Anna Larionova

Interaction Designer

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Anna Larionova

Interaction Designer

élan

Tangible interaction exploration for a disappearing light






Description


A soft lamp concept that turns on when pulled up from the center using embedded electronics and Arduino programming.


Timeline


14 weeks (Spring 2017)

Role


Product design, ideation, physical prototyping

Technology


Arduino, conductive thread, microcontrollers, micro LEDs

Academic Project


ArtCenter College of Design




Creative Brief 


The project brief was open-ended: design a table lamp in our Product Design 2 studio class that challenges the traditional expectations of a table lamp.


Problem


At the time of the project, I lived in a tiny studio apartment with a tiny desk. I aimed to find a small lamp for my workspace, but even the smallest table lamps I looked at had a footprint. It still needs a place among the pencil holder, computer, and keyboard. This led me to the question: does a lamp really deserve real estate on your desk?


Insights and Inspiration


Chema Madoz’s surrealist photography inspired me to imagine interactions as visual metaphors. Along this line of thinking, I encouraged myself to let imagination and play lead the way for this exploration.



Solution


Élan is a soft, e-textile lamp. When the user pulls the LED-embedded fabric up from the center, magnets from either side meet to complete the circuit and turn on the light. Flattened out, the light turns off and “disappears,” leaving precious room for other things on even the tiniest desk.



Process



Ideation & Gesture Exploration


I chose to draw in the style of Nendo, whose iconically playful drawings illustrate the functionality of an object, often metaphorically or figuratively. Instead of focusing on the logistics of the object, this style lended me the ability to think more conceptually and consider analogous mechanisms.



Some ideas were out of scope and I ultimately landed on a flat form. The next step was to explore possible interactions that acted as switches for a flat lamp.



One possible direction was a pop-up book type of functionality. For this, I created paper prototypes.



Another direction was a less rigid material which lent itself to different gestures.

My favorite idea was a handkerchief-sized textile pulled up or pinched at the center to switch the light on. It would create a structure that did have a footprint, but when switched off, it was flat and could be stored anywhere. I also imagined it to be soft to create a different relationship to the common household appliance.




Prototyping with Electronics


I sketched different possibilities to house the electronics to bring this idea to life—the components needed to be small enough to support the illusion of softness and inner glow.


Some versions included a switch sewn into the corner or hidden, textured buttons. To test out a couple of ideas, I created a few rough prototypes with string lights. These didn’t offer enough control over placement.


The breakthrough was when I learned that I could use two magnets as a switch. This mechanism was exciting because the gesture wasn’t compromised by buttons. The packaging considered these factors: magnet size and strength; LED size, quantity, and brightness; battery size and power.

I found micro LEDs called NeoPixels from Adafruit to accompany the magnets. To bring it all together, I used conductive thread to daisy chain the LEDs. I connected them to the Adafruit Trinket 5V mini controller and the smallest and flattest battery I could find that would still power these components: a 3.7V lithium polymer battery. The magnets had to be strong enough to stick through the fabric but not too strong that the fabric would rip while trying to peel the magnets apart. The ones I used were on the large side and very flat.


The magnet switch worked very well! However, sewing the components together was trickier than I thought because the connection was less reliable than solder. I could only get a few of them to turn on by the end of the project.




Branding & Logo Development


I created a name and designed a logo and poster for this project in a different class. I chose the name elan, which means momentum or dynamism in French. The upward direction of the gesture conjured a sense of liveliness.

For the logo, the focus was on connecting the accent to the L to mimic the apex of the light when it’s on. The typeface had to communicate a kind of fantasy or whimsy.


My goal with the poster was to communicate all of élan’s metaphors and overlay the lamp into these contexts.




Reflection


As a designer, most of my projects are solution-focused, which can sometimes feel restrictive. I enjoyed coming up with an exciting idea and just making it. 

Prototyping required a very different mindset from illustrating so I wish I had started prototyping a little earlier. The conductive thread might have worked better with a more solid line and clear polish, which I read helps secure the connection.

Possible next steps are in the realm of material exploration. I worked on thin fabric for prototyping, which ripped easily. Other possibilities include 3D knits and weaving in the NeoPixels during the construction of the textile.