The Mindful Origami Phoenix is an interactive centerpiece meant to be placed on a desk that acts as a reminder to self-reflect and self-care. When touched, the phoenix will flap its wings while the paper lotus flower lights up. It’s also programmed to open its wings and light up during certain times of the day, such as after work and before bed.

Project Duration

01/06/22 - 04/15/21

Project Type

Undergraduate Honours Thesis Project - HCI

Team Members

Solo Project


COVID constraints; Include research from published papers in HCI


There lacks an accessible way for people to practice mindfulness while working at home.

During the pandemic, most of us have been required to work at home for some time. We can quickly notice that working from home does not mean you’re in a stress-free environment. In fact, for many, working from home can be way more stressful in different aspects.

🛏️ Office in personal living spaces:
Not everyone has the space for a dedicated home office and this means some people are working a full eight hours a day in places, like their bedroom or living room. Being in the same place as somewhere you should be to relax is shown to be deeply strenuous on a person’s wellbeing.

💻 Easy to be caught up in work:
It is super easy to get caught up in work and lose time for yourself. Because everyone’s online, some studies have shown that some people actually feel guilty if they’re not constantly working, so this leads to stress to be constantly working without a break.

Ultimately this shows that working from home can be rough on each person’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being. With the lack of time for self-care and self-reflection, it’s easy for people to burnout during work. As studies have shown, during difficult times, like an epidemic, it is helpful to practice mindfulness to actively protect our own well-being, so the stress would not result in a health imbalance.


Artwork represents a form of non-verbal communication of private experiences.

⬇️ anxiety + depression
⬆️ critical thinking + empathy

I wanted to research more on the roles of artwork in mindfulness. Through reading published papers and learning more about human psychology regarding art, I found that throughout history, art has actually been used as a clinical therapeutic treatment. It represents a form of non-verbal communication of private experiences and art expression plays a big role in how it allows viewers to reflect on the artist’s symbolic intentions. A research study done in Norway found that there is a definite correlation between viewing art and higher levels of mood satisfaction. In fact, they found that viewing art can lower anxiety and depression while boosting critical thinking and empathy.

From this, I wanted to then see if there are any interactive art projects that specifically had a goal of promoting self-care.


Interactive artworks that currently exist largely focused on designing for the artist to express their intent rather than designing for the viewer.

Plain White by Carina Ow

interactive digital experience for Kandinsky’s “Composition VIII”

Letters to Jose by Daniel Echeverri

Tangible storytelling narrative to support relationships on body, the artifact, and space

I found that most independent interactive artworks that currently exist, act as a platform for artists to express their intent or interest rather than using interactive artwork to design for the viewer’s or interactor’s benefit. Plain White by Carina showcases an interactive digital experience where people can change one of the famous abstract artist, Kadinsky’s, pieces. This allows viewers to empathize with the artist’s intent. Letters to Jose by Daniel Echeverri demonstrates an interesting tangible storytelling narrative that mainly focuses on supporting the artist’s personal design idea on exploring more on the relationships of body and space.  Overall, both are great pieces of interactive artwork that help inspire design ideas of how interaction between user and art would work, but they do not reflect an intentional design for the user.


9 out of 10 interviewees had something on or near their desk that help encourage them during work.

Through this stage, I wanted to learn more about what physical artifacts make people happy while working. I interviewed 10 people ranging from ages 20 to 40 and found that 9 out of 10 interviewees liked to keep something near or on their desk while working. One out of ten stated they had to have nothing they don’t need on their desk in order to work efficiently. But overall, I discovered that having an object nearby or on the desk could really help encourage people. Because of this, I began the brainstorming stage on a physical object that can be placed on one’s desk.

P1 likes to collect figurines to help encourage hard work

P6 always keeps a potted plant on her desk.

P8 is a big Pokemon fan and likes to keep small plushies on their desk


During this stage, I began brainstorming certain design concepts on interactive artwork to promote well-being and playing around with various materials.

Originally, I was thinking of building this bird using wire and colourful feathers, but with the limited amount of time and my lack of experience regarding wire sculptures, I decided to explore something more familiar to me. Origami is a term that comes originates from Japan and means to fold paper. There’s strong symbolism with the iconic origami crane. It reflects loyalty and manifests in one’s destiny. I felt that this technique could really help portray the intent of self-care and well-being in my sculpture.


How will we give this phoenix life?

Opening the wings should be easily achievable through making a centred pushrod that allows movement. Just like how the joints in our arms let us move them around, my phoenix also required these joints so the pushrod could help in an up-and-down movement. With the use of jewelry bead hinges, our phoenix can move its wings. As the rod is pulled down, the wings will go up, and as the rod is pushed up, the wings will go down.

This project was then connected to an Arduino Uno which allowed the interactivity in my project. I prototyped the connections first using a breadboard and then incorporated it into my project after testing the functionalities.


Next, I looked to bridge the results from the material and functional exploration to successfully portray the intent behind my project.

The interactivity in my project seeks to provide our user with a way to meditate. It is easy to get caught in spending time to admire artwork. With this in mind, I asked myself:

How might I allow users to interact with a majestic work of art without taking away their focus on themselves?

How might I keep the purpose of our project clear when creating an extravagant “reminder” device?

The challenge of the interaction stage was to find the best way of exploring how users can interact with the project and also maintain the goal.



I would conduct more user testing in between the stages and after the final prototype is created. Because of the time constraint, I was only able to create a simple prototype of the bird. I would love to spend more time to conduct user testing and see how effective my project is.

I would also refine my project. As the Arduino Uno is best used for prototyping, it is not the most optimal for The Mindful Origami Phoenix. It would look better and save much more space if I used an Arduino Micro instead. Then it can be fit into the box. Next steps would include iterating onto the prototype more by exchanging the Micro for our Uno.


The design process helped me reflect further on the concept of interactive art in combination with the concern of self-care in design research. The project challenged various questions in the field of human-computer interaction as we explore the noticeable gap between interactive art as a way for artists to present their narrative and interactive art as a way to benefit the interactor in some way. I have highlighted the material, functional, and interactive explorations done throughout the making. Each of these explorations was demonstrated to have taught me something new for the next stage. This approach opened up new design opportunities while working, but also helped keep me on track.

Check out my other work!


© Cathy Yan 2023 | Designer | cathyyan604@gmail.com