A Playlist for Your Wall

This morning we released a new feature for Electric Objects. With Playlists, Electric Objects users can create lists of your favorite artworks from Art Club, or from the community, and set your EO1 to rotate through them every 30 minutes, every hour, every 12 hours or every 24 hours. We think you’ll love it, and are confident that it will make Electric Objects an even more welcome addition to your home.

“Slideshows are not as cool as you think.” — Electric Objects FAQ, 2014

But you may recall that when we launched, we were pretty set against anything that looked like a “slideshow.” We felt that it offered an opportunity for distraction, and that something meaningful happened when a work of digital art was left on your wall for days, weeks, months. This is the story of how we changed our minds.

Electric Objects began as an experiment in time, space, and computers. When we started the project, a little over two years ago, we asked: what would happen if we afforded to digital art the same time and space that we offer the paintings and photographs that fill our homes? How would it change our relationship to the art? How could it change our homes?

We humans expect computers and screens to change. We expect them to engage us. We expect them to ask for our attention, to absorb us. We expect these things because computers and screens have for decades been designed for productivity, for entertainment, for an economy built on eyeballs and advertising.

Electric Objects is an attempt at something different. It’s a platform designed specifically for art: a combination of hardware, software, and community that will, at its best, at its most effective and at its most meaningful, fade into the background. It’s built on a premise that this technology will only become part of the home when the technology itself disappears. What remains when the technology disappears is art in your home.

Many of the design decisions we made early on — no sound, low brightness, no buttons, no interaction, no slideshows — were made with that vision of the home in mind. We wanted to build hardware that you don’t notice, that doesn’t ask anything of you, that acts merely as a vehicle for the art and the community behind it.

So we launched Electric Objects with an unlikely constraint: no slideshows. We wanted our first users to experience and report back on a somewhat counterintuitive experience — that in today’s permission-to-send-you-notifications connected world, you could live with a screen that doesn’t incentivize change.

Early on, the experiment elicited some fascinating feedback — our customers suggested that the slower pace of consumption made the art feel more tangible, more physical, more real, and more valuable.

No slideshows” captured in two words everything we believed was wrong with the current and sad state of information overload, everything that was wrong about previous attempts at art-on-screens. It signaled the beginning of a new kind of technology in the home, the emergence of a truly ambient computing.

Today, thousands of EO1s are online all over the world and we’re releasing four new collections of art every week. We’ve demonstrated to our customers and ourselves the value that time and persistence can offer digital art. We’ve demonstrated that digital art can bring delightful moments of discovery, beauty, wonder, and real human connection into the home, and can contribute to our lives in a way that no other visual medium can.

In the past 7 months, Electric Objects has grown from a few hundred works of art into a library of tens of thousands. What began as an experience challenge — How do we build technology for the home that truly disappears? — has today evolved into a discovery challenge — How can we use this technology to discover and enjoy the vast variety of art now available at our fingertips?

The Electric Objects Showroom in Soho, December 2015

We are measured as product designers not only by our willingness to challenge the assumptions that others take for granted, but also by our willingness to challenge our own.

So with a critical eye we asked: can we embrace the flexibility offered by this medium without compromising the integrity of our commitment to ambience, to delivering a technology that disappears? Our users helped make this decision easier: they asked for it, and to them the feature carried no controversy.

So today we’re introducing Playlists, a feature that might at first glance seem small and obvious, but upon further inspection reveals a fairly dramatic shift in the experience of product in the home. After months of designing, building, and testing, we’re convinced that Playlists will significantly improve how we discover and enjoy art in Electric Objects, and we’re thrilled to get it out into the world.

We step into this brave new world carefully, sensitive to the “attention risks” that the feature presents, but we do it with more confidence than ever in the core Electric Objects proposition, informed by the last 7 months of real-world-feedback — that we can build and live with a kind of technology that truly disappears.

To learn more about Electric Objects, or to bring a playlist to your wall, visit electricobjects.com.