An Exploration about Human Energy and Engagement

About the MA GDC

The MA in Graphic Design Communication at Chelsea College of Arts encourages a broad and diverse approach to thinking and practice to shape engaging and imaginative design solutions through material, media, technologies and people. It encourages the students to develop a critical thinking and explore specific issues through innovative and unexplored territories.

It encourages to develop a critical thinking and explore specific issues through innovative and unexplored territories.


Through the design and development of interactive experiences using physical structures and drawing machines, this project explores the concept of human energy and engagement. From an individual perspective to a collective one. From inside of the human body to its outside.


“Nada se pierde, todo se transforma” (Nothing is lost, everything is transformed) is a phrase that has been in my head for a long time. The first time I heard it was in a song written by the Uruguayan and Oscar award winner Jorge Drexler, Todo se transforma. However, the phrase belongs to the 18th-century French chemist and, “father of modern chemistry”, Antoine Lavoisier. The exact phrase is “Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed”. It is the law of conservation of mass and energy created by the chemist to explain how, in every process, mass and energy will never disappear. They are transformed into something different. This is the main concept to understand what I explored in this research; the transformation of human energy.

Through the design and development of interactive experiences using physical structures and drawing machines, this project explores the concept of human energy and engagement. From an individual perspective to a collective one. From inside of the human body to its outside.

The exploration started as a reflection of personal experiences. Then, it grew to an exploration about a collective conception of human energy and engagement, as well as, how I could explore that through my own research.

Energy is universal, it is something all of us own. It is what moves the universe and what makes every single individual move too. This research is an exploration to examine that energy in a very personal way but looking for the engagement of the audience at the same time.

Enjoy the journey.


The objective of this project was to explore the concept of human energy and engagement through the development of interactive design experiences using physical structures and drawing machines.

For many years I have been fascinated by the human body, the healthcare and fitness world. This issues worked as starting point for my research because they driven myself to explore and research about the human energy and how we use it. My motivation behind this initial research was to show my audience the potential that each individual has to “produce” energy and what they can do with it.

I started by exploring the history of gymnastics, physical activity and human-powered machines. Treadmills as muscle-powered engines originated roughly 4000 years ago. Their primary use was to lift buckets of water. Later, the system was adapted for gridding grain. First to be powered by humans, but then by animals. Until the appearance of electricity around 18th century, machines were fuelled by animal and carbon energy.

The Renaissance Era (1400 to 1600) was an important fresh start for the human-body studies. According to the French fitness-researcher Erwan Le Corre, it prompted a much greater and open interest in the body, anatomy, biology, health, and physical education. To find out about the first book published about physic exercise, it is necessary to go back to the year 1553, when the book “El Libro del Ejercicio Corporal” was written by the spaniard Cristóbal Mendez. It is described as the first book to “exclusively address physical exercise and its benefits; where exercises, games, and sports are classified, analysed, and described from a medical standpoint, and advice is offered on how to prevent and recover from injuries resulting from these physical pursuits”(Le Corre, 2016). Driven by this first book, in 1569 an Italian philologist (Girolamo Mercuriale) publishes “De Arte Gymnastica”, a book that is considered one of the most important basis for nowadays athletic studies.

The first work about physical exercise and machines was published in 1800. It was Gymnastik für die Jugend (Gymnastics For the Youth) by the German teacher and educator Guts Muths. Guts created his own school for the Gymastics Arts and wrote the textbook where he developed the basic principles of artistic gymnastics. It was in this publication where some devices to improve physical-activities where mentioned for first time. But it was only basic structures created to be obstacles for the athletes, not to help them to workout.


It was Francis Lowndes who in United States in 1796 created the “Gymnasticon”, an early exercise machine resembling a stationary bicycle which function was to exercise the joints, either in all parts of the body at once, or partially. This was the initial point for the development for workout-machines as we know today.

This is only one way to describe energy; physical energy, but it gave me the initial approach needed to start to explore and experiment by the design making.


The first group of outcomes took place after the first topic research. After exploring the history of human energy studies, I developed this objects and sculptures as a reflection about the issue. Although this outcomes were not a “machines or devices”, they became the primary approach to the idea of generating some type of device later.

The objective of this first approach was to explore different representations about how human energy. In order to achieve that purpose and inspired by the research done, I produced different objects as an exploration of visualizations of human energy. Inspired on the exploration about how human energy was represented though colour and textures in different context – Video-games or Tantric Buddhism for example -, I developed a series of physical representations of human energy. At the same time, reflected about human energy as a commercial product; developing a fictional packaging of a energy-based-product. Finally, I did what I consider the most influential and significant work of this stage; a wooden sculpture as a reflection of the first human-powered machine ever created for grinding grain.

These approaches had strengths and weakness points. As weakness, the physical representations of human energy and the energy-packaging exploration did not promoted any specific conversation about the issue. On the other hand, the treadmill sculpture was all the opposite. This sculpture made of wood and silver-painted, was the result of a reflection and exploration of the first human-powered machine ever created. The purpose of this machine was to grinding grain back in the 1800. The outcome was a very simple and minimalist sculpture that represented this exploration. That was a key point of the research because it did generated an effect over my audience and me. The sculpture did promoted a conversation and debate about human energy and machines, and it was at this point where I started to research about machines an its connection to the human energy.

As part of the research, I explored the design making by automata toys too. As an exploration about this method, I created a small wooden structure that represents the basic elements of an automata structure. The device consist on a hand-made wood device, where some pieces can be changed with others, and each one of that pieces can generate a different move though the human-powered movement. The objective of this creating, was to explore the possibilities of this system but also test the impact it could have on an audience.

The result was an interactive wooden device that could generate different movements depending on the pieces that were used. The exploration was a good approach to the design and wood-making. It allowed me to get in touch with the tools and design principles needed to design basic devices. As structure, it can be described as simple and transparent. It shows exactly how everything works without hiding any detail. Exploring the development of structures on a small scale allowed me to realize that it probably was not the best choice to take. The device did not generated or produced any conversation about human energy by itself. However, it was a good exploration of a system, and a potential way to explore the topic in a bigger scale -but not at that scale-. The size or scale played an important role and the device was too simple to generate any reflection about the issue. Probably, a good way to push this exploration could be recreating this device in an unusual scale; like Jeff Koons sculptures.


After the first approach to the design and production of devices, I created my own drawing machine powered by human energy.

The objective of this project was to create some simple device to transform human energy into a design expedience. It was not going to be a sophisticated device. The function was going to be simple: to transform basic hand-powered movements into graphic traces. The materials used were natural wood, compressed wood, nails and white string.

Aesthetically it looked rough and crude and the functionality was violent and unrefined. All these factors made the device unusual and appealing. The most important thing was that it allowed to generate a graphic-design-experience though the use of human energy.

I experimented with the device in many ways. I created some graphic patterns with this device by exploring different materials and by using the device with variations and different intensity of energy.

As second stage of this research I explored different outcomes generated by this device. On one hand, I experimented different possibilities of processing the patterns created with the machine. I used a scan in order to generate diverse distortions and generate new digital images. On he other hand, I decided to generate a sculpture after a process of reflection and observation of the device created.



An initial work-brief proposed from the MA tutors, asked us to generate a trap as a way to engage a specific audience into our projects. I linked this brief to my research, and created a drawing machine as an obstacle. The result was a wooden triangular structure with the size of two people, which people had to move in order to go though a corridor. Hanging from the structure, some markers were going to be the responsible of tracing down every move in a paper sated up on the floor.

The machine produced very useful outcomes. Though the movement, it generated a very interesting design pattern on the floor-paper. But observing how people interacted with the device was probably the most valuable result.

This device completely achieved the objective I was looking for. It effectively generated an interactive design experience where human energy was transformed into a design experience.

As a second stage and exploration of this project, experimented with the device by using paintbrushes instead markers and forcing the machine to generate a paint-based result for a video exploration and documentation. The result of this experience was greatly positive too. A white floor paper of 11 by 1.30 meters worked as canvas for a very interesting brush-paint session that reflected the possibilities of developing a diverse range of paint-expressions with the device. As result, the device registered in bold-black and bold-red the movements depending on the strength applied to the movements.

This second exploration of the device was exiting and engaging. As happened with the energy-drawing machine, this device displayed a simple and transparent operation. It made clear and evident a way how human energy can be transformed into a design outcome. That simplicity made the artifact very attractive and entertaining. The only negative point was that I did not have an audience being part of it. After some feedback and reflection, I realized that the interaction of people with the device was an element that made that performance unique. Consequently, I took the decision of adding this element on my next exploration.



At this point of the process, I had a clear methodology and outcomes to move on with the research. However, following the last exploration a new element came up to be considered: the concept of collective energy. I decided to explore the potential of group interactions with a device and also systems to engage the audience with the structures.

I developed a virtual prototype of a new collective drawing machine powered by human energy. The concept was the same applied to the trap-device; a wood structure that could trace human energy movements through a simple and transparent system. I generated a 3D version and a video as a expression of the device. This exploration gave me the possibility to investigate and try different structures and explore an interesting and diversity amount of virtual movements.

After that, I build it at the wood workshop looking to use it on the final show.



In order to explore the use of the machines with an audience, I decided to develop a structure with one specific objective: it should be small enough to be moved from one place to other without major difficulties. The objective behind this was to explore the possibilities of the project in different public spaces with the participation of strangers.

The new structure had a width no longer than 30 centimetres and a height of 130 centimetres. This dimensions allowed me to move the machine from one point of the city to other and explore what could happen if I just put all the materials in a specific and crowded place.

The results of the experience were exceptional. I had for first time some neutral interaction and feedback from random users about my project and the way the structures worked. A new element I added for this exploration was the time limitation. The purpose of this limitation was to transmit a sense of time-pressure for the users to use the structures. I made this by installing signals saying that the project was going to be there only for 30 minutes.

I developed this experience it two different places: Southbank area and outside of Pimlico tube station. I wanted to explore two very different scenarios: a crowded and touristic area, and an office not-very-busy area.

Developing this experience gave me great inputs to improve my project. I had a face-to-face experience with strangers using my structures and discussing about the project.


After exploring the project in a public space and with the participation of random people, I decided to create a final machine/structure with some improvements for the final show. This last structure had a better shape in order to facilitate the way it works and I also decided to use permanent markers instead of paint brushes. That last change was a recommendation from the tutor in order to make the process more easy-to-use and cleaner.

As result of this last improvements, I build a very stable structure with some wood-blocks that worked as markers-supports. I also decided to implement the permanent-markers-system in all the structures for the final show.

However, before the final show I needed to explore with one of the structures in a public space with an audience. That is why I decided to take the mobile machine and use it again on a public space.

Other decision I made after the last experience, was to create a system and rules in order to generate a significance on the material produced. I created a stamp in order to specify date and time of usage of each machine. With that system, it is possible to compare one material produced during a specific time in comparison to other.




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