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Are we still just a digital shoebox?


Authors: Monica Granfield
Posted: Tue, November 12, 2013 - 10:39:09

Digital pictures… they are fun to take and easy to share. With cameras built into our phones we can snap photos at a moment’s notice! Even with a separate camera like a high-end SLR, we can rack up the shots we take. Years ago we kept all the photos we took in albums and shoe boxes. When we wanted to share them with others we physically passed them around individually or in an album. An occasional one-off photo was placed in a frame on the mantle. With the exception of the ability to immediately share a photo electronically, much of how we share, store, and enjoy photos has not changed. Digital photography has changed how and where we access and share digital photos; how often, where, and when we take photos; but has it really changed how we enjoy or manage our photos?

We are still making photo albums, albeit glossy and well-designed now, and we are still enjoying our photos in an album or scrapbook that we store away. We are still printing out occasional photos to hand off and pass around, or placing them in a frame on the mantle. Holiday cards are still printed and hung about the house. Our digital photos are scattered all over the Internet or held captive in our small-screen phone. Technology still does not really let you enjoy or immerse yourself, digitally, in a photo for more than a moment.

Currently we share one-off posts to a social site that we see once and forget about or we quickly flip through the photos on our 2x4 smart phone screen. This is a fun, yet only a momentary, way to share a photo, and is not what I consider enjoying a photo. There have been attempts at ways to enjoy our photos digitally, none of which really caught on. From attempting to use screen savers as our desktop slide shows, inviting friends and family to websites to view your photos, and digital frames with proprietary websites and services we pay for, to plugging SD cards into a TV or a digital frame, most seem to have fallen by the wayside. I recently conducted a very casual survey to discover that using a digital frame is viewed as yet another place to manage your photos and it was just too much work to bother. Those few that did have digital frames love them. Here is a case where technology is still in the way of conveniently enjoying digital photos in a digital environment.

I know my experience of finding a way to seamlessly use a digital frame, so that myself and others could regularly enjoy looking at our photos, required a good deal of work, and I am a technologist. I had to first find a frame that was wireless and network enabled. Then I found an SD card, an Eye-fi card, which wirelessly uploads photos to their website or to specific a drive. I upload my photos to a network drive that maps my digital frame to the network drive. Have I bored you to tears yet? This is not for the average person. The average person does not even want to plug in a thumb drive or an SD card to upload and manage photos in yet another place. Most people in my survey back up their photos and hardly look back. Consistently people asked for “some way to organize their photos.” “I have a decade’s worth of photos that I need to organize,” commented one participant. Other participants commented, “I should really make one of those books.” 

Apparently organizing photos and the agony around it has not, in any way, been alleviated by technology. The shoebox has merely moved from the physical desk to the metaphorical desk. Folders are full of random photos with meaningless numbers for names. No one has assigned tags to photos or even labeled folders that hold them in a meaningful way. Tagging takes work and most people are just happy their photos are backed up. With all of our technology, will we ever really assist in finding a way to help people get organized? 

There have not been any great solutions to not only organizing our photos, but to truly experiencing our photos. It seems to me that technology is still in the way and is not fully assisting us in truly experiencing our photos, remembering the moments when they were taken. Maybe we could use our photos to create an experience like a wall that displays many photos, or one large photo, or a wall that that tells a story with our photos, without the end user having to define it. I love having my photos handy on my phone and the ability to easily share them. Now I want a better way to experience my photos. As an industry, let’s move out of the shoebox! Let’s take advantage of technology and move beyond replicating traditional means of displaying and enjoying photos to creating experiences where you can be fully immersed in them. I am not quite sure what this means, but would be interested to hear other ideas and get out of the shoebox.


Posted in: on Tue, November 12, 2013 - 10:39:09

Monica Granfield

Monica Granfield is a user experience strategist at Go Design LLC.
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