Lighting Engines

task: make an object that uses simple electronics to emit a gentle light. These objects will be made primarily of paper.

When I first began this process I needed to understand all the mechanics before I could start prototyping any light. I connected all the wires to the light and the flip switch, and then I tried to understand how the flip switch works. I learned that the flip switch works only when it is flipped, not when it’s moved left or right. This posed a bigger problem than I had first anticipated because all the switches I came up with at the beginnings of my design process used x-y motion instead of a turning 360 type of motion.

Through my design process I began thinking about how I might use origami to create an interesting light made out of paper. I tried at least 3 different types of origami structures, but they were all unsuccessful to say the least. Thus, I moved on to using foam core to create a night light. I came up with two different prototypes. The first used see-saw type motion to turn it on and off. One side of the “seesaw” was weighted so that it turned off once you took your weight off the switch. Although simple, this light was satisfying to turn on and off. The second prototype used an axis and a turning motion to create light. For this prototype I envisioned that I would pull a paper attached to the axis to turn the light on. In the end I was happier with the second prototype because it was more interesting and had more potential to work off of.

— —

For our second crit time, I created another version of my second prototype. This time the light was bigger so I could easily fit the battery inside. I also added a curve to the form to make it smoother.


After brainstorming over Thanksgiving break, I got some new ideas about how to work off of my axis design. The first idea I had was to use a moving plane that moves along the axis where the tilt switch is attached to turn a light on and off. I like this idea because I would be able to reflect the light off of the plane, which will create a nice atmosphere.

I then went back to one of my first ideas having to do with the axis and created a toilet paper roll type design with a rubber band mechanism. The goal was to be able to pull a piece of paper to turn on a light and release it to turn it off. I was largely successful in making the mechanism work, but I haven’t figure out how to keep the light on; I need to create some sort of way to “click in” the paper. I also struggled with creating a good “quality of light” with this lighting engine. If I were to continue with this design I want to create smoother edges, something that is warm and rounded.


Notes with Stacie

Today I had the opportunity to talk to Stacie about my ideas. She helped me create a list of adjectives that has helped lead me into more focused design thinking. Through my discussion with her I brainstormed about whether I wanted my light to be:

  • hard or soft (harsh edges?)
  • quiet or loud (bright or “at peace”?)
  • big or small (predictable sized?)
  • simple or complicated (how many mediums will you use?)
  • cold or warm
  • machine-like or organic (symmetry?)


I decided to go further with my sliding/axis mechanism rather than the toilet paper roll mechanism because I was more attracted and pleased with that design. The first thing I wanted to accomplish with my new prototype was to play with the proportions; I wanted to size it down so that it wasn’t so tall. After talking to Stacie again about my first prototype, I also wanted to work on making the slanted, sliding piece more understandable by adding that element to other parts of my lamp. I also wanted to lessen the friction used to pull out the sliding piece.

After actually making and putting together the next prototype, I decided that the angle of the sliding piece was not comfortable to pull out, also I wasn’t satisfied by how the sliding continued to cause friction. Thus, I created another prototype that was bigger and had a slighter slant. Overall I was unhappy with this design because the slant was too subtle to even notice and the craftsmanship was also sub-par.


Through this lighting engines process I have learned a lot about small details. From the way the light moves, to it’s appearance, every detail matters. At first I thought that having bad craft during the prototyping process was ok, but I found out that it actually causes more problems than not. For example, in my first iterations I ignored craft and detail and thus found myself getting lost in the bad craftsmanship, so I couldn’t focus on the form and function. It is clear in the image below that my beginning prototypes lacked good craft.

I also learned that small details matter in the form. If I move my shifting piece even a centimeter, the whole light gives off a different vibe. Even on the last day of prototyping, I had to remake my lamp three times in order to get the right form. I also had a lot of trouble trying to incorporate the light, wires, and battery pack into the design. The wires didn’t want to conform to any shape and the tilt switch was unreliable (it flickers on and off with any subtle movement). It took almost twice the amount of time to make the wires and electronics work with me than it did to actually make the lamp.