Design a physical object that can sit on a desk that allows a user to count up or down. The target audience is someone who wants to keep a numeric tally and have a physical reminder of their progress to display for themselves and others on their desk. The single object should allow the user to easily record single increments of change – either counting forward toward a target or backwards from it.


User 1: Woman who lives to travel, wants to be able to visibly count down the days until her next vacation

User 2: Man who is trying to cut down his weekly coffee intake, wants to keep track of his weekly cups of coffee

For his design challenge, my mind went immediately to two basic, yet widely familiar counting devices: the 5 line tally marks and the abacus:







I was also inspired by the physical design of this calendar the Moma Store that I had been given few years ago. It is a satisfying tactile device and it is not married to any particular year – long term use!

I went through several iterations of a design that would meet this challenge.

This card box design seemed the most efficient, visible with great affordance, concise is size and style. Easy to use and small, compact. A lot can fit into a little space. I also had a fun idea for a “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” device where each day the user would “take one down and pass it around” but there were too many pieces, too many opportunities for losing those pieces, too much set-up and easy to lead to frustration or giving up on the device. Not the best option, but a fun idea.


However I decided against this design and went for the “fun,” interactive design that came from my initial inspiration of the abacus and the tally.  The device will be a box that uses “tally” sticks. When the tally reaches 5, the user spins a bead to show the number five and the tally with the sticks starts all over. When the tally reaches another five, the next bead is spun to show ten. This goes on up to 100. It can also be used to count backwards.  There is also room in the back of the box for a photo which can act as a reminder for what the counter is being used for (whether it be a photo of a destination or a cup of coffee). This creates a daily interactive, tactile experience, which will keep the user connected to his/her goal or process. For those who are familiar with the abacus and tally, the mental model should help them use the device. For those not familiar, the beads/squares should offer the affordance necessary to make clear what they are used for. Once the user muddles through and realizes that the beads/squares count up in intervals of 5, they will know what to do with the sticks.

Here are the initial designs:

IMG_4420I started to play with some concept designs before settling on this option:
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Although the vertical nature of the beads offers a clear sense of 0-100 from top to bottom, I felt that the design should be horizontal to fit a landscaped image. It also would also give the user a better visible mental model, as it resembles the abacus in a better way. The horizontal design offers a timeline view of the counting, whether forward or backward.

The re-design:
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Balsa wood sheet
Balsa wood rod
Balsa wood sticks
Blue acrylic paint
Pearl acrylic paint
Wood glue

After measuring, I began laser cutting and sawing the parts.
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I even discovered the United States in my paint palette!






The AbacusDabra – a desktop counting companion
(better photos to come)
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