Presence in Absence by Colm Keller


Graduate designer Colm Keller has created a pair of ceramic and birch usb pendants for couples with long-distance relationships.

Called Presence in Absence, the project comprises the pendents (which are initially one piece of beech that the users divide with a craft knife) a porcelain hub for the memory sticks and a case to contain all these items, made of felt and leather.

Each memory stick is intended as a symbol of being in a relationship, and users are meant to share the data and contents when they meet up.

Keller designed the kit while studying at HDK in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Photographs are by Christoffer T. Duff.

Here's some more information from Colm Keller:


This is Irish designer Colm Keller's thesis project at HDK in Göteborg, Sweden. The project highlights the issue of increasing long-distance relationships and the drawbacks of computer mediated communication. I wanted to include the reflective, relaxing qualities of crafts as way to build an emotional bond between users and the object. It also hopes to open a dialogue about how we will value our digital artifacts in the future – our digital heirlooms.

The kit contains four parts and these are as follows:

  • A digital scrapbook finished in birch wood with porcelain caps.
  • A carving knife with laminated steel blade and birch and oak handle.
  • A hub for both digital scrapbooks finished in porcelain.
  • A carrying envelope finished in grey felt, brown aniline leather with birch duffel button and laser cut details.

The scrapbook is designed so that it can be cut in half slowly using the carving knife provided. Then each partner can take a half and shape it to their own desire. The time spent splitting and carving the object should help to build this emotional bond between user and object. The more exclusive materials hope to raise the value of our digital objects today.

Enabling the person to wear it on their clothing or as a pendant around the neck reinforces its primary affordance as a symbol of a relationship. It becomes a subconscious reminder of the partner and during the time apart it slowly starts to fill up with content that can be shared upon rejoining.

Upon rejoining the couples can contrast and compare the physical appearance with the contents of each portion. Maybe the two will differ drastically, a reflection of the time invested by the users. The sharing of the media in each scrapbook is a ritual that the couples will look forward to while apart and enjoy upon re-joining. Listening to music or looking at photographs, movies are not the same if you have no one to share them with. The porcelain hub reiterates this ritual. By placing the two parts side-by-side it gives a semantic hint that they belong together.

Posted on Monday November 9th 2009 at 12:35 pm by . Copyright policy | Comments policy

  • Claire

    Quirky and thoughtful- very nice. Reminds me of something out of the design interactions department of the RCA…except somehow slightly more real.

  • Lame. It looks like an oversized clothes pin and I think the theory behind it is weak. I don’t believe this large and awkward USB drive will take the place (for those of you into this kind of thing) promise rings or simply calling your significant other on the cell phone, texting, or instant messaging. Why would I want to mess around with the ugly clothes pin thing that I’m suppose to wear around my neck, when I have so many other instant means of gratification when it come to communicating with my significant other.

  • ichiban

    Good. Up until the slapped on USB cord.

  • andrea

    Mmm world was actually missing the umpteenth usb key gadget.
    Maybe I read through the description too fast, but general design, packaging, material choice, and use procedure (what am i going to do after the carving with the very nice and very dangerous knive?) all make little sense to me.. emotional but not real ..

  • boop

    when they meet up they share their data????

    did anyone tell this guy about the internet?

  • ElP

    I love the idea, indeed thoughtful and comprehensible, but I am not that sure about looks and size. Maybe it gets a lot better with a little more carving effort than displayed.

  • Matthias
  • Dusty

    The concept or ritual in this piece is beautiful, if you are in a relationship and about to say goodbye for a long period of time it is nice to allow yourself to do something together. This object creates that instance. It is not important that it is rather large compared to other usb’s (why do we always want to make things small?) it isn’t necessarily for everyday use, and the materials imply a sense of warmth and sentimentality unlike metals and plastics as in typical USB’s. Yes stories can be told on the phone and information exchanged online but doesnt this sharing process bring the couple close together after the long period of distance?

  • Insanely pretentious

  • Peter

    Yeah right, when i meet my partner after being apart for a long time, we´ll compare our poetical USB sticks. I am not able to put into words how pretentious this is – especially the line “by Colm Keller” makes me rather uncomfortable. One more vanity project that wastes material and energy on the basis of would be deepness, but no useful idea. And then it´s even clumsy and ugly.

  • ste

    romantics back in the digital world… idea is nice… but they should be syncronized via wireless in every single moment so that those 2 could be really close to each other(s data) everytime!

    and in terms of design it should be just smaller!

  • Kris Adams

    I think the thing that projects miss all too well is the natural way people share experiences.

    I know numerous people who have ‘memory boxes’ where photos, old gig tickets, maybe even old bottle tops are kept inside as triggers to some memory they feel is worth keeping hold of. With something like this those experiences aren’t as tangible in my opinion.

    I actually came up with something quite similar at university and played and played with the idea of developing it but essentially never did because I really thought it was too restrictive (being encased by technology in all it’s glory) to be classed ’emotional’.

    People will carry on to have shoe boxes full of crap that will hold more relevance emotionally than an electronic object ever will.

  • Tautvydas

    Long distance relationships usually mean air travelling. Knifes are banned in personal baggage. pitty.

  • LOW

    The real-life equivalent of the Facebook status “In a relationship”…

  • T Sandwich

    Incredible!!! Bravo!!! The best thing to happen to dating since Chuck Barris.

  • hugo

    really dumb idea, i see absolutely nothing in this which has any relevance to long distance relationships.