The hive

The Hive is an interactive instillation that communicates open study spaces to students at Georgia Tech's Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons in order to more quickly help them find a seat that suits their needs.

The objective of this course group project was to identify an issue on campus and design a technical solution via the user centered design process.


4 Weeks


Interaction Designer
User Researcher


Group Course Project

The Problem

Undergraduate students at Georgia Tech struggle to find open study spaces at the Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons (The CULC) and often times give up before finding one. Since there is no easy way to gauge where open seats are, students make laps around each floor of the building until they find an open space or not.

The Solution

An interactive tree instillation that would sit five floors high in the open stairwell of the CULC. Tracking available seats in popular seating areas, the hive uses color and light to guide students to a study space that fits their needs.


The goal of the project was to design a solution to an issue we find on campus. Everyone in our group agreed that finding open study spaces was harder than it needed to be, but hadn't though about why.

To understand the problem space, we started by observing people as they moved throughout the CULC. This informed our interview questions which gave us an understanding of pain points in the process of finding a seat in the form of qualitative data. We quantified the data with a survey focusing on students as our main user group. Finally, we synthesized the results to form design requirements.


23 Semi- Structured


28 Responses


2 hour observations


During our observations we watched as people tried to find seats, noted how long people stayed and what they were doing.
I noticed that people passed many open seats before finally settling on one.


We asked participants questions about their process of find a seat, when & why they came to the CULC and how long they usually stayed. Most students came in between classes and look for seats that they could use to study.


We used the survey to quantify data gathered in our interviews. The majority of visitors were students who struggled to find open seats that had outlets, desks and accommodated groups. 80% of students gave up looking for a seat after only 5 minutes! 


We found that we were a bit off the mark with our initial problem space. Students are able to find an open chair to sit on in the CULC, but it is more difficult to find a workspace that meets their specific needs such as desks, outlets, or multiple seats. Students also spent less time looking for a seat than we previously thought, but also give up searching just as quickly.

Design Criteria

Students are the largest users of the CULC. They can find an open seat in the CULC but not one that has a desk, outlets or accommodates groups. The solution needs to help students easily find these types of seats.

Students give up looking for a study space after an average of 5 minutes. The solution needs to assist students in finding an spot that meets their needs in less than that amount of time.

Class breaks are periods of heavy foot traffic in the building as large quantities of students move in and out of the space and seat availability is rapidly changing, the solution should accommodate for this.


Collectively, we brainstormed 60 design solutions and then evaluated them based on feasibility and how well they addressed user needs. We narrowed it down to three design alternatives that encompassed a range of user engagement and technical involvement and then storyboarded an interaction with each solution.

Screen Display & Projection

1. Visitors see a projection on the walls in the open stairway displays the amount of individual seats and group work spaces. 

2. A display screen place just off the stairwell of every floor with a map of the current floor with open seats, their type, and location.

Modular Furniture

Modular furniture allows users to interact with the furniture in a way that suits their specific needs. If more seats are needed, furniture can be broken down into more seats. Likewise, if desks are need to accommodate individuals or groups, seats can be put together and adjusted to make desks.The modularity allows for increased or decreased chairs and desks as needed.

Interactive Tree Instillation

Standing five floors tall, in the open stairwell of the CULC , the interactive tree would track open seats and use lights to guide students to available areas.Both the form of the tree and ambient lighting could communicate information about specific areas of seating and their attributes

We decided to move forward with the interactive tree and flesh out the interaction to prototype it. Compared to the other ideas, information communicated by the tree would be visible by the most amount of people from the most vantage points. We also chose it to challenge ourselves and design an interaction outside of a 2D screen. I took the lead in fleshing out the interaction design.

Design decisions

Shape of the tree

Strategically placing the branches to point towards each of the three main seating areas on each floor of the CULC. Visible by students, this would direct students to an area of open seating as they were walking up the stairs.

Communicating via color

Using different colored lights to communicate if available seating is for individual use or group use. This saves students with particular seating needs time by narrowing down their choices.

Communicating open seats

Emphasizing areas with more open seats with a brighter light and more full branch. Although displaying a fuller tree branch could be interpreted as full seats, when filling up the branch with light, users agreed that they would expect to look for seats where the "bright light" was pointing them to. This also meant dimmer lights where there were more students so as not to disrupt them.


Given our timeline and resources, prototyping a full scale tree was outside our scope. We prototyped both a 3D rendered model to provide a more immersive experience to users during testing and a 3 foot physical model to provide a real world perspective and test feasibility. I focused on the physical prototype. It allowed participants to get a sense of what the tree would like in the physical space and observe it from multiple angles.

Hardware & Software

1. El Wire controlled by an Arduino to adjust the light intensity and color to communicate open seats available

2. For the prototype, the number of available seats were hard coded in to update the lights.

Physical Model

The physical tree was placed in a cardboard version of the CULC allowing users to visualize how the branches would hang over the edge of the stairwell to point to specific seating areas.


For the physical prototype, we were limited on our use of color by the wire that was available for purchase.

3D Model

Color Choice

Accessible and visually pleasing initial light color choices that were not both strongly associated

3D Model

Iridescent geometric tree texture to fit industrial aesthetics of the CULC and be unobtrusive when not lit up


We conducted usability tests with both the physical and virtual prototypes and tasked users with three tasks:
1. Explore the virtual environment without the tree to get accustomed to interacting in the virtual space
2. Find an open seat in the environment without the tree
3. Find an open seat with the tree in the environment

The evaluation was concluded with follow up questions and a color association task. Since we are using color to communicate different types of availability, we want to avoid colors that might communicate other meanings.


1. 50% reduction in time it took participants to find an open seat that fit their needs
2. From green to red, participants associated the colors below from available to full

Future Considerations

1. Continue to test color pairings to prevent communication error
2. Communicate more details about seating 
3. Flesh out architectural design of the tree 
4. Consider haptic feedback or sound to make solution more accessible