Lighting Engine

We were asked to make light engines (nightlight) using simple electronics. It needs to be able to be turned on and off by changing their orientation. For my project, I designed a collapsible lamp that turns on and expands when it is lifted up by hand or hanged up.

Introduction to Circuits (11/9)

In class, we learned about basic electrical rules and parts that we need to make LED lights work. Except basic battery pack and LED light, we learned about the tilt switch, which enables us to turn it on and off without using the switch on the battery pack.

Explorations (11/14)

Technical Exploration

Using a plier, aluminum tube to connect the circuits, I built the circuit that was drawn above, a plan laid out by Steve. Although it is working, I still have to think about how to incorporate the other two LEDs in this system. Also, the small wires keep coming out of the tubes, which also needs some improvement on the craftsmanship.

Paper Explorations

These are the choices of papers that I have, I arranged them by thickness, top to bottom: Railroad paper, bristol board, regular 11x17, palette paper, vellum paper, tracing paper.

I tested how the light past through each paper:

Tracing and Vellum: Although both are rather translucent, vellum paper has a smoother texture that makes an “icy” feeling. Tracing paper shows up being more white.

Left: Tracing Paper, Right: Vellum paper

Palette paper and printing paper: Texture wise, to my surprise, they are pretty similar. The big difference is that palette paper has one shiny side.

Left: Palette paper, Right: printing paper

Bristol Board and Railroad paper: These are the thickest papers. Bristol board is a lot thicker ,thus the light is very diffused. Railroad paper is similar to palette paper because it also has a shiny side, but much more subtle. It doesn’t affect how light pass through the paper, though.

Left: Railroad Right: Bristol

Form Explorations

As soon as I saw the assignment, I thought of the Issey Miyake IN-EI lamps that I saw in their Tokyo store this summer. They are solely made by folding paper, and involves interactions with hands (all the IN-EI lamps can expand and retract in a particular way). From this inspiration, I decided to explore forms that can animate just by the folds.

First Form explorations

I followed a tutorial on how to fold a rose-shaped box and made this out of tracing paper, because I though this form is somewhat similar to the IN-EI ones. Since it is rose-shaped, it has some flexibilities to expand (but just a little). Above are the pictures I took to see the effect of light passing through this small craft by putting the light source under and inside the box.

Then I wanted to explore something that can stretch out more.

So I made this shape. Although the paper is kind of beaten up, but the structure is right. I think it would be easier to make this contractable shape by a stiffer paper, like vellum.

In-class thoughts and Explorations 2 (11/15)

In class, we talked about some considerations we should have when we design a lighting engine: on/off states, various perspective, communication of use, consistency of form, paper, adhesives size, and number of pieces. I personally would prioritize a couple considerations here: the on/off states transformation, the material, and the communication of use.

With these considerations in mind, I explored some collapsible forms.

The movement of the form can be up/down, or sideways. The sideway interaction would be more like a pop-up card, or a book. After I showed this idea to Steve, he showed me Lumio, which inspired me to make a similar form for experiment (shown on the bottom). I sewed up the paper just like a old-styled book. However I realized to create a fatter looking book, I need a extremely long paper. Also, it is hard to close.

The up/down movement can be achieved by two means: by folding, or by loops. Folding was my original idea, but it needs a lot of precision in craftsmanship. This quick prototype I made with tracking paper doesn’t work really well. I doesn’t fold up completely. After talking to Steve and Stacie, I realize it is the problem of the material that I used. Walking around the studio, I realized many other classmates had the similar idea.

The loop idea was inspired by Stacie’s girl scout cup (thank you!). I have made a basket-like model in the next iteration.

Iteration 1 (11/16)

For this iteration, we need to bring in 3 prototypes to class.

My three ideas were all based on the collapsible movement of the lamp.

Prototype 1

The first one (shown on the left) was inspired by pop-up cards. Since I just wanted to explore the pop-up card idea in general, I did not focus on the form. The pop-up card shown above was designed by Peter Dahmen. The mechanism is rather easy, when the card closes it automatically tilts and turns off. Although this one looks cool, it looks more like an installation art rather than a practical lamp.

Prototype 2

This one was inspired by Stacie’s girl scout cup. On off state, the three rings collapse together, and on the on state, it expands into a cone shape, like a lantern. The tilt switch work with the bottom cone: when it is put on a flat surface, the cone tilts. I personally really like this one because it is designed to be portable, which would be useful on situations like going to the bathroom in the middle of night. This was a fast prototype, so there are a lot of craft issues, i.e. the circles are not perfect circles, which leaves gaps in between each ring. Also, I don’t know where to integrate the battery pack within this device.

Feedback: My craftsmanship hinders the function of this lamp, since the rings don’t line up. Also the mechanism of attaching the switch to the bottom cone is not stable, because each time I put it down it tilts in a different direction. The general movement is good, but the form needs some refinement.

Prototype 3

The third one also collapse sideways. It’s an onion-shaped form, and the tilt switch works with the movement here. However, when I open it up, the strips don’t have even space between. Also, the seams in between creates a pattern of the light, and they expose the inner structure of this lamp. This one was an intuitive one, I didn’t have much thoughts or planning when I initiated this one, so I did expect many problems on this one.

Feedback: It would be better if I widen each strip and not leave any gap in between to have a even, diffused light source.

Iteration 2 (11/22)

I decided to give up my prototype 1 idea and focus on prototype 2 and 3.

Criteria (came up collectively in class, and modified by me):

  • Form expresses interaction
  • form conveys light-ness
  • happiness of material
  • mechanism integration
  • cohesiveness from different perspectives
  • element of surprise

Prototype 2: iteration 2

This iteration, I mainly experimented with the material and the form. Because the bristle board that used for last iteration was so unstable, I decided to switch to foam core. Also for stability, I chose a triangular shape (triangle is the most stable shape). The foam core worked really well, because it has more weight and it was easier to cut clean edges. The triangle shape, which has straight edges really solved the line-up problems. But I still have to figure out where the battery pack goes, and how the tilt switch would work.


  • Form expresses interaction: good
  • form conveys light-ness: bad
  • happiness of material: good
  • mechanism integration: bad
  • cohesiveness from different perspectives: good
  • element of surprise: good

Feedback: I need to adjust the material because foam is a very opaque texture. Also, Stacie suggested that if I raise the height of the top layer I can hide the battery pack there.

Prototype 3: iteration 2

Design sketch

This was the improvement for the third prototype, which I intended to lean more towards a insect shell shape. However, the big problem is that the papers collide with each other and won’t fold up.


  • Form expresses interaction: so-so
  • form conveys light-ness: good-ish
  • happiness of material: bad
  • mechanism integration: bad
  • cohesiveness from different perspectives: good
  • element of surprise: good

Prototype 4: iteration 1

My idea sketches. I first thought of a lamp like the one on the left. There is a ball which lights up when holding it sideways. If you are wondering where I got this strange idea, it’s from a character in a game that I was playing (so random haha):

Then I thought, if I have this interaction why do I need a hanging ball? So I simplified it into the design shown on the right. Here is how it turned out:

…..I did not like it very much. I have to make the bottom part really long to include the battery pack inside. Also I was struggling with the cap mechanism. I used a small wire as the axis of rotation.


  • Form expresses interaction: so-so
  • form conveys light-ness: bad
  • happiness of material: bad
  • mechanism integration: good
  • cohesiveness from different perspectives: bad
  • element of surprise: so-so

Iteration 3(11/22)

I only focused on developing a working prototype for my triangle collapsible lamp.

Changes I made in this iteration:

  1. I increased the height of the top loop, and hided the battery pack there.
  2. I used the foam core just for the frame structure. I made it hollow and used vellum for better illumination effect.
  3. I added a handle using aluminum pipe which can fall down when not using it for a better looking off state.
  4. I added a cap to hide everything…but it ended up not working because I miscalculated the battery pack place and the cap could not close.
  5. To make the bottom loop tilt when put on a flat surface, I added two triangles on the bottom to make sure it tilts towards the same exact direction.

Shown on the left is the 360˚ view of the off state. It looks pretty much the same from any direction, except on the side where the battery pack goes, there are less vellum to hide the batteries.

The cap on this one is taped because, as I mentioned before, it won’t close because of some miscalculation.

Cap open and close

Aside from the battery pack, I also miscalculated the bottom loop, which initially sticked out when it tilted, but I fixed it by cutting a corner off. The tilt switch, as shown above, is attached to an edge of the bottom loop, which isn’t very stable. After the class I realized that I could glue it onto a bigger surface to increase stability. I am going to do that for the final lamp. I created a slot for the battery pack, so it is easy to detach it from the lamp, and the cap allows me to turn the switch easily. However, because the battery pack is very heavy and is also on one edge, my lamp sometimes fall over to the battery side. I am also struggling with the handle, the tubing is probably not a good choice. First of all, it keeps falling off. Secondly, the rotating motion destroys the foam core gradually. Thirdly, as Stacie suggested, it doesn’t go with the whole white aesthetic with the lamp. I will redesign the handle.

on state

Challenges I face for next iteration:

  • Come up with a stable, consistent handle that makes the interaction self-explanatory and gives the same feeling as the rest of the lamp
  • Make the on/off switch mechanism stable
  • The wiring adds a tension to the last layer, hindering its free-fall. I need to fix the wiring
  • The battery pack slot needs to be bigger and stronger
  • The balance of the lamp: the battery pack throws off the balance.
  • The cap cannot close because of the miscalculation of the height.

Final Iteration (11/30–12/6)

Thank god we had a week for this last iteration. I got to refine a lot of the details.


To make sure the problem of the cap not closing don’t happen this time, I raised the height of the top layer. I replaced vellum with rice paper, which is light, soft, and has an interesting texture. This allows the lamp to have a characteristic of a Japanese lamp. According to the feedbacks, since the texture is very “snowflake -ish”, it adds a christmas characteristic (?)

Battery Pack

I built a slot on the inside of the first layer based on the size of the battery pack, which allows it to stay stable in the lamp, and is easy to slide out as well. However, since the battery pack is heavy, and is positioned toward the top of the upside-down pyramid shape, the lamp falls over.


Therefore, I came up with an idea of weighing the other side down with coins. However, if I simply glue them on, it would block the lighting effect of the lamp. Thus, I cut up a triangular slot and placed the coins parallel to and under the lid, but also above the translucent part of the lamp. Since the light comes from below, the coins don’t affect the lighting effect at all.

Similarly, I found the tension of the wires kept the bottom layer from falling completely into its place. Thus, I put a penny on the other side to make sure it falls into the right place (shown below). The penny is the perfect weight because it weighs down the tension of the wires while not affecting the way the bottom layer rotates when put onto a surface.

Light Effect

In the first couple iterations, the light bulb just kind of falls on the bottom layer with the tilt switch. However, the light it emits is very sharp on the bottom but too weak on the top. Thus, I built this extender on the battery pack frame, which secures the light bulb on the top and center of the triangle (see above).

Another problem was that the light was not diffused, from outside it just looked like a spot of light. Thus, I covered it with some vellum to diffuse the light (See above). It was successful, as shown on the bottom, before and after using the vellum cover.

Left: Before…….. Right: After

Physical Interaction

I kept asking myself this question: how to build a handle so people will be tempted to lift it up?

I went through three prototypes for the handle, each one a lot better than the previous one.

1st handle

The process of coming up with this idea was accidental and intuitive, I did not plan this. After I finished making the cap, I stared at the scrap piece that I cut out of the cap, and had an epiphany: why not make this the handle? I can be perfectly integrated into the form, since it WAS a part of the form. So I basically attached it to the first layer with white bead cords (which are very sturdy). It does go with the aesthetic of the form, but the hand doesn’t feel comfortable.

2nd handle

To leave some space for the fingers, I cut three triangles on the center of each edge. I showed my lamp to a couple of my classmates, most of them knows that the finger goes in the slots, but a few intended to pull the strings first.

3rd handle

Then I thought of building another pyramid shape, but this time opposite to the rest of the lamp, this one has the tip on the top. This one is easy to pull, fingers goes in the slots easily, and is very stable. It also makes sure that the lamp is pulled up perpendicular to the surface. To make the experience better, I wrapped it up with soft rice paper, the same kind I used for the rest of the lamp.

Profile Shots

Interaction with hand
Detail shot
Interaction within Context

The gist of this short video is to show the functionality of my lamp. I want people to be able to roam with it, while it can also function easily just by hanging it up.

Reflections (12/6)

Today in class, collectively we listed the stuff we learned from this project:

  • became conscious of physical interaction
  • trustworthy ness raised its ugly head
  • craft is intimately related to form perception and influences interaction (my personal add-on: craft is also important even in the first couple iterations! sometimes I thought it was just simple craft issues but ended up being technical issues)
  • I couldn’t do good craft because my design was messed up
  • you have to design with materials and technology in mind all the time
  • the form tells you how to use it
  • you can’t be there to tell them how to use it
  • Matt’s postulate deals with criterial evaluation etc
  • ask somebody else (yes very true sometimes in order to design you need to survey first. i kind of get why this class is called studio:survey of design now haha)
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