An interactive tea set meant to bridge generational gaps between Asian elders and kids by facilitating meaningful conversations through having tea together
Alvin Jeong
Huiran Li
Andrew Tang
5 Weeks
After Effects
Laser Cutter
How might we bridge the generational gaps between Asian elders and kids in a non-intrusive and familiar way?
In my undergraduate design course that explores advanced interaction models beyond screen-based graphical user interfaces, our group was tasked with designing a solution to close the cultural barriers between Asian elders and kids so that the two could learn more about each other.

We found that these cultural barriers were influenced by traditional teachings about displaying emotions and the belief in the idea that the head of the family should never show weak or fragile emotions.

Inspired by the Pu’er tea ceremony, we designed an interactive tea set that prompted questions about cultural topics to facilitate in-depth conversation and reduce the cultural stress between two users.
My Role
My role in this project involved leading design direction and filming our video prototype. I also learned how to create visual effects in Adobe After Effects.
Conversations Through Tea
1. Start a conversation through tea using the tea tray.
2. Activate questions by lifting the tea cups off the tray.
3. Answer questions by placing tea cups on a response in order to gauge and respond to your partner's response.
4. Responses should trigger further discussion about the question, allowing for more meaningful conversation.
How Did We Get Here?
In brainstorming on the wellbeing aspect of the home, we all resonated with the topic of living alone because of its potential effects on mental health. In focusing on mental health, we curated a list of assumptions about living alone, which provided us with context and potential topics to explore.

People who live alone might...
In order to further explore these assumptions, we interviewed our relatives who have lived alone before. Some conversations that stood out were the ones with our grandparents, because it was difficult to talk to them about emotional topics. We learned that this was mainly due to a cultural barrier about displaying emotions.

This generation grew up in a time where the head of the family should never show vulnerability. It was often hard for us to ask our elders about their life stories because they were uncomfortable talking about their emotions and feelings while living alone.

We chose to address this challenge by designing a solution that could help reduce this cultural barrier and facilitate meaningful conversations and storytelling between Asian elders and kids. In order to do that, our solution needed to give our elders the comfort to communicate freely, which led to the creation of our challenge question:
How might we bridge the generational gaps between Asian elders and kids in a non-intrusive and familiar way?
Through storyboard ideation, we chose a use case that focused on using tea as a medium of conversation.
Pu'er Tea
Through some online research we discovered a tea ceremony process for Pu’er tea in which tea impurities like dust and dirt are cleansed multiple times before drinking. This provided a great metaphor in which conversation can cleanse cultural barriers.
We thought a tea set that facilitates and prompts conversations could create potential for interesting interactions and we sketched out an initial idea that would eventually become our physical prototype. In order to map out how items in a tea set would interact with each other, we designed a user flow and journey map to help us visualize touch points and streamline our thinking.
User flow describing our conversation thought process and interaction with other tea set items
Journey map that aligns a tea conversation with emotions, actions and interactions in order to visualize user behavior
Making it IoT
We also thought it could be interesting if tea set experiences could be saved as data and used to improve or reflect on the past. While we included it into our journey map, we tabled our discussion on it.
Version One
We designed a wood prototype that used tea cups as controllers and a small screen on each side that showed questions.

We tested this prototype by having participants discuss a topic while drinking tea, observing where participants were placing their tea cups.

We found that participants weren’t placing their cups onto the tea set because the screen took up a lot of space, which gave us the idea to utilize the entire tea set surface as an interface. This way there was room for the tea cups to interact more with the tea set surface.
Version Two
We prototyped another version in which we envisioned the entire surface to be interactable. Our goal for version two was to consider how putting teacups and a teapot onto the tray could trigger the interface.
Prompts & Questions
I held a brainstorming session with some of our research participants and asked them what kinds of questions they wanted to know about each other. I then categorized these questions into four categories: yes or no, choose a side, scale of 1 to 5, and free response. The placement of tea cups could act as visible answer indicators that could prompt each user to react and elaborate on their choice.
We also designed versions of our questions in different languages to communicate further approaches of reducing cultural barriers.
Final Design
We projected our questions onto the top of the interface to communicate the design, focusing on showing teacup placement and interactions.

After tea has been poured, the conversation starts once the tea cups are lifted from the surface. The interface prompts the users with a question and the user must place their tea cup on an answer on the surface. The visible placement of cups would allow for users to discuss their answers and talk further.
Short Film
Our final design and film was shown to our class, along with a panel of design faculty and alumni. We were praised for our ability to utilize the entire tea set surface as an interface, re-imagining how tea drinking can improve conversation, and focusing beyond individual well-being through designing for family ties.
Next Steps
Future Directions
As I mentioned earlier, we wanted the tea set conversations to be recorded as data and be used to improve and analyze conversations. During the course of the project, we compiled a list of ideas of IoT mechanisms and questions that we wanted to explore further:
We tended to sometimes stray away from the design in designing for ourselves. We considered ourselves part of the younger relative persona because we also had questions that we wanted to ask our elders. Time and time again we had to remember to consider our other relatives and family members themselves. I think if this project were to be redone, I would probably spend some time interviewing people who weren’t relatives of ours to reduce possible biases.