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Thinking with our bodies

Aug 2021- May 2022,
Master dissertation


UX Research
Embodied Cognition Research
Design and healthcare futures
Kinesthetic empathy
Stakeholder engagement
Dance methodologies
Cross disciplinary research
Participatory design
Spatial analysis
Tacit knowledge design strategies
Performance studies
Interaction design
Environment design
Usability testing
User scenarios
Lesson plan integration
Teaching artists and NGO collaboration
Future of education


Project manager, stakeholder manager,
UX researcher, interaction and environment designer


In collaboration with
P.S. 270 Johann DeKalb school
Marie Janicek | Movement Expert 

Filzfelt Knoll


Our culture insists that the brain is the sole locus of thinking, feeling, and caring, an isolated space where cognition happens, much as the workings of my laptop are sealed inside its aluminum case.

Beginning in elementary school we are never explicitly taught to think outside the brain; we are not shown how to employ our bodies, spaces, and relationships in the service of intelligent thought.

Drawing from my personal experience of being a dancer, where I was trained to use my body to communicate and express my emotions,
how can we make the body a knowledgeable decision-maker in the design process of objects, buildings, and cities?

Exhibit at Pratt Shows 2022
Exhibit at Dutch Design Week 2022
Global Design Graduate shortlist 2022


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Use your head!


Use your head. How many times have you heard that phrase? Perhaps you’ve even urged it on someone else—a son or daughter, a student, an employee. Maybe you’ve muttered it under your breath while struggling with an especially tricky problem, or when counseling yourself to remain rational: Use your head!


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Illustration: Cognitive science assumes that the brain is the sole locus of thinking, feeling and caring

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Illustration: Momi process diagram



As a dancer, I was trained to listen to my body and use it as a tool of expression. The body is a powerful learning tool via action and gesture, and cognition is grounded in bodily experience. But this physical intelligence is merely understood and therefore limits human perception in everyday life.

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Project Video




Beginning in elementary school, we are taught to sit still, work quietly, and think hard—a model for the mental activity that will prevail during all the years that follow, through high school and college, and into the workplace. The skills we develop and the techniques we are taught involve using our heads: committing information to memory, engaging in internal reasoning and deliberation, endeavoring to self-discipline, and being self-motivated.

Placing children on the road to a lifetime of movement should begin early to ensure that they learn – and adopt − healthful practices and behaviors. Early childhood (ages 5-12) is associated with the fundamental movement phase of motor development. It’s a crucial time, during which daily learning experiences can exert a significant influence on how well children establish positive attitudes toward and appreciation of a lifetime of participation in regular, healthful physical activity.

Less than a quarter 

of children 6-17 years of age participate



of physical activity everyday

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Illustration: Embodied Cognition

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A range of qualitative and quantitative research methodologies was used to gain user insights. This included 1:1 interviews, movement workshops, teacher focus groups, ethnographic studies with children, visual observations, surveys, school visits, and spatial analysis. The workshops were run in collaboration with P.S 270 Johann Dekalb School, Marie Janicek, and teaching artists. It was crucial to engage a team of interdisciplinary stakeholders including teachers, artists, parents, healthcare experts, and government officials besides children to create a systemic solution on the basis of a participatory design approach. 

User Experience


Cross-disciplinary research was undertaken to understand dance methodologies, embodied cognitive sciences, architecture, and urban design to develop a relationship between performance and pedagogy. This ensured a rigorous proposed solution that can make contributions to relevant fields of knowledge. 

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Illustration: Stakeholder mapping

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Illustration: Design methodologies


Performance as research (PAR) methodology was used to enquire about new ways of learning in elementary school classrooms. This project calls for an interdisciplinary inquiry and proposes a new method of accumulating and documenting tacit knowledge as relevant data in research. 

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Points of intervention : Existing surfaces in elementary school classrooms 


User research and movement-based inquiry that was carried out at various points of the project identified global problems faced by teachers and students due to static classroom design and mentalistic lesson plans. These issues not only have implications on the way children learn and perceive knowledge but also affect their lifestyles in the future, influencing the design of cities, interactions, and objects.

Using new methodologies that place collaborative inquiry and performance studies at the core of the design process, this project proposes a tacit language of physical intelligence for dynamic city design through an interdisciplinary inquiry.

Design strategy

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Illustration: Backcasting

A tool that motivates the student to move and maneuver the brain into an optimally functioning state

Prototyping and testing


All aspects of the design (interaction design, environment, lighting, rug) went through multiple iterations during its development. This was done through continuous prototyping and testing to evaluate user experience and refine the design upon user feedback.

Ethical protocols were undertaken for user research and user testing for all age groups. All the data provided on this page have been approved by the respective persons and guardians.

Photo: Inspiration from elements of stage

Photo: Using a stage light for the experiement

Illustration: Iteration of the sensory rug

Photo: Shadow play

Illustration: Iterations of the performative light

Video: User testing the interaction

Photo: Color and light explorations

Photo: Final inspiration for the form of the light

Photo: User testing the prototype

Video: User testing the movement

Photo: Material and color exploration

Photo: Prototyping the form of the light

Photo: Testing the electronics


Momi is an assemblage of performative lights and a sensory movement rug to facilitate embodied learning in learning spaces for children to think and be in tune with their bodies. These tools promote social-emotional wellness, social inclusion, and personal literacy in elementary school classrooms.

Drawing parallels between performance and learning, Momi brings elements of light, sound and shadow play onto existing classroom surfaces that provide spatial cues for children aged between 6 and 12 years to learn using their bodies. These tools assist teachers to create embodied lesson plans and develop empathic collective experiences during or in between classes.

The performative light changes color in response to different sounds played on the tapping surface and the modular rug tiles provide a flexible tactile stage for children to move between classes. 

Design outcome

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Illustration: System diagram

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Rendering: Momi in its contextual environment

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Rendering: Assemblage of performative lights and a sensory movement rug

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Photos: Momi in use

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The interactive light uses stage light technology and changes color in response to different sounds played on the tapping surface. It comes in a set of 3 lights of different sizes affecting the quality of sounds played and functions similar to an instrumental drum. These lights can be stacked and put away, occupying less space in a classroom. 

They can be used in multiple ways. children can use the light as an instrument, for shadow play, or just use it as a seat during an activity.

Rendering: Performative light details

Photo : Momi in use

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Photo: Sensory rug details

Photo: Momi in use

The modular rug tiles provide a flexible tactile stage for children to perform and build empathy among peers, marking space in a classroom where they feel safe and vulnerable.

The children can use the textural footprints and color blobs patterns to guide their movement and heighten the haptic response.


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Photo: Product shots

"The light engages three different learning modalities; audio, visual and kinesthetic modalities. It helps the children listen and care for each other."
Mrs. Rhoders, 5th grade special needs teacher


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Illustration: User scenarios

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Illustration: User scenario: Interactive empathy building exercise at the start of a school day

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Illustration: User scenarios for Momi on a regular school day