Product Design

Hug-i is an IoT interactive light pillow that addresses the need for remote closeness in light of the pandemic and advances in telecommunication. This pulse-sensing pillow that emits light would help people to connect to their loved ones in an alternative and intimate way.



UX research

Product design



User Testing

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The pandemic has changed the way the world communicates. Advances in telecommunication make remote communication easier, yet it takes away the intimacy and other sensual feelings people value in interpersonal interactions. Through observing and experiencing the lack of emotional connection between long-distance friends, couples, and family, the need for a new product arises.  


'Zoom fatigue'

Video call reduces the sense of intimacy between people. Intimate human interaction is a sensory-rich experience based on non-verbal cues, including touch, gesture, and physical presence.

"Every time you connect to a Zoom call, you are having two experiences at the same time: the experience of reaching, and the experience of what you’ve lost." --Gianpiero Petriglieri, psychiatrist

People are exhausted by video calls as the main outlet for intimacy

Add in a sensational experience and non-verbal communication to enhance intimate connection in remote relationships

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How might we create a new reality for digital togetherness?

Design idea

An interactive hugging pillow using pulse-sensing technology to evoke intimate and sensory-rich communications between loved ones in remote relationships.

Nonverbal communication through embodiment


Embodiment establishes a bubble of interaction, in which individuals are more sensitive to their senses and bodies. Referencing human traits and gestures creates non-verbal cues for establishing exclusive relationships between products and people’s senses. 

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Emotional interaction through haptic design

Haptic design points to an attitude that takes into consideration how we perceive things with our senses in design. The design of everyday things invokes more than just the visual sensory perception.—Kenya Hara

Touch is a pivot point for emotion in social connection

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Interviews & Survey

Hugging is a way more comfortable gesture and form of communication between acquittances.

70% of the 30 participants in my social survey hug loved ones after not seeing each other for a while

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  • Performing the same task = Sharing the same emotion

  • Hugging is an important form of communication between people and their loved ones

Design process

I extracted keywords from my research as the basis of later visual, material and form exploration.

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Material and light exploration

I visited furniture and fabric shops to touch, hug, and feel different kinds of pillows and materials. I looked for materials with both elastic and semi-translucent qualities that also satisfy emotional demand. Inspired by Casper glow lights designed to help people fall asleep quicker, I experimented with a wide dispersion effect using bubble wrap and scuba fabric, and was successful in creating ambient lighting. 

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Product design

A process from extracting abstract shapes from photos of people's hugging pose to sketching, then arrive at the final design of the hugging pillow

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Prototyping and testing

Round 1

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The first prototype was roughly made with bubble wrap. While it was warm and squeezable, the form was a bit oversized and felt too overwhelming to handle.

Round 2


The iterated version was sewed and cotton-filled, with a reduced size and easily huggable form. Overall users find the form relaxing while hugging it, which reminds them of hugging a human.  

Product interaction

Working mechanism

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Internet of Things (IoT) connection 

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User interaction scenario

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Technical experiment (Arduino)

Arduino testing round 1—Glowing light in a force sensor resistor circuit

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Arduino testing round 2—How two lights blink with a pulse sensor on a local connection

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Arduino + pillow test

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Probelm:  The lighting effect isn't strong enough to arouse emotions

Troubleshooting: Use a LED strip under scuba fabric which provides much better “Glowing” effect

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Making the final product+troubleshooting

User feedback

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“I haven’t seen my mom for over a year, I’d love having this pillow in bed, by my side, and cuddle it whenever I miss her."--Y is an overseas student

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“Hug-i would definitely help long-distance couples connect in an intimate way with the subtle form of communication it carries." --F was in a long-distance relationship

Evaluation and future development


  • Users find the product physically comfortable and felt mentally connected when the light starts to glow.

  • All participants mention the sense of being hugged; a form of “passive communication” is strongly present. 

  • Learning and designing physical hardware with Arduino for the first time was challenging yet rewarding. I implemented an agile process with many trials and errors to work around technical problems.


  • Validate process with more user testing

  • Keep exploring more senses, e.g. how heat and scent play the part as other forms of output.

  • Technical improvement: more stable heartbeat detection, chargeable battery.

  • Material exploration: vinyl/inflatable material+multiple pulse sensors

  • Possibilities for interactive experiences in different environments to work better for people in different time zones and scenarios. e.g. accessories that vibrate and user can swipe to respond, or a line of furnitures that produce heat, scent, and the voice of loved ones.