Design + Technology + Art

Six Monkeys

Physical interactions with email


Six Monkeys — commissioned by Mailchimp — explores our interactions with email through physical Internet connected objects.

Email is often thought of with negative connotations; overflowing inboxes, strategies on how to get to inbox zero, dealing with the constant barrage of spam whilst each week seemingly giving rise to a new start-up that will promise to tame the evils of email.

There is however another side. Email is a ubiquitous, easy to understand system, working across any platform that can deliver not just the unwanted and the unloved but often the exact opposite; messages from friends, exciting opportunities, memories of trips taken and a million other things. It may not be perfect, but what is? It's flawed yet it's also beautiful.

Six Monkeys is a series of six connected objects that look at how we might change our relationship to email by changing the surrounding context of how we interact with it. By placing email within our everyday physical spaces it may get us to look at the familiarity of email in a new light; we may even learn to love it again.

Each object is named after a famous Chimpanzee used in linguistic research.


Lucy responds to commands sent via email. Email Lucy with the subject "blink" and a colour in the body of the message and she will blink that colour. Set the subject to static and she'll stay at whatever colour you specify, either through a keyword or using RGB values.

Anything that can send email can talk with Lucy. This is email as an API, without having to write a specific API. Have a device or a service that can send email? Then it can automatically talk with Lucy. In our research we hooked it up to, without having to create any kind of specific channel, and had it telling us changes in the weather, sending us alerts to remind us about important appointments and anything else we could think of.


Why can't we turn email off and on as easy as other appliances in our house? Nim places such a switch for your email next to a regular light switch so when you feel like switching off for the weekend, just flick the switch and email will be prevented from coming through the network across all your devices. By changing the context of how we turn email off and on we might better manage our relationship to it, easily able to switch off whenever we feel like it.


Emails are often a container for our memories. Like physical souvenirs they remind us of wonderful times spent with family and friends yet unlike souvenirs they don't exist in the physical space so we can't easily bump into them like you can when rummaging through a box of things.

Lana transforms these emails into a literal physical form, that sits alongside and amongst other physical souvenirs. Disturb Lana by moving her and sometime later that day Lana will send you an email with those memories; connecting analog to digital. This is email as physical artefact.


Notifications from digital devices are often like the glass form they sit behind - hard, cold and unforgiving. Paper on the other hand is exactly the opposite – soft, warm and tactile to the touch. Sarah lets you create a notification that alerts you, but in a gentle, silent unobtrusive manner. This digital connected object frees the paper from behind the glass and uses the warm subtle qualities of the analog world to create ambient notifications that inform in a more human, charming manner.


Oliver acts as ambient furniture; a piece of objet d'art that can sit quietly on your coffee table silently displaying the state of your inbox using a simple light system. Red indicates the percentage of unread emails currently in your inbox. How far do you let Oliver become mostly red before your decide to tackle your email? Do you make a plan to turn Oliver purple — an indication of inbox zero — by the end of each day? Oliver is your visual guide to your inbox.


What if there was a physical box that could store your most precious emails? A box that could only be unlocked with a key that you held and once opened would let you explore and print out those moments that your hold dear. Ham is that box — an analog box for digital things. Simply forward that special email to Ham and it will store it inside forever, ready for you to unlock at any time, print, tear-off, hold in your hands and read again.

Further Info

Images are available in the press kit

Built using Electric Imp

All six videos as a collection on Vimeo

Concept, design and code by Brendan Dawes