Carolin Horn, MFA ’07


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Name: Carolin Horn

Graduation: 2007

Program: MFA

Anymails is a visualization of my received emails. I have investigated how I can use natural metaphors to visualize my inbox, its structure and attributes. The metaphor of microbes is used. My objective is to offer the user another experience of his email world.

The emails used in the prototype are read from the users local Apple Mail database. The prototype was built with Flash and Processing.

One animal represents one received email.

The emails are categorized in six person groups: family and friends, school, job, e-commerce, unclassified, and spam. For example, all emails I have received from my advisors and fellow students are in the category school. These categories are represented by six species, which are different in color and form. For instance, all received emails from school are blue and look a bit like croissants.

How an animal looks and moves depends on the condition of the represented email. The age of an email (when it was received) is shown by the size and opacity of the animal. For instance, a new email is big and opaque, an old email small and transparent. The status of an email (unread, read, responded) is shown by two animal attributes: the number of hair/feet and velocity. An unread email is hairy and swims fast; a read email has less hair and does not swim so fast anymore; a responded email is hairless and barely moves.

On the opening screen of my interface, all animals are swimming freely. Only animals (emails) of a certain time period are visible at once, such as received emails from today. The user can modify this period in the time line in the menu Time. He can decide if he wants to see emails from today, from the last week or month. The animals represent the following information about the email inbox: The user can see the amount of received emails by the amount of animals. He can see how many emails he has received from which category by the different colored and formed animals. Are there more spam (brown animals) or more emails from family and friends (light green animals)? He can see the status of emails – which animals move fast or slow, which animals are hairy or hairless. For instance, if there are many unread emails from different species (categories), then the screen will be full of different colored and fast swimming hairy animals. If there are only a few responded emails, then only a few barely moving and hairless animals will be visible.

The user can filter emails by species and status. He can fade in or fade out certain species like spam. Or he can make all unread emails visible or invisible. For instance, he can combine these filters to see only emails from school, which are unread.

The user can go back in time to see emails received over the last months or years. He can scroll through the timeline to previous inbox conditions. The user can compare different times; he can recognize patterns. When has he received more or less emails? When have more relatives and friends sent emails, when more people from school? When has he responded more or less emails?

Keywords: Processing, microbes, natural metaphor, visualization