Human-Centered Design Portfolio
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Interaction Design for Emotional Communication

We are now living in a social media world where information and messages get sent and received immediately. Technology has developed so rapidly that we now expect to be able to talk to people instantly - and get a response from them almost instantaneously.

We learn about our news from Twitter and Facebook. Younger people use Snapchat to send pictures and videos that disappear later. And with the prevalence of smartphones, they never leave our side - day or night - due to our fear of missing a message or news update.

Is this social media world an improvement in our lives or the beginning of our society’s downfall?

What are the implications? Many individuals have abandoned writing and other traditional forms of communicating. Do you remember the last time you wrote a letter to a friend or loved one?


Interaction Design on Subtle Emotional Exchange and Communication with Kinetic Sculpture

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Whisper is an interactive kinetic sculpture which combines a proximity sensor and a motor stepper to create emotional connections between users. With the simple action of blowing a balloon or a pinwheel, users can send subtle messages to their beloved ones. When the message is detected by the sensor, the wooden kinetic sculpture begins to spin. The speed of the spin is determined by the strength of the blow. 



  • Design Research
  • Concept Design
  • Scenario Design
  • Visual Design


     2 Weeks


  • Yan Liu
  • Runzhou Ye
  • Irmandy Wicaksono
  • Judith Sirera
  • Avery Lamp




"Just as one can compose colors, or forms, so one can compose motions.."  - Alexander Calder, Sculptor




In the era of information explosion, we are always overwhelmed by tons of social media information. “Information overload” is one of the biggest irritations in modern life.

There are always e-mails to answer, virtual friends to pester, YouTube videos to watch,  but sometimes we may overlook our beloved ones.

We hope that Whisper can become an essential part of your life by connecting you and your closest persons,

your boyfriend/girlfriend, family members or best friends in a subtle but strong way.

Let them know much you really miss them.

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Kinetic Sculpture

Kinetic Sculptures are sculptures include moving parts. The art from any medium contains movement perceivable by the viewer or depends on motion for its effect. Marcel Duchamp’s 1913 Bicycle Wheel is generally considered the first such work. Although they were made throughout the 20th century—by artists associated with Constructivism and the Bauhaus.

Kinetic sculptures’ heyday was during the 1950s and 1960s, when Alexander Calder and Jean Tinguely were the best-known practitioners. Calder became famous for his mobiles and Tinguely for his 1960 Homage to New York, a kind of junk machine that destroyed itself in the sculpture garden of the Museum of Modern Art.





Kinetic Sculpture Costume

“Kinetic Sculpture” Costume communicates emotionally through the body movements of the dancers. It not only presents dynamic forms like a Kinetic 3D Sculpture, but also creates new geometric space for the dancers. The different light effects express the costume’s emotions; for instance, a slow fade is breathing and a flash conveys excitement. When a member of the audience touches the hand of a dancer who is wearing the costume, the light changes by sensing the touch as if the costume was alive. This will enhance the emotional transmission between the dancer and the audience, and even engage the audience to participant into the contact improvisation.



Behavioral Kinetic Sculpture

Behavioral sculpture is an largely unexplored area that has been made viable by advancements in microprocessor and sensor technology. By merging these technologies with kinetic sculpture, a new form of expression potentially opens up.

We are now entering a time when our relationships with interactive physical objects are being defined. The development of behavioral kinetic sculpture may reveal innovative possibilities for the future of our interaction with machines. This also provides a foundation for a new dialog between the sculptor, the sculpture, and the audience. 






Design Challenge: "Constrained Explorations in I/O coincidence: Creating a Synchronized Object"

Based on the requirement of the project, we were asked to meet the following conditions:

1. Construct a Bi-Directional Interpersonal Communication device
2. Use the Sensors and Actuators given to you
3. Think of the way you use then in your project. What are the affordances of the device you are building?
4. How will these affordances translate to someone else's’ device and its affordances?
5.Your interface must communicate three-dimensions of information
6.Can both parties, through the simplicity of your implementation of I/O coincidence, coherently interact with each other’s telepresence?



We got a Proximity sensor and a Stepper motor.

From there, we started to ideate ideas around them and natural affordances that could be built.

We focused on "Position", "Speed" and "Direction".

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Pattern Design

We tried several kinetic patterns and fell in love with the animation of geometry. Finally, we chose two of them as our prototype. Each one has its own philosophy. The first whirligig could make richly visual hallucinations when it spin, and the second one has a looming heart shape hidden in the symmetrical pattern.

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Mechanical Design

In order to rotate the two patterns in different directions or with different speed, we studied the gear operation.

 We found that bevel gears are complex to construct since all gears need to be compact and fixed to each other. Planetary gears solve the issue, as the outer ring keeps all of the inner gears intact.  

We tried 3-D printing and laser-cutting to fabricate the gears, structures, and other elements. We found laser-cutting works the best as it is rapid and provides a smoother and finer gear teeth.


Our planetary gear design enables one servo motor to control one, two, or even more wheels with different speeds and directions. We constructed each of this for each of the two stepper motors that we have.


Circuit Design

We then assembled the gear system and integrated them with the stepper motor. in the end, we also connected the Photon module with the proximity sensorand and enclosed them in a wooden box.

In software, we had the goal to display the activity of a person, gradually fading as the person has no recent activity.  That means, as the person gets close to the proximity sensor the stepper motor will go faster and faster up until a certain speed.  When the person moves away from the proximity sensor, the stepper motor will gradually slow down.  

We had a couple of challenges in implementing the software to control the stepper motor’s speed.  First of all, because we are using a stepper motor, the discrete steps would often vibrate the sculpture.  In order to make the stepper motor run smoothly, we had to rewrite a way to interface with the stepper motor and control the stepper motor speed.  We also rewrote the control code in a way that it would take up a specified amount of the run loop time and allow for the sensing to happen on a different timed loop.  In the sensing loop, we dealt with jumpy proximity values by writing a quick low pass filter to gradually make changes in the proximity value.  To gradually decelerate the speed of the kinetic sculpture, we wrote a simple decay function for the stepper motor’s speed to match a proximity reading.



As for material, we used cardboard as our first Whirl prototype since it's light and would not give a significant damage to the gear system if something goes wrong. For the final products, we upgraded the material to vinyl wood and stained them with a wood finish to give them a glossy look.

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The Whirligigs attract curiosity and create emotional relationship with their users. Their patterns, the animation/illusion they create when they spin, as well as the way they move facilitate deep, personal communication media that two users share.



For the first type of input, we hope to show and communicate our affection to the other via blowing (air kiss) - which sensibly couples to the rotation of the whirligig. We integrated our proximity sensor with a pin-wheel, to measure the spin frequency and with a heart-shaped balloon, to measure how “big/strong” the love is.


For the second type of inputs, we would like to measure the “activity level” of each person when they work and correlate it with their stress/workload. We stick the proximity sensor to a laptop and measure this “activity level” through how close their head towards the laptop and how frequent they type on the keyboard. Tapping this sensor enables the partner to slow down the Whirligig, telling the other to calm down (a pat on the shoulder).



Whisper can be used in many scenarios, we listed two here as case studies: between couples and family members.

For couples, when they are in long-distance relationship, they can easily send subtle messages to the other without interrupting him/her abruptly like calls or text messages. The other can also reply the message through the same way. With Whisper, they will never feel lonely when the other is not around, they are connected in a subtle but strong way that only the two can feel it.

Scenario 1: For long-distance couples

Scenario 1: For long-distance couples

For family members, Whisper can be located at the front of the computer or desk. When you are busy working, as you are near to the proximity sensor, the data is detected and sent to your mom. In turn, your mom can put the sensor near her bed, table or coach, when she sits near them, you can also receive the message that you mom is having rest or watching TV!

Scenario 2: For families

Scenario 2: For families



In the future, we would try to build the sensor on wearables, like necklace or bracelet, so that people can send their subtle messages anytime and anywhere. Also the electric wire would be replaced by wifi connection to provide a more natural and intuitive interaction between Whisper and users.

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Light and Shadow Experiment