Making places playful

There are spaces built to be used but rarely visited by people. Place-making is a process of turning these unused spaces into peopled spaces. The process has a strong focus on ethnographic work to understand the usage of spaces by different archetypes, to figure the cause of the abandonment.

This project, Floathink, aims to revise a under-ultilised place in University of Sydney and make it more appealing for visiting during evening time.


Design research Interaction design Physical prototyping Place-making


September - November 2017

The Old School

The Old School is part of the University of Sydney campus, in the inner city suburb of Darlington. It was originally the Darlington Public School designed by George Allan Mansfield and built in 1878 in the Gothic Revival architectural style. The building was transferred to the university in 1975 and renovated in 1978 for use by the Department of Music and as a theatre workshop.

Old School at Cadigal Green

Our site is the semicircular courtyard outside the Old School which is located in Cadigal Green. There are three tall trees, four wooden benches and little stones all over the site. It is rarely visited by students, teaching staffs or local resident both at day and night time.


We set out to understand the usage of the courtyard by observing and interviewing people using or passing by the space. We immersed ourselves in the environment at different times of the day to understand its changing dynamic.


We talked with a few people hanging out at the location

Research process

We conducted different ethnographic activities to understand the problem that discouraged people from using the space.

The data was analysed to devise different themes of problems, which were then combined to form the problem statement and the objective:

The Old School courtyard lacks aesthetically pleasant elements of relaxing ambience and clear signifiers of its accessibility.

How might we use playful interaction to extend the relaxing atmosphere of Cadigal Green to the Old School courtyard in the evening?


As the theme of this project is Playfulness, we use Playful Experience (PLEX) framework in this project. It involved using a set of cards representing playful elements to discuss and choose the ones to be used in a project. This approach fostered our further understanding of playful elements that work for our specific location, together with what we wanted to achieve with the solution. These aspects were then to be integrated into our usability questionnaire.

Playful elements

Three elements Discovery, Sympathy, Captivation were chosen to be our design objectives.

Design process

Design process

As our concept is around wind chimes, we named our project in Chinese to reflect this cultural inspiration.

Floathink - 浮 想 | fuxiang |

thoughts or recollections flashing across one's mind.

Testing & Findings

Testing setup with participants and results will be updated soon.


This project is the last major project I had in 2017, and it ended with satisfactory results. Going from having no idea how to build a prototype with Arduino in August to finishing and testing a complex prototype is a significant achievement for all of us. In this journey, I have learnt and reaffirmed two lessons:

1/ The combination of complementary skills is vital to success to a team project. We need people with a visionary view to push the boundaries of concept, hands-on skills to build design, and project management skill to plan logistics and keep everyone updated of progress. Everyone in our team had a diverse set of skills and excelled at one domain. We did a mini project for around 15 minutes and felt that three of us are a good match to tackle problems. This is my favourite approach to form a team.

2/ The finishing of the project is as important as the concept. In this project, we balanced well the complexity of the concept and the complete details. We did struggle in the beginning to scope the project, and this paid off in the fact that we finished the project on time.