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Mediating Intimacy with DearBoard: a Co-Customizable Keyboard for Everyday Messaging

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Co-customizations are collaborative customizations in messaging apps that all conversation members can view and change, e.g. the color of chat bubbles on Facebook Messenger. Co-customizations grant new opportunities for expressing intimacy; however, most apps offer private customizations only. To investigate how people in close relationships integrate co-customizations into their established communication app ecosystems, we built DearBoard: an Android keyboard that allows two people to co-customize its color theme and a toolbar of expression shortcuts (emojis and GIFs). In a 5-week field study with 18 pairs of couples, friends, and relatives, participants expressed their shared interests, history, and knowledge of each other through co-customizations that served as meaningful decorations, interface optimizations, conversation themes, and non-verbal channels for playful, affectionate interactions. The co-ownership of the co-customizations invited participants to negotiate who customizes what and for whom they customize. We discuss how co-customizations mediate intimacy through place-making efforts and suggest design opportunities.
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Mediating Intimacy with DearBoard: a Co-Customizable
Keyboard for Everyday Messaging
Carla F. Griggio
IIS Lab, The University of Tokyo, Japan
Digital Design and Information Studies, Aarhus University
Aarhus, Denmark
carla@cc.au.dk
Arissa J. Sato
IIS Lab, The University of Tokyo, Japan
arissa@iis-lab.org
Wendy E. Mackay
LRI, Univ. Paris-Sud, CNRS, Inria, Université Paris-Saclay
Orsay, France
mackay@lri.fr
Koji Yatani
IIS Lab, The University of Tokyo, Japan
koji@iis-lab.org
ABSTRACT
Co-customizations are collaborative customizations in messaging
apps that all conversation members can view and change, e.g. the
color of chat bubbles on Facebook Messenger. Co-customizations
grant new opportunities for expressing intimacy; however, most
apps oer private customizations only. To investigate how people
in close relationships integrate co-customizations into their
established communication app ecosystems, we built DearBoard:
an Android keyboard that allows two people to co-customize its
color theme and a toolbar of expression shortcuts (emojis and
GIFs). In a 5-week eld study with 18 pairs of couples, friends,
and relatives, participants expressed their shared interests, history,
and knowledge of each other through co-customizations that
served as meaningful decorations, interface optimizations, con-
versation themes, and non-verbal channels for playful, aectionate
interactions. The co-ownership of the co-customizations invited
participants to negotiate who customizes what and for whom they
customize. We discuss how co-customizations mediate intimacy
through place-making eorts and suggest design opportunities.
CCS CONCEPTS
Human-centered computing Empirical studies in col-
laborative and social computing
;
Collaborative and social
computing systems and tools.
KEYWORDS
CMC, mediated intimacy, close relationships, soft keyboard,
co-customizations, ecosystems of communication apps, communi-
cation places, emoji, GIF
ACM Reference Format:
Carla F. Griggio, Arissa J. Sato, Wendy E. Mackay, and Koji Yatani. 2021.
Mediating Intimacy with DearBoard: a Co-Customizable Keyboard for
Everyday Messaging. In CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing
Systems (CHI ’21), May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan. ACM, New York, NY,
USA, 16 pages. https://doi.org/10.1145/3411764.3445757
CHI ’21, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan
©2021 Association for Computing Machinery.
This is the author’s version of the work. It is posted here for your personal use. Not
for redistribution. The denitive Version of Record was published in CHI Conference
on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’21), May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan,
https://doi.org/10.1145/3411764.3445757.
1 INTRODUCTION
Messaging apps play an important role in maintaining close
relationships: they provide a means of staying connected when
apart [
31
,
41
], lling the “empty moments” of a day with “thinking
of you” messages [
14
,
33
], and exploring new forms of expression
via emojis [
27
,
42
], stickers [
56
], and GIFs [
24
,
49
]. The relationships
that users hold with their contacts inuence how they use
messaging apps. For example, they may organize their contacts
so that “WhatsApp is for family and Messenger is for friends” [
38
]
or re-purpose emojis with special meanings, e.g., sending the
pizza emoji to convey “I love you” [
54
]. People use messaging
apps in special ways with their most intimate contacts. Our goal
is to support these close relationships by oering them new
opportunities for expressing intimacy in their everyday online
communication.
Some messaging apps now feature collaborative customiza-
tions dedicated to specic conversations, which we dene as
co-customizations. Co-customizations allow users in the same group
to jointly customize their communication space in a way that better
reects their preferences and relationships. For example, Griggio et
al. [
19
] illustrated how a user changed the color of the chat bubbles
to green, his husband’s favorite color, for their conversations on
Facebook Messenger (from now on, Messenger); another user
changed Messenger’s shortcut to the thumbs up emoji for a
bike in the conversation with a friend who shared her love of
biking. Since co-customizations are collaborative and belong to a
specic group, users in close relationships can adopt them as new
means of expressing intimacy, persisting their shared identity in the
medium itself [
18
]. However, the design space of co-customizations
remain widely under-explored. We see co-customizations as a
promising way of tailoring functionality to close relationships, and
we are interested in understanding how they can contribute new
opportunities in the design space of mediated intimacy.
Providing users with new co-customizations to learn what
value they bring to their everyday messaging presents a dilemma.
One possible direction is to build a new, fully co-customizable
communication app and invite users to leave their current apps.
However, this would deprive participants of their usual means of
expression and the established communication patterns that we
seek to support and enrich. The growing literature on ecosystems of
CHI ’21, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan Carla F. Griggio, Arissa J. Sato, Wendy E. Mackay, and Koji Yatani
Figure 1: DearBoard enhances existing apps with co-customizations. Alice and Bob can see and control a toolbar of expression
shortcuts above the keyboard, as well as its color theme. First, Alice adds three expression shortcuts to the nail polish,
heart eyes and laughing with tears emojis, which she and Bob use often. Bob sees these shortcuts and adds three cat-theme
GIFs. He also changes the color theme to red, Alice’s favorite color. They can both see, use and change their co-customizations
on WhatsApp, as well as any other app where they chat together.
communication apps [
4
,
14
,
38
,
43
] and social media ecologies [
15
,
25
,
55
] argues that the communication mediated by one platform is
shaped by the content, contacts, functionality, and cultural norms of
other platforms in their app ecosystem. It is thus important that our
investigation would preserve participants’ existing communication
places [38] while allowing them to experience co-customizations.
To this end, we explore an app-agnostic approach to aug-
menting apps with co-customizations, so that users combine our
co-customizations with their usual messaging apps. We instantiated
the concept of co-customization as a mobile soft keyboard, called
DearBoard (Figure 1), and conducted a ve-week-long eld study
with 18 pairs of couples, close friends, and relatives. DearBoard
is an Android keyboard with a co-customizable color theme and
a toolbar of emojis and GIFs. We repurpose a soft keyboard
as a “Trojan Horse” [
53
] that introduces new functionality into
closed, unmodiable messaging apps to empower users in close
relationships with co-customizations that are app-agnostic, i.e.,
that they can be brought into any conversation with each other
regardless of the app they use. We contribute novel, nuanced
insights into how co-customizations mediate intimacy in everyday
messaging, as well as DearBoard, the rst technological artifact
designed to augment ecosystems of communication apps with
co-customizations between two users.
2 RELATED WORK
We ground our work in previous research on mediated intimacy
through messaging apps, communication places in app ecosystems,
and app customizations and soft keyboards for supporting
personalized expression.
2.1 Mediating Intimacy via Messaging Apps
Technology-mediated communication increasingly matters for
maintaining relationships, for example, by contributing to couples’
relationship satisfaction [
50
] or granting new means for controlling
the impression we convey to others [
52
]. Licoppe [
31
] discusses
how mobile messaging enabled a state of “connected presence”
between people in close relationships, where a never-ending
exchange of mundane interactions ows without the need of
explicitly starting or ending a conversation. Similarly, Ohara et
al. [
39
] discuss how the interactions on WhatsApp can be described
as “being” with others, where “togetherness and intimacy are
enacted through small, continuous traces of narrative, of tellings
and tidbits, noticings and thoughts, shared images and lingering
pauses”. Communication apps also support expressions of intimacy
through eortful communication acts. Kelly et al. [
26
] studied how
communication partners carefully craft their messages to reect
Mediating Intimacy with DearBoard: a Co-Customizable Keyboard for Everyday Messaging CHI ’21, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan
their knowledge of each other, hoping that the recipient will
recognize this as an expression of their intimacy.
People in close relationships often construct new intimate bonds
via secret codes, references to anecdotes, or through repurposed
meanings of emojis and GIFs that only they can understand. Kelly
and Watts [
29
] proposed that the appropriation of emojis within
close relationships promotes feelings of closeness, arguing that
“what begins as a relatively meaningless endeavour can become
something that is likely to be relationally valuable through the
co-creation of unique meanings”. Jiang et al. [
24
] found a similar
usage pattern around GIFs, where users relied on the shared
understandings and inside jokes with close friends when selecting
the perfect GIF for reacting [
37
] to a message. Despite the evidence
above, apps oer little support for customizing conversation
interfaces to support the intimate communication styles that users
develop with intimate partners.
Previous work has argued that communication technologies
should acknowledge the personal relationships that users maintain
with their contacts. Ceccinatto et al. [
11
] explain that the “always
on” culture enabled by mobile devices blurs the lines between work
and personal life. They suggest that “notication settings should
leverage on users’ existing contacts lists and starred contacts, rather
than on single apps, in order to select when, where and how to be
notied by certain people”. Wiseman and Gould [
54
] warn that
machine-learning techniques for understanding how people use
emojis may miss important nuances if they neglect the repurposed
meanings that emojis often take within close relationships. Arnold
et al. [
4
] raise concerns around policies that force messaging apps
to support interoperability dedicated to accessing the contacts of
one app from another, as these may disrupt user practices around
compartmentalizing their contacts in dierent apps based on the
closeness of their relationships. This suggests that we need systems
that acknowledge the relationship between two users and recognize
when they message each other, so that their co-customizations only
appear in their mutual conversations.
2.2 Customizations in Communication Apps
Previous research studied the social dynamics of sharing software
customizations and conguration les between users [
20
,
35
], such
as the If-This-Then-That (IFTTT)
1
recipe for automating tasks on
a smartphone. But there is little research on customizations that
users co-own and can change collaboratively.
A few examples of what we call co-customizations appear in
commercial apps: most let users in a group chat customize the title
of their conversation collaboratively, but only Messenger lets users
co-customize their nicknames, the color of their conversation’s
chat bubbles, and shortcuts to particular emojis. Griggio et al.
argue that users adopt customizations to communication apps as
means of expression and relationship maintenance, contrasting
with the more common practice of customizing software to
improve task eciency [
36
]. They illustrated how users customize
their messaging apps to express their personal identities (e.g., by
expressing emotions with stickers of their favorite singer instead
of emojis), intimate bonds in close relationships (e.g., by decorating
a chat group title with emojis that denote the group identity),
1IFTTT: http://ifttt.com/
and organizational culture (e.g., by adding custom emojis to Slack
that evoke internal jokes in the workplace). They proposed a
taxonomy of customization options in messaging apps according
to their Visibility (who sees it, Private or Social), Ownership (who
controls it, Shared or Individual) and Scope (where is it available,
Conversation,App or Ecosystem). This study focuses on the scope of
Social Visibility between the user and another contact who can see
them, Shared Ownership between the user and another contact who
can control them, and Ecosystem-level Scope to grant availability
across apps—an unexplored combination of this taxonomy.
2.3 Communication Places and Ecosystems of
Communication Apps
There is a growing trend of adopting not one, but many co-existing
communication apps and social media platforms [
4
,
17
,
34
],
which calls for an ecological perspective when studying mediated
communication. Shklovski et al. argue that “social activity and
connectedness are about ongoing enactments of relationships across
technologies” [
44
]. Cramer and Jacobs [
14
] illustrate this perspective
by describing how couples use many apps in parallel to express
care in diverse ways, to adapt to dierent contextual needs (e.g.,
working vs. leisure time), and to convey urgency by sending the
same message through many apps. They recommend that designers
integrate novel functionality into couples’ existing app ecosystems
rather than creating new apps that compete with each other.
Nouwens et al. [
38
] showed that people often use multiple
communication apps side-by-side even if they oer almost identical
features. Over time, users build “communication places” in their
app ecosystems: idiosyncratic constructs around a messaging app,
each with its own membership rules i.e., which contacts are
allowed in, which ones are not, perceived purposes, and emotional
connotations. Arnold et al. [
4
] supported these ndings through
a survey with over two thousand users of messaging apps. A
user might prefer to chat with their closest friends and family
on WhatsApp and use Messenger for other acquaintances; use
WhatsApp for personal communication and Telegram for work; or
prefer talking with friends on Messenger because it feels “white
and happy and empty” over the “slow and old” WhatsApp [
38
]. The
denition of a communication place is recursively shaped by the
use of its associated app as well as other apps in the ecosystem, as
relationships evolve and contacts move from one app to another.
While the hard separation between apps supports the construc-
tion of communication places for dierent groups of people, users
often miss the functionality and available media from one app when
using another [
38
]. Griggio et al. [
18
] frame this as “expression
breakdowns in app ecosystems”: frustrations around media, (e.g.
GIFs, emojis, stickers), customizations and functionality that users
internalize as personal means of expression and need across apps,
but can only use in one (e.g., wanting to use Snapchat’s customizable
Friendmojis [
7
] in WhatsApp, which was not possible at the
time). Moreover, they show that app-exclusive customizations that
express intimacy with a specic person may also lead to expression
breakdowns when the user and that person communicate via
multiple apps (e.g., colleagues that express inside jokes with
custom Slack emojis miss them on Messenger). They propose
shifting from app-enclosed to user-owned tools that people can
CHI ’21, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan Carla F. Griggio, Arissa J. Sato, Wendy E. Mackay, and Koji Yatani
take with them across their app ecosystems, supporting their
cross-app relationships. Similarly, Sleeper et al.’s [
46
] study on
cross-app sharing patterns calls for designs that “account for realistic
ecosystem-level behaviors”.
Researchers have explored innovative ways of mediating
intimacy with communication technology [
22
,
51
], such as mes-
saging apps for inspiring meaningful eort in conversations [
28
];
visualizing heart beats [
23
] in a conversation; or sharing contextual
cues (e.g., location, music cues) that convey meaning through the
lenses of shared understandings [
10
]. While these explorations
contribute novel insights into how close relationships adopt
new means for expressing intimacy, they often require users to
leave their established communication places and move their
conversations to a new, isolated app. This suggests the need for
an app-ecosystem perspective when mediating intimacy, with a
common mechanism for enabling two people in a close relationship
to establish their own communication place, regardless of app.
2.4 Soft Keyboards for Enhanced Expression
Previous research has enhanced expression with soft keyboards, but
these usually address individual expression rather than intimacy
between multiple users. Expressive Keyboards [
2
] translates
users’ gesture-typing style (e.g., speed, curviness) into text colors,
inviting users to control their gestures to create expressive output.
TapScript generates a hand-written-like font according to how
users place their ngers when tapping on keys, making text
input more expressive [
9
]. CommandBoard [
1
] and MojiBoard [
3
]
also repurpose gesture typing for issuing font-style commands
and personalized emojis. All of these keyboards leverage typing
for new means of expression; however, their output depends on
a custom-made application and cannot be used in commercial
communication apps. The app market of soft keyboards focuses
instead on customizations, such as colorful background themes
or personal collections of emoji and stickers, as in GBoard
2
or SwiftKey
3
. This suggests that we still need to explore and
understand how co-customizations can aect communication
dynamics between intimate partners.
3 CO-CUSTOMIZATION AND DEARBOARD
Co-customization is a mechanism that allows multiple users to
make modications to the same conversation interface, thus
letting users contribute equally to the control of customizable
functionality or aesthetics. Our goal is to study how users adopt
co-customizations as part of everyday messaging to understand
their value in mediating intimacy and nd new design opportunities
in this design space. To this end, we repurpose a soft keyboard as a
host to app-agnostic co-customizations that users can bring into
any of their apps. In contrast to creating a new co-customizable
messaging app for the study, our approach lets users combine new
co-customizations with their existing apps: this allows them to
preserve their communication places [
38
], increasing the ecological
validity of the study, and also mitigates expression breakdowns by
preserving the forms of expression they developed around the
media, functionality and customizations of their usual apps [18].
2
GBoard:http://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.google.android.
inputmethod.latin&hl=en
3Microsoft Swiftkey: http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/swiftkey
3.1 DearBoard
DearBoard (Figure 1) is a standard QWERTY soft keyboard featuring
two co-customizable interface components: its color theme
(background color and keys color) and a toolbar of expression
shortcuts (emojis and GIFs). When one user changes a color or
adds an emoji to the toolbar, the other also sees these changes. When
users open DearBoard in a conversation with anybody else, the
co-customizations disappear, showing a regular Android keyboard.
The co-customizable color theme allows users to choose a
background and text color for the keys as two separate settings.
Compared to Messenger’s chat bubble color, which allows a single
color setting, our color theme has two customizable dimensions,
allowing color combinations between two users. Users can change
these colors through the Edit mode (Figure 1).
The co-customizable expression shortcuts appear in a toolbar
that accepts up to six emojis or GIFs. When Edit Mode is on, users
can add, remove or replace expressions in the toolbar. We limited
the toolbar to only six expression shortcuts to encourage users
to reect about which are the most relevant expressions to share
with each other. Users can tap on the emojis or GIFs in the toolbar
to send them in a message.
These two co-customizations satisfy three main design goals
and technological restrictions: First, they resemble Messenger’s
chat bubbles color and emoji shortcut, which have documented
expressive value for close relationships [
19
]. Second, the color
theme allows us to study co-customizations to aesthetics, and the
expression shortcuts to study co-customizations to functionality,
two main types of customizations for which users may assign
dierent social and practical purposes [
40
]. Third, studying these
new co-customizations with DearBoard instead of Messenger also
enables us to study appropriations [
16
] and negotiations around
co-customizations that aord combinations of settings rather than
overwriting of settings. With Messenger, users can choose only
one color for the chat bubbles or one emoji shortcut at a time;
however, with DearBoard, users can combine the background color
chosen by one with the keys color chosen by the other, and also mix
expression shortcuts chosen by each. Moreover, we can study
how co-customizations can contribute to creating communication
places [
38
] with a specic person not only on Messenger but on
any app used within a close relationship.
3.2 Implementation
We extended the AOSP (Android Open Source Project) LatinIME
keyboard
4
, which previous research portrayed as a reliable option
for eld studies [
6
,
8
]. This is the default keyboard on many Android
phones, and its layout resembles GBoard, another popular keyboard.
Since the focus of DearBoard is on enabling co-customizations
rather than introducing novel input techniques, we used LatinIME
to provide robust text entry functionality, including dictionary-
based auto-corrections, auto-completions, emoji menus, dictation,
and even gesture typing. We based our implementation on the
ResearchIME [
8
], a version of LatinIME with logging capabilities
for eld studies on text input. While we disabled the logging of
text input data, ResearchIME provided us with a starting point
4
LatinIME: http://android.googlesource.com/platform/packages/inputmethods/
LatinIME
Mediating Intimacy with DearBoard: a Co-Customizable Keyboard for Everyday Messaging CHI ’21, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan
for our own logging and extensions to the LatinIME. We added
GIF searching (using the Tenor API
5
), the toolbar of expression
shortcuts, and the UI for editing the color theme and expression
shortcuts. We also parametrized the colors of the background and
keys to make them customizable.
DearBoard assigns a User ID and a Group ID to every participant.
All co-customizations are associated with a Group ID so that
all users with the same Group ID share the same settings for
the color theme and expression shortcuts. To synchronize
co-customizations within a pair, the keyboard connects with a
Node.js server application running in the Heroku cloud service.
Every time the participant customizes the color theme or
expression shortcuts, the keyboard sends a JSON to the server
with the User ID, Group ID, background color, keys color, and list of
emojis and GIF URLs in the toolbar. When the other participant in
the same pair opens the keyboard to send a message, the keyboard
retrieves the latest settings associated with their Group ID and
updates its appearance.
Since the co-customizations are dedicated to a particular pair in
our present study, we decided to only show them in conversations
with each other. We thus needed to identify with which contact the
user is chatting. Since apps do not oer APIs for getting such data,
we implemented an image-based mechanism to allow participants
to identify their “keyboard partner” with a manual set-up. When
setting up the keyboard, the participant also opens a conversation
view with their “keyboard partner” in a messaging app. They
then open a hidden menu by holding down the comma key and
indicate “I am sharing the keyboard with this contact”. The system
triggers a screenshot functionality to sample three one-pixel tall,
screen-wide images that include the name of the contact. Every
time the keyboard is opened, it takes another sample of the pixel-tall
screenshots and compares them with the reference images. If they
match, the keyboard infers that the participant is in a conversation
with their “keyboard partner”, and shows the co-customizations.
Otherwise, participants see only a regular Android keyboard. The
screenshots are only used internally and are never sent to the server.
4 METHOD
Our goal is to gather novel, nuanced insights into the role
of co-customizations in everyday messaging to open up the
design space of mediated intimacy. Because we value high
ecological validity over assessing the particular features of this
implementation of DearBoard, we apply a qualitative approach
that includes deploying a novel technology in the wild and logging
usage data that informs the interview questions asked during the
study. We deployed DearBoard in a 5-week eld study with 18 pairs
of participants who were in a close relationship, i.e., couples, close
friends and relatives that considered each other important to their
daily lives.
4.1 Participants
We recruited 18 pairs (36 participants, 19 women, 17 men) via Reddit
(/r/samplesize), Reddit ads, Twitter, and Facebook. Ages ranged
between 22 and 43. We required participants to be users of Android
phones (version 7 or newer) and to participate with someone
5Tenor GIF search API: https://tenor.com/gifapi
with whom they were in a close relationship and communicated
daily. We conducted the study in Japan, however, the LatinIME
keyboard does not support Japanese. Thus, we recruited people
that mainly used English, Spanish, German, or other languages
using the Latin alphabet, using social media to reach foreigners
in Japan (e.g., the “Tokyo Expat Network” on Facebook) and to
ask our international networks to advertise the study. Participants
were originally from Canada, Italy, France, Argentina, Germany,
USA, Moldova, China, South Korea, Russia, Bangladesh, Antigua
and Barbuda, Dominica, The Netherlands and Vietnam. At the time
of the study, they lived in Canada, Luxembourg, France, Argentina,
Sweden, Singapore, Germany, Italy, USA, Japan, and Vietnam. Seven
pairs self-identied as best or close friends. Nine pairs self-identied
as couples. The remaining two pairs consisted of two sisters and
two cousins. The cousins (Date pair) stopped participation about
10 days after the study started due to personal reasons. We oered
¥
4000 (approximately 40 USD) to each participant as compensation.
We refer to each pair with the name of a fruit (e.g., Banana), and to
each participant as A or B (e.g., Banana-A, Banana-B). We list all
participants in Table 1 (Appendix A).
As we detail in Section 7, we conducted the study during
the COVID-19 pandemic. The rst recruited pairs were mostly
cohabiting couples who started self-isolating around a week into
the study, which disrupted their communication patterns and led
to less frequent messaging in many cases. We thus adjusted the
recruiting criteria for a second round of participants, prioritizing
non-cohabiting couples, friends and relatives, or cohabiting couples
that were used to messaging each other even when at home (e.g.,
cases where both partners frequently worked from home).
4.2 Procedure
The following protocol was approved by the IRB of The University
of Tokyo. The study consists of four parts spanning ve weeks:
4.2.1 Setup and initial interview. We provide participants with the
installation le of DearBoard via e-mail, along with instructions
on how to set it up and a Group ID. In a video call with each study
pair, we help them ensure that the keyboard is executable on their
phones and that the contact recognition is activated in every app
they used for chatting with each other. When opening the keyboard
for the rst time, participants are asked to enter their Group ID in
a registration form, and the system generates the Participant ID
that is automatically linked to their anonymized usage logs.
Next, we conduct a short interview (15 – 30 minutes) about their
communication habits, asking them about what makes their online
communication dierent with respect to other people, whether they
use the functionality of apps in a special way with each other, and
whether they express secret codes or inside jokes in their chats.
In cases where they use more than one app with each other, we
ask why one app is not sucient to support their communication,
what is their main communication channel, and what kind of
functionality they miss when shifting from one app to another.
Finally, we invite them to customize the keyboard. We rst
ask one of the participants of the pair (from now on, partner) to
customize the color theme and expression shortcuts while
keeping in mind that these changes would also be seen by
their partners. Then, we ask that participant to explain the
CHI ’21, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan Carla F. Griggio, Arissa J. Sato, Wendy E. Mackay, and Koji Yatani
reason, if any, behind their changes. When the other participant
nishes the setup and opens the keyboard for the rst time,
they see the co-customizations already made. We ask what the
co-customizations suggested to them and how they felt. Then, we
also invite the other participant to customize the keyboard, and
conduct the same procedure to let both partners become familiar
with DearBoard.
We nish the setup by asking participants to send emojis and
GIFs from within the keyboard instead of using their apps’ built-in
menus. We clarify that they could still send stickers and other
app-specic expressions that the keyboard lacks, as well as switch
to their usual keyboards, as necessary.
4.2.2 First week interview. One week after the installation of
DearBoard, we conduct separate video calls with each partner.
Before the interview, we examine patterns or surprising events
in the logged data (see Data Collection section) for probing about
specic stories around their experience. For example, we asked
about new co-customizations to the keyboard and what triggered
them, expression shortcuts that were frequently—or never—used
in their conversations, or recurring combinations in the color
theme. We also probe about episodes where the co-customizations
are particularly valuable or frustrating, about how they manage the
co-ownership of the co-customizations, and other functionalities
they would like to share through DearBoard.
4.2.3 Fourth week interview. Three weeks later, we conduct
another interview with each partner following the same pro-
tocol. After the interview, we ask participants to disable the
co-customization feature so that the keyboard looks the same for
all contacts.
4.2.4 Post-study questionnaire. One week after disabling the co-
customization feature, we send participants an online questionnaire
asking about whether they would continue using the DearBoard if
it was possible and why. We send this questionnaire after a week
of no co-customizations so participants can contrast how their
communication feels with and without them.
4.3 Data Collection
All the interviews were conducted as video calls, but only the audio
was recorded. DearBoard collected anonymized usage logs from
each participant on three main events:
When the keyboard is opened: timestamp and foreground app.
When a message is sent: timestamp, foreground app, whether
the message was sent to the participant’s partner or someone
else, and the emojis and GIFs used in the message. Note that
we do not log the actual content of the messages.
When a user customizes: the Group ID and Participant ID of
the customization author, as well as the background color, text
color, and the list of emojis and GIFs of the new conguration.
We used these logs to detect interesting episodes or patterns be-
fore the interview with each participant. Our logging functionality
had a few technical limitations. The contact recognition mechanism
for turning on/o co-customizations relied on screen-capture
permissions that expired from time to time, causing DearBoard
to ignore the logging of some messages that were sent between
participants until the permissions were renewed. Moreover,
DearBoard was not able to identify what app was used or what
contact was addressed when replying to messages from within app
notications or Messenger’s oating chat heads, since they did not
match our image-based contact recognition template. Nevertheless,
we collected sucient data to probe participants on specic events
and patterns during the interviews.
4.4 Analysis
We collected 104 interviews from 36 participants: three interviews
from each, except for the Date pair’s last interview, and Kiwi-A
and Melon-B’s rst interview, who reported scheduling issues. We
conducted a few interviews in Spanish, but we present all quotes
translated to English. We also generated visual timelines from the
logged data that illustrated participants’ co-customization history,
as well as their sent emojis and GIFs over time. We used these visual
timelines to help our interpretation of the co-customization stories
reported in the interviews.
We conducted a thematic analysis on interview transcripts
and notes, combining an inductive (data-driven) and deductive
(question-driven) approach. An inductive analysis on a subset of
18 interviews (three pairs) informed a list of preliminary themes
that helped us narrow the focus of analysis and continue in a more
deductive way. We approached the analysis with a constructivist
perspective: our ndings reect a shared understanding we
built with participants about their experiences around using
co-customizations and we do not claim absolute truths about how
co-customizations aect everyday communication.
Two of the authors coded a rst set of 18 interviews from
three pairs of participants with an inductive approach. Each coder
analyzed the interviews independently, resulting in 117 initial codes
for one and 128 codes for the other. Examples of codes in common
between coders included "splitting ownership of co-customizations",
"customizing to convey a message", "customizations based on
time-specic events", and "customizations as surprises". Coders
discussed the most salient data in the interviews, i.e. recurring
patterns and rare but surprising behaviors, and curated codes
into preliminary themes about participants’ lived experiences and
opinions around co-customizations. We used these preliminary
themes to drive a deductive analysis of the rest of the interviews.
The same authors coded the segments of the remaining
interviews that t within the preliminary themes. We reused
codes from the inductive analysis, and also added new codes
for data that would contribute more nuances to the themes. We
iteratively discussed the cohesion of each theme as we analyzed
more interviews.
5 RESULTS
From the 36 participants, 34 completed the survey: 88% (30
participants) stated that they would continue using DearBoard,
including reasons such as enjoying to “surprise each other with
customization” (Apricot-B), “communicate and play jokes without
actually being verbal” (Cherry-A), and “because it tells me that I
have a special connection with the person I’m talking to” (Pear-B). On
the other hand, 4 participants preferred not to use it anymore,
explaining that their current keyboard was enough and did
not nd personal value from DearBoard. In this section, we
present a nuanced account of participants’ experiences with
Mediating Intimacy with DearBoard: a Co-Customizable Keyboard for Everyday Messaging CHI ’21, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan
Figure 2: The Grape friends co-custommized the expres-
sion shortcuts with a frequent GIF meme, emojis related
to their conversations about COVID-19, and GIFs represent-
ing their shared love for Beyoncé and Drag Race.
co-customizations in their app ecosystems. We describe how
they supported expressions of intimacy, the diverse roles they
played in everyday communication, negotiation styles around their
co-ownership, and their contributions to redening communication
places dedicated to a specic, special person.
5.1 Expressing Intimacy through
Co-Customizations
Most co-customization examples evoked shared understandings
and diverse bonds between partners, serving as a way of expressing
intimacy. For example, participants often authored customizations
with unique conversation shortcuts (e.g., adding GIFs of their
favorite TV show) or colors that demonstrated their intimate
knowledge of each other (e.g., setting the background to the other’s
favorite or least favorite color).
5.1.1 Shared interests and activities. Many co-customizations
represented common interests and activities that acted as bonds
that characterized the relationship. For example, the Peach pair
(close friends) went to the gym together, so one of them added the
lifting weights emoji to the toolbar. Apple-A set the background
color to pink, and Apple-B recognized it as a reference to how they
both love wearing pink clothes. The Cherry pair (close friends)
often met online to play games and added a game console emoji
to use in their game-related conversations.
While using GIFs for reactions is a widespread practice to express
full-body gestures [
49
], some pairs curated their reaction GIFs
according to TV shows or other interests that they considered
a characteristic bond in their relationship. For example, Grape-B
stated “if it’s going to be a GIF, it’s going to be something from Drag
Race or Beyoncé” because they were both big fans of these, and they
talked often about them (Figure 2).
5.1.2 Shared understandings: history, secret codes and inside
jokes. Some participants co-customized to express anecdotes and
signicant episodes of their relationship. For example, Plum-A
added a GIF of the Disney movie “Rapunzel” as a reference to
the very rst conversation she had with Plum-B. Pear-A added a
shortcut to the shaka sign emoji : he adopted it as a variation
of the waving hand emoji after their honeymoon in French
Polynesia, where it was a common way of greeting people. The
Banana friends had fun with “color wars”, customizing the color
Figure 3: The Plum couple added expression shortcuts
to GIFs that represented funny traits of each of them,
a frequent emoji and two expressions dedicated to their
Taco Tuesday tradition; the color theme was temporarily
orange during Taco Tuesday.
theme back-and-forth based on a whimsical dispute as old as their
friendship:
Me and Banana-A have had a fairly long relationship. And
when we started chatting on online applications back on MSN
Messenger, she would always color her text bright pink, and
I would always color mine bright blue. So, for the rest of this
study, we’re going to be switching this [background] back and
forth between pink and blue. Yes. You know, on another level,
this is just a reection of the length of our relationship and
shared whatever-you-want-to-call-it, like insider jokes. (...) It’s
more like a shared memory, something that’s been part of our
relationship for a long time, because we’ve been using these
chats ever since like our relationship started, so these colors
have been associated with our communication for like 13 years.
(Banana-B)
Many pairs co-customized the toolbar with GIFs and emojis
that conveyed inside jokes and secret codes that no one would
understand outside of their relationship. The Plum couple added
a GIF of a chipmunk stung food in its mouth food referred to
Plum-A’s eating habits, and a GIF of a cockatoo with a tall, white
crest represented Plum-B’s hair when waking up (Figure 3). The
Almond sisters sent the cowboy emoji as a code name for the
person one of them was dating, and Berry-B added the detective
emoji in reference to Berry-A’s cat, whose name is Inspector.
5.1.3 Routines and traditions. Some co-customizations to the
toolbar featured GIFs and emojis that participants had adopted
for routines in their relationships. For example, the Plum couple
celebrated “Taco Tuesday” every week, for which they usually sent
taco emojis to each other on Tuesdays. They co-customized
the keyboard to support this tradition:“There will be tacos every
Tuesday, you’ve just got to have that emoji ready” (Plum-B). Besides
adding the taco emoji to the toolbar, they also added a GIF of Elsa
(from Disney’s Frozen) materializing a taco out of thin air, and
a temporary taco-like orange background. Similarly, Coconut-A
added GIFs of sleeping cats to the toolbar, echoing their habit of
signaling it is time for bed: “That’s what we do, actually. We send
sleeping cat GIFs if it’s time to go to sleep and one of us is still at the
computer or something.
5.1.4 Avatars. We found particularly interesting how the toolbar
co-customizations revealed an existing custom of using GIFs and
CHI ’21, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan Carla F. Griggio, Arissa J. Sato, Wendy E. Mackay, and Koji Yatani
Figure 4: The Berry friends used the toolbar to surprise each
other; in this case, Berry-A set a birthday theme for Berry-B.
emojis as avatars that represented each partner. For example, Kiwi-B
explained “The unicorn it’s her because she loves unicorns”. Melon-
A also explained two emojis in terms of “who” they were: “He is the
lion and I am a lioness, but there is no lioness, so I’m cat there”. Guava-
A explained that the cowboy emoji in the toolbar represented the
name of Guava-B, which she used to signal messages that needed
his attention: “I just tell him something and I put the cowboy. And
sometimes I use it when I want him to see something on Facebook, I put
the cowboy and he sees it”. Pear-A added a GIF of dancing avocados
in reference to how his friends call him, which he usually sent to
Pear-B along with good news or happy messages, as if he was the
one dancing in the GIF. We believe the use of emojis and GIFs as
avatars points to a special kind of intimate communication act, as
if sending visual tokens of themselves just for the sake of it helped
communication partners make the conversation more “theirs”.
5.2 The Role of Co-Customizations in
Everyday Messaging
Participants adopted the co-customizations for diverse purposes
that colored them with practical, aective or communicative value.
5.2.1 Interface Optimizations. Some pairs valued the
co-customizations for adding comfort and eciency to their
conversations. Those aware of the emojis and GIFs they used most
often with each other populated the toolbar with shortcuts, making
GIF and emoji input more ecient. Some also appropriated the
color theme for interface optimizations, mostly related to reducing
eye strain and preventing messages to the wrong recipient. For
example, the Peach friends chose a black color theme towards the
end of the study, agreeing that it felt more comfortable when they
texted at night. Kaki-A liked the dedicated color theme to make
sure he was in the conversation with his wife:
I often start typing on a wrong message thread. Instead of
writing to her, I’m writing to someone else in my frequent list.
And so if the keyboard color changes automatically, I have a
sense instantly that yes, I’m writing to the right person. (Kaki-A)
5.2.2 Extra communication channel for playful and aectionate
interactions. Many pairs adopted the co-customizations as “another
form of communication” (Banana-B). In contrast to those using the
toolbar for shortcuts to frequent GIFs and emojis, some stued the
toolbar with GIFs and emojis that they never send. In such cases,
the customized toolbar was often a message in itself. Coconut-A
once changed the entire toolbar to display only emojis of breakfast
food, implicating he was hungry. He also lled the toolbar with
sleep-related GIFs and emojis as a hint that it was time for bed.
Coconut-B value this as “another layer of messaging”, explaining: “I
think me and Coconut-A are using this board with emojis just as if
we would send them, like you can go to the keyboard to see the saved
emojis and then, you kind of read it”. Berry-B echoed this: “being
able to play with the emoji as like a secondary messaging was pretty
fun”. They liked changing the toolbar to collections of emojis that
evoked recent conversations, internal jokes or special events as a
way of surprising the other or oering a digital gift (Figure 4):
She messaged me at midnight my birthday. It was really cute
being able to put the emoji up there, even though you don’t
necessarily use it, it still gives a feeling of an event. So this time
was my birthday, but for example, if it’s Christmas, it makes it
cute and event-like. I like that. (Berry-B)
The color theme also supported a parallel channel for playful
interactions. Some teased their partners with colors they would
hate, or combinations that made the keyboard keys hard to read.
To our surprise, six participants at some point selected the same
color for the background and the text, resulting in a keyboard with
invisible letters (Figure 5). While most went back to a readable
keyboard shortly after the joke was discovered, the Peach friends
typed on an invisible keyboard for eight days straight, taking it as
a challenge dedicated to their conversations. Banana-A reected
about how the shared ownership of the color theme enabled playful
interactions:
When it’s a personal setting, I couldn’t care less what color the
keyboard is. It doesn’t matter. When it’s a shared setting, it’s a
game. It is a war. I can win this. I can do something interesting.
I can make something so horrendous that you can’t look at it.
Like it’s another aspect to the interaction. (Banana-A)
5.2.3 Dedicated decorations. Some pairs co-customized the key-
board to dedicate decorations to each other. These decorations
carried shared meanings, embedding expressions of intimacy in
their conversation spaces. For example, the rst color theme that
Figure 5: The Peach friends typed on an “invisible” keyboard
for eight days straight after one of them chose the same
color for the background and text as a joke.
Mediating Intimacy with DearBoard: a Co-Customizable Keyboard for Everyday Messaging CHI ’21, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan
Figure 6: The Mango couple co-customized DearBoard to
feature a COVID-19 conversation theme.
Cherry-A selected was an orange background: “That’s our favorite
color. We have the same favorite color at dierent times in life. Weird”.
The Pear couple knew right away that their keyboard would be
purple (Figure 7-b), characterising their couple as “monochromatic”:
they have purple decorations and objects at home (e.g. purple
cutlery), their wedding theme was purple, and every time they
have to choose a color, purple is their rst choice. Co-customizing
the color theme with purple and the toolbar with their frequent
emojis turned their conversations into a more personal space that
felt like home:
This is a special place that you share virtually with your
signicant other. It’s like a visual help to make you feel in
that common space. At least, when you open that [keyboard]
up, it’s like when you enter home, like when you open your
door and you see the furniture, the paintings or anything, it’s
like “Oh, I’m home”. (Pear-A)
The adoption of the co-customizations as relationship-dedicated
decorations was even more evident with participants who added
emojis to the toolbar simply to be there, without any intention of
using them as shortcuts. For example, the Purple couple added a
French and a Chinese ag as symbols of their nationalities, but
neither of them ever sent them in a conversation. The Berry friends
usually sent ASCII emoticons such as XD or :D rather than emojis
but still added emojis to the expression shortcuts as decorations,
which contributed to increased feelings of connectedness:
Well, I like the idea of having a toolbar of emojis I use all the
time to make my life easier. But I also like the idea of being able
to share the decorations with Berry-A instead of anybody else
because it creates more of a connection in a chat. Especially
since I don’t like Line themes or anything so the actual chat is
pretty... it’s the same as everything else. So it’s nice to open up
the keyboard and it’s dierent and I know I’m in Berry-A’s chat,
and there’s the emoji and it makes the decoration... it makes it
a unique chat that I don’t have with anybody else. (Berry-B)
5.2.4 Conversation themes. A few pairs surprised us by appro-
priating the toolbar as a collection of emojis that “set the stage”
(Coconut-A) for a conversation. Regardless of whether those emojis
were meant to be sent or not in the conversation, they were intended
to support or even inspire conversations about ongoing events.
For example, Coconut-A once replaced the toolbar with snow
and winter emojis when it unexpectedly snowed in the middle
of Spring. Mango-A customized the keyboard to an Easter theme
with yellow background and the bunny emoji; once Easter was over,
he changed the keyboard to a “coronavirus” theme (Figure 6), with
green background and emojis of a crown (“corona” in Spanish),
a hospital, a syringe and an alien (as a proxy for the microbe
emoji they could not nd). Mango-B contrasted how they used
the keyboard’s menu of recently used emojis (reecting already
used emojis) and the toolbar on top: “ I mean the recently used emojis
are hidden. There’s like another button to click while those [in the
toolbar] are already there. They’re kind of like a chat marker. And it’s
almost as if it’s like a subject as well.
5.3 Negotiating the Co-Ownership of
Co-Customizations
Unlike private, individual customizations [
19
], the
co-customizations on DearBoard aorded social interactions and
gave room to negotiations of a co-owned space, especially around
who made a change and for whom that change was.
5.3.1 Targeted eorts: who are the co-customizations for? We
noticed customization eorts oriented in three ways:
Self-centered co-customizations favor the author. For example,
Kiwi-A changed the background color to purple, her favorite color,
and also populated the toolbar with her most frequent emojis. Kiwi-
B refrained from customizing, seeing the co-customizations as “hers”
and adopting them as decorations that emphasized the Kiwi-A-ness
of their conversation.
Other-centered co-customizations act as dedications to the
other or seless, other-oriented gifts [
45
]. For example, Mango-B
once set the background color to pink for his partner, explaining:
“Her favorite color is pink, I think she would like that”.
Relationship-centered co-customizations relate to both
parties or represent a bond that characterizes the relationship itself.
For example, the Melon couple called themselves a lion and lioness,
and usually used cat-themed emojis instead of the regular smileys.
Melon-A thus added a lion, a cat, and a hearty-eyes cat emoji
to the toolbar. Mango-A added a skull emoji , which was their
special emoji for expressing laugh. In some cases, a combination
of self-oriented and other-oriented customizations also served as a
dedication to the relationship:
She’s a cat person. I’m a dog person. She put both of the emojis
there in the [toolbar]. So it’s really cute. It’s very like her to go
ahead and do stu like that that would make us both happy.
(Berry-B)
For most pairs, DearBoard hosted a mix of co-customizations for
dierent beneciaries, inviting participants to negotiate and balance
“what is mine, what is yours and what is ours”. The Apple friends
explained that one of them was good with colors and the other
with emojis, so they explicitly agreed on splitting the ownership
of DearBoard and each be in charge of dierent co-customizations
(Figure 7-a): “We made a perfect agreement. I do the colors and she can
do the icons” (Apple-B). These kind of agreements and negotiations
around the co-ownership of DearBoard were often perceived as
another expression of intimacy:
I think that what adds value to it is that you are doing it together
and that you have to nd a way to do it together. And that is
either by making—kind of making someone head of keyboard
and maybe someone else head of emoji. Or always changing it
CHI ’21, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan Carla F. Griggio, Arissa J. Sato, Wendy E. Mackay, and Koji Yatani
Figure 7: Left: The Apple friends split the ownership of DearBoard so that Apple-A was in charge of the expression shortcuts
and Apple-B in charge of the color theme. Right: The Pear couple split the ownership of the expression shortcuts to have
some for Pear-A and some for Pear-B, and some for both; their color theme was purple, their favorite color.
however you would like and just hoping the other person likes
it. And yeah, there’s many ways in which you can do that now.
But I think it adds value by making it something that happens
to the two of you (Apple-A)
Most often, the split ownership was implicitly negotiated within
the same co-customization option. For example, after many days
of “color wars” switching back-and-forth between pink and blue,
the Banana friends tried color theme with a pink background
for Banana-A and blue font for Banana-B. The Pear couple agreed
on a Relationship-centered color theme with their favorite
color, but split the ownership of the expression shortcuts to
accommodate his and her Self-centered emojis (Figure 7-b):
It’s interesting because we share some of the things that we
both use, but the raising hands [emoji] is something that
I use a lot and she doesn’t. And the heart, she uses that a lot
and I don’t. It’s like, okay, you have this, I have that. Like a
negotiation, very much like living together. (Pear-A)
It is also worth noting that not only most participants combined
Self-, Other-, and Relationship-centered eorts, but also that
a few changed their preferred approach over time. In the case
of Peach-B, shifting from a Relationship-centered to a Self-
centered style was driven by valuing the expression shortcuts
for their practical utility rather than for expressing intimacy:
I realized that in the end, the top bar emojis were the ones I used
the most. When I rst added emojis, I thought of the ones that
were the most representative of my relationship with Peach-A,
but I ended up putting the ones I use the most because—well, I
use the gym one [weight lifting] only occasionally. And I use
facepalm [emoji] all the time, so I thought it was more useful
(Peach-B)
5.3.2 Authorship: who customizes? Some pairs displayed a “main
customizer”, while others showed more balanced initiatives to make
changes:
Balanced authorship is characterized by uid interchange of
co-customizations by both parties. We noticed that this pattern
often came with acts of reciprocity: “When he put the GIF of the
chipmunk which is expressing me, I added a parrot because I want to
send parrot things to him in a teasing way.(Plum-A). Some pairs
adopted a dialogue-like dynamic where they responded to a co-
customization with another: when Date-A set the color theme
to two shades of purple (his favorite color), Date-B responded by
changing the text color to green, evoking an inside joke about his
purple-and-green outts in the 90s. Some participants even counted
on their co-customizations not lasting long, relying on a relaxed
approach with no agreements on how to co-customize: “I knew that
the keyboard was going to ip the next time that Banana-B opened it,
so I didn’t really feel bad [for changing the color theme]” (Banana-A).
Dominating authorship presents one person as the main author
of co-customizations. This was not seen as a problem; those who
co-customized less explained themselves as being lazy or just not as
interested. Guava-B appreciated his girlfriends’ co-customizations
as an “unexpected, collateral service” since she picked shortcuts that
were useful for him as well.
Many pairs explained their co-customization authorship style
as a reection of the overarching dynamics of the relationship. For
example, Cherry-A predicted a balanced authorship with a teasing
intent: “ Since I’m doing it [color theme] rst, he’ll probably switch
on me. The classic Cherry-B move is to just change it on me because
he can, so I can see him changing this constantly just because he
can” (Cherry-A). When asking Grape-B how he felt about Grape-A
authoring most of the co-customizations, he responded:
I just didn’t want to change it. I didn’t mind the color. And
she, usually in most situations is the one who takes control
of everything. Even when we’re going out, she’s choosing the
place. Or if we’re out taking pictures of something, I’m just
going along with it. But I will give my opinion if I don’t like it.
(Grape-A)
5.4 Place-Making with App-Agnostic
Co-Customizations
The app-agnostic nature of the co-customizations in DearBoard
allowed participants to integrate them into their existing app
ecosystems in diverse ways. A few pairs explained that their main
place used to be in a dierent app than the current one, and they
leveraged DearBoard to bring back some of the “placeness” they had
lost when switching. The Banana friends had lost their pink text vs.
blue text rivalry from MSN Messenger after adopting Hangouts as
Mediating Intimacy with DearBoard: a Co-Customizable Keyboard for Everyday Messaging CHI ’21, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan
their main place, which they brought back into DearBoard in the
form of color theme wars. The Plum couple used to have Kakao
as their main place, but after moving away from South Korea, they
also “moved away” from Kakao and adopted WhatsApp as their
main app. One of their favorite GIFs in the expression shortcuts
featured “Apeach”, one of the ocial Kakao characters for stickers
and app themes, which they had adopted as part of their shared
identity even beyond their online communication:
[The Apeach in the expression shortcuts] is kind of our
character between us. He loves that character and I also used an
Apeach theme [in Kakao]. So I went and bought him an Apeach
doll. Okay, I’ll show you [brings the doll from the nearby sofa].
Look at this! This is Apeach. So this one looks so like him for
me. He’s a big boy but he looks like this for me. (Plum-A)
Pairs that relied on multiple apps were able to bring the same
“placeness” to dierent conversations. Pear-A said that seeing the
purple color pop-up on Instagram, when their main place was
Telegram, felt like a nice, comforting surprise. The Coconut couple
speculated that they would like to keep using the keyboard to set
“conversation themes” and surprise each other across dierent apps,
although they did not use many during the study.
6
And Grape-A
appreciated having access to their expression shortcuts not only
on their main place, but also on Instagram and Snapchat:
While we predominantly chat on one app, we do use other apps.
So there’s still a chance, even like on Snapchat—he sent me
something and we went back and forth for a little bit on there.
Sometimes he’ll send me somebody else’s story, and if I don’t
feel like making a video, I’ll send a text response, right? And
then I’ll have the emojis right there in the toolbar. (Grape-A)
Some participants combined the aesthetics and functionality
of DearBoard with those of their main places. Almond-A set the
color theme to a dark green: “I liked it because we speak much more
in WhatsApp and it is the same color with WhatsApp”. Pear-B had
already customized Telegram’s chat bubbles to purple, so she was
happy that their purple DearBoard “matched everything else on my
phone”. The Apricot friends and Kiwi couple eventually removed
their favorite emoji from the expression shortcuts because their
main communication app (Messenger) supported a shortcut to one
emoji. This helped them gain “an extra slot” for a GIF or emoji on
DearBoard: “I removed it [the purple heart emoji] because we already
have the heart on Facebook [Messenger]” (Kiwi-B).
6 DISCUSSION AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR
DESIGN
We contribute new insights into how co-customizations mediate
intimacy, extending initial ndings on how customizations con-
tribute to maintaining relationships online [
18
]. We discuss our
main takeaways to identify opportunities for design.
6.1 Beyond Personalizing Messages: Expressing
Intimacy by Co-Customizing Interfaces
Research on mediated intimacy has focused on mediating intimacy
by exploring new types of communication content, such as
6
As noted in the Limitations section, many pairs reduced their everyday messaging
when starting to self-isolate together during the COVID-19 pandemic.
novel modalities, media or intimate data [
22
,
24
,
32
,
51
,
54
,
56
],
such as messages based on lyrics of love songs [
30
], recordings
of ambient sounds [
33
], visualizations of heart beats [
23
], and
contextual data about users’ whereabouts and activities [
5
,
19
].
In contrast, our data shows how participants expressed intimacy by
co-customizing the interface that mediated their communication.
Their co-customizations to the expression shortcuts and color
theme evoked shared interests, activities, common history, inside
jokes, traditions, and routines apart from the expressions of
intimacy they explicitly conveyed in their messages. We see this
the most clearly in examples of co-customizations with intimate
meanings that were strictly decorative and never used as input,
such as Cherry’s shared favorite color in the color theme, and
Berry’s emojis in the toolbar of expression shortcuts, which
symbolized their relationship but were never sent in messages.
Co-customizations also oer new ways of designing for eortful
communication practices. Kelly et al. [
26
] propose that close
relational partners value eort invested in communication, such as
sending lengthy messages, avoiding spelling mistakes, or sending
an Internet meme that reminds them of the other. They point to new
design perspectives that consider how to provide opportunities for
eortful actions that are meaningful to users. Our data contributes
more examples of discretionary eort in close relationships in
the context of communication apps (e.g., curating the expression
shortcuts to show GIFs and emojis relevant to their current
situations), suggesting that eort can not only be conveyed in the
content and crafting of messages, but also by co-customizing the
interface that mediates them.
These insights open up the design space for mediated intimacy
by suggesting that co-customizations to user interfaces can support
expressions of intimacy in addition to the modalities, media or
data used for the content of the communication. In other words,
any communication app can add an extra layer of opportunities
for expressing intimacy by allowing users to co-customize its user
interface. For example, Zoom
7
, the video-conferencing system, lets
users set a virtual background on their video feeds. By making this
virtual background co-customizable, users that have frequent calls
could set it to a background that reects some aspect of their shared
identity, such as the favorite coee place of two close friends.
6.2 Making intimate communication places
with co-customizations
Co-customizations oer new opportunities to support a sense of
connected presence [
31
], complementing the everyday messaging
in a close relationship with a new space for persisting expressions
of intimacy. Participants often described their co-customizations
as decorations to a shared space that reected their relationship.
We see co-customizations as a space for making intimate commu-
nication places: communication places [
38
] dedicated to a close
relationship that reect and reinforce their intimacy.
Harrison and Dourish [
21
] argue that when designing collabo-
rative and communication technologies, the distinction between
space and place is key. While space is “the structure of the
world”, place is “a space which is invested with understandings of
behavioural appropriateness, cultural expectations, and so forth”.
7Zoom: http://zoom.us/
CHI ’21, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan Carla F. Griggio, Arissa J. Sato, Wendy E. Mackay, and Koji Yatani
Places are dened through use and have social meaning and value.
Similar to how we turn a “house” into a “home”, collaborative
and communication technologies can also be embedded with
meaning and emotional connotations that create a sense of place.
In short, “space is the opportunity; place is the understood reality”.
In the context of mobile messaging, “apps provide the structure for
communication, independent of the user, whereas communication
places encompass the rules, roles, and feelings that users apply to
their apps” [
38
]. Our data suggest that the co-customizations in
DearBoard provided a space to create intimate communication
places where participants added meaning to their conversation
space by decorating it with references to their shared identity and
aection. Moreover, a sense of place may not only come from
decorating the interface, but also from the negotiations around
who customizes what and for whom they customize. Co-ownership
negotiations often aligned with the overarching social dynamics in
their relationship (e.g., “in most situations [she] is the one who takes
control of everything”, Grape-B) and helped dening the appropriate
behaviour or etiquette around co-customizing.
We cannot design places, but we can design for them [
21
]. To
allow for place-making, it is critical for a space to oer opportunities
for adaptation and appropriation. Our study shows how participants
adapted and appropriated DearBoard for place-making. Many
adapted the expression shortcuts and color theme with
meaningful emojis, GIFs and colors, such as the drag queen GIFs of
the Grape friends, or the color purple of Pear, the “monochromatic”
couple. These adaptations often led to interesting appropriations,
such as using expression shortcuts as conversation themes or
playing “color wars” by changing the color theme back and forth.
Moreover, many pairs valued DearBoard simply because it made
their conversation dierent from the rest (e.g., “it makes it a unique
chat that I don’t have with anybody else”, Berry-B). We believe that
such a sense of place is valuable in itself, acting as a reminder of
their intimacy every time they enter their conversation.
We propose co-customizations as simple but powerful design
resources for expanding the space in messaging apps from which
close relationships can build intimate communication places.
Designers of messaging apps, especially of those dedicated to close
relationships such as Between [
48
] or Instagram’s Threads [
47
],
may consider what elements of the user interface can serve as
co-customizable space that users can adapt and appropriate with
their own meanings and expressions of intimacy. For example,
existing customizations could change into co-customizations,
allowing users to collaboratively control their notication sounds,
reaction emojis, sticker collections, or background colors.
6.3 Augmenting messaging apps with
app-agnostic functionality
DearBoard extends the input functionality of a keyboard with
co-customizations and contact recognition. This contributes an
approach to mixing relationship-dedicated functionality with exist-
ing mobile apps, allowing dyads to preserve their communication
places as well as dening a more intimate sense of place in the
conversations with each other. We believe this approach enables
higher ecological validity in eld studies of novel communication
functionality, and that it may inspire new technological frameworks
for supporting personal expression and close relationships.
When studying new messaging functionality, a common
approach is to require participants to relocate their communication
to a new app [
10
,
28
,
30
], which deprives them from their existing
contacts, messaging history and favorite functionality. By extending
a soft keyboard with new functionality, we allow participants to
mix it with their usual apps and study their adoption in the context
of their everyday communication. This approach could support
higher ecological validity in eld studies, allowing for observations
on how a prototype interacts with other app features, how users
adopt it for dierent relationships, or for which situations it is
perceived as most valuable. For example, MessageBuilder [
28
] is
an app for supporting eort in the composition of text messages,
which requires that “each message sent must be longer than the
previous message”. This feature could be integrated into a soft
keyboard so that close relational partners use it in their usual app(s).
Similarly, the keyboard could be extended with the HeartLight and
HeartButton versions of HeartChat [
23
], so that users can see live
indicators of each other’s heart rate or send snapshots of their heart
rate as a message in any of their apps.
Our study also points to opportunities for mobile operating
systems, keyboards and app vendors. For building DearBoard, we
cloned, modied and recompiled the source code of Android’s
LatinIME, similar to previous studies on text input in the wild [
6
,
8
].
Moreover, we implemented our own image-based mechanism for
recognizing contacts within and across apps. However, keyboards,
apps and mobile operating systems should provide specic
support for developers interested in building reliable app-agnostic,
relationship-dedicated products for everyday use. Soft keyboards
could support plug-ins and third-party modules so that developers
can integrate new functionality without asking users to install a
new keyboard. Without mechanisms to extend soft keyboards in
runtime, we shift the problem of asking users to switch apps to
asking users to switch keyboards, which can also be uncomfortable.
Some participants reported that DearBoard often auto-corrected
special words that their old keyboard had learned to recognize
over time. For example, this happened to the Almond sisters who
mixed four languages: “Our conversation is in a language that nobody
understands. For example, taking a Romanian word and pronouncing
the Russian way, adding a Russian termination.The Jade couple
used Italian words when texting in Spanish, and complained that
the keyboard rejected “mascherina” (face mask) as a valid word.
Apple-A also missed her customizations to her SwiftKey keyboard,
which she had made bigger to type more comfortably.
Supporting keyboard extensions could enable the integration of
app-agnostic functionality such as DearBoard’s co-customizations
while allowing users to preserve their usual keyboards. Moreover,
new APIs between apps and keyboards could enable more reliable
ways of identifying contacts within and across apps to support
relationship-specic functionality. For example, when opening a
WhatsApp conversation with a friend, GBoard’s recently used
emojis and GIFs could show only those used with that friend.
Keyboards could also enable relationship-specic dictionaries to
adapt their auto-correct to the recipient. Last, mobile operating
systems could enable alternative mechanisms for app-agnostic
functionality. Similar to how DearBoard repurposes a keyboard as a
Mediating Intimacy with DearBoard: a Co-Customizable Keyboard for Everyday Messaging CHI ’21, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan
host to app-agnostic functionality, other research has experimented
with notications [
13
,
19
] and chat heads [
12
] as global access
points to functionality that complement existing apps. This shows
a demand for mechanisms that support app-agnostic, cross-app
functionality, and mobile operating systems could provide more
robust, standardized means for realizing such research prototypes
into stable products.
7 LIMITATIONS AND FUTURE WORK
The diversity of our participants in terms of country of residence,
culture, messaging apps used, and relationships with each other
limits condence in the generalizability of the insights. However,
we believe that such diversity contributed to expanding the range
of practices and values we observed around co-customizations.
Future work could study particular demographics to inform, for
example, the design of co-customizations that are more relevant to a
specic culture or close relationship. Moreover, we limited our study
to dyads, but the same image-based contact recognition used in
DearBoard can be used to enable co-customizations for groups such
as families or teams of colleagues. Future work could expand this
design space by exploring and studying group co-customization.
We conducted the study between February and May 2020, when
the COVID-19 pandemic led to lockdowns around the world.
This impacted on the lifestyle and routines of some participants
and changed their communication habits. Most notably, some
co-habiting couples reported sending messages less frequently than
normal while self-isolating at home together, since they had less
needs for micro-coordination and thinking-of-you messages [
14
,
19
]. Some participants also reported that, in general, the frequency
of messaging decreased as they opted for video calls more
often. Indeed, in April 2020, WhatsApp increased the limit of
participants in a video call from 4 to 8 in response to how
“people all over the world are turning to voice and video calling
on WhatsApp more than ever before”
8
. While we see this as
an interesting data-collection challenge during the COVID-19
pandemic, we collected suciently rich data to gather insights
into how co-customizations mediate intimacy. Future work could
explore new designs and revisit the role of co-customizations in
ecosystems of communication apps where audio and video calls
are more prominent.
Our data describes experiences around two particular co-
customization options (the color theme and expression short-
cuts), which we were scoped by Android’s technical limitations and
we intended as instruments to study similar (but more complex)
co-customizations than those possible on Messenger. However,
we believe that our insights can transfer to other designs as long
as they oer open-ended opportunities for persisting expressions
of intimacy. In particular, we encourage future work on designs
that let users combine Self-centered,Other-centered and
Relationship-centered customizations rather than completely
replacing each other’s settings (e.g., Messenger’s current emoji
shortcut) to inform the design of more complex co-customizations
based on the co-ownership negotiations and other social dynamics
that emerge from them.
8
WhatsApp Blog, “Group Video and Voice Calls Now Support 8 Participants”:
https://blog.whatsapp.com/group-video- and-voice- calls-now-support- 8-
participants/?lang=en
Future work could also explore the combination of customiza-
tions for individual expression with co-customizations across
app-ecosystems, allowing users from switching between “my”
and “our” customizations. We hope this work inspires new
co-customizations in messaging apps for mediating intimacy as
well as creative explorations of app-agnostic functionality.
8 CONCLUSIONS
We explored the concept of co-customizations to mediate intimacy
in the everyday messaging of close relationships. Adopting an
ecological perspective, we built DearBoard: a keyboard with
a co-customizable color theme and toolbar of expression
shortcuts (emojis and GIFs) that are app-agnostic, i.e., that
users can bring into any of their existing apps. We conducted
a 5-week eld study with 18 pairs of couples, close friends and
relatives to understand the role that co-customizations may play
into online relationship maintenance. We found that participants
adopted the co-customizations for expressing intimacy, e.g., by
setting the color theme to a color that denes their shared
identity. They also appropriated the co-customizations for interface
optimizations relevant to the communication with each other,
dedicated decorations that increased feelings of connectedness,
conversation themes to support ongoing chat topics, and non-verbal
channels that supported playful, aectionate interactions. The
co-ownership of these co-customizations inspired negotiations
around who customized and for whom the customizations were,
often echoing the overarching dyanamics of their relationships
and being perceived as intimate acts of their own. We contribute
the rst design and empirical investigation of app-agnostic
co-customizations for messaging apps and oer insights into how
users build intimate communication places by persisting expressions
of intimacy in the user interface that mediates their communication.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
This work was funded by the International Research Fellow
Program of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS).
We thank all participants and pilot testers for their time and
dedication. We also thank Daniel Buschek and Florian Bemmann
for assisting us in modifying the code of the ResearchIME [
8
];
Midas Nouwens, Ryan Kelly, Susanne Bødker, Clemens Klokmose,
Stefan Heinrich, Mille Knudsen, Germán Leiva and Liam Turner for
feedback on the manuscript and insightful discussions; and Hiroaki
Masaki, Yuji Sugiyama, Zefan Sramek and other members of the
IIS Lab for all their support throughout this work.
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CHI ’21, May 8–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan Carla F. Griggio, Arissa J. Sato, Wendy E. Mackay, and Koji Yatani
A TABLE OF PARTICIPANTS
Participant Age Gender Nationality Residence Occupation Relationship Languages Messaging apps
Banana-A 26 Woman Canadian Canada Librarian Best friends English Hangouts,
Discord, SMS
Banana-B 27 Woman Canadian Canada Student
Melon-A 30 Woman Italian Luxembourg Researcher Couple French,
English
WhatsApp, Wickr,
Telegram, SMS
Melon-B 28 Man French Luxembourg Oce worker
Kiwi-B 32 Woman French France Executive assistant Couple
(cohabiting) French Messenger, Signal,
WhatsApp, SMS
Kiwi-A 31 Man French France Unemployed
Lemon-A 26 Woman Chinese Sweden UX designer Couple
(cohabiting) English Messenger, WhatsApp,
WeChat, SMS
Lemon-B 25 Man French Sweden Software Engineer
Pear-A 32 Man Argentinian Argentina Photographer Couple
(cohabiting) Spanish Telegram, WhatsApp,
Instagram, SMS
Pear-B 29 Woman Argentinian Argentina Hairdresser
Plum-A 31 Woman South Korean Singapore Interior designer Couple
(cohabiting)
English,
Korean
WhatsApp, KakaoTalk,
Instagram, SMS
Plum-B 29 Man American Singapore Consultant
Kaki-A 31 Man Bangladeshi Sweden PhD Student Couple
(cohabiting)
English,
Swedish
WhatsApp,SMS,
Messenger
Kaki-B 31 Woman Bangladeshi Sweden Student
Cherry-A 29 Man Canadian Canada Insurance Manager Best friends English SMS, Snapchat, Discord
Cherry-B 30 Man Canadian Canada Project Coordinator
Coconut-A 33 Man German Germany PhD student Couple
(cohabiting)
English,
German
Telegram, WhatsApp,
Skype, SMS
Coconut-B 28 Woman Russian Germany Oce worker
Apricot-A 25 Man Vietnamese Japan Software Engineer Close friends Vietnamese Messenger
Apricot-B 25 Man Vietnamese Viet Nam Software Engineer
Berry-A 29 Woman American Japan Translator Best friends English,
Japanese Line, Twitter DM
Berry-B 32 Woman American Japan Oce worker
Peach-A 22 Man Argentinian Argentina Oce worker Close friends Spanish WhatsApp, Messenger,
Telegram, Instagram
Peach-B 23 Man Argentinian Argentina Student
Date-A 43 Man French Japan Interpreter Cousins French WhatsApp, Messenger,
Skype
Date-B 31 Woman French France Science educator
Guava-B 28 Man Argentinian Italy Software Engineer Couple
(cohabiting)
Spanish,
English
WhatsApp, Messenger, SMS,
Telegram, Hangouts, Instagram
Guava-A 26 Woman Argentinian Italy Teacher
Grape-A 33 Woman American USA Oce Assistant Best friends English Hangouts, Snapchat, Duo,
Messenger, Instagram, SMS
Grape-B 34 Man American USA Warehouse worker
Mango-B 23 Man Antiguan USA Software Engineer Couple English WhatsApp, Messenger,
Instagram, SMS
Mango-A 22 Woman Dominican USA Student
Apple-A 37 Woman Dutch Japan Language teacher Close friends Dutch WhatsApp,LINE, Messenger,
Instagram, Snapchat, SMS
Apple-B 22 Woman Dutch Japan Student
Almond-A 25 Woman Moldovan Luxembourg Student Siblings Romanian,
Russian,
English, French
WhatsApp, Hangouts,
Instagram, SMS
Almond-B 23 Woman Moldovan Luxembourg Student
Table 1: Study participants. “Languages” and “Messaging apps” refer to those used within the relationship, where bold indicates the main one.
... Chorus [47], DearBoard [38], Everyday Biosignals [64], Mental Health Chatbot [59], ReactionBot [68], TableChat [71], MyButler [13], WeRun [60], Whatfutures [56,57] Wikis and Forums ForumReader [100], MoodBar [15], ORES [44], Snuggle [45], The Wikipedia Adventure [81], Wikipedia Teahouse [76] Email ...
... Other systems have supported personalizing or customizing how content appears or is delivered. DearBoard enabled people to personalize keyboards in messaging apps to promote connectedness [38]. MyButler enabled scheduling timing of messages in KakaoTalk, allowing people to adjust when they shared and received messages [13]. ...
... In social computing systems, people often have well-defined practices around what app(s) they use to communicate with others. Griggio et al. argue that when deploying a new communication tool, not requiring participants to relocate their conversations can allow for closer observation of the circumstances participants do and do not value the tool [38]. Cho et al. similarly state that requiring participants to switch platforms would "inevitably bring a new factor to the user's messaging experience" [13]. ...
Preprint
Full-text available
The CSCW community has a history of designing, implementing, and evaluating novel social interactions in technology, but the process requires significant technical effort for uncertain value. We discuss the opportunities and applications of "piggyback prototyping", building and evaluating new ideas for social computing on top of existing ones, expanding on its potential to contribute design recommendations. Drawing on about 50 papers which use the method, we critically examine the intellectual and technical benefits it provides, such as ecological validity and leveraging well-tested features, as well as research-product and ethical tensions it imposes, such as limits to customization and violation of participant privacy. We discuss considerations for future researchers deciding whether to use piggyback prototyping and point to new research agendas which can reduce the burden of implementing the method.
... Building on these observations, Griggio et al. [39] finds that users customize their messaging apps and develop particular forms of expressions (e.g., based on custom emojis, stickers or bots) but experience expression breakdowns when these do not transfer between apps in their ecosystem. To support cross-app customization, Griggio et al. [40] built Dearboard [40], a mobile keyboard that allows two people in a close relationship to co-customize emoji shortcuts and color themes which they can access within any of their messaging apps. Study participants used Dearboard to build intimate communication places embedded with meaningful references to their shared history, common interests, and inside jokes. ...
... Building on these observations, Griggio et al. [39] finds that users customize their messaging apps and develop particular forms of expressions (e.g., based on custom emojis, stickers or bots) but experience expression breakdowns when these do not transfer between apps in their ecosystem. To support cross-app customization, Griggio et al. [40] built Dearboard [40], a mobile keyboard that allows two people in a close relationship to co-customize emoji shortcuts and color themes which they can access within any of their messaging apps. Study participants used Dearboard to build intimate communication places embedded with meaningful references to their shared history, common interests, and inside jokes. ...
... Status indicators (e.g., "online", "typing") increased expectations of immediacy [44] and brought new privacy concerns [19], but also supported new expressions of social connectedness [56,61]. Emojis, stickers, and GIFs became popular means for non-verbal communication, which people appropriated to express conversational tone [25], intimacy [40,90] and cultural norms [47,55]. Will this knowledge still stand in a scenario where sender and receiver have asymmetrical user interfaces and functionality? ...
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In January 2021, WhatsApp announced an update to their privacy policy, sparking an outcry that saw millions of users install other messaging apps such as Telegram and Signal. This presented a rare opportunity to study users' experiences when trying to leave the world's most popular communication app. We conducted surveys in February and May with 1525 WhatsApp users from Mexico, Spain, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. Over a quarter wanted to switch at least part of their communication to other apps, but 74% of them failed to do so. By May, 27% had increased their use of other apps, and only 16% used WhatsApp less. Beyond network effects, users struggled with making informed choices of alternative apps and with differences in their design and functionality. We suggest messaging interoperability as an approach to alleviate switching costs and discuss implications for HCI research and competition regulation of digital services.
... Besides analyzing affective patterns that can be commonly extracted from people's emoticon usage, another body of research focuses on the contextual and personal aspects, to uncover how people assign new meanings to emoticons: e.g., repurposing or appropriating emojis beyond their originally intended meanings [27,53], expanding nonverbal expressions to reduce the dependency of texts [59], or developing highly customized usage [20]. ...
... A few other studies also tackled challenges related to the accessibility and inclusiveness of emoticons [31,48]. Increased attention has been paid to user customization of emoticons [19], for example, in generating new emojis based on users' sketch and text input [35], or allowing two intimate users to co-customize their emoticon shortcuts (DearBoard) [20]. ...
... Although abundant examples of their creative usage have been found, users could have more freedom if they could import new stickers to the system. A future field study can be conducted to enable each pair to co-design their libraries, in the form of the co-customization [20] for multi-modal emoticons. Second, participants in this field study were aged from 19 to 35; hence, how different age groups will use multi-modal emoticons and to what extent the findings might be applicable beyond the current user segment remain to be answered. ...
Preprint
Full-text available
Emoticons are indispensable in online communications. With users' growing needs for more customized and expressive emoticons, recent messaging applications begin to support (limited) multi-modal emoticons: e.g., enhancing emoticons with animations or vibrotactile feedback. However, little empirical knowledge has been accumulated concerning how people create, share and experience multi-modal emoticons in everyday communication, and how to better support them through design. To tackle this, we developed VibEmoji, a user-authoring multi-modal emoticon interface for mobile messaging. Extending existing designs, VibEmoji grants users greater flexibility to combine various emoticons, vibrations, and animations on-the-fly, and offers non-aggressive recommendations based on these components' emotional relevance. Using VibEmoji as a probe, we conducted a four-week field study with 20 participants, to gain new understandings from in-the-wild usage and experience, and extract implications for design. We thereby contribute both a novel system and various insights for supporting users' creation and communication of multi-modal emoticons (to be published at ACM CHI '22).
... This work highlights the need to balance design goals with users' expectations when increasing procedural effort in a task like text-based messaging. Other research examples in this space include "Lily" [32], which encourages people to manually revise text messages based on lyrical inspirations, and "Dear-Board" [19], where communication partners can collaboratively customize message keyboards, though increasing meaningful effort was not the primary goal of either system. ...
Preprint
Full-text available
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