• Defining the data we were interested in collecting for our problem space
  • Conducting interviews and observations
  • Creating survey questions
  • Research data analysis
  • Development of a persona for a potential user
  • Brainstorming design solutions 
  • Construction of physical prototype
  • Conducting user tests with both virtual and physical prototypes 

Tools: Arduino | El Wire | Unity
August - December 2016 Course Team Project


Undergraduate students at Georgia Tech struggle to find open study spaces at the Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons (The CULC) and often times give up before finding one. Since there is no easy way to gauge where open seats are, students make laps around each floor of the building until they find an open space or not.

Crowded seating area at The CULC

Crowded seating area at The CULC


An interactive tree instillation that would sit five floors high in the open stairwell of the CULC. Tracking available seats in popular seating areas, the hive uses color and light to guide students to a study space that fits their needs. 

The CULC staircase 

The CULC staircase 

Inspiration for our design solution, the tree from Avatar

Inspiration for our design solution, the tree from Avatar

How we got there 



To more deeply understand our problem space, we conducted 23 semi-structured interviews, 2 hours of observations and recieved 28 survey responses. We found that we were a bit off the mark with our initial problem space. Students are able to find an open chair to sit on in the CULC, but it is more difficult to find a workspace that meets their specific needs such as desks, outlets, or multiple seats. Students also spent less time looking for a seat than we previously thought, but also give up searching sooner meaning our solution needed to cut down their search time.  

Take Aways:

1. Students spend an average of five minutes looking for a seat before they give up

2. Students struggle to find seats that have desks and outlets nearby

3. Finding seats for a group is much harder than finding an individual workspace


Our designs  solutions focused on: find a seat that fit students' needs and reduced their search time


Although both the interactive tree and display screen addressed similar needs, we chose to prototype the interactive tree. It would be more easily visible by users from multiple levels in the CULC and would also serve as an aesthetically pleasing addition to the building. 

How it works

  • One branch from the tree extends to each of the three main seating areas on each floor of the CULC, creating a tree with 12 branches
  • Using one color to represent individual seats and another to represent group seating, the tree lights the way to available seating options
  • The more brightly lit a branch is, the more available seats there are; no light means the seating area is full

Design Decisions

  • 3D rendered model to provide a more immersive experience to users during testing
  • Physical model to provide a real world perspective and test feasibility
  • Accessible and visually pleasing initial light color choices
  • Iridescent geometric tree texture to fit industrial aesthetics of the CULC and be unobtrusive when not lit up

I focused on the physical prototype. The physical prototype allows participants to get a sense of what the tree would like in the physical space and observe it from multiple angles. The physical prototype uses El Wire controlled by an Arduino to adjust the light intensity and color to communicate open seats available. In this prototype, the number of available seats were hard coded in to update the lights. The physical tree was placed in a cardboard version of the CULC allowing users to visualize how the branches would hang over the edge of the stairwell to point to specific seating areas. For the physical prototype, we were limited on our use of color by the wire that was available for purchase. 


We conducted usability tests with both the physical and virtual prototypes and tasked users with:

1. Explore the virtual environment without the tree to get accustomed to interacting in the virtual space
2. Find an open seat in the environment without the tree
3. Find an open seat with the tree in the environment
4. Answer follow up questions about their evaluation and color perception

Take away:

1. 50% reduction in time it took participants to find an open seat that fit their needs
2. From green to red, participants associated the colors below from available to full


Continue to test color pairings to convey available or unavailable areas
Communicate more details about seating and improve how we communicate them
Flesh out architectural design of the tree
Include haptic feedback or sound to make solution more accessible