Musical Beats

An installation helping people to deal with intensive emotions, release pressure and elicit empathy

ROLE: Team Leader, UX Designer, Programmer


Project Background

This project was completed for the course “Physical Computing and Interaction Design Studio” in the third semester of my master program, lasting for one semester. An installation were supposed to be designed and implemented, providing novel interactions with a focus on “sharing human experiences and empathy“.

STAGE 1: Define The Problem

We have been through a hard time finding the way around, as the problem domain involves human experience and empathy, which are intangible, making sharing tough. We started to research on definition and relevant elements, topics, products, expecting to uncover some existing problems.



is empathy


to embody empathy


can be solved by sharing experiences and being empathetic

Literature Review

Since the problem space is still ambiguous, we dive into this topic by conducting initial research. As a group of four, my team member and I did thorough literature review, including journals, reports, news, interview records to have a better understand the topic, specifically, sympathy, and to find possible connections with sharing experience.

Key Findings

Emotion is an essential element that characterises empathy, as empathy is the ability to understand others’ emotions, understanding what other people think and feel.
Busy life has decreased people’s awareness and chances of sharing happiness and sorrow with others and even handling their own intensive emotions.

Problem Statement

Exposing people to an experience that provokes reflection on their current mood, helping and being helped by others to deal with intensive emotion.

STAGE 2: Find Out Solutions

So far, we’d define the problem space. Even though we got some ideas from literature review, we were still at the surface of the problem and hadn’t applied human centred design methodology. In order to go beyond, we applied RtD to elicit people’s views or thought about their emotions and experience of sharing emotions, as sometimes it’s hard for people to articulate their needs without context.

Research Through Design (RtD)


The genera idea is to run a quick iteration to collect feedback from potential user, so a concept was proposed to do so. Body storming and storytelling were applied to display the installation and interactions.

An installation consisting of two screens and a ball, allowing people to choose their current mood on the ball and help other deal with intensive emotions by gestures or actions.


With proposed concept, we conducted interviews, encouraging participants to talk about their thoughts, opinions, concerns and expectations of it.

“I would feel uncomfortable when standing in front of people and doing those actions.”
– Interviewee

“I don’t want to share my emotions with strangers.”
– Interview


Results of interviews provided us some good points, and we started to reflected on what people really need instead of letting them answer yes or no of “Is this what you want?”.


is the best indicator of emotions?


people are willing to share emotions?


do people deal with intensive emotions?

Based on RtD process, a follow-up interview and diary study were done to find out patterns that suit most people most regarding emotion handling. Through diary study, we hoped to know how people’s emotions changes with things happened in their life and how they deal with it.


Diary Study

Key Findings

Most people are not open to their own emotions, which are more likely to share between those who are close to them.

Emoji, music, colour are most common elements used to represent emotions.

Ways in which people deal with their emotions vary from person to person. Some prefer staying alone and calm done, while others prefer acting out their feelings.


  • Engaging, encouraging not forcing
  • Focus on Privacy
  • Provoke self-reflection and cultivate empathy
  • Release pressure and elicit a sense of well-being


A table that allows people to hear their own heartbeat by simply placing a hand on it and share heartbeat with other people by moving hands closer to each other.

A base that allows people to build things by Lego blocks together and could play different sounds according to the block’s colour and where it was placed.

A panel likes a midi controller, allowing people to choose colours standing for their current mood, and that would be used to generate emoji, standing for different music clips.



Users’ hands cannot leave from the sensor. If sticking sensor on users’ hand, it would prevent users from moving.

Kinect is not sensitive enough to arms’ movement, which impacted user experience.

Users would get tired if they have to raise arms for a long time.

Combining different sound tracks together might cause disharmony.


A panel used to collect heartbeat rate signal, control bulbs’ switch-on and off with heart beat rate, produce heart beat sound simultaneously. A table allows people to create personalised music by putting objects with facets, standing for different sound tracks, on it. The RPM (rate per minute) of the music would be kept the same with the heart beat rate, and volume could be controlled by twisting the object.


The final installation was exhibited in the 2019 UQ Interactive Design Exhibition. We got lots of positive feedback from participants.

Once they heard their heartbeat and the lights synchronising with the heartbeat, they started to think, does it sound too fast? Am I getting nervous? Even people coming with them tended to ask them similar questions. Also, people were having a great fun making music with heartbeat and enjoyed such an experience.

“Well done. The prototype clearly demonstrated the experience you intended. It was delightful to engage with and experiment with. The sounds were well selected. The lights synchronising with the heartbeat was a wonderful surprise and added to the experience.”

— A tutor’s comment


Was awarded 2019 People’s Choice in UQ Interactive Design Exhibition.

Was invited to display on UQ Open Day on August 4th, 2019.

Was invited to display on 2019 Innovation Showcase held by School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering on October 31, 2019.


Emotion cannot be designed. We were trying to formulate a specific mode, thinking that could be suitable for everyone, but it turned out that people have different understanding and reactions to the same thing and we cannot even make it fit for a few people, not to mention a majority. In terms of eliciting emotions, one possible way is to encourage reflection and try to make it personalised. In this project, heartbeat is unique and private for individuals, and it changes under different situations. Participants of “Musical Beats” would think they are energetic, healthy or nervous when they saw and heard their high-frequency heart rate. Personalisation could bring out a sense of belonging, which can quickly establish connections between users and objects.