Eun Kyoung Lee, MFA ’10

case study

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Name: Eun Kyoung Lee

Graduation: 2010

Program: MFA

“When media progresses, at the same time, design progresses as well.” -Kenya Hara

Industrial design adapts to new technologies such as computers, GPS, and the Internet. These interactive media provides more open-ended opportunities for creative communication between users and products in a larger system with a number of different products.

The objective of my thesis is to design a new level of user experience that comes from a particular digital object. Currently a lot of attention is given to sensory and touch screens, but they are mostly designed in a 2D screen-based platform. I am interested in physical responsive interface design using reactive materials or transformative construction. These types of dynamic interfaces will enable people to have more interplay with objects in space. Unlike the past, we are developing high technology and complex engineering that makes such a goal a reality.

Here are two questions central to my thesis:
What design issues must be considered when “smart” or data-sending objects are brought together within a particular community of users in a specific situation?

How do physical responsive interface designs, using reactive materials or transformative construction, enable people to have a deeper connection with objects in space?

With these questions in mind, my work explores numerous systems of communication that are interconnected with digital objects. The heart of my work is at the intersection between dynamic media and industrial design.

When I was young my father was always helping me make things. He is a talented model architect who constructs things using his hands and any material. One day during our summer vacation, I had to make a solid figure for an assignment. I went to an art store to get some thick paper and glue and started to make a pentagon box. It was so difficult for me because I did not know how to draw up a floor plan for the pentagon box. I did not even know where to start sketching the box on the paper. At that time, my father came to me and worked with me. It was playful and fun. After that I was much more into making models trying to imitate my father.

As I played with the paper to make a pentagon box or with wire and cotton to make trees, I learned how to interact with various materials to create models of the image in my mind. This experience gave me hours of satisfaction and clearer insight into the shape, form, texture and material of objects.
When I became a student at Seoul Art High School, I really enjoyed carving and modeling because, unlike other arts, they incorporated three dimensional works. I began to consider not only the front view but also the top view and the right view. I gained a great deal of skill in drawing objects from many different perspectives. These experiences led me to become an industrial designer.

As an industrial designer, it is satisfying to design an analogue object whose appearance is mostly affected by its function, like furniture. Later, I realized when designing digital products such as DotnDot, Soulmat, and Multi Mailbox, I can freely explore various designs without structural barriers. When I watched science-fiction movies such as Minority Report, I always thought it was so unrealistic and ridiculous.

However, as I learned various new technologies and explored various sensors, I realized that these designs are possible to make. In this sense, adapting new technologies provided new creative opportunities to explore more imaginative designs. So I decided to study interactive design at the Dynamic Media Institute.
Interactive design, user experience, interface design, and communication design that come from products are the central terms that I use to describe my work in the Dynamic Media Institute (DMI) program at Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt). Technology, objects, motion, gesture, sound, texture, space, time, structure, transformation, visualization, culture and so on are the everyday things I think about. As I study different areas in DMI, my interest is in finding more intuitive ways of designing communication tools with different input and output channels. For the past two and a half years, I did lots of experimental designs and I found that they have some common threads.

There are three common elements in my thesis projects : content, system, and physical form.
Content: How do we empower or inform users?
System: How does it integrate with our lives?
Physical form: What is the design of “smart” objects?

Beactive, Sprout, and Inter-Emotion are the three main projects that I have been exploring using content, system, and physical form. In addition, I also have several non-tangible projects that are mainly displayed on the screen such as Objective Browser, Visualize Your Voice, and Map of English Accent. As I developed these projects, I realized that they share many similarities.

I am most interested in physical responsive interface design using reactive materials or transformative construction that will enable people to have more interplay with objects in space. When I was in my second semester, I designed Inter-Emotion, a physical interface that enabled users to show their emotion indirectly by giving them some sense of satisfaction in the situation where he or she cannot truly emit their feelings. In this project, through input, a door will contain a user’s emotion or purpose and then change and reflect that emotion and purpose them into physical space. The door enables people to see physical changes in the space as they interact with it. When the audience and
users are part of the situation, they feel more engaged. In this sense, physical responsive interfaces like Inter-Emotion will give more dynamic experience to the users.

I am also intrigued by the process of designing a digital object that interplays with users in a system that enables them to share and to reflect on their data with others. I designed BEACTIVE, a system that monitors a child’s level of daily activity in real time with Body Mass Index (BMI) status. With BEACTIVE, parents who work everyday can manage their children’s lifestyles based on real data. Thus, having the digital object could be an extension of understanding one’s physical world better by data that is sent from wireless technology.

From the beginning of history, using tools and objects is part of every human being’s unique natural behavior. So, we can guess the purpose of an object from its appearance such as a chair or a jar because we already have the common language to understand these objects. Over time, technology has been
introduced to our lives quickly and deeply. Currently, we are in a new age of high technology and there are countless options that allow us to have unimagined objects for every individual’s more fruitful life. However, our language is still in its infancy, so we, designers, have to consider and try various options to have new language for this new age.

Richard Soul says “the goal of the information design is giving users power”(Hara 225). This is true for me. As a designer, I want to create digital products based on deep insight into people’s needs. I also want to empower people, so they will not be dependent on those who are obsessed with the latest technology. High technology is no longer enough to enhance our lives.

Gillian Crampton Smith, the director of Interactive Design Institute, says “If I were to sum up interaction design in a sentence, I would say that it’s about shaping our everyday life through digital artifacts-for work, for play, and entertainment” (Moggridge xi). We think of an object as a tool to do something for convenience and for a useful purpose. Since we are in digital age, some digital products have meaning to us emotionally and socially. We will have those kinds of products more and more in the near future. It is necessary to think about not only people’s needs but also their wanting to shape a better life for themselves because a good design must reflect a person’s lifestyle and individual needs.


Inter Emotion v1.0

Inter Emotion v2.0