Making LINKKI: design, storytelling and learning with movement (1)

LINKKI ©Eun Young Park

LINKKI is a kinetic construction toy based on planar linkage mechanism with which users can design movements, make kinetic arts and learn basic STEM subjects by hands-on playing. More details and the design specification being able to be found on my website, here I’d like to share the making story behind it in two installments. Part 1: Background, Part 2: Prototyping


The story of LINKKI dates a few years back to a class in New Media study at Aalto University, School of Arts, Design and Architecture. Having worked on mainly in traditional 2-D storytelling media such as film and comic till then, I was eager to make my stories pop up from a flat page and screen to 3-D physical space with interaction embedded. I have been a big fan of the artist and engineer, Tim Hunkin who is famous for the whimsical arcade machines, cartoons and TV series. His works and diverse careers inspired me who was struggling to make bridges between my disciplines, seemingly scattered but closely interrelated to each other in my mind (BS in chemical engineering, BA in film making and production, working as a film maker and comic book artist for ten years). Especially what fascinated me in his works was the potential of movement for conveying stories. A series of experiments with movement and interaction were carried out and ended up with the installations called Mechanical Cartoon 1, 2.

Oongsung Oongsung (2013)
Mechanical Cartoon, Study 2 (2014)

Prototyping for these installations usually started with seeking the right material and tools. Dirty and fast prototyping with paper and fasteners worked quite well in the early prototypes but it took so much time. Construction toys such as LEGO, one of the most versatile and powerful construction toy or tool as it is, turned out not the best fit for designing this kind of movement; there is steep learning curve to get the hang of how to build and the parts are not designed for this purpose. Working for the another installation, Press Play, I got to notice the strong need for a simple and intuitive tool for this specific purpose: designing movement.

Press Play 2014 (Group work)
Raw material vs. Construction blocks
Several stages of prototyping movement

Especially prototyping for the Mechanical Cartoon, study2, I was intrigued by the linkage mechanism among others. The lectures of Erik Demaine and Chuck Hoberman opened my eyes for its capability that enables designing sophisticated movement just by connecting bars. Bridging separate fields from origami to DNA folding by linkage-like folding mechanism resonated with my old belief on the interconnectivity between disparate fields once again.

Bridging separate fields

Another inspiration came when I was doing the exchange study in Berlin. What I found there were Friedrich Fröbel’s educational and beautiful Gift and toys of Bauhaus artists and the other modernist artists. Especially, I couldn’t agree more with Fröbel’s idea embedded in his Gift: symbolizing life, science and art with the same abstract material to realize the interconnectivity and unity of them. LINKKI could be a Gift in 21th century, I assumed, for kinetic design and physical interaction. And, as for the modernist artists’ works that inspired me, I cannot go into all of them here, but among them are Alexandre Calder’s Circus, Alma Siedhoff-Buscher’s toys and furnitures, Charles and Ray Eames’ and Russian Avant-garde artists’ children’s books.

Iris mechanism built on LINKKI

The idea of LINKKI was born with this background. I’d like to make a standardized modular toy that others can design movement to make a moving frame like one in Mechanical Cartoon, Study2. The point is in its simplicity and flatness. Other mechanical parts except bars and circles were excluded; just coupling linkages can make even sophisticated movements. The flat mechanism makes the design process with which engineering such as mechanics, robotics, electronics and model making is involved feel like just drawing on the paper: fast, easy, and intuitive. Flat parts also enables users to make their own parts with on-the-shelf material such as cardboard, that is, it’s easy to hack and open-ended.

An early sketch for LINKKI

That’s it for now, the first ever introduction to a kinetic toy, LINKKI. In the next post, I’ll write about the prototyping stages for LINKKI and usage examples in detail.