Lighting Engines


Task: Make objects that use simple electronics to emit gentle light.

We were given a large and a small LED light, a battery box and two AA batteries, and a flip switch. I purchased a hollow aluminum rod to use for crimping and attaching wires.

From left: large LED, small LED, battery box (containing 2 AA batteries)

Each of the LED lights have a long and a short wire. The long wire is positive and the short wire is negative and hook up to the corresponding wires in the battery box (red for positive, black for negative).

Aluminum tubing holds wires together

Using pieces of aluminum tubing (above), I connected the red wire from the battery box to the long wire of the large LED and the black wire from the battery box to the short wire of the large LED to create a basic circuit (below). Unfortunately, I need to work on building my arm muscle and creating more “manly” crimps because my circuits keep falling apart due to bad crimping.

My basic circuit with the light on and off

This is my flip switch (above). It contains a ball of mercury that moves around inside based on the orientation of the switch. When the ball of mercury touches both wires, the energy transmits and the light is turned on. Therefore, our projects will turn on and off depending on the flip switch’s orientation.

Circuit diagram
Notes from class, 10/10

My initial idea was to explore the translucencies of various paper I could find in the design studio. I created tubes with each and put the LED inside and then observed the amount of light that shined through the paper.

View inside the paper tube

The different types of paper I used were newsprint, printer paper, bristol board, and cardstock. The newsprint allowed the most light to shine through, while the cardstock didn’t let any through.

Clockwise from top left: newsprint, printer paper, cardstock, bristol board

I also observed the shape of the light that was emitted through the openings of the tubes. The farther away the light, the larger and dimmer the projections.

Moving forward, I’m currently thinking of creating windows in the tubes or some sort of openings to allow light to shine through. I also want to experiment with different adhesives and how I can incorporate them as a feature of the piece rather than something that should be hidden.

I talked to Temple and he suggested that I explore a range of ideas. He pointed out that the joy of my idea is not actually in the light itself but on the surface on which it projects. He suggested that for my other two ideas, I look at the movement of the structure and perhaps involving an aspect of randomness, where the user doesn’t have a say in when it’s on or off.


  • on/off states
  • various perspectives
  • communication of use
  • consistency of form
  • light color
  • paper (translucency, color, texture)
  • adhesives
  • size
  • number of pieces


For today, I made three different light designs:

  1. A pyramid shaped light that flickers when touched

In order to make the light flicker when touched, I angled the tilt switch horizontally and slightly downward, touching one of the sides.

Here is the inside of the pyramid:

I would like to continue to explore this idea because I feel that it has some sort of potential yet falls short in this model. I didn’t really consider the fact that my light is not centered and therefore doesn’t disperse light evenly. I’d also prefer for the top to be enclosed with some sort of translucent paper rather than just left open because it looks unfinished.

I originally wanted the pyramid to be made of more sturdy paper but had to use bristol board because I was reluctant to purchase more paper. However, I got some feedback from some of my classmates today and they said that it was actually satisfying when the paper bent a little when touched. For another iteration, perhaps I could keep the bristol board but add some sort of framework made out of a heavier, sturdier type of paper.

Furthermore, my a whole is not very good — I’m still getting used to the material and I honestly didn’t spend a lot of time creating this piece. Also, while I enjoy the flickering light as opposed to it turning completely off, I realize that flickering isn’t really the assignment and that I should explore more types of movement.

2. Cylinder with cutouts

This light is most like the experiments I made on 11/15. However, unlike my experiments, the light is to be enjoyed through the cutouts, not as a projection onto another surface.

I crafted this piece out of bristol board and covered the cutouts with vellum tracing paper, which I like because it is translucent has a very smooth texture. The tilt switch works so that the light is on when the cylinder is upright and is off when it is not.

Again, my craft falls short on this piece. I tried to use glue to stick a circular cover to the top of the cylinder but it seems that the glue didn’t really work. There’s also a lot of clear tape on this piece that takes away from the quality of the piece.

Ultimately, although it is aesthetically acceptable in some areas, I think this light is pretty boring and doesn’t really incorporate the idea of movement. Furthermore, I do still want to play with this idea of projection because I think it’s interesting and may have some sort of potential.

3. Crescent Wheel

I thought about the idea of movement and decided to experiment with the idea of a wheel.

I used bristol board for most of this piece, vellum tracing paper for the translucent cutout, and illustration board for the backing and back of the disk. There are two components: the backing (which I plan on creating a full box for) and a disk, which contains the light. They are connected by a fastener that allows for easy movement.

Left: the interior of the disk, Right: the back of the disk hooked up to the backing of the light

I look forward to further experimenting. I want to play around with different types of paper with varying levels of opacity, as well as light color (the cool white seems harsh). I also want to focus on intuitiveness of use and how I can communicate how to use it to the user.

Steve showed us the Lumio light, which really shed light (no pun intended) on what it means for a light to evoke emotion. There’s a sense of satisfaction and wonder that the user feels when opening the Lumio. I hope to find a way to somehow evoke similar emotions for my user when using my light.


Moving forward, I want to continue to experiment with movement. There’s a sort of novelty to spinning something like this object that you just don’t get from the stationary models.

I also want to experiment with light colors because I feel like a warm colored light would be much more comforting and pleasant to look at than the harsh, cool light that I’m currently getting from my LED. I’ve also noticed that I like the look of my classmates’ projects made from foam core, so I think I’ll get some and give it a try.

In class, we discussed further criteria to consider when creating our final lights.


  • form explains interaction
  • form conveys “lightness” (context may provide information)
  • inform or confound rituals/assumptions/expectations
  • happiness of material (craft)
  • integration of mechanism
  • cohesive form from multiple perspectives
  • appearance in on/off states
  • quality of light and interaction


The other day, I created a box out of cardstock for my latest light to hold the battery pack. The battery pack in last version had to be held by the user which felt really awkward.

For today, I made another edition of the above light, except with less visible tape and a foam core box.

Today in class, I found that a lot of people viewed my light as a night light, which I guess is good, because that’s what I had intended. However, they also tended to think that the intended orientation of the translucent crescent was on the side (shown above), so that it resembles the moon. Although that may be appropriate for a night light, I feel like it’s too boring, predictable, and ultimately, cliche.

I also talked to a few people who changed the color of their lights about how they went about it. Zoe, whose light emitted a slightly warm glow, said she painted her bulb with a translucent pink guache.

I had a vision of another idea yesterday of a flower whose petals open to reveal a light. However, I couldn’t think of a way to make this work, and wasted many hours trying to figure it out. Ultimately though, since my current idea isn’t really accomplishing everything I’d like it to, I may revisit this idea and explore it some more.


I thought the turning movement was too simple so I wanted to try something else. I had a vision of a flower opening up to reveal a light inside, and attempted to create that.

Above is the petal I made, with help from an online tutorial ( Unfortunately, it turned out to be a lot more geometric than I’d hoped. Furthermore, I couldn’t figure out a way to make the petals open through a simple intuitive movement, so as much as I wanted to make it work, I decided to move on to another idea.

My next idea was built off the movement of sliding. I thought about what movement would be most intuitive and how a form could communicate what the user is supposed to do. I thought that with a track and a sliding movement, there is only one option for the user, so the movement is obvious and intuitive.

I decided to try using taskboard for this one, which I’m so glad I decided to experiment with. It’s very forgiving yet sturdy, which were two things that I wanted in a material but wasn’t sure was possible.

Left: quick sketch of the light that I made on my phone, Right: first iteration of the idea

This idea consists of 3 main components: the base, slider, and the curve.

The base holds the battery pack and provides a stable base for the light. The slider holds the LED and tilt switch and is the moving part of the light. It moves along a track on the curve. The curve has 2 compartments formed by a simple divider: the one in the back holds the wires connecting the battery pack and the slider.

Everything worked well except the wires. They got tangled in the back compartment of the curve and prevented the slider from sliding smoothly. At first I used some stiff copper wire I got from the art store, and thought that the stiffness of the wires was the reason why they kept getting tangled in the back of the curve. However, I later got some more flexible wire and it still had the same problem. I talked to Robert and he suggested putting the battery on the slider, so I decided to try that next.

Unfortunately, the battery pack was too heavy to allow the slider to glide smoothly, so I needed a lighter alternative. I consulted Chris, who told me about coin batteries. I hooked it up to the back of my slider and it worked really well.

I got rid of the base because I thought it was redundant and placed the original battery pack in the bottom of the curve as a weight.

Eliminating the wires allows for smooth movement, as shown below:

Ultimately, the result is a light that I envision as a sort of desk light. It illuminates books and keyboards especially well.

Photos of my light’s on and off states:


Today we wrapped up the project by seeing what everyone made and discussing what we learned through the process.

Here’s what we came up with as a class:

  1. Consciousness of “physical interactions”
  2. Trustworthiness of the form plays a crucial role in interaction
  3. Craft is intimately related to form perception and influences interaction
  4. You have to design with materials and technology in mind
  5. You should aim for the form to communicate what the user is meant to do with it → you can’t be there to tell the viewer how to use it so your form needs to be able to communicate for itself
  6. Ask someone else in order to get another perspective → there is information about your form that you know but someone who is seeing it for the first time may not know

I think the main thing I learned from this project concerns number 5, because I never really thought about how to make something intuitive before. As I thought more about my light and how I could make the movement more intuitive, I became more critical of the objects I interact with daily and how they communicate.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.