: a circumstance, quality, or person that has a strong but unpredictable influence


For the illustration, I was inspired by how Susie referred to her parents as the x-factor of her life. She considered how each segment of an “x” represents her parents. I honored that reflection with the two strokes’ styles and tints. In addition to the above definition about how an x-factor refers to influence, I thought about the other meanings of the word including a star quality or je ne sais quoi. A star, in fact a North Star, sits in the center, taking on both tints with a visual burst of energy.

Note: This project continues a special series. The letters T-Y have been adopted by newsletter readers (you can read more about the why and how here). Susie, a friend who always engages me in fascinating conversations, selected the word “x-factor” as her project. I’m especially grateful she adopted “x” since it’s not an easy letter. I know you’ll find her take below on Alpha Projects as delightful as I do!


My parents. They’re the x-factor in my life. 

When I think of the word x-factor, I mostly focus on the x… not sure why. The “x” consists of two line segments. Each segment represents one of my parents, and where they intersect symbolizes when I joined the family!

Special, magical, unique, original, dynamic, and secret sauce are some words that come to mind when I think of x-factor.

When I typed “x-factor” into DuckDuckGo, the tv music competition popped up. According to good ol' Wikipedia, The X Factor “refers to the undefinable ‘something’ that makes for star quality.”

After reading a bit about The X Factor, I learned that each judge mentors finalists from a specific category. This immediately made me think of my parents… how my mom “mentors” me in some things, while my pop “mentors” me in other areas.


Initially, I wanted to create something that represented the “undefinable something” that makes them special. But, I also wanted it to be tangible and explainable… as in, something my parents could look at and immediately understand. 

Some ideas included a letter, poem, picture… but these felt too traditional. Also, none were a x-factor in and of themselves (if that makes sense!). 

So, this got me thinking… and thinking… and thinking.

Finally, it hit me. I could showcase their “secret sauce” by creating an interactive piece of art. I used p5.js to create an online experience. I struggled with the component that would make it interactive. Essentially, I wanted people to speak into a microphone, which would trigger a shape to appear on the canvas. The size and number of shapes are dependent on what the person says and how the person speaks. 

This is representative of all the words of wisdom they’ve shared with me and how their words turn a white canvas into a beautiful picture. 

Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out the input/output feature. So, I decided to move forward with my backup plan. Growing up, my father always told me to have a backup plan. My mom would agree and say, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket!”

My parents are much older than most of my peers’ parents/caretakers. I’m keenly aware that my parents may not be around when/if I have children. I’ve often wondered how to capture their essence because I want to share this with my children. Unfortunately (for me), my parents don’t like when I take pictures or videos of them.

So, how do I capture stories of their childhood, adulthood, and parenthood? Well… I prototyped a storytelling booth… a place they could go to record stories. 

Cardboard, green foam, and blue tape in formation to become a storytelling booth

I’m imagining that my parents and I would start the session by chatting and reminiscing… Once they’re ready, they can enter the booth and record something.

Image of cardboard (left) and laptop set up in storytelling booth prototype (right)

I’m not sure what will happen from there… do I immediately listen to their stories… Do I upload the stories as NFTs and create a smart contract that “unlocks” them on a specific day/time…?


I’m always surprised that the simplest things can be the most powerful. In this case, something as simple as sharing a story may have a profound effect on the listener… and maybe even the storyteller!


Editor’s note: It was touching to hear of Susie's interpretation of our parents as an x-factor. While Susie's first project didn't work as she intended, I appreciated her pivot to prototyping a storytelling booth. My fiancé's parents are also older so I've wondered how to capture their memories. Both of my parents passed away years ago so I can see the need for this.


Reminder: the project and write-up was submitted by a guest contributor, Susie.

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