San Francisco native Lydia Moog is a maker and engineer of physical objects, with experience in jewelry making, metalwork, and even making her own shoes. One semester shy of completing her undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering at Brown University, Moog is spending this summer in HP’s Immersive Experiences Lab exploring the intersection of material objects and human personality.
HP: What project are you working on this summer?
I’m part of a team that’s trying to better understand how people express themselves. We’re asking if there are ways to customize technologies so that people can better show off their individuality. So many products today stand at a distance from people’s personalities and we’re hoping to get away from that uniformity and allow people to express themselves through their technology choices.
HP: How are you doing that?
We’re conducting a user study where we ask users to share different outfits that they wear in different settings, like at home or at work. The idea is to see how they curate their appearance depending on their situation so we can get a sense of where they feel able to express themselves or where they feel restricted. Then we want to see if there’s an object or technology that might allow them to further express themselves within that context. It could be something that is hidden and that only they know about, but that makes them feel more comfortable. Or it could be something more overt like a color, or texture, or photograph that is more open to the public.
HP: What’s your own role in the research?
I’m making props to show the users that are related to HP’s 2D and 3D printing technologies and are examples of ways in which people might express themselves further. These are objects that in the future could be both mass produced and also individually personalized to reflect the person wearing it. I am also helping conduct the study, which will be my first time doing that!
HP: Do you have any results yet?
We’re currently designing the study plan and questions, and then we’ll run through everything with real people in a couple of weeks, so it’s too early to say at the moment.
HP: Is this kind of research new for you or something you’ve done before?
It’s new to me. I came to HP wanting to make physical objects that helped bridge the boundary between technology and the personal, so this is very much along those lines. But I’ve never done a user study like this or the kind of broad prototyping that we’re doing here.
HP: Is working at HP Labs changing your plans for after college?
I wasn’t thinking about being a researcher before and I’m definitely thinking about it now. I’m also more curious about 3D printing and where it can go in the future, especially in terms of how we might develop more sustainable and environmentally-friendly kinds of technologies. And more generally I’m curious about how we can improve the relationship between people and technology.
HP: Is HP Labs what you expected it to be?
When I walked in the first day it was not at all what I expected. It’s very community-based and people work together collaboratively to solve problems. They’re open even to interns suggesting ideas and bringing the projects forward. It’s a very warm, welcoming atmosphere – you get the sense that people are interested in helping you advance any idea that you have.
HP: How did you hear about internship opportunities at HP Labs?
While at Brown University I had the opportunity to take several classes in metalsmithing and jewelry at the Rhode Island School of Design. One of my classmates there was Alex Ju, who was an intern here last summer and now works at HP Labs as a researcher. Alex spoke highly of HP and encouraged me to apply for an internship in her lab.