, the Vibrating Watch From Skrekkogle That (Sort Of) Tells Time.” Core77., Accessed 11 Apr. 2020.
  5. Intro to CircuitPython with Adafruit Circuit Playground Express. YouTube, Accessed 11 Apr. 2020.
  6. “Karma Coin.” GlobalFuturesLab., Accessed 11 Apr. 2020.
  7. Lu, Leon. Social Medium. OCAD University, 2017.,
  8. “Make It Talk.” Adafruit Learning System., Accessed 11 Apr. 2020.
  9. Turkle, Sherry. Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. 2016.
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