Email can be a chaotic thing, but we manage it with software magic and esoteric philosophies like Inbox Zero. Designer Brendan Dawes wondered what it would be like if we interacted with email physically; twisting knobs, flicking switches, and watching it glow. Would we learn to love email again, or would it just become another ornery appliance in our lives?
Teaming up with Mailchimp, Dawes (also known for this visualization) created six different appliances that encourages people to look at their email in different ways. Calling them his Six Monkeys, each one is named after a famous chimpanzee used in linguistic research.
Take Lucy, for example. Its whole schtick is that it glows different colors when emails are sent. But Lucy can read your emails, and change its color according to the contents. You can hook it up to IFTTT.com, for example, to have it glow purple whenever the Weather Channel says it’s going to rain later in the day. But you could also set it to pulse black every time your mother-in-law emails. Or set it to glow red every time your bank emails you to say your balance has fallen below a certain amount.
Oliver’s another interesting e-mail monkey. It’s ambient furniture, something halfway between an objet d’art and a space heater. You just set it on your coffee table and watch it. Oliver is purple at inbox zero, as your inbox fills up, Oliver heats up, burning brighter and redder. How hot do you let the email furnace burn before you go check your inbox?
The other monkeys have been designed to take novel but physical approaches to email:
Nim is a light switch for email, allowing you to turn it on and off with just a flip.
Lana links your email to a physical memento, sending you emails relating to your memories with that object when you move it.
Ham is like a jewelry box for the most important emails you’ve ever received; unlock it with a physical key, and it will print off a copy of a treasured missive for you to read for the first time all over again.
And Sarah is the equivalent of the flag on a country mailbox, flipping up when you get email from a certain someone in your life.
It is Dawes’s hope that his creations will lead us to re-examine our relationship with email.
“Email may not be perfect,” he writes, “but what is? It’s flawed yet it’s also beautiful. By placing email within our everyday physical spaces and looking at it in a new light, maybe we can learn to love it again.”
Unfortunately, though, Dawes’s Six Monkeys are conceptual, prototype creations. And It’s too bad, since a lot of these seem like they would make for pretty good Kickstarters.