Project Development Body Storming: The Pat-Pat Machine

instructions for tester
1. lie down on your side with your butt on the indicated position.
2. enjoy the comfort of Mom's pat-pat.
3. customise speed/force of pat-pat using the slider on Blynk.
4. fall into deep sleep
5. Mom will be by your side all through the night.
6. Greet Mom when you get out of bed.

Feedback from Jia Xi (tester):

  • Instructions were clear and straightforward
  • Cute concept
  • Patting action makes her think of her mom
  • Speed of patting and music (“soothing”) sets the mood
  • Was not sure about the deep sleep part and what to do after waking up (she closed her eyes only briefly and then sat up confused, not knowing what to do. Creator had to tell her she could get up from the “bed”)
  • Feels the presence of intended “mom”

There were suggestions to make the mom larger or life-size to give her a greater presence and enhance the creepy factor, likewise with the patting hand to make it more realistic and make it the focus of the design.


What did you learn from the process?

Man Wei: The bodystorming exercise made me understand how important instructions and the framing of the set-up within an environment are in shaping the user’s experience. Instructions had to be written down and as creators we were not allowed to interfere or make clarifications. When I cut in  to point out that Jia Xi had read the instruction to get out of bed but was not doing so (only rising from her position lying down), my interference confused her into thinking my words were part of the experience, as words the surrogate mother said. Testing our written instructions on the tester, and observing the test-runs of other groups made me understand how important clarity as well as tonality of the instructions were in facilitating the objects’ use. While our product is meant to be used within the setting of one’s room at night when he or she wants to turn in, the environment of the classroom did not allow such a setting to be created and for the viewer to be in the position of “getting ready to sleep”. Watching how the tester was restless in bed and had not used the Pat-pat machine with the mood/desire to sleep, helped us confirm that we’d present our product in a pseudo businessmen product promotion setting for our final presentation. The influence of the environment in which the product is placed was even more significantly observed in the works of other groups. As a tester for Sze Kay and Qiu Wen’s non-comforting tissue box, I was not able to get into the mood for “think(ing) about someone you (I) love” and “imagine(ing) that the person left you (me)”. I’m confident that if the product had been set-up in a setting where I am isolated and confronted with just time and space to think by myself, I would have produced the desired responses of the creators and most certainly cried (and used the box the way they wanted). With the entire class’ eyes on me, however, I gave little thought or time to take the instructions of the creators seriously and merely rushed my test experience with the product.

Ayesha: Through the bodystorming exercise, I learned that a product needs to be tested by an unbiased participant for creators to truly understand if the product delivers its intended message. As creators, we already understood our own concept as we had been working on it from the start, but the bodystorming exercise showed us that although the gist of the idea was conveyed to the tester, some of the nuances, such as the tone we were going for, were misinterpreted.  

I also learned that it is difficult to create a product or experience that can be used as intuitively as possible by a first time user. In this exercise we were allowed to write down a set of instructions to the participants, but could not give any verbal cues. Choosing the correct wording, as well as trying to think from the point of a first time user of our product, was challenging. It had to be very precise, instructive and have a logical flow so as not to confuse our participant, which we did when we asked her to go to sleep, and then wake up.

What surprised you while going through the process?

Man Wei: I was surprised that our machine had the possibility of evoking comfort in the experience, and further, that the tester and audience actually had expectations of our machine fulfilling its (false) promises of serving as a substitute for the real mom and replicating the pat-pat experience. I had forgotten that to remind users of their own pat-pat experiences and allow them to draw connections between them and our object, there had to be some similarity in the experience created. I expected only feelings of unease and eeriness to arise from the interaction with our machine and did not think that comfort was possible at all.

Ayesha: I was surprised when our participant said that she felt comforted by the patting of our replacement mom. As creators, Man Wei and I had in mind a darker experience as we thought that the idea of buying a robotic replacement mom to pat you to sleep when you were a fully grown adult had a creepiness to it. Perhaps because in this exercise the patting was still done by Man Wei, the participant was also reacting to the human element. Maybe, when the patting is done by a rubber hand on a servo motor, the experience will be more uncomfortable. I think that the reading of the work is also dependent on the participant’s own memories of being patted to sleep as a child, so someone who has fond memories might not feel creeped out by the product.

How can you apply what you have discovered to the designing of your installation?

Man Wei: After discovering that our machine was actually capable of bringing some comfort and enough similarity to remind users of the actual pat-pat experience , I reflected more deeply on our design intention:

Are we trying to create similarity at all/emulate the pat-pat experience as it is? Or create something that completely, intentionally falls short of/denies the experience? To what extent do we want/need to be similar/contrasting in the experience we offer?

Answering these questions helped me decide on the size issue for the mom and hand, as well as navigate other design decisions. (Covered in greater detail in our collective, consolidated reflection response)

The Size Issue: big or small?

Classmates who were in favour of big said doing so would enhance the mom’s presence and the creepy factor. However I think it is less our intention to make the experience eerie, but more towards evoking a sense of emptiness and discomfort at the machine not being able to adequately, if at all, fill the void/satisfy the longing for a mother’s pat-pat; the pat-pat machine being an inadequate replacement is primary, while the darkness and creepiness behind its design and experience offered are secondary.

My personal preference is for the mom and hand to be miniature.

  • Small figure contrasts and emphasizes the user’s larger frame: all grown-up, having outgrown the baby mattress and need for/qualification to receive patting from mothers to sleep.
  • Smallness emphasizes how the device falls short as a replacement, unable to measure up/sufficiently replicate the experience created by actual mom herself and fill the user’s sense of nostalgia/longing/void.
  • Smallness also works well with the portable characteristic of our machine. Our machine is designed and presented as a product targeted at grown-up children who have become distanced (emotionally and physically) from their parents—living away from home, leading busy lifestyles involving the continuous shifting between places for work/relationships/travel. There is hence a “handy mom to bring you comfort and help you fall asleep wherever you are” narrative to our design.

On the other hand, I would think that a large figure creates a scary and overbearing presence that goes beyond the sense of darkness/creepiness we wish to evoke—suggesting an incorrect replacement as opposed to an inadequate replacement.

The Lullaby

For our original design, we wanted an electronic/mechanical sort of distorted instrumental lullaby soundtrack to play from a speaker at the mom’s mouth. For the brainstorming prototype however, we used a normal instrumental soundtrack of Rockabye Baby which was soothing and contributed to bringing the tester comfort in the experience. It was good that we did this though, because otherwise I might not have reflected on the comfort intention problem so much. Using the instrumental soundtrack (without voice singing lyrics) in the demonstration also made me aware of how the music just sounded like it was playing in the backdrop or on a radio, instead of coming from the mom’s mouth. However, in our design, we wanted the music to be associated with a mom’s singing of lullabies, to further extend the motherly love element to our pat-pat experience. Hence going forward, I think we should revise our design and make the soundtrack play lullabies with actual singing of lyrics, without backdrop instrumental music, to make the desired connection with a mom’s singing. The comfort problem presents two possible options for the kind of soundtrack we use: the lullaby could be narrated in a robotic, monotonous Siri sort of artificial voice, or have an actual human voice capable of bringing some sense of comfort.

Clarity of instructions

Lei advised that we have minimal instructions to our design, while maintaining clarity and straightforwardness of the procedures to take for the experience. The brainstorming exercise allowed us to uncover potential areas of confusion to our interaction that clarification of instructions could be improved—perhaps by weaving them into the design itself.

To let users know how to exit the experience/when it ends, perhaps there could be narration along the lines of “mom will be by your side all through the night/until you wake up” that plays once the motor and patting starts, before the lullaby singing plays. Currently, we have this description/instruction only in the product description of our design (presented as a product being advertised). Signalling the end of the experience, perhaps the mom could also greet “good morning dear”/”did you sleep well” when the user leaves the bed and the light/pressure sensor deactivates the pat-pat motor.

Ayesha: Our product is meant to accompany users throughout the night as they sleep. Since it is impossible to ask our tester to fall asleep within a short time, we decided to present our experience as a satirical sales demonstration for our product. Our testers would be placed in the role of would-be customers who watch the demonstration and get to test it out to see if they want to buy the product. Thus, their experience would be guided and act as a “preview” of what the product can do if they buy it for their own home. I think that this would solve the issue of our testers having to fall asleep.


<Collective response/changes to product after discussion>


As businessmen, in trying to recreate the pat-pat experience with our product, we could approach our design 2 ways:

  1. Genuine attempt: having users discover themselves how one’s own mother and the real pat-pat is irreplaceable VS
  2. Insincere/half-baked attempt: making use of satire in design; knowing from the start that mom’s pat-pat is irreplaceable and purposely creating a product that doesn’t manage to serve its intended/proposed function
expectations vs reality

We decided that our intention is not for people to experience the product the way it is marketed/proposed to, but to expect to do so, with reservations

Our design approach will therefore be a balance of both 1 and 2, between a sincere and insincere attempt at trying to make our machine a substitute that can measure up to a real mother herself, however while marketing it as a wholly genuine attempt.


Product is a DIY kit that users can set-up on their own bed (lay cloth and displays) instead of an entire mattress with lining as the package. For the final presentation however, we will bring an inflatable/baby mattress for the demonstration.

  1. Sound: robotic/AI voice (without instrumental backdrop music) of lullaby voice
  2. Standy mom:
    • (insincere) Unpolished look: low-grade cardboard, paper clothes to change into, small size, small hand detached from mom
    • (genuine) More polished look: have drawings in digital vector on cardboard instead of hand-drawn (mass-production feel), realistic-looking rubber hand

Research Critique 5 – Design Noir (Maywa Denki)

Popular design is design that is accessible, contemporary and part of popular culture. Typically, it emphasises appearance, user-friendliness and corporate identity. Since its social value is inextricably bound to the marketplace and commercial restrictions, popular design is mostly affirmative design; it reinforces the present state of things and conforms to cultural, social, technical and economic expectations.

This is problematic, especially when at its worst, popular design simply reinforces capitalist values—helping to create and maintain the constant consumerist dissatisfaction and desire for new products, as well as ensuring product obsolescence. An intellectual stance and credibility is often lost in such design.

In contrast, unpopular critical design asks questions, provokes and makes us think. It challenges conventions and preconceptions about technology, consumerism and cultural values—and how they shape our lives. Approaching design with a critical perspective is hence taking on a more responsible and pro-active role within society, and this is important considering the perfect position design occupies for stimulating discussion and debate among designers, industry and the public.

Summarising the differences between popular and unpopular art:

Following, using the concepts introduced by Dunne and  Raby in Design Noir: The Secret Life of Electronic Objects, I will explore how Maywa Denki’s Pachi-Moku might be evaluated as an unpopular design that adopts a critical perspective.



“Parallel-world electricians”: brothers Masamichi and Novmichi. 

Maywa Denki is an art unit set up by two Japanese brothers, Masamichi and Nobumichi Tosa. Fusing art, commercialism and corporate culture, they present and actively promote themselves as an “electric company in a parallel world”, with a whole ecosystem constructed to support this corporate identity:

Maywa Denki website tabs

Besides having the turquoise costume as their uniform, they have a comprehensive company website with a company profile, business model documentation, product promotion (performance) details, as well as an online shop for merchandise including CDs, uniforms and stationery. They even have a fan page that facilitates membership application (which is paid).

Fan club page with admission and membership details
Online shop

They produce mainly 2 kinds of designs: art resources (A) and mass-produced objects (the BCDEF merchandise), and Pachi-Moku falls under A.

Pachi-Moku is a mechanical backpack-type “winged” device operated by electronic finger snappers that control double mallets to hit wooden temple blocks. The device produces two tones: high and low. Its mechanical components consist of analogue leather belts, motors, solenoids, and switches


How is Pachi-Moku unpopular design?

Very clearly, Pachi-Moku is not your typical popular design that prioritises appearance and user-friendliness or conforms to expectations.

It has an eccentric appearance with a seemingly amateurish sheen to the gadgetry and it challenges conventions on multiple levels.

“When creating instruments as art, I only think about the visuals; the sound doesn’t really matter

Designed as an instrument, instead of sound, it prioritises visuals.

A typical electronics manufacturer is making ‘electricity machines’ that are useful for people. However, Maywa Electric is not so

As an electronic device, it is also not useful and functional in the expected sense.

“Pachi-Moku has been continuously upgraded, mainly for improving the visual appearance. The only problem is that it’s getting heavier and heavier.

“Excuse me, but this instrument weighs 13kg, I can’t breathe anymore. Let me take it off. The problem is I can’t take it off myself. It’s design flaw.

It is also not in the least user-friendly and easy to carry or play because of its heavy weight. The artist Tosa acknowledges this as a design flaw in his TED talk introducing Pachi-Moku, but one should note that this design “flaw” is intentional on his part.

People don’t want something that can’t help people

Pachi-Mochu is not produced for actual use in the first place and hence not sold. Quoting the artists, Pachi-Moku is “something that can’t help people”, an “almost useless” electricity machine that “cannot be used as a human being”, hence it is called a “nonsense machine”.

How then, is Pachi-Moku critical design?

What critical perspectives do the unpopular qualities above support and how are they effective in stimulating reflection?

Tsukuba Series

Pachi-Moku is one of the instruments of the Tsukuba Series consisting of musical devices that operate at 100V through motors and electromagnets. This series is inspired by the changes to the nature of music with modern technological advancements. With the spread of IT apparatus like the sampler, synthesizer and internet, music has been dematerialised and become disembodied from the musical instruments that originally produced them, or in Maywa Denki’s words, become “separated from ‘a substance’” and “now considered as information”. Through speakers, what people encounter is not music but digital information and data on music. With the Tsukuba Series, the artists try to revive music from “Information Music” to “Substantial Music” once again with machines that physically create sounds. In their product write-up, they describe the music produced by these musical devices as “music of the 21st century”.


The relatively conservative and analogue technologies used for Pachi-Moku however, contrast this futuristic narrative presented. It is humorous and somewhat absurd that the instrument uses elaborate mechanisms to produce sounds that are otherwise primitive or effortlessly created; machinery and electricity are used to power physical beating or knocking movements that can be created with hands alone, without technology. Through this, the artists emphasise the challenge of reviving live music through the Tsukuba series—requiring the power of machines for the agenda. Engaging through humour and surprise this way, I think the artists successfully challenge technological values and stimulate reflection among users on how the nature of music has been shaped by technology.

Live performances (product demonstrations)

Besides the unpredictable and eccentric design of Pachi-Moku, the performances that Maywa Denki organizes to demonstrate how it is used add to its humour and appeal. In TED talks and Tsukuba performances, the artist cracks jokes about the product and plays the instrument while executing comical dance moves. Design is used as a form of entertainment, engaging viewers in performances that at once recall acts of TV personalities and comedians in popular culture, while being framed also as avant-garde performance art pieces. The importance of this entertainment value attached to Pachi-Moku is clear from how Maywa Denki signs itself under the amusement and entertainment division of a Japanese TV agency (Yoshimoto Kogyo Co. Ltd agency for managing TV personalities and comedians).

Performance description detailed as “courses offered” Source:

Although the futuristic vision of reimagining and resurrecting music has a fictive value, we see that Pachi-Moku also remains grounded in reality and accessible to the everyday and larger public through its promotional performances. As a critical design, Pachi-Moku skillfully fuses fiction with reality to engage people. According to the reading, effective critical designs communicate value fictions by “letting people see them in use, placed in everyday life, but in a way that leaves room for viewer’s imagination”. This is precisely what Maywa Denki does. Without actually using the product themselves, users, or rather viewers, are engaged in the music of Pachi-Moku instead through the experience of performances. Their promotion performances emphasise the experiences offered by Pachi-Moku instead of the object’s formal, technical and structural properties—communicating narratives of consumption, as opposed to narratives of production.

“Matsu (pine) Course”
Full live performance in which large-size musical instruments, robots, President, four workers and sometimes Mr. Wono at the accounting department appear. (Performance time: 90 to 120 minutes)
” Take(bamboo) Course”
Performance in which President and two workers appear. You can enjoy a stage show unique to Maywa Denki. (Performance time: 30 to 60 minutes)
“Ume (plum) course ”
Performance in which only President plays a live show, using the minimum equipment. (Performance time: 15 to 30 minutes)


In evaluating Pachi-Moku as a critical design, it is important to also consider the product as part of a larger ecosystem of a corporate identity that Maywa Denki has constructed. This identity occupies both the grounds of fiction and reality; while their rhetoric of being an electronics company is fictive, they are not a wholly “imaginary” corporation because they do actually produce and sell merchandise and services, albeit unconventional ones, and earn revenue from them. The have a fan base spanning across generations that buys their mass-produced merchandise and attends their concerts wearing the turquoise uniforms. Maywa Denki’s success at making profit as a pseudo electronics company contributes to allowing Pachi-Moku to extend reflection among users, to consider the culture of consumerism and materialism as well, beyond our relationship with technology and music. By appropriating the organizational structures of businesses, Maywa Denki both embraces and challenges the market and its values.

Nonsense machines | Meiwa Denki | TEDxUTokyo

To conclude, I think this statement of theirs sums up how Pachi-Moku and their nonsense machines embody alternative values that present critical perspectives. Pachi-Moku does not conform to popular values or present a realistic design, but neither is it wholly futuristic nor abstract. Instead, it occupies both ends of the spectrum—achieving what I think is a good balance—making it a critical design that is neither absorbed into everyday reality nor dismissed as too elitist.

In the reading, Dunne and Raby distinguish unpopular design as “products for the mind”—engaging users in reflection and imagination as opposed to popular design that is activated by actual usage. I think Pachi-Moku is indeed a product for the mind, and an engaging one at that, but also foremost an eccentric feast for the eyes and ears.




Link to slides: