Alo is a secret sharing locket that allows users to share secrets with up to three friends. The Alo locket splits into a Lock and Key portion, and the color of each locket is idiosyncratic to the user. Locks stay with the user and are directly attached to the necklace chain; Keys can be swapped between friends. By lifting the Alo locket to their mouth, users activate recording mode and the light of their locket begins to blink; by lowering the locket, they exit it and record a secret. By twisting their locket counter clockwise and back after recording, they can load the secret into their Key. They can share Keys with secrets in them with a select group of 3 friends, each of whom must mutually register the secret sharer as a trusted friend in the Alo database. By making the circle of friends exclusive to three other users, the Alo social structure ensures that users build tight bonds with one another, and form lasting, trusting friendships within their social circles.

Alo began as a brief to design a smart object to combat social anxiety. To start the design process, our team thoroughly researched social anxiety in the context of technology. Hoping to specifically combat the practice of telecocooning, archetypically exemplified by a group of friends out to dinner, all on their phones and ignoring one another, our team set out to design a technological product whose use-case encouraged social interactions instead of competing with them. Early prototypes explored highly speculative ideas—from a portable, glove-mounted electromagnet that could force users off their phones by rendering them unusable, to a smart pet rock whose sensor-laden ergonomic surface could provide users with quantified self-style data dashboards that measured their anxiety at different times in the day.

In reflecting on social interactions, we realized that friendships and social connections are based on a sort of exchange between individuals. Whether it is time, trust or gifts, friends who truly care about each other are selfless in the context of friendship. We designed Alo to physicalize that metaphorical exchange. We wanted to compel friends to have in-person interactions, which is why secrets need to be physically handed to friends in the form of a gift, and can’t be sent via an app. Deleting the secrets after they were listened to at once borrowed conceptually from Snapchat, already a popular platform among our target demographic, but also imbued the secret with a preciousness that emphasized the meaning of the in-person exchange of secrets.