Staying Connected with Pixel Away

For years, technology has empowered new forms of human connections such as smartphones and SMS, which have radically transformed when, where, and how we would reach out to people. While the Internet of Things is often known for sensors, hardware, and functional utility, it also creates new opportunities to enrich human experience; to not just connect objects, devices and things to one another but to help us better connect with the people in our lives.

Connected objects have much potential to create more intimate contact, shared understanding of rhythms and routines, or create dialog between us. In this context, I started to explore with my teammates Sijia Li & Ranveer Katyal on this challenge

How might we enrich human relationships and creating attachment through connected objects?

Brainstorming for Social Objects

To get started, we ran a quick sketch brainstorm session using the following framework to get as many ideas as possible:

An ambient device for WHO (friends, family, coworkers, neighers…) that presents INFORMATION (heart rate, emotion, thoughts…) as MODALITY (light, sound, vibration…) in order to INTENT(connect over distances, share emotions…).


Connecting over Distances

After seeing all these possibilities, we discussed what types of social relationship are the most important in our lives and interviewed a bunch of classmates on their social life. During this activity, we found some interesting facts: Over half of them have family abroad or in different cities. Many have experienced or are experiencing remote relationship. Therefore we decided to design for connecting over distances, especially for close social relationship.

Key Insight

When talking to different people, we realized even though today we have a variety of high tech options on smartphones to connect to the people we love, there are still some pain points remained unsolved.

I don’t want to disturb but I’d like to let her know I’m always there.

Instant messages are ok, but sometimes too disruptive and annoying.

… If only we could do something together even if it’s not physically.

Learn from Precedents

Through conducting research, we found there are a series of out-there solutions that solve similar problems to ours. For example, Good Night Lamp helps to support intimate “digital gestures” between humans. It supports couples separated over distances to maintain a connection to and share in nighttime routines.

Another precedent is Slow Games. We found it interesting even though it’s not a connected device. It embedded a ‘slow interface’ that supports just a single interaction a day. After that interaction occurs, it can operate in the periphery.

Introducing Pixel Away


Pixel Away is to help friends/couples connect with each other in a subtle and fun way. This game over distances creates no anxiety but create a close band between friends, partners, or family. The little cubic stature can be a nice decoration on the desk, as well as a vessel to carry social interactive experiences. With Pixel Away, friends or couples who are far from each other can be just pixels away through shared experience on the same canvas.

How It Works

Each person can light up 1 pixel a day to make a drawing together. If one person stops responding for over a day, the lights on both sides will be turned off and the game will start over. If either side feels the drawing is completed, they can press the button to stop and restart the game, and at the same time, the drawing will be archived and sent to both sides as a memory. image

Connecting the Digital World with the Physical World


Outcome: A Working Prototype