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Social Light

A lighting system that enables families with children aged between 15 and 20 years old to increase the social interaction by creating a conversation starter when silences fall while having dinner in a middle-class restaurant

for social
dinner experiences

B1 Design  
Interactive lighting


assistant professor dr. Yaliang Chuang

Project members: Mirthe Visscher, Lynn Visser & Ruben Vreugdenhil

no client

Meerthe Heuvelings

in short

Design challenge, approach, methods, results & contribution

Tired of people using their phones during dinner in a restaurant? This is especially common amongst teens aged between 15 and 20 years old. This project aims to play into that, through a socially engaging lighting system for in a public dinner space. After observations and user interviews me and my project group chose to design for dining families with children aged 15 to 20 years old in a middle-class restaurant. Social Light was the outcome of the project. A lighting system that improves social interaction and social experience between dining family members by means of creating conversation starters. The design goal was to improve family conversations and social interaction between family members during dinner in a middle-class restaurant.

The firstly iterated concept was Social Bubbles, an interactive lighting system to stimulate dinner members to interact and share precious experiences, like a family vacation, during the waiting time in a restaurant. 

The final iteration ended up into the design and prototype of Social Light, an interactive light above the restaurant dinner table influencing a simple family conversation during dinner in a restaurant. Social Light recognizes long silences and will activate a colored light area corresponding to one of the family members around the dinner table. The family member that the Social Light points at has to re-start the conversation with a "topic" that can be found on the designed restaurant menu. Namely, the color of the lightened area in Social Light stands for a specific conversation starter. Of course, not every moment of silence has to be filled up, and that's why the corresponding Social Light coaster (on the dinner table) can be turned around to stop the light's interactive quality.

In that way, Social Light enhances the social dinner experience, an experience that includes conversations, which can be continued when being back home or even some while later. 




With respect to the competency of Design and Research Processes I learned a new variation of a user-centered design process. The project coach Yaliang suggested all of us to work according to design process described in the Ideo Toolkit. This process started off with two phases “discovery” and “interpretation” that required me to do extensive user research already in the beginning. Compared to the course user-centered design this was a broader user research phase. After these two phases I made a design thesis even before the ideation phase. This learned me that it is important to clearly state what I want to design and what my project goal is and to reflect continuously on this as basis of the process. I want to take that with me in the next design projects.


In the second semester I wanted to deepen my programming skills and knowledge on electronic components. This means development in the area of Technology & Realization. I did that partly by attending the course Creative Electronics and partly by doing the technical aspects of the final prototype of Social Light. During the realization phase of the design project I programmed the functions of the button (play mode) and of the light sensor (dinner mode) to activate the LED-strip. Before I could do that Tom Groot, first year Industrial Design student at TU/e, helped me to code the normal mode of the LED-strip. After analyzing his quite complex code, from which I learned to work with variables for time and iteration steps, I had a structure in which I could add my code. I learned by work of others and trial & error. When the code was finalized and all the components were connected correctly to the Arduino and into the bread board the LED-strip still did not want to work because of a current overload. I learned to always use isolation tape and to read the Neopixel Uberguide for the right connection of a capacitor and a resistor to transfer some current away from the LED-strip. I will definitely take this with me in next projects to make more safe electronic circuits. I also noticed that I still was not able to calculate on complex electronic circuits which I really need to connect components with the right values, a 470 Ohm resistor for example. That is what I would like to learn next year in the course Making sense of sensors and in upcoming projects.


The last expertise area I would like to reflect on is User & Society. In this project I learned to gain insight in a possible target group and a possible design problem by doing observations in restaurants on light experience and restaurant visitor behavior. Together with interviews with other stakeholders as bartenders I gained enough knowledge to set a temporary target group. I used questionnaires to evaluate if the design problem set after the observations and interviews was really there among the set target group. I learned to do extensive user research already at the beginning of the project to have a goal to work towards. Satisfying the needs of the target group. I also learned some new techniques to implement the user into the ideation phase which was making a “customer journey”. With this technique I learned to describe the steps users take into the context I would like to design for. By using this I was better able to make a storyboard and it was more clear to me where gaps were in a certain timeline where the user needed a design. I would like to take that with me in future projects to create a better link between the user and the design concept.


The collaboration went well in our group. In the biggest part of the project until the realization phase of Social Light we did a lot of design activities together. For example, we brainstormed together by clustering post-its or by using the ideation techniques from the Tinker Toys book. In the realization phase of Social Light the tasks were divided along the areas of expertise each group member wanted to develop or deepen. Mirthe and I did the technical aspects coming with Social Light. Ruben and Lynn made the case of the lamp. Most of the discussions were caused by the fact that Mirthe and I expected Ruben and Lynn to be pro-active regarding to their tasks which they did not fulfill the way I wanted sometimes. There were also some problems with attendance at meetings. Ruben was in the first halve of the project often not able to attend meetings or somewhat later because of not well-argued reasons, for example. This caused annoyance to me. After taking these issues into discussion the situation improved and the collaboration went smoothly in the second halve.


Planning and organizing was one of the strengths of our group. I consider myself as manager in this project group because I kept an eye on the design process, in which phase we were and if the phase was fully rounded or if iterations were needed. I knew the next steps of the design process and had a full overview. I was also able to dive into detail and to organize meetings with agenda items which had to be addressed. When holding onto the agenda items the meetings went smoothly and were effective. Also because we learned to set a meeting goal, at the workshop “meeting skills”. Often to do lists were made to keep track of the tasks when we were working separately from each other, for example by checking if a team member already marked his/her part green in the to do list.


All in all, I developed most in the competencies of design and research processes, technology & realization and user & society. Collaboration went with ups and downs but planning and organizing was a team strength. In the future I would like to take with me the customer journey, learned programming skills, making a design challenge early in the process and the learned meeting skills.

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