The Door


'The Door' is a design research and experimental intervention that challenges the perception of a door being open and closed, using a door as the metaphorical vehicle. The project is for course Development Project 2 in spring term, 2020, instructed by Elise Co and Elizabeth Chin.




Design research, Interaction


2020 Spring


This research is conducted during quarantine and the study subject is the behavior of myself. A repetetive behavior of mine is always keep the door shut to prevent my cat from getting in. It’s a common experience for the cat owners that they should always keep the door closed: Cats might get out of the house and get lost. Cats want to occupy the washing machine and get in it as soon as they find an opportunity. Cats love getting into closets because they love dark places but you don’t always want them to do so. Cats can get in the bathroom to tear up your toilet paper...

Combining another observation from in-class group discussion with Nanyi Jiang: A tiny detail might influence the entire interaction and results in have different outcomes. The question becomes: How to make people remember to close the door by adding a little friction to the workflow? Specifically speaking, the friction means a specific moment during an interaction that can prevent participants from completing their tasks smoothly and painlessly to make them pay attention to their behaviors.

My intervention to the original workflow is asking the participant always keep a piece of paper between the door and its frame.

The original workflow is:   Open the door → Leave (→ Sometimes close the door and sometimes do not.)  

The intervention:   Open the door → Take down the paper in the crack of the door → Close the door and put the paper back to the crack → Leave.


Requirements: Ask the participants to keep a piece of paper/card in the cracks of any doors in their rooms. Keep this behavior for 10 hours.

Doors includes: Regular room doors such as bedrooms, bathrooms and patios; Household appliances doors, such as washer & dryer, dishwasher, closet, etc.

Photos taken by participants

Feedback from the participants including:

- It bothers.

- It takes effort to keep the paper in the right place.

- An observation: One participant’s roommate Murray saw the paper and didn’t know it was, but did put the paper back to the door after using the bathroom.  

- The intervention doesn’t work when it comes to situations like you have things in hands, or you are in a hurry.

Accordingly, the reflections are:

- The friction is too much so that it causes inconvenience.

- Material matters. In the test, I ask the participants to use any paper they can find, and as a result, sometimes the paper falls down. With right material, participants would complete the movement more easily.

- The intervention does work in terms of making people keep the doors closed.

- The friction is hard to accomplish and it disturbs the original workflow.

From current phase of research, I raised the following questions:

- Why home as a place that is supposed to be safe becomes dangerous for cats, and we have to use doors to “protect” them?

- How to change the friction so that it doesn’t disturb the original workflow?

- Why people who don’t know the intention of the paper can correctly use it without being instructed?

- How does imitation happen? Is it because Murray could tell the paper is intentionally put there?

- How do we tell whether an action we see is intentionally made or not?

- Is it because Murray didn’t know where else to put the piece of paper? (When you have to take something down and there is nowhere to put it, you will probably keep it in the original place. How to use this observation?)

- Does the height of where the paper is placed matter? If I place it high up to the ceiling or low to the ground, will he put the paper back to its original place?

- How far you can push someone to do something? Say, asking them to place the paper in a very specific height or extending this test from 10 hours to a week?

Narrow Down

From all the questions I have, I narrowed down my research topic. One observation comes from the deployment is that: when the door is open, the “switch(status)” of the friction is on, which means the participants will have to think about putting the paper back; and when the door is closed, the friction is off. To learn about this observation further, I designed another test: Attach the paper to the doorknob with a string, and put the paper between the door and its frame. See if participants will put the paper back after they open the door. The result is all the participants didn’t put the paper back, and the paper can’t change their decision about whether close the door or not.

From this test I came to two conclusions:

  1. The impulse of putting the paper BACK is the key to the action of closing the door.
  2. The ON/OFF status of the friction has to be synchronous with that of the door. In this case, the friction isn’t turned on because the paper is attached to the doorknob and won’t fall down, and as a result, the friction didn’t effectively change participants’ behavior.

Next: Amplify the Impulse

Now that I have known the key to effectively changing participants’ behavior, which is their impulse to put the paper pack, I will try to design something that dramatically amplify the impulse and make them close the door.

I had following tests:

1. Design a door has a screen inside. Every time the door is closed, the picture changes, which makes the participants want to close the door and see what shows up next. I wanted to make a physical prototype with LED screen panel, potentiometer and cardboards, but didn’t do it because of time limitation (delivery was stopped too at that time).

2. I designed a virtual version of the door above using HTML. The picture changes on every mouse click and the door opens and closes accordingly. The critique of this design choice is - The participants intend to close the door because they want to open the door to see what’s next, which means their ultimate goal is to open the door. This is ironically opposite to my initial goal.

To make a better ‘door’, I had a quick research on what type of content drives the participants mouse click more times to see the upcoming contents by designing a web page that calculates the number of mouse click.
The result is images make views more curious about what is coming next.

Final Project

The final project is simple. It is a door that has a screen on the outside which is playing an annoying animation. The animation stops only when the door is closed.

I made the door using HTML (which actually had some technical problems in the end). I always want to make it into a physical model. The virtual door is a souvenir from pandemic period, though.

Outcome & Reflection

The design duplicates the “switch” observation. When the door is open, the friction, which is an animation, is on. Only when the door is closed, the friction turns off. In this way, the action of closing the door is emphasized and celebrated.

The switch-on-and-off observation leads to a critique of the metaphorical perception of “open” and “close”. A open door has been a symbol of possibilities because it provides a way out and has a view of what lies ahead, while a closed door symbolizes an ending. The design of “the door” reverses these two perceptions. In this design, the open door is dazzling and unwelcoming, which actually represents a status of “closed”. The materiality is a key factor in the design. Comparing to one of the iterations I imagined (hanging a screen on the door), making the whole door into a big screen amplifies the feeling of being annoyed by the open door.

The project started slightly ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic, and then everything shut down. I never thought the project would end like this. Initially I expected something physical, but in the end, it turned out to be a few lines of code. This project is very special to me in this way.