DesignPriscilla Ikhena

Once Upon a Culture

DesignPriscilla Ikhena
Once Upon a Culture


Exploring cultural identity through technology.

Type: Tangible Augmented Reality Experience - Creative Design

Role: Interaction Designer - User Experience Designer - Videographer

Timeline: 2.5 months

Tools: Unity 3D, Final Cut Pro

Team: Xi Hu, Ellen Sigloch and Priscilla Nini Ikhena (myself).

Research Paper: Once Upon a Time - Exploring Cultural Identity Through Technology


Once upon a culture is a tangible augmented reality experience that explores cultural identity through tangible interfaces and augmented reality. With this project, we aimed to create an experience that enabled the user reflect critically on their concepts of cultural identity, of home and of stereotypes.

To do this, we wanted to use tangible interfaces to help people experience abstract concepts such as culture and home.

Thus, wehoned into our cultural journeys, and chose to represent them with Matryoshka-Dolls. Each doll represented each of our stories. Each doll holding our individual journey through life. 3 dolls - 3 stories - 3 women.


To better explain, I’ll use the experience of my Matryoshka-Doll as an example. Each layer of my doll held a facet of myself that represented a culture I identify with, or something that reminded me of home. As the user went through my doll, they experienced a new facet at each layer, without knowing the person behind the doll (me).

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These facets were designed to be augmented reality experiences, that enabled the user view a video at each level of something abstract that represented an idea or culture I identify it. For example, at a certain layer, a video of my mom cooking at my home in Nigeria, came up. It showed only the pot of stew being stirred, and background noise from other family members, but not the face of my mom, so as not to give away hints of who the person behind the doll was.

To trigger these videos, the patterns on the dolls served as tokens that the camera detected while running our application in Unity 3D. The application then triggered the appropriate video/music for that layer. Please read more about the development of the application, here.

Thus the user went through the experiences at each layer, forming their own ideas on who the person behind the doll was, based on the contents in the doll.

When they got to the last layer, which we called the '“core”, I was revealed to the user, through a video of myself speaking about what home means to me, as well as my views on culture, identity and stereotypes.

All three dolls had the same structure of experience, with different facets in them, and each time, the user had to guess who was behind the doll.

The aim was to evoke users to notice the complexities of culture, identity, stereotypes and the dangers about having single stories about people. We are all multifaceted beings and are shaped by the different cultures and experiences we are exposed to.

We wanted to increase cultural competence as well as criticism without explaining what ‘culture’ is, but rather to make people see it in new ways, challenge their perceptions of it.

Please watch our demo experience below, to better understand how the tangible augmented reality experience worked.

Go behind the scenes with us, with the video below.


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