RGB Blinking Eye – Intro to Industrial Design

RGB Blinking Eye

A good amount of learning with littleBits is reverse engineering existing items, stripping them down to the building blocks of their electronic functions. After students have had a chance to experiment with LittleBits to reproduce, and even hack/personalize those concepts by creating their own circuits, they have a lot of ideas about what their inventions can do. This is when I like to shift the focus away from function for a while and introduce considerations of form and aesthetics to the students as integral to the design process.

Where does Art fit into the design process? What will our product look like? Are electronics usually exposed or hidden? What color will it be? How will it fit in with its environment? What will it be called?

Whose job is it to work with engineers and inventors to discover the answers to these questions? The Industrial Designer!

Up until now we have been experimenting with littleBits like engineers to prototype how electronic devices function. Now we are going to play the role of the industrial designers. Let’s pretend that we have a client who has asked our company to design a blinking eye. The engineering team has designed the electronic components, now it’s time for us, the design team, to come up with concepts for the look of the final product.

Lesson Objectives:

Students will use common art materials and littleBits to design and construct an RGB eye.

Students will learn the RGB additive color model and understand the concept of mixing colors of light.

Students will learn about and discuss concepts of collaboration in industrial design.

Students will work together to brainstorm ways to combine the finished pieces into an exhibit/installation.

Assessment Strategies:

Through observation, discussion and questioning instructor can assess students artistic abilities and understanding of the concepts of color mixing with light. Class work and follow-up work (i.e. written essay or further sketches) can be used to grade/test or assess education objectives.

Learning Standards:

National Core Arts Anchor Standards

#1. Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.

#3. Refine and complete artistic work.

#5. Develop and refine artistic work for presentation.

#11. Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding

NYS Arts Sandards, Visual Arts: Intermediate students will

1- produce a collection of art works, in a variety of mediums, based on a range of individual and collective experiences (a), identify and use, in individual and group experiences, some of the roles and means for designing, producing, and exhibiting art works and discuss ways to improve them (e)

2- use the computer and other electronic media as designing tools and to communicate visual ideas (b), understand the variety of careers related to the visual arts and the skills necessary to pursue some of them (d)

NYS SCienceCC 4.4

Observe and describe the properties of sound, light, magnetism, and electricity

Duration: Duration: 90 min – 2 hrs / 1 or 2 class sessions

Credits: Special thanks goes to Mrs. Sanft and Mrs. Sbarber from the Alice E. Grady School in Elmsford, NY.

Elementary (ages 8-10)
Middle School (ages 11-13)
High School (ages 14-17)
College/University (age 18+)


Makerspace Workshops

usb power (1)
pulse (1)
rgb led (1)
screwdriver (1)
random (1)
USB Power Adapter + Cable (1)
wire (Individual) (1)

Card stock/index card/paper plate 1

bright colored markers or
Pencil with eraser


STEP 1 : Intro to lesson – Lecture (5 min)

Introduce the lesson with examples appropriate for class level and curriculum.

Introduce the concept of industrial design as I did in the description above. Pose some questions to the class. For example – Where does art fit into the design process? What will our product look like? Are electronics usually exposed or hidden? What color will it be? How will it fit in with its environment? What makes people want to buy something? What will it be called? Whose job is it to explore and decide these questions? What is an Industrial Designer? Can you think of any industrial designers? What products do you think are designed well?

STEP 2 : Demonstration (10 min)

RGB Blinking Eye2

RGB Blinking Eye3
the next 3 steps

Demonstrate the technique to draw the eye:

-Draw an eye-like shape on white card stock or a paper plate with a pencil, not too big or small.

-Draw an outline around it for the eyelid, then two curves inside so it looks like a circle behind there.

-Draw a circle in the center for a pupil and any other features based upon your concept for the final look (i.e. eyelashes, tears, shooting hearts, $ symbols ) Have fun – get creative!

-Color the eye with markers based upon your concept for the final look or message.

-Cut out all the art from the plate first, then cut the details the way you want.

-Use a hole puncher or carefully push the tip of a pencil through to make the hole.
Flatten on back if needed.

STEP 3 : Classwork (30 min)

Students draw, color and cut to create an eye of their own design.

Encourage them to come up with a concept, design or color scheme.

Label back with name, date, version etc.


Lesson can be split into two sessions here.

STEP 4 : Demonstration (5 min)

RGB Blinking Eye4
LIGHT = RGB vs Pigment = RYB or CMY

Demonstrate how to make adjustments to littleBits.

Show how some bits can be adjusted with the screwdriver. Demonstrate how to set the rate of flashing and the color of the RGB LED.

The additive method of mixing colors of light (vs the subtractive method of mixing pigment) can be introduced at this time.Young/beginner students can just experiment to get the color they want and learn that way.

STEP 5 : Classwork (15 min)

RGB Blinking Eye5
Adjust these trimmers to get the color you want!

RGB Blinking Eye6
Use this diagram to build the blinking eye circuit.

Students assemble their littleBits circuits and adjust the rate and mix the color according to their concept.

STEP 6 : Demonstration (5 min)

RGB Blinking Eye7
Draw a cross over the eye to help center the RGB LED

RGB Blinking Eye8
Tape the RGB LED bit on like this. Don’t tape it too tight or it will bow.

RGB Blinking Eye9
Notice how the LED’s center is higher than the middle.

Demonstrate the technique to center and attach the eye:

-Draw a cross on the back centered over the eye hole to help center the RGB LED.

-Note where the LED is on the front – in the middle, but higher than center.

-Line the LED up face down over the cross on the back of your eye.

-Tape it down with blue painter’s tape so the bitsnap connectors are NOT covered as shown in the photo.

The blue tape is removable, reposition-able, and helps block light from coming out of the back of the eye!

STEP 7 : Classwork (10 min)

RGB Blinking Eye10

RGB Blinking Eye1

RGB Blinking Eye11
Can you even dye my eyes to match my gown?

Students attach artwork to littleBits and examine the finished results.

Students are instructed to link them together to see what happens. What would we have to do to get them to work in different ways? What other little bits could we use? Write down some of the ideas. How could we present those ideas without having the littleBits with us? (Make a diagram – make a sketchbook…)

STEP 8 : Class Discussion (10 min)

RGB Blinking Eye12
Use the eyes in this lesson as an example for intermediate students. Produce age/ability/time appropriate examples for your own lesson. Have fun!

RGB Blinking Eye13
Light for Eye 2.0 shows an example of changing the circuit to achieve different results

Projects are shared and discussion is encouraged.

Students brainstorm for ideas how to make the eyes behave in different ways using other littleBits. (i.e. Blinking Light 2.0)

Questions for discussion can include; How can we present them together for a client presentation, or at an art exhibit? Are these 2-D or 3-D? What other types of representational objects can we think of for littleBits beside eyes?

Create an installation in your school and have an art opening…
or make them into hearts instead…
or letters of a blinking sign…

I can’t wait to see what ideas you and your students will come up with!