Final Documentation of ITP Winter Show Piece “Lingo Gizmo”

The “Lingo Gizmo” is a fabricated interface that lets people invent words for a missing dictionary. People collaborate over time to submit meanings that don’t have words yet, and invent original words for those meanings.

At the ITP Winter Show, I shared a prototype in which people could invent a word and assign an original meaning to it all in one interaction. I learned many things from this two-day user test that I can apply to a later version.

Check out this short video of the interaction below. 



You can play yourself online!

The code is hosted on Github.

Here are some fun examples of words and meanings that people created at the show.

  • ‘mlava, food for volcano monsters
  • lajayae, a person of Latin American origin wishing to live in New York City
  • juhnaheewah, the feeling that someone behind you is having a better time than you are.
  • dahvahai, good times, good mood
  • dayayay, to tell a donkey to calm down
  • erouhhtahfaher, a food that tastes like cement in a pail
  • fapaneuh, to strike fear into the enemy’s heart
  • kadaveaux, too many knishes
  • nabahoo, that feeling when you’re just not going to get out of the house today
  • payvowa, a special kind of grapefruit
  • Quaeingiwoo, a town in Western Connecticut


Inspirations & References

I created this project because I’m interested in how people build culture through shared experiences, and the ways language acts as a tool for naming and codifying that culture.  In some ways, this project is a slang maker, allowing people to name a feeling  that others may have, and give it a new status with its own word.

I also love creative word games such as Balderdash, which is a parlor game based on voting on the best-guessed or faked definitions of words for a chosen obscure word in the dictionary.

Lastly, I think of words as physically related to their meanings. The shape a word creates in one’s mouth can inform their meaning.  Therefore, it wasn’t a stretch for me to think to ask users to create words by physically interacting with a mouth. Interestingly, there is a theory called the Bouba Kiki Effect.  The theory suggests that people across different cultures and languages are very likely to associate the shapes below as “kiki” on the left, “bouba” on the right.  This phenomena suggests there may be a non-arbitrary, or purposeful, mapping between speech sounds and the visual shape of objects.

500px-Booba-Kiki.svg.pngOne last great reference suggested to me by Allison Parrish, on faculty at ITP, is the Pink Trombone.  It’s an online interface lets you manipulate the inside of a mouth to generate accurate sounds. Very fun to play with.


How It Works

Many skills and strategies went into this project. See below for a summary.


The face, teeth and tongue are designed and sewn by myself, using patterns I developed with paper prototypes. I did not know much about sewing before starting the project!

The inside of the face includes a cardboard structure with a hinge and rubber band to allow the top of the mouth to move down for consonants like “ma” “ba” and “wa”.


In my 500+ lines of code, I’ve used the p5.js libraries to play the opening animation, cycle through sound files, add chosen sounds to the user’s word, and save the user’s inputs into the file name of the recording, which is created with the p5’s recorder function.

Physical Computing

I used an Arduino Mega microcontroller because it offers enough inputs to accommodate the project’s nine sensors.  Five sensors are made up of conductive fabric and velostat circuits. Three are force sensing resistors. The last sensor is an accelerometer to measure the x axis movement of the top of the mouth. I used a ADXL326 chip.

All nine input values are processed by a sketch I’ve saved on the microcontroller. The sketch takes the analog values and turns them into a changing list of 0s or 1s to signify whether they are turned “off” or “on” by the user. The p5.serialport library allows me to send that list from my microcontroller to my online browser. My browser is running a local server to serve up my code along with the serial data so that the user can interact with the fabricated mouth interface.

Design and User Feedback

Many rounds of design, branding, and user feedback informed this project. I used lots of paper and pen to map out my ideas, and used Illustrator to finalize the design and system logic of my project.  Over time I had several formal user feedback sessions with classmates, and quickly asked for input at critical moments in the process.


Next Time

The ITP Winter Show confirmed that if I had another couple days, my list of additional features were in the correct order. Here they are!


1. Get rid of the mouse by creating a box with three buttons to let the user press “Add” “Start Over” and “Done” while interacting with the mouth interfaces. This would simplify what the user has to touch in order to complete the first interaction.


2. Create a user flow of three pages, each with a distinct purpose. First, an opening animation to attract people to play. Second, a page to create one’s word. Third, a page to add their word to the dictionary.  Currently, it’s all in one page which is a little too much for someone to get through at once.

Physical Computing

3. While I learned a lot using different sensors, next time I would use only one kind of sensor for the same kind of human gesture of pressing down. I was asking people to press each “fabric button”, but underneath were different sensors which each required a different kind of touch.

Overall Design

4. On a larger scale, my first prototype demonstrated that people understand and are interested in the concept, feel ownership over their words, have a lot of fun with the current interaction, and are very surprised and delighted by the end. However, the definitions don’t have as much variety in mood or tone as I’d like to encourage in a final version of the project. As of now, people add definitions that match the playful and slightly absurd interaction that I’ve created (strange mouth parts anyone??) . Very few are introspective, although two people did submit definitions about wishing to move to NYC or worrying that someone else is having a better time than they are.

One thing I want to do is rerecord the audio recordings to include more variety in phonemes. Right now they all end “ah” because they are taken from instructional resources online. Including “ack” and not only “kah” will give people more choice.

Considering my recordings all end in “ah”, any word people make sounds pretty silly. Therefore, the inviting but strange branding and design that I created for the show fit that experience. Next time, I can change the design to set a different tone for people’s interactions, in hopes of giving people the room to submit definitions that have more variety to them.



System Diagrams

Here are a few diagrams of my work.

Phonemes Chart


My circuits as a schematic and illustrations.

Meaning Maker Circuit Illustrations and Schematics


These webpage layouts are close to what I would finish creating with more time.

Webpage Design_Build A Word-01Webpage Design_Build A Word-02Webpage Design_Build A Word-03Webpage Design_Share a Meaning-01Webpage Design_New Meanings and Words-01