case study

A device for distant socializing that embraces non-explicit communication.


During the pandemic, I wanted to create a tool that allows people to feel closer together without using direct communication.


This project brings together a lot of my capabilities, since it involved industrial design, physical computing, and software development.

FlipDot Communicator
FlipDot Communicator


Closer together

Most distant communication happens literally. Texts, voice messages, and video calls are a major way of staying in touch if people are not able to meet in-person.

The FlipDot Communicator is a device that allows for more subtle ways of connecting. Similar to the ambiance of sitting together in a room, the messages appear with soft and erratic flipping sounds, hinting that another person is thinking of you.


Technical Drawing
[1] Technical Drawing

industrial design

The Case

The flip-dots are the highlight of the device, and are emphasized in the design. Apart from the dots, the case has only one interaction point, a single button on the bottom right. The flip-dots serve as a grid for both the display and the construction of the case.

To allow for different use cases, the case includes multiple variants of setting it up. It can be hung on a wall or put on a shelf or desk. A slight tilted angle puts the display in a more comfortable reading position. Two phone-jack connectors act as a power input, enabling the different setups.

→ Building instructions can be found here.


Subtle Communication

A person sitting next to you, existing in the background, is still a form of communication and intimacy. Even though they are not directly interacting with you, you still recognize their presence. The subtle sound of flip-dots flipping resembles this presence.

Flip-dots are a fascinating medium to work with. The limited, binary display matrix acts as a constraint, which has been an interesting challenge. A single allows for the receiving interaction.

The messaging system consists of brief predefined animations, a timer as a ‘three minutes before a meeting’ preparation indicator, and a small drawing editor to send personalized icons.

Interaction model
[1] Interaction model

physical computing


I focused on creating a high quality prototype of the device. You can find a couple of images of the production process here:

The Parts
[1] The Parts
Building the case
[2] Building the case
[3] Assembly

software architecture


Since it is a communication tool, the FlipDot Communicator needed to have a setup that has internet connection. With its on-board WiFi, an ESP32 was the natural choice for the micro controller. A Firebase database functions as the real-time database. To send messages, a website works as the input interface.

GitHub GitHub Repository
software architecture
[1] software architecture

challenges of online-only

Test Setup

I wanted to give everyone the chance to experience the communicator. Given the limitations of online classes, I had to come up with a different solution for people to receive messages, so I built an interactive online version of the communicator. It allows for people to test the message system for themselves, but to send and receive messages to all other instances of the website and the physical communicator.

The website is built using react and next-js.

Go to project website
The website test setup
[1] The website test setup

final outcome

The FlipDot Communicator

Asking for a coffee
[1] Asking for a coffee
Displaying a message
[2] Displaying a message