Experimental Interaction – Final Project: Are you complicit?

Project Description

Are you complicit? is an interactive experience designed as a response to Singaporean society’s discrimination of skin colour. It was inspired by the various bouts of casual racism we have seen taking place in our own country and the desire to raise awareness about this issue. The participant is first asked to choose from one of two masks – either white or black. After which, they can enter an enclosed booth, where there is a mirror. As they hold up the mask to their faces, a recording of insults will play according to the colour of the mask. As the recording plays, the participant is left to stare at their own reflection with the mask on, perhaps contemplating the greater meaning of this interaction.

Observational documentation for user tests

This user test brought up a point we had not thought of – if the participant was already wearing a fully white or black top, the recording might play even when they have not put the shirt on and disrupt the interaction. In the video, our classmate Charm is wearing a black top. She alternates this by holding up the white shirt at times. However, only the “black/dark” recording keeps playing. We also noticed that our test participants tended to hold up the shirts to the photoresistor instead of wearing the shirts.

The next user test had a similar effect, but only the “white” recording kept playing even when our classmate Sze Wee did not hold the white shirt up and stood there in his grey shirt. It kept playing when he held the black shirt up as well.

At some point in the whole user testing session, our professors suggested that the crowd of our classmates outside the cupboard could be affecting the lighting value that we had already coded in. After everyone moved away from the cupboard other than the note-taker, videographer and tester, the code worked. Our classmate Munch held up the different shirts and the different recordings finally played. However, the recordings also appeared to be swapped, with the “white” recording playing when the black shirt was held up and vice versa. After this, we promptly adjusted the code by swapping the light values.

After the user tests, we decided to swap from shirts to masks to keep the action of putting oneself in someone else’s shoes. Masks are easier to put on or even holding it up to one’s face is enough to have the effect as opposed to putting on a shirt, which participants were less likely to do.

We also decided to completely close off the interior of the cupboard so that it would not be affected by external light. This would also help to isolate the participant, thus enhancing the interaction we intended for.

Design process documentation (intermediate designs, sketches, ideas)

Idea 1
Idea 2

Initial ideas revolved around the topic of youth suicide (expanded upon in a previous post: Project Development Drawings), which we decided not to go with in the end as they required way more time and effort than we had to spare.

Initial sketch

We decided to go with this idea which belonged to the Provocative Object stream. We went ahead with the idea of an uncomfortable interaction in the form of a booth in which the participant would go and depending on their skin colour, a recording of micro-aggressions directed at their skin colour would play out loud. Options we were considering included either headphones or speakers to relay the recording to the participant. As a way of detecting the participant’s skin colour, we wanted to utilise the photocell and mirror.

Later sketch

After the body-storming session, it was recommended that we use a black and white shirt instead as the skin colour idea was somewhat derivative and sensitive. We also changed our topic from racism to discrimination based on labels given to different skin colours so that participants would have an easier time making the conceptual leap.

Later on, we switched to black and white masks as the action of putting on the shirt was somewhat a hassle and might deter participants from going into the booth or getting the full effect of the interaction as seen in the user tests above.

A stand alone video describing our project and showing in the actual place or context of use

The context of use for this project would be an installation at an art exhibit, hence the writeup on the side of the cupboard. Not shown in the video is that the participant is facing a mirror when they hold up the masks, looking at their own reflections as they try the masks on and hear the comments.

Step-by-Step making of project

What you’ll need:

  • An enclosed space (We used an empty cupboard)
  • 1x Mirror (Big enough to show one’s face)
  • 1x Speaker
  • 1x Roll of Duct tape
  • 1x Black Mask (If you do not have one, use black matte spray paint like we did!)
  • 1x White Mask
  • 1x Large black cloth (To cover one doorway of the cupboard)
  • 1x LED Light
  • 1x Paper
  • 3x Hooks
  • 1x Breadboard
  • 1x Arduino USB Board
  • 1x Photoresistor
  • 2x Red Wires
  • 1x Black Wire
  • 1x Yellow Wire
  • 1x 10k-ohms resistor

Step 1: 

Close one of the cupboard doors. Use the duct tape to tape the top of the large black cloth to the opening of the cupboard to form the curtain. Remember to use pins/more duct tape to alter the length of the cloth if it is too long for the cupboard.

Set-up of curtain

Step 2: 

On the remaining closed door, stick a label stating ‘Please choose one’. Below that, place two hooks side by side and hang each mask on the hooks. We only had one hook for the outside, so we made do by hanging both on one hook but separating them so they were still side by side.

Set-up of masks
Set-up of exterior is complete!

Step 3:

Inside the cupboard, tape a small LED light to the ceiling. This is an important factor as it is the sole light source for the interior of the cupboard.

LED light set-up

Step 4:

Set up the circuit using the Arduino USB Board, Breadboard, wires, resistor and photoresistor following the diagram above. Our photoresistor was soldered to two much longer wires. Ideally, yours should be as well.

Circuit set-up

Step 5:

Attach the last hook to the back of the mirror. This is what will hold your mirror up on the wall of the cupboard later on. Use duct tape to tape the long photoresistor wires down so they stay organised. We also used duct tape to tape down the mirror stand as it was protruding too much.

Circuit to mirror set-up

Step 6:

Make sure that the photoresistor is at the edge of the mirror, like the image below. This will help to catch the changes in light as the light from the LED fixture on the ceiling above gets reflected off the mirror.

Photoresistor on mirror

Step 7:

Inside the cupboard, place the entire circuit set-up, the speaker, and the power source for the circuit (we suggest using a portable battery charger) into a black box. Stick the hook behind the mirror onto the wall furthest from the black curtain. Use duct tape to further reinforce the mirror to stick on the wall, as well as to stick the black box to the wall.

Interior set-up all done!

As for the codes used in Arduino and Processing, refer to the segment below. Remember to set up the codes first using a computer before putting the circuit into the black box!

Codes and circuit design required to make the prototype

We followed the circuit from the “Let there be light” slides during our second Arduino workshop. It had the photocell, which was what we needed circuit-wise for our project.

Arduino Code Pt 1
Arduino Code Pt 2

This is the Arduino code we used with Lei’s help – we set the sensor values according to the minimum and maximum values of the lighting in the cupboard. The lower value would trigger the “dark” insults and the higher value would trigger the “pale” insults.

Processing Code Pt 1
Processing Code Pt 2
Processing Code Pt 3
Processing Code Pt 4

This is the Processing code we used – also with Lei’s ample guidance. I inserted the 2 separate recordings (“White_Recording.mp3” and “Black_Recording.mp3”) into the code so that either would play according to the light levels. The code in Pt 4 shows how either recording should play at the different light levels (i.e. when either the black or white mask is held up to the mirror), but have nothing playing when neither mask is held up or when nobody is standing in front of the mirror.