Beyond the Bounds - June 1, 2019
Leave a comment

Edge Effect—A Participatory Note-Taking System

By Randa Hadi

Note-taking is a magical handheld time capsule—it captures moments in time through text or drawing, which people treasure because of how personal it is to them and sometimes something they can only understand. Writing is an action created by us, it transfers bodily gestures onto the physical world by the pressure created on the tool leaving a trace on paper (Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014). Our experience taking notes is intimate and personal–it lives in the physical world that is contained on pages that are bound together. Over the years the notion of taking notes has been altered with technology, where students, professors and even kids use laptops to type their notes, which removes traces of emotions, personalization and the human touch.

This project explored two of the seven trends from the AIGA Designer 2025—bridging digital and physical experiences and aggregation curation. AIGA defined the constantly changing context in design by identifying seven trends that will make an impact in the profession (AIGA, 2018). These trends are meant to help people in the field anticipate and prepare for the future of design. During a critique, students usually take notes of the feedback for each other and share them at the end of the presentation, primarily through sharing pictures or scans of what they had written down. The project addresses the first trend, “bridging digital and physical experiences”, by keeping note-taking as a physical experience but allowing the discussions between the notes to happen digitally–using organic forms that connects to the human touch.

Note-taking is a form of expression, personalization, and communication that has been around since the beginning of time; notes have been painted in caves, written and drawn on paper, and typed on laptops. The information that is processed is translated into one’s own language and understanding—visually and textually. People look back at their notes as a way to remember what they had written down, a way to see their progression, and a way to feel the emotions through the way they wrote out their letters. Physical note-taking requires cognitive processing as a way of encoding information and allows for flexibility in terms of tools that one can use, as well as the notebook itself (Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014).

Note-taking can transport someone back to the specific location where they can immerse themselves with the marks they have left on pieces of paper. People’s notes are brought up in conversations and sometimes talked about with peers, who then write their own notes from what they have interpreted. The process of writing letters is a cycle that we all share. What if we could individually write notes but have the ability to participate in synthesizing notes together? What if our letters talked to each other to create a whole and complete note?  

The project also addresses trend two, “aggregation curation”, by creating a system that allows for aggregating information in public spaces through participation. By placing the interactive projection in open areas, it engages a wide range of people and spread information about design and the design process—it opens up space to a broader range of design like graphic design, architecture, and industrial design. By creating a flexible system, it could be available to all other disciplines to engage in more meaningful conversations with handwritten notes. The Edge Effect will be a learning hub that would intersect in any public space in a design school, increasing interaction among people. The projection would allow for information to aggregate over time while still having the ability to leave a mark in a community of designers that requires interaction.

The concept for this project stemmed from the Edge Effect—an ecological phenomenon that describes the diversity of life in a region where the edges of two adjacent ecosystems overlap. When the two ecosystems overlap, they create a more prosperous life, one that supports growth from each ecosystem and includes new life that only lives in the Edge Effect (Johnson, Hill & Melnick 2013). This phenomenon occurs when two ecosystems meet and clash, creating an innovative and diverse meaning that makes sense of things from the two ecosystems. Diversity is one of the main characteristics found in Edge Effect and one that inspired the design of this project (Van Der Ryn & Cowan, 2007):

Diverse ecosystems give rise to diverse life forms, and to diverse cultures… Seeding with diversity is a way of catalyzing creativity by providing a diverse repertoire of behaviors for the system to build on. (p. 164)

Creating a space where people can interact with another’s projection sparks new conversations. The Edge Effect is an interactive, responsive projection system that encourages participation—taking inspiration from both words and visuals from ecology that can manifest in the design. This system is created to be used by design graduate and undergraduate students right after their critiques as a way to formulate and digest the feedback. This becomes another form of discussion, allowing your notes to converse and talk to each other as a means to develop new ideas. Creating a space for people to participate would allow for several notes to aggregate, which would lead to a higher sense of creativity, a clashing of two systems. It fosters communities and encourages participants to expand their knowledge, keeping the projections living and growing when people interact with it. Participatory design is a way to “aggregate, transform, and distribute user content, building user communities through their actions” (Armstrong, 2011, p. 12). Students generate content during their critiques by writing notes based on their conversations and feedback. Studies have shown that “encoding [your own notes] suggests that the processing that occurs during the act of note-taking improves learning and retention” (Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014, p. 1159). The system would encourage students to write their notes during critiques so that they could project it on the wall and gain new ideas through participation. Figure I visualizes two students notes and how it would look like when projected–using ecology as inspiration for the design.

Figure I: Transformation from notebook to projection.

Edge Effect would allow students to interact with it by projecting their notes in their desired space [see Figure II] and having the ability to grab specific notes with a 3D object of their choice that would snap to the wall. After their critiques, students can project their notes to formulate a new and complete note. The projection would allow the students to mesh and grab specific notes from their peers as a way to expand their projects further. The system would encourage students to move to the particular space that the notes were projected on as a way to revisit and redigest the information. The Edge Effect is archived the same way human memory works—it is an organic, living being that fades and expands depending on the information it is fed, as well as the number of times it has interacted with people. It transforms from a personal note to a universal participatory note-taking system, requiring human interaction to remain in the space and alive. The more someone interacts with it, the longer it stays in the area. The less someone associates with it, the more faded the information becomes. Figure II shows a variety of spaces in which the Edge Effect projection would live to allow for interaction among people and the system itself, as it requires community interaction to stay alive. The Edge Effect would enable people to meet to have meaningful conversations. By allowing for projections to happen in a shared space, there is a higher chance people will talk to those they normally do not, therefore encouraging interaction and participation, both with one’s notes and others.

Figure II: Spaces Edge Effect can live in.

Pushing this project beyond the bounds for continuation has a lot of opportunities to address how participatory design can facilitate interactions and create meaningful conversations surrounding note-taking. With the rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning, this project opens up the possibility of how these problem spaces can be addressed. How can we keep the tradition of note-taking while creating new ways of communication, archiving, and connecting?

Figure III: Edge Effect after students have synthesized their notes with some of them starting to fade away.

Figure IV: Flat interface of Edge Effect showing four notes being synthesized.

Randa Hadi (MGD ‘20) is a Master of Graphic Design Candidate at North Carolina State University. She’s interested in visual storytelling, iterative explorations through the design process, and designing for meaningful conversations.


  • AIGA. “Design Futures: Designer 2025.” Aggregation Curation, 2018.
  • AIGA. “Design Futures: Designer 2025.” Bridging Digital and Physical Experiences, 2018.
  • Armstrong, Helen & Stojmirovic, Zvezdana. (2011) Participate: Designing with User-Generated Content. Print.
  • Baek, Joon & Kim, Sojung & Pahk, Yoonyee. (2016). A sociotechnical framework for the design of collaborative services: diagnosis and conceptualisation. 10.21606/drs.2016.203.
  • Johnson, B., K. Hill, and R. Melnick. 2013. Ecology and Design Frameworks For Learning. Island PressWashington.
  • Koria, Mikko & Best, Kathryn. (2017). Design, Collaboration & Evolvability: A Conversation About the Future.
  • Mueller, P. A., & Oppenheimer, D. M. (2014). The pen is mightier than the keyboard: Advantages of longhand over laptop note taking. Psychological Science , 25 , 1159–1168. doi:10.1177/0956797614524581
  • Ries, L. and Sisk, T. D. (2004), A Predictive Model of Edge Effects. Ecology, 85: 2917-2926. doi:10.1890/03-8021
  • Ryn, S. V., & Cowan, S. (2007). Ecological design: Tenth anniversary edition. Washington, D.C.: Island Press.
  • Vedantam, Shankar. (Social science correspondent). (2018, June 02). Edge Effect [Audio podcast] Retrieved from


Leave a Reply