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Aks-facilitating Social Interaction in Public Space

Student Project

Project Details
Challenge: How can we initiate interaction between strangers at a public private space?

School: Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati

Advisor: Dr. Pradeep Yammiyavar

Duration: July 2012 – May 2013
Literature Review
User Research
Concept Development
User Testing
Tools Used
Pen and Paper
Google Forms
After Effects


This project aims to facilitate greater interaction, in a private public space, among users who may be unknown to each other through socialization, incentive and play. Here, I've describe my research methodology (that led to a paper publication), concept derivation, prototype development and user feedback on the project. The biggest challenge for me was to create a working prototype. Being a technological novice, I started from zero but ended up creating an innovative working setup.


Through this project, my intention was to create opportunities for increased social interactions between people to strengthen social capital in the community.
Social Capital is crucial because:
1. It allows citizens to resolve collective problems more easily through cooperation.
2. It greases wheels that allow communities to advance smoothly.
3. It widens our awareness of the many ways in which our fates are entwined with each other.

Shopping Mall as an Interaction Space

Public spaces are participatory landscapes. Through human action, visual involvement and the attachment of values, people create their own spaces. In recent times, Urban India has catapulted shopping malls as the most ubiquitous and frequently visited places. With the advent of FDI in Retail, this trend- in all likelihood- will see further exponential growth. People visit malls for shopping, leisure, recreation, experience or to simply spend excess time. In fact, the new shopping malls are designed to encourage flânerie and “hanging out.” The combination of ambience, space and convenience is a big attraction for a time strapped city dweller. By virtue of being privately owned, even though technically shopping malls may not be public spaces, the mental model of urban Indian community considers them so. Therefore, for the purpose of this project, I concentrated on using the space available in such shopping malls for my intended interaction.


To address the different types of social interaction that can take place in a public space, I referred to Goffman’s studies of rules of behavior in public life. I also analysed the conceptual framework proposed by Ludvigsen which is structured on attention being given by each participant to the overall situation as opposed to towards their own individual activities. Finally, I analysed ten interaction modalities which allow for both implicit and explicit interaction in the vicinity of public displays.


A survey was carried out to understand how people perceive, experience and respond to spaces within a shopping mall. Data was collected using an extensive questionnaire constructed using Likert’s Scale, Discrete Visual Analog Scale and Scenario Evaluation. The total sample was 44 respondents, of which 20 were based in Guwahati, Assam. Rest of the respondents were spread across India and were contacted online.

Relationship Patterns

Based on primary user observation, certain relationship patterns that exist in the chosen space were identified. I also published a paper “Facilitating Social Interaction in Public Spaces” in the Proceedings of Intelligent Interactive Technologies and Multimedia, 2013.

Finally, I evaluated various components present in contemporary Public Space games and Installations across the world. I selected ten examples on the basis of their scale, content, public involvement, use of technology and broad adherence to the pre studied framework for the study.


I developed User Personas based on the research completed till now. Following this, I put forth a hypothesis that, “If an installation in a shopping mall gives an incentive to people unknown to each other to interact for their own benefit, then a majority of them will interact.” Based on this hypothesis, concepts for such a desired installation were designed. All concepts were evaluated against concepts of innovation, empathy, incentive, communication and trust. Based on the results, I selected the optimum solution and called it “Aks.”

Concept development

In the interactive mirror, viewer’s movement and expressions are mimicked by a the face of a fellow shopper- which is overlaid on the viewer’s reflection. The resulting effect invites inquiry into issues of self-awareness, empathy and non-verbal communication. This project is inspired by the neural mechanism called ‘mirror neurons’ which explains how we get an experiential insight of other minds. The mechanism suggests that the rituals which involve seeing oneself as another might be far more than simply a symbolic performance — they might be closer to an embodied simulation of other people. This project explores a mirror as an amalgamation of the self and the other, inviting inquiry into how we determine the boundary between the two. The instinctual engagement that the installation elicits reminds us that we share with others a great heritage which is that of the unconscious mind.

Building upon this philosophy, the project aims to take forward this connection between people by encouraging them to actually interact with each other. Since, social awkwardness might prevent such communication, it is imperative that a suitable incentive should be provided to encourage such interaction. Therefore, I created a system within a shopping mall that provides personal incentive for shoppers to interact. I also defined value propositions for all stakeholders: users, store owners, shopping mall owners and the installation itself.

Prototype development

A limited prototype of the above concept was developed since it was not possible to put the whole system in place. For practical purposes, only the interactive mirror was installed at Core 1 Canteen in Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati.
Technology used: Face Swapping
Software: Open frameworks (All development done by Fabin Rasheed)
1. Glass with one side reflective film
2. Web camera
3. Projector
Add on: A dark room was created using soft boards, wooden sticks and black chart sheets to contain light.
Being a technological novice, this was the hardest part of the project. I faced a lot of challenges from developing low cost screen to optimising the software. Below are some pictures that capture the process.

User testing and future implications

I conducted user interviews to evaluate the concept on the same criteria on which it was developed namely, incentive, communication, empathy, trust and innovation. The feedback received was overwhelming. Some of it has been captured in the video link below. Based on this, I am confident that the concept has business potential. However, it is a work in progress and needs to be further evaluated for feasibility.