A tool to capture emotions online | Design & Mental health

Annegret Bönemann developed an online program that allows you to 'read' other people's feelings while chatting. A kind of emoji, but then different. In this series, we talk to Eindhoven alumni about design and mental health. This time Annegret Bönemann and her project Vivid Text.

Is there a difference between empathy online and in real life? Research shows that this is the case, that the immediacy of a face-to-face conversation increases the focus on the interaction while interacting via computer or phone increases self-awareness, Annegret tells us. And since we devote a substantial part of our lives to screen time, she came up with a way to better understand the emotions of others. Over a cup of coffee at Cafe Lucifer she opens her laptop to show how.

“I was amazed by how warmly I was welcomed by all these new people and how open the conversations were.”

Annegret Bönemann 

For her graduation project she studied nonverbal communication  and worked with a facial recognition algorithm that can read parts of the face; that interprets wide open eyes as amazement and a corner of the mouth that pulls up as a smile. The chat program she created works in conjunction with the camera on your computer or phone. While you're chatting, the program registers the movements in your face and instantly translates them into the conversation texts on the screen.

For example, when you’re angry because your bike just got stolen, the other person will see large, heavy letters appear. On the contrary, when you write smilingly about the love of your life, the letters will almost be dancing on the screen.

Every letter you type will appear online immediately. The words also disappear after a few seconds. Annegret wants to come as close to a real conversation as possible. Spontaneous and intimate, although you don't see each other.

How do you really get in touch with another person? It’s a question that interests her as a designer and one she faced herself when she left Germany to study in the Netherlands. So far her interactions with strangers were always for a particular reason: asking someone for directions or chatting in a shop. She decides to challenge herself and to ring the doorbells of the residents of her new neighborhood.

The experiment works out well. “I was amazed by how warmly I was welcomed by all these new people and how open the conversations were.” She develops the habit of bringing a homemade cake whenever she rings a new doorbell. She smiles: ”Probably my German roots.” The encounters inspire her to publish a series of short stories called Cake.

When you’re in a real conversation, the trick is to listen and to observe, because a lot of the communication is nonverbal. It is an aspect that is completely lost with online chatting. Of course you’ve got emojis, hundreds of them, but they are far from ideal. "It interrupts a conversation because you have to look for the right picture and one can only hope for the other person to interpret it correctly.” An emoji that you interpret as sad, might look tired for another. With Vivid Text, this whole process takes place in a much smoother way: the emotions appear while typing.

Nearly a year after graduating, Annegret lives and works alternately in the Netherlands, Germany and Italy. Eindhoven remains one of her favorite spots though. “There is a huge potential for collaboration in Eindhoven. That’s a strong reason for me to be here.”

At the moment she is back in Eindhoven and working on the second edition of KONT magazine. The magazine, which was recently nominated for the Eindhoven Culture Prize, was founded to connect creatives (all linked to Eindhoven in some way) and to provide them with a platform to create together and show their work. Edition number two is about contradictions, collaboration, experiment and much more. It will be launched on 7 September in De Fabriek.

Try Vivid Text yourself or click here to read more about the project.