Lighting Machines

I chose to start with a single bulb while experimenting with different materials and shapes. I felt that the single LED bulb would be bright enough for the small models I planned on creating in the beginning. I also didn’t want to have too many messy wires hanging around unless necessary.

I also chose to include the mercury switch bulb because I thought it would allow for more interaction with the light from the user. Since the light turns on and off as the bulb is tilted up and down I thought it would be interesting to experiment with movement and interaction with the light as opposed to just aesthetics and appearance of the light.

Material Exploration

Carson Mi-Teintes, cardstock, ______ , foam core

I played around with different papers and materials. Each sheet had a different thickness or opacity, which changed the brightness of the light. They also had different textures and smoothness which also effected how the light shone. Lastly, the varying materials had to be assembled differently. The two thinner papers could easily be folded and taped together. However, the thicker paper had to be scored in order to fold and also was a tight fit when being glued together. The foam core had to be assembled completely differently, needing cuts along every fold and needing to be very securely hot glued.

Prototype #1

For my initial prototype, I wanted to experiment with the mercury switch and creating a light that would need interaction from the user. I didn’t want to create anything too complex so I decided to create a simple hanging cube light that that would turn on and off as it moved up and down.

When it came to building the actual model, I decided to simplify it much more and concentrate on the tab mechanism. I decided to make it just standing as opposed to hanging. I also played with foam core and tried to create cleaner edges by stripping the edges of the pieces of foam to create a thin layer of paper that could create sharp corners. Also, since the light didn’t show through foam core well, I cut rectangles out of the sides and replaced it with thinner paper.

Because the light turns on and off as the mercury switch is tilted up and down, I loosely attached the switch to a tab that could move up and down. As the tab is pulled upward, the switch tilts upward and the mercury ball falls down to fill in the gap in the circuit and turn the light on. When the tab is pushed down, the switch tilts downward and the mercury ball falls away from the wires and the light turns off.


This design was inspired by prototype #1. Designed as a hanging light, the body of the light can be moved up and down, latching onto two different hooks. As the body moves down and latches onto the bottom hook, the mercury switch is tilted and turns the light on. When the light is pulled back up, and latched onto the top hook, the light is off.

With this model, I realized that the mechanism I was using to tilt the switch up and down, the same as prototype #1, was unreliable and not good for the material — the bending of the wires eventually caused the metal to wear down and break.

Also, while putting this prototype on display, I realized that a lot of people had trouble figuring out how it worked. There was no context as to how the light works and a it didn’t capture people’s attention and make them curious as to how it worked. It was pretty boring.

Prototype #2

For this model, I wanted to try experimenting with other geometric shapes. This design was more aesthetically focused. I explored different cutting techniques, such as stripping the foam core of a layer of foam, in order to allow more light to show through and create an overall brighter lamp.

When building the geometric shape, I looked at more techniques to create clean, sharp edges. I cut each face out of the foam core and cut the edges at an angle so that they’d fit tightly. I also cut out some foam at the crease in order to create a fold.

Prototype #3

I came back to exploring a more interactive light design. For this model, I created a rocking light. Since I knew the battery box was heavy and weighted, I used that to my advantage by attaching it towards one edge of the circle. With it attached towards the edge, the circle would have a tendency to roll towards one side and would stay standing and turned off unless pushed.

However, this prototype wasn’t as practical since there was no way to keep the light permanently on unless someone kept it tilted by holding it.


I decided to try building another prototype to solve the problem of not staying on. I cut flat surfaces on two sides of the circle so that the light would stay on or off and simply needed a push to roll from the on position to the off position.

Prototype #4

For this model, I wanted to create an interactive light that had more context. After thinking through a number of ideas — various knobs, switches and buttons — I decided to base my light on peeled paper. Usually when I see peeled paper, my instinct is to peel it more. For this light, I used that as the interaction to turn the light on.


For the final light, I decided to stick with the same peel idea as in prototype 4, but create a more complex looking light that would gain people’s attention and curiosity more. Because the peel reminded me of not only paper, but off banana peels and plants, I decided to use an organic, curved shape.

Since the base of the light is made from foam core, which does not let out much light, I decided to continue the motif of peeling paper on the sides so I could let out more light. I also did this since I felt that with the “prickly” patterned sides, it is less likely that people would think the light tilted like my previous rocking light since the texture is in the way.

For the main two peels (the on and off peels) I found that a lot of people couldn’t tell which was on/off or even that there was an on/off peel, so I decided to add some color on the tips of the rope (red and green) as a little pointer.

When the whole thing is put together, it resembles a fruit or plant, giving even more context to the peeling action.


For this project, I learned a lot about process and using past prototypes and even projects to help me design a better light. I also learned the importance of context in an object and how interaction is affected by shape, colors, texture, etc.

Similar to past projects, I had to figure out how to use the materials well and advantageously. A lot of my prototypes used a lot of foam core which is not ideal for a light fixture since it is so opaque and so little light feeds through. However, foam core is tough and strong so I used it sparingly in only some parts as the foundation structure of the light. I also realized after a few prototypes that tilting the mercury switch by bending its wires wasn’t the best way to use it since eventually, the wire would break from being bent too much.

Many of my earlier prototypes were also boring and didn’t make people curious and want to try turning it on and exploring it. I tried to fix this by creating a more interesting, familiar shape that resembles a plant or fruit so people would be interested.

When it came to interacting with the light, I wanted to create an interaction that has context. For my hanging light prototype, there was no context as to how the light latched onto the hooks so it was hard for people to understand how to use it. for the final light design, I made it so that, given the shape of the light as well as the shape of the peels, people would be inclined to pull the peels to turn the lights on.

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