TOTEM Tangible Interactions

Smart DesignUS


Concept / Professional


Smart Design: Junior Castro, Marc Morros, Erika Rossi, Ivan Exposito, Valeria Sanguin and Floriane Rousse-Marquet


Ideation or brainstorming sessions are part of everyday life at our consultancy, informing all the work we do. On occasion, we face people’s natural instincts to dominate the conversation, or alternately, to limit their contribute due to nervousness or reticence. As we reflected on the limitations for creativity that arise from these issues, we developed the concept behind TOTEM.

How might interactive objects encourage inspiration and dialog during brainstorming sessions? Our team set out to answer that question through electronic hardware experiments. Our solution was TOTEM—a family of three unique objects that help people get inspired and stay engaged in creative conversations and debates in order to generate new ideas. It is composed of a stack of three separate but complementary objects: Batón, Echo and Alterego. These series of tangible interaction concepts were presented at Barcelona’s first ever Maker Faire.

Each tool takes a different approach to solving the challenges of creative collaboration and dialog.


Because these concepts were based on our own experiences and observations in many brainstorming sessions, we felt that we knew the audience very well. In fact, in some ways we were solving our own problems through the very experiment of designing these tools. When you’re in a creative team dynamic, it is an essential part of the job to express yourself effectively and to engage your imagination along with others’ in an effective manner.

However, as we started to share the concepts and get feedback on them, it was clear that their application was much wider than a creative company. Any group of people needing to foster communication and interaction could benefit from their use. That’s a pretty wide audience, if you think about it.


Our project was well received by Faire visitors and has been written up in Fast Company, Core77 and Mashable.

1. Batón is a talking stick used during ideation sessions allowing the person holding it to speak. Batón vibrates to indicate the speaker must pass the Batón to the next person. It allows everyone to be heard, compelling the most dominant speakers to be concise and those who are shyer to speak up.

2. Echo is a recording/playback device that fits into any setting. Echo records the background noise from its location, and when a user picks it up and listens, Echo plays back what it previously recorded. By shaking it, Echo plays back random sound bytes from other parts of the day, helping users get inspired by hearing adjacent creative conversations, keywords, and quirky background noises.

3. Alterego is a wearable device with three bracelet components. As soon as a user picks up the objects they will light up with their own unique color. Each color indicates a different mindset the user must adopt for evaluating ideas: optimistic, pessimistic, moderator. It enables users to think outside their comfort zone and to evaluate ideas in a balanced, unbiased manner.


We took an open-source approach to the design process. We used rapid fabrication plus Arduino coding and off the shelf electronic components. It seemed like the right choice for a solution that is meant to be shared and replicated as many times as possible to spread its positive impact.

It was really important for us that all the objects looked like a family and stack together so they represent a holistic solution to improve expressive communication. Forms are strictly related to the function of each object and the interactions they define follow instinctual archetypes for the most intuitive manipulation. The overall design language was meant to have enough personality to be attractive and intriguing but at the same time to be neutral enough to blend in any contemporary environment, while not distracting from the conversation they are meant to facilitate.


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