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A low-energy, low-stakes yet meaningful approach to interpersonal connection for van-dwellers.


Industrial Design,

User Experience, Interface Design,

Brand Identity, Illustration


10 Weeks


Emily Wang, Sasha Noerdin, Shelley Tsui


What is Van-Dwelling?

“Van-dwelling” is catch-all for most sorts of vehicle dwelling, be it van, car, pickup, school bus, step van, etc.

Some van-dwellers live this lifestyle by choice to gain a sense of freedom, self-sufficiency, personal sustainability, and mobility without paying for conventional stationary housing, while for others it might be one step from living on the street or in a shelter.

A search of #vanlife on Instagram turns up over 7 million posts, up 312% from 2017.

When we take a closer look at these posts and other online content, we see a clear trend in how this lifestyle is represented: all we see is community, friendship, freedom, and fun.

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Van life is built up as a paragon of social connectedness and personal fulfillment.

However, according to a 2018 survey of 725 van-dwellers from around the world, 36% of van-dwellers actually live alone.

Real people, real stories.



Literature reviews


Observations of online communities



+ Competitive analysis

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+ Insights

Van-dwellers not only perceive their lifestyle but also their relationships as transient.

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Van-dwellers often deal with loneliness and having a smaller circle of friends.

Van-dwellers want to connect with others but are often unsure how.

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Our solution should be a low-energy, low-stakes interpersonal connection for van-dwellers.

Sharing photos is not an immersive or relatable experience.

Our solution should utilize sense of sound to prompt memory immersion + share with others.

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“Sometimes it feels like I’ve been on the road so long that I don’t really know how to approach others.

'Hey, I’m a van-dweller too!’ will usually start up a conversation, but always ends up the same.”


Problem Statement

Design a low-energy, low-stakes yet meaningful approach to interpersonal connection for van-dwellers despite the fleeting contact they might have with others.

Design Principles

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A conversation starter to be shared with friends, family, and strangers.

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Celebrates all the unique twists and turns of your van-dwelling journey.

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Lightweight so you can bring it with you anywhere during your adventures.

The Concept


1. Frank has been van-dwelling for the past year. He enjoys being on the move, but he also feels lonely because all of the interactions he’s had with others have been fleeting and insignificant.


2. When he’s face-to-face with another van-dweller, their conversations are never particularly deep — they talk about where they’ve been and their vans, but not the actual experiences of being there.

Technological Considerations

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Near-Field Communication (NFC) is a type of Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) technology. It’s primarily used in smartphone tap-to-pay features and in all debit/credit cards.

NFC allows for cards to be recognized by simple contact. Its wide range means it can also recognize every single card within a stack.


Why not an app?

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It’s easier. Every phone has its NFC antenna in different place. As a result, it can be difficult to find the right read point.

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It’s more meaningful. Physical cards encourage in-person sharing and communication. Moreover, they serve as a physical aide for story-telling and personal reflection.

Form Inspiration

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"A form that begs to be held and displayed.”


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What is Chord?

With Chord, you can revisit the echoes of the Grand Canyon or the waves by Santa Monica pier.

Not only does Chord provide a way to revisit these sounds but it allows you to share them with others. Each recording that exists within a Chord card can be given to someone else and remind them of a new sight, a new sound, and a new person.

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record / stop record

stagger (delay)


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speaker grills

paracord attachment

light sensor

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Chord readers light up during playback in dim lighting.

Relax and enjoy.

How Chord works, explained:

Each card has its own unique ID associated with its RFID chip.

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Lay your card on the card reader and start recording.

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The card reader sends the recording to the cloud.

Our service saves the recording in association with the card’s unique ID.

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When a card reader reads your card, it’ll ping the cloud to see if there’s a recording associated with the ID.

If there is, it’ll play it back!

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Layer your cards to create unique soundscapes! Your card reader can read them simultaneously!

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Chord is small, lightweight, and portable for the on-the-go van-dweller.

Reader dimensions: 5.125" x 4.25" x 2"

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Card Reader

Reader dimensions: 5.125" x 4.25" x 2"

1. PCB
2. wifi board
3. LED strip
4. AA batteries + holder

5. NFC-RFID antenna
6. microphone module
7. stereo speaker module
8. photoresistor


Reader dimensions: 2" x 3.5" x 0.16"

1. NFC-RFID tag

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Color / Material / Finish

  • Durable two-shot injection molded matte plastic for the main body

  • Durable paracord to attach to backpack

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Striking a Chord with Others

Use Chord to strike up a conversation with others and give them something to remember you by.

Leave messages behind for them by personalizing the card back.

Striking a Chord with Others

If your audio doesn’t fit a Chord card in the starter pack, order blank cards to create your own.

The possibilities are endless!

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Branding Guidelines

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Other Promotional Material

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In our loneliest times, it is our connections with
others that keep us grounded and whole.

However, being on the road makes it difficult to
hold onto these connections.

Chord makes them tangible: something to hold onto, something to easily revisit, and something to keep close.

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