Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab
Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab

Author Archive

Final Project – Street Map

After re-reading my studio assignment write-ups, I realized that my fear of failure was initially a barrier to actually learning and digesting the information I’ve learned. However, looking back on the actual experience, I felt less and less afraid of that with each lab exercise despite feeling unsure that I understood how each tool worked. Failure happens and, although what failure actually looks like changes from person to person, it provides an opportunity to try again. Creativity feels like a risk, which makes failure all more possible. Perhaps subconsciously I was pushing back on the idea of failing, and what that looked like, because I learned the different ways in which I limited my creativity. There were some projects I wasn’t entirely proud of, others I wanted to iterate over and over, and some I felt I was only starting to learn and wanted to dive deeper into. One project in particular was the Arduino.

The Arduino project was equal parts exciting and frightening. I didn’t know anything about coding prior to this class, so I went into the lab session thinking I would be screwed (I wasn’t). Duncan helped me understand the fundamentals of the code, which helped me appreciate the assignment even more. Getting my pompom robot to walk (with the code + the form of the legs) was fulfilling. I feel as though while my confidence falters every now and then, such exercises have helped me build my confidence as a maker and take “risks” in creating.

For my final project, I made a street map– I stitched street lines onto fabric, incorporating NeoPixels under the street map fabric layer and using a Joystick Arduino to control the lights. My initial idea was to create an item that could be used as a storytelling device in community participatory planning. At first I wanted to embroider a zoning map, but found that the zoning map itself really limited what else I wanted to do (work with an Arduino) in part because of the embroidery pattern and whether or not the lights would even be useful. Here’s where I found myself needing to compromise– I could either keep the zoning map or I could keep the lights and Arduino aspect and transform the form of the item without giving up its purpose. I ended up scaling the idea down to a street map, which I think in the end provides for more interaction and imagination on the user’s part. 

My learning goals were as follows:

  • Technical- I want to challenge myself and manipulate the loop function of an Arduino joystick, as this is the technical tool I have the least confidence in.

Here, I was hoping to dive deeper into the mechanics of the Joystick. I wanted to make it so with the Joystick, individual lights would turn on/off throughout the street map. I learned technical aspects such as making sure the setup I used for the Joystick complemented whatever setup I used for the NeoPixels. Coding still feels like a different language to me, and I didn’t get the lights to do what I wanted them to do. They were able to move (in unison, as opposed to individually) to the input on the Joystick.

  • Nontechnical- I want to create at least two designs of my concept, as I place more emphasis on the project versus learning from the process, and track what component I focus on.

As my in-progress and final pictures show, there were two designs/ways this project could’ve gone. In trying to keep the zoning map, I felt increasingly limited and frustrated as I was racing against the clock. In between both pictures, I reached out to my friends in the class who helped me brainstorm other visualizations of a map, as well as offered their input on how intuitive the map felt (especially given that the map I use in this project is based on my hometown, but the next step would be making this applicable to other places).

  • Nontechnical- I want to develop my communication skills and articulate 1) the problem at hand and 2) how my design would approach this problem.

My storyboard for the concept originally placed users in a tense community meeting where they are trying to solve a problem (rezoning). I had hoped my design would be a more straightforward way to solve the problem (offer alternatives). However, I realized there was a larger issue around dialogue, which changed the nature of the solution. The research I’ve been doing over the last two years (as a research assistant and in my thesis) focus on, not just neighborhood change, but on how people try to mediate it (or what gets in the way of having a dialogue). The solution isn’t the project itself…rather, I think the project could lead to a solution to neighborhood change (the supposed context of many neighborhoods and cities).

The process rather than the project taught me more than I anticipated. Through the various revisions and designs I found myself really letting go of my own preconceived notions of what the project *should* look like, which stopped me from truly incorporating the tools I wanted to work with in a way that felt organic. That makes this project meaningful for me– the thought behind it, as well as the opportunity to get feedback from others and continue developing it as part of my toolkit as a planning practitioner.

I consider myself a maker, though the word maker means different things to me now than it did in the beginning of the semester. The Papert quote definitely resonates, and I do believe that this class and this project incorporated hands-on learning and meaning. During my time in academia, finding a balance between practice and theory felt hard to achieve– I think making adds more to this balance, and directly implicates makers. I feel less detached (and more confident articulating my positionality) from the projects I make, and I think that’s a significant difference from what I’ve been traditionally taught in the academy.



Final product

Final Template

Initial template


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Locomoting Pom Pom Bot

At first, trying to imagine what my PomPom Bot would look like felt counterintuitive. I wanted to have the parts able to move before designing the pom pom bot. But, after playing around with the pom poms and feathers, I decided to name my bot Paco, who is learning how to walk! And Paco’s very excited about this new development. I designed my bot to try to evoke this sort of innocence. At first I used popsicle sticks as the bot’s legs. I ended up changing the legs to some cut outs someone left behind from making a box (I liked the ridges on the scraps) and glueing them to the servo right at the middle, instead of how I had it in Take 1. I was happy with my code, as I was able to move it forward. But because I fixed the legs, the bot seemed to make bigger strides, at one point rolling over.

I hadn’t worked with codes prior to this class. I think that was the new element for me. Playing around with the code, fiddling with the angle start and angle direction. It felt less and less intimidating for me as the time passed. This taught me to dive right in, and think about form versus function (which was what I first focused on). It was interesting to note how much of the final prototype reflects that shift, for me at least.

First look

New legs!

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Iteration Project

I decided to do a second iteration of my laser name tag assignment:

(Left and right) My first name tags from earlier in the semester!










I had a lot of fun with this assignment as well as quickly saw what were things I would do over (for example, the size of the vector cuts/what was supposed to be cut; what information I wanted to raster). This time around, I wanted to incorporate some of the things we learned during the e-textiles sessions. I decided to stay with the Pokemon theme, and ended up stumbling upon the idea of making a Pokedex style tag / “business” card.

Using Inkscape once again

Final version







My idea was to have LEDs light up in place of where the Pokemon badges were (I was thinking maybe having a cut-out outline to show the shape of the badges. I would sew in the LEDs and use a parallel circuit to get it to light up. Because I now had left over badges from the vector cuts, I decided to make vinyl stickers to add dimension/as decoration. The battery pack/switch is sewn in the back, where the pokeball would be. 

If I were to do another iteration of this assignment, I would consider using an LCD screen and perhaps 3D printing the pieces to construct an actual Pokedex. Or even, using digital embroidery to make the badges while still using the sewable LEDs. What I liked about this iteration is that it is all the more hands-on. Quite frankly, it feels very fun! I’m not sure I would be able to present this as a form of ID or as a business card, but it is a start. 

Figuring out placement of LEDs using the acrylic stencil

Final product, with lights AND badges!

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Arduino Introduction


I’m from a social sciences background, so the idea of messing around with hardware and software, let alone Arduino, was daunting. Looking back on this exercise (and past ones, too) I’m learning a little more about my own learning/teaching style. I want to feel comfortable asking questions, but the idea of getting something ~wrong~ terrifies me. In the trajectory of my own formal education the idea of not knowing as a fallacy is so engrained it stops me from trying something new. That being said, starting to learn Arduino was exciting! Yay learning!


I was able to get the LED lights to blink Morse code, as well as do other patterns simultaneously. This involved me asking lots of questions (thanks Duncan!) and tinkering around with the code for a bit, once I got a good grasp of the different components of the code. I also managed to figure out how to get the motion sensor on the boom box to say messages on the screen like, “Hello!” Overall, I think what made me most proud was overcoming my sense of doubt with my own curiosity, and learning something new! Even as a graduate student, I forget how satisfying it is for me to learn something new.


I think for me the biggest hurdle (aside from my own self-doubt) was to also understand the various aspects of the big picture to see how they fit together, and why sometimes the code didn’t work (e.g. sometimes I put a piece of code in the wrong location). I also talked to my friends who have taken Computer Science classes/majored in CS to ask for a more comprehensive knowledge and Arduino. One friend showed me his disco ball project! (Note, they’re not students at UIUC.)

LED lights!



Coming up with a storyboard using Arduino was difficult. I do a lot of mapping in one of my GIS classes and it’s gotten me to think about public participation, especially in the context of human activity as a source of open data. My storyboard tries to combine survey results (completed via a Survey App called Survey 123, available on mobile phones) as an input to light up a city map (I was thinking a display in a community center) showing recently sold properties (perhaps differentiated by what kind of property, whether residential or commercial, etc) to highlight neighborhood change. Given more time to work with Arduino in the future, I think I’d want to do something that shows how frequently property turnover occurs, or when a building’s zoning is changed.



Really, this concept, though barely fleshed out at the moment, matters to me in part because my research focuses on displacement/segregation and how does it change people, and how they move. When I talk to folks on the ground, there’s people who want to visualize and spatialize this information in order to drive the message home. I think there’s also something to be said about having a hands-on approach- actually seeing that instant gratification of pressing a button, especially in a time where we might be sensitized to certain kinds of action and civic engagement.

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Project 5: E-Textiles

Prior to this project I had some experience with textiles– I learned how to embroider and sew by hand with my grandmother, but I had never really used a machine for either task. Figuring out how to make the stitches or be comfortable with the machine was not hard to learn though. I think had I not had that prior experience, I might’ve felt more overwhelmed by some of the mishaps that occurred in the lab. For example, the upper thread got jammed multiple times during the embroidery portion of the assignment, and ended up cutting through the fabric. This was mediated by going back in and simplifying the stitches more, as well as reducing the design itself. I also used the backing paper to help stitch onto the fabric. Nonetheless, it was frustrating.

I was pleasantly surprised when I got the circuits to work! They lit up right where I wanted them to (on the bridge) and I was able to access the battery switch on the front of the bag. In my rush to finish the assignment, I realized I didn’t do the zipper stitching correctly- I lined the inner fabric to the wrong side of the zipper.

I really wanted to stick with the design concept- this past week I kept seeing images of a bridge from my hometown, and thought it’d make a nice design to embroider. I wanted to include text as well, but ended up changing the text (all iterations based off of the musical, ‘In The Heights,’ based in my hometown and also taking place near the bridge I mentioned before). If I could do it over, I would redo the design to make the stitching more straight forward and clean. Although it was the most frustrating project to date, it is so far the most fun I’ve had. 

Embroidery Stage

Embroidery in PEStitch


Final Product

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Project #4: 3D Printing

For this assignment, I chose to do the themed flatware for dining. My thought process this time focused on what program would be interesting to work with. For instance: I had a lot of fun with Sculptris and contemplated making the thumbs up I created into a teapot of sorts, whereas TinkerCAD felt like it would involve a lot of moving pieces and didn’t seem so readily malleable. This last point is amusing to reflect on, as that’s the program I ultimately chose to work with. 

Playing with Sculptri – initial idea  

I first created a rough sketch of a plate, which evolved into a set that I wanted to have move around. My storyboard cleared up why I wanted that feature– ideally the sets would be used by everyone in a family/group dinner, kind of like air hockey but for restaurants/home settings. The storyboard was useful because it helped clarify questions I had around the design: what would look good and make sense? What are things that I can’t necessarily 3D print? I didn’t actually figure out I wanted the air hockey aspect until I got to working on TinkerCAD and realized square plates might be noisier than circles. I also added a smaller barrel into the design, which I imagined as a puck that each person would have to push the plates around.

Initial Design Sketch


Designing on TinkerCAD







The 3D printing was not a smooth process. The flat shape meant we had to calibrate the needle and machine several times. The first time the plastic did not stick to the mat, and the second and third times, the plastic would clump up or it would only 3D print the large table and not the rest of the pieces. I see the benefit of having one solid structure versus different pieces, so should I do this differently next time, I would pay closer attention to what I want the plates to do or to what the puck would actually add to the overall design. 

Final Product

Sometimes things do not go right the first time…or the second…or the third…

Playing 3D Scanning

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Project 3: Copper Tape Origami

This week we worked on paper circuits! This assignment was different than previous ones because I was more fixated on the insides of the product, whereas in earlier projects I was more concerned with the aesthetics and (social) impact of the product. The basic circuit card and 2 LED card were a good way to get comfortable with figuring out how exactly the circuit would work. Sketching out the path first was helpful.

The final product was tricky. I chose to go with a paper crane, since I’m comfortable with the folds and thought that would give me an advantage. However, figuring out the route the circuits would take & where to place the switch proved a great challenge. I knew I wanted the switch to be activated when I pressed on the bottom folds of the paper crane (this way the wings of the crane would light up when I flapped them from the bottom). However, my initial routing placed the switch at a location where only one LED would be cut off. At the second attempt/re-route, the folds kept the switch in place, so the lights would always be on. After three revisions (at some point I just put the tape down and made demo circuits to understand how/why the switch works), I got the circuit and switch to do what I wanted it to do, which felt good! I’m feeling more comfortable with the re-iteration aspect of these projects. 

Basic Paper Circuit Card with switch. Quote: “I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.”

Basic Paper Circuit Card with switch. Quote: “I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.”

Basic Paper Circuit Card with switch [inside]

Picture with 2 LEDs [inside]

Picture with 2 LEDs. Quote: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

3D Paper Object / Origami [initial sketch of circuit]

3D Paper Object/Origami [final circuit route with switch]

3D Paper Object/Origami [final product]


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Project #2: Vinyl Stickers

For this assignment I made three vinyl stickers: a griffin, a logo and a multi-layered sticker.   

Griffin– penguin + wolf


Multilayer sticker / hummingbird

Coming up with the designs for the logo and multilayer stickers was a bit difficult, just like the previous exercise. I knew I wanted to put the stickers on my laptop, but I think the focus on its eventual placement constrained my thought process on what I wanted the stickers to say. I have a few stickers on my laptop already, and the reason I have the stickers I do was because they reflected things I liked or aspects of me. But, now the question would be, would I have circle stickers or rectangle or square? And what would they say?

Two of my best friends and I have a group chat named Cafe Bustelo, after a coffee brand popular with Latinos, and we had a serious conversation that ultimately spiraled into what became my multilayer design. For the three of us, hummingbirds have a powerful meaning (there’s an essay called ‘If What I Mean Is Hummingbird, If What I Mean Is Fall Into My Mouth’ that covers this). 

Inspiration from friends!

Additionally, the group chat name inspired me to make my logo, with slight modifications. The last two creations involved multiple iterations of the designs. Once I settled on something I did like, I kept it and tried to modify the aesthetics of other parts. I also let myself be comfortable with starting over and over. Ultimately I’m happy with the communal feeling of these products. 

Silhouette cutting!

Forming layers

Original logo, pre modifications

Original mockingbird design

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Project #1 – Laser Name Tag

One of my ideas for the name tag came by accident– I caught sight of a Charmander silhouette while doing the wood exercise in my lab session. I liked the clean look and light hearted feel of the vector cut out in the final test product, and so I decided I wanted to incorporate something similar in my next design. However, finding something that conveyed as much in as little space as possible proved to be difficult and required me to think outside of the box. I found myself being drawn back to Pokemon, but initially resisted the impulse. I went through several ideas in my head: perhaps doing something related to urban planning, my profession, or doing something related to New York City, my hometown. Neither of these, on their own, felt entirely authentic. I draw frequently during my free time, and some principles the art has taught me is to create something that is an extension of yourself. The authenticity and sincerity of that goal would reflect in the art as well.

When my colleagues would see my Charmander name tag, they would ask if I was a Pokemon fan and if I truly was a fan of Charmander. I would reply that while Charmander wasn’t necessarily my favorite, Squirtle was. Eventually I would find my way back to the Squirtle idea, and with it a realization that if nothing at all, it was a conversation starter. In urban planning/community development, getting people to come to a consensus and form an action plan is a difficult task. Not that Pokemon would necessarily solve this problem, but it would at least get people talking. 

I did not think I would seriously consider Pokemon as a vehicle to convey thoughts and the general philosophy around community engagement. But, given the weight of the research I do on a day to day basis, this felt at once a light departure from and a sudden arrival to my professional interests. I also decided to include other tidbits into my design– particularly, a title that I felt best conveyed my work, and a nod to my hometown and my current city. I’ve moved a lot in the last few years, so this piece felt relevant.

The conceptualization of the design was both frustrating and exciting. It required me to push myself to think differently about what I do, and about what a name tag does. While it’s important that the name tag reflect who I am, it was equally important that the name tag resonated with others. What exactly that would look like varies from person to person. Having friends and peers provide insight on my ideas in the initial phase was extremely beneficial. I was worried I would not have enough space to say all that I wanted to say, so in that respect I learned the importance of brevity and clarity. 

Sketching on Inkscape

Laser cutting time!

Final product!

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