Prototyping New Learning Environments

Connect is a physical social network that aims to bridge communication between IDeATe students.


Link to Process Blog

Link to Final Presentation

Brainstorm and Identify Problem

In our first visit to the IDEATE studios, we identified several problems existing in the program, especially the physical studio space.

  1. Equipment safety: Students have to be trained before using the 3D printers, laser cutter machines and other equipments. However, the teachers are not available in certain hours in the day when sometimes students need to use the equipment.
  2. Interdisciplinary communication: Students’ communication is usually limited within their class. Many of them only take one or two IDEATE classes, and they don’t know other people in the program outside of the class.
  3. Lack of identity & Disjointed studio: Because the studios are separate and time-shared, students don’t see other peers in the same program very often. At the same time, the studios are time-shared, and people don’t feel a sense of belonging as they don’t have their own personal space.
  4. Underground: Most of the studio is underground, and many students don’t feel inspired or encouraged to stay in the studio since it is dark and cold

After a discussion, we decided to focus on interdisciplinary communication among students in IDEATE. We chose this topic because it is the core value of IDEATE and we want to help expand and promote this idea. In particular, we wanted to develop a way for the three types of ideate students to feel comfortable connecting with each other.

Initial Storyboard and Ideation

In our first discussion, we came out with the idea of having a physical screen that displays the projects of IDEATE students. This would help the students within the program know what each others are doing. They will be reminded to look at it as they can see the screen every time they pass by the studios. At the same time, it also give other non-IDEATE students a change to know more about this program.

We want to encourage students to communicate more and make more friends outside of their own class. Therefore, we came out with the idea that besides introducing different projects, the physical gallery will also show the availability of the team members of that project. The gallery will then guide the viewer to the student if her/she is also in the studio. If they are not available or they don’t have time, viewer can contact the specific designer by email.


  1. Physical platform: We have a disagreement on the specific platform to display the projects and connect students. Emma was first thinking about putting the screen on the pillar next to the studio, since students have to walk pass through it to go to the studios. However, we were also concerned that the pillar was too small to display the information, and it might be too crowded if multiple people want to use it at the same time.
  2. How to connect students: we didn’t go into too much details about connecting the students. What happens if the students are graduated? How would the communication work? Do we need a physical projection that lead the viewer to the students in studio?


Interviews & IDeATe Community Analysis


In order to understand more about the issues, we decided to go back to IDeATe to interview the students. After going to the field and talk to the students, we solidified our scope because the responses seems to have consistent issues. we interviewed Kelly, an IDEATE representative. We also interviewed five groups of students.

  1. Student group: We found out there are three students group in the program: new students, amateur, and experienced students. Some students want to look for help and inspiration, and experienced students want to share their projects. Even after the interview, some students are really excited to invite us to play with their projects and tell us the details about their projects.


2. Current communication: People tend to use Facebook group chat. It is quick and efficient, but only a few classes have this kind of group chat. At the same time, although IDEATE have the online gallery to document all the students’ project, not a lot of students remember to go on to the website and look at what others are doing.


Initial Idea & Storyboard

After interviewing the IDEATE community, we began to record the necessary qualities and requirements for what are our interface must provide:

  • Stationary
  • Makes space a hub for people to interact and meet
  • Online access
  • Database can also be accessed with more convenience
  • Centralized location
  • To allow students to be reminded of the resource and inspiration
  • Large presence
  • Multiple people can view and use at once
  • Filter for projects
  • Fast, easy and convenient to use
  • People can use in passing

Visual Qualities:

  • Trustworthy / welcoming
  • Friendly
  • Accepting
  • Fast, easy, convenient
  • Social
  • Inspirational

These qualities helped us develop a system that displayed projects on the walls and guided people to the central database of projects.


Initial Interaction Storyboard


Refining Color Palette and Form Language


The colors are a compilation of the student research qualities. The circle throughout the interface acts as the personal component. The movement remains consistent and fluid, creating a trusted interaction. The more geometric forms act as an informational component. We realized this needed to be consistent throughout the entire experience, including the final arrow that directs the student to the help they need.


Finalizing Details / Reintroduce Students



  • Gestures and Interaction:
    • Customization: touching the interface is awkward for people with different heights
    • What is a comfortable viewing distance?
    • How can this be adjusted? Is there a difference between the close, intermediate and far interactions?
    • Should peripheral devices or a universal controller be used?
    • No visual queues to swipe or do specific gestures
    • There should be a way for the user to escape or return through each step
    • How can voice be differentiated with multiple people?
  • Wording:
    • Problem framing sounds negative
    • Change words from lacking and limited to in demand and mismatched
    • These changes will help the ideate representatives identify with the problems and not feel penalized and judged based on empty assumptions
  • Craft:
    • Align grid
    • Touch up diagrams and leading
  • Availability:
    • Availability is not binary
    • Is there a way for students to chat?


^Input of the system

After meeting with our professor Austin, we discussed the influence of gestures and interactions. If you have a specific gesture, the user needs to be aware of its existence and potential. With voice input, this kind of feedback is hard because of the need to anticipate pitfalls. With gestures, awareness and input are not intuitive because there is no device providing any indication or affordance. In addition, a clicking gesture can be awkward because there is nothing tangible to click, in addition to no physical feedback.

Wireframe and Storyboard


Based on these issues, we decided to use the phone as a universal remote for the interface. The phone is a curser that allows the user to interact and adjust their positioning based on their needs. The icons on the phone create affordances for the user as well. In addition, the need to anticipate pitfalls is eliminated because the person has more control over their input.

Emma_Environemnts_A3_Presentation-1018 (dragged).png

Link to Final Presentation



Redesigning the Yellow School Bus

Stakeholder Map




Glass Blowing  & Life Casting

I am enjoying trying to understand glass as a medium. The viscosity and high pressure environment brings a new life to the delicate final forms that are created. Currently I have taken Hot Glass I, Hot Glass II and Life Casting at the Pittsburgh Glass Center.

FullSizeRender 39



Mechanical Creatures

Process Blog

My assignment was inspired by the artist Jean Tinguely. I wanted to tell a kinetic story through a series of chain events. The motor drives a wire gear or hand that tries to latch onto the next hand. The second hand makes an attempt to connect with the third. The mechanisms are translated into creatures with more organic and rhythmic movements.


ProceEmma_Environemnts_A3_Presentation-1018ss Blog

My project is inspired by an anxious creature. I wanted to create this anxiety though the sound and movement. This relationship would be affected by the distance of the person interacting with the creature.

One large challenge was experimenting with sound and randomness in order to generate an organic chirp/noise. I also had difficulty getting the motor to turn, however this remained more of a hardware issue. In addition, I experimented a lot with the form and aesthetic. Initially the form did not seem to match the building chaos of sound, so I ended up using the wires to enhance the noise.





Design by Chris Styger, a project made in prototyping I. This class taught me how to use tools such as the bandsaw, table saw, wood lathe, and drill press.