Related Publications
  • Boriana Koleva, Jocelyn Spence, Steve Benford, Hyosun Kwon, Holger Schnädelbach, Emily Thorn, William Preston, Adrian Hazzard, Chris Greenhalgh, Matt Adams, Ju Row Farr, and Nick Tandavanitj. Designing Hybrid Gifts. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact. (TOCHI) DOI:  (In Press)
  • Hyosun Kwon, Holger Schnädelbach, Boriana Koleva, Steve Benford, Tom Schofield, Guy Schofield, Maho Oki, Koji Tsukada, Daniel Harrison, Richard Banks, Tim Regan, and Martin Grayson. 2017. Demo hour. interactions 24, 5 (August 2017), 8-11. DOI:
  • Hyosun Kwon, Boriana Koleva, Holger Schnädelbach, and Steve Benford. 2017. “It’s Not Yet A Gift”: Understanding Digital Gifting. In Proceedings of the 2017 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW ’17). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2372-2384. DOI: 

One chunk of my Ph.D. research had been devoted to exploration of our experience of exchanging digital gifts.

Description of the research

(In the interview) P23, “[…] for my birthday gift, I had received a £50 Amazon voucher from my mum that I was so glad. But if it was from my boyfriend, that would’ve been horrible!”

This research asks “why?” to the above statement and tries to unveil design opportunities that would enhance user experience in digital gifting. Digital gifts such as gift vouchers, games that come with a serial code or movie subscriptions are now quite widely available by many online retailers. But in fact, the category of digital gifts can be extended to a more mundane exchange of digital materials such as files, music tracks, photos, artworks, and even money when they are deliberately chosen for gifts. This study looked into how these digital materials are explicitly exchanged as a gift to understand how they are perceived in the process of gift exchange that involves multiple other factors such as context and relationship between giver and recipient.


In order to understand how gift exchange had been framed and systematically studied in wider disciplines, we reviewed references that proposed the gift exchange framework. Most references found in social science disciplines have described gift exchange within a frame of four stages, the preparation that when people start to plan and search for gifts, exchange of the gift, then the recipient uses the gift, and reflects upon the past exchange experience and starts to plan reciprocation.


When considering digital gifting within this four stages, the giver and receiver are often temporally and spatially apart.

Therefore, it is not clear, how the recipient’s interpretation affects the giver, and how the giver might interpret recipient’s response, and any exchange rituals are in practice when we exchange digital gifts. Also, how much the giver can be involved in all aspects of the exchange and how does it influences the receiver in subsequent stages, both “use” and “reflection” are seen to be a gap in knowledge of digital gifting.


Therefore, in this research, I aim to highlight the significance of wrapping by proposing reveal stage, which makes 5-stage gifting model. A detailed description of each stage can be found in the paper. (paper link)


We conducted interviews with 25 participants, individually. There weren’t any restrictions on age, background, or occupations. However, in pilot interviews, I found it really interesting that many people easily recalled the giving experience but hardly had for the receiving experience, in the case of the digital gift. I somehow thought this is impossible. So, I made one condition in the recruitment that participants have to have experienced receiving digital gifts, from their point of view so that it ensures they perceived the digital material was a gift.

The interview lasted for approximately 60 minutes. Started with the receipt of physical gifts to inspire people about the meaning of gift and to compare with digital gifts. Then, followed by digital gifting experience. In between the topics, I presented the 5 point scale graph for participants to rate their excitement in each stage of the gifting. As a giver, they rated for preparation and exchange and reveal, and as a receiver, they rated from exchange to reflection.


A total of 21 item categories were listed as gifts that had either been received or offered or both.


This diagram visualises the mean values of the excitement ratings, we can see that physical gifting shows what can be regarded as a strong and balanced experience, whereas, the digital gifting illustrates some weaknesses and gaps in the process. We identified the differences in excitement between the two types gifting were significant except for the Use stage. (Details of the interview can be found in the paper. )

During the interview, how people interpreted “exciting” was subtly different to each other, but widely fell into the positive experience. Therefore, we treated this data as a reference to highlight the gap in digital gifting in comparison to the physical and to use as a tool to analyze the interview data.


From the interview study, we grasped how the digital materials are regarded and exchanged as gifts in our everyday life. We noticed that what is regarded as a gift depends greatly on the ritualistic behaviour that surrounds it – relationships, means and manner of exchange, occasions, reciprocation, codes and etiquettes – perhaps more so than on its form.

This finding mirrors the wider sociological, psychological literature on gifting that argues that a gift gains its meaning through ritual exchange that rooted in a rich repertoire of conventional physical gifting rituals and also deeply ingrained in our social interactions.


This study suggests an alternative framing of digital gifting, one that focuses more on supporting the rituals of gift giving than on the form of the gifts.

Design implications for each stage are detailed in the paper. One of the design implications suggest ephemeral materials as wrapping medium for digital gifts. 

Design Exemplars – Delicate Hybrid Gifts

From the Digital Gifting study (“It’s Not Yet A Gift”: Understanding Digital Gifting), we concluded that it is the exchange ritual that is missing in the most of the digital gifting process. We noticed that what is regarded as a gift depends greatly on the ritualistic behaviour that surrounds it – relationships, means and manner of exchange, occasions, reciprocation, codes and etiquettes – perhaps more so than on its form.

Thus, I’ve focused on one of the factors that are essential in gift exchange – ‘Wrapping’. Gift wrapping is considered as an important element in many respects. As a giver, wrapping is a way of personalizing an object into a gift. In so doing, he or she may express an act of love, care, and friendship by putting another layer of time and effort on the gift itself. Wrapping introduces an element of surprise. It also allows the recipient to build anticipation and invokes tension when unwrapping and to show an appropriate reaction to the giver. Not only these I mentioned here, but wrapping has built on profound traditions and rituals that ingrained in multiple different cultures which visualize a variety of forms and designs of wrappings.

Thus, I propose the concept of the Hybrid Gift. Hybrid gift exhibits a novel approach to assemble digital and physical materials to seamlessly integrate tangible wrappings in digital gifting. I’d like to make clear that this is different from conventional CD or USB sticks that has explicit materiality over the digital data stored. We deliberately selected and employed ephemeral materials for the wrapping to incorporate the temporal and irreversible nature of the unwrapping experience. Also to retrieve delicacy and subtle tension at the instance of unwrapping.

The first material we looked into was food. Food is an ephemeral material that is made to be usefully consumed.

Spherified Dessert Juice

Preparing and offering of the food have many similar aspects with that of gift giving. From the selection of menu, cooking, and to the presentation, many things are thoughtfully conducted and personalized. Thus, I have deliberately chosen to use a spherified dessert blob. It is basically a liquid ball that an outer film keeps its shape intact. The entire thing is totally edible. I came up with this food for its sensory elements – it is vulnerable; the outer shell is very thin, it needs to be delicately made, and it is ephemeral.

Gifting Table incorporates a camera underneath the table for colour detection and a transparent table top with also a transparent dish, so that the colour can be see-throughable. When a blob is placed on the plate, the camera detects the colour so the system recognizes which gift is ready to be open. Then when the recipient pokes the blob and the camera detects that the blob has been unwrapped, so the system reveals the gift.

Candle wax is also one of the everyday ephemeral materials that we often exchange as gifts. When it comes to gift, the candle has many craft elements that it is easy to personalize the shape, colour, and scent.

Picture 2

In this research, I proposed IoT gifting candle that facilitates remote gift exchange as well but with a kind of ritualistic behaviour. A giver might embed gifts at a certain temperature level so as the candle burns, it reveals the gift when reached at the temperature.

This research will be further developed in ‘Hybrid Gifts’ project (EPSRC) and ‘Crafting Rituals for Digital Gifting’ project.