Barthes’ Pillow

We created a speculative design object to explore people’s relationships with their smartphones. The object is an instrumented pillow case. Each night, you lock away your phone in a slot in the pillow case. When first locked away, it makes subtle heartbeat sounds with matching lighting effects for a short period of time, just to let you know your phone is inside. During the night, if you move a lot or bump the pillow case, another brief light pattern lets you know that your phone is still inside.

Inside the pillow case is a box with the slot for the phone, and electronics to create the behaviours. The presence of a phone in the slot is detected using a microswitch. An internal battery powers the pillow case for several nights. We used this in a diary study in which participants slept with the speculative design object for three consecutive nights.

Publication + Resources


Open electronics enclosure showing a battery, some circuit boards, wires, and a speaker.
I custom designed a 3D-printed box to house the electronics powering the pillow. When a phone is inserted, a microswitch triggers the behaviour. I made the interactive heartbeat effects with seven red LEDs arranged as a filled circle. To play the heartbeat sound, I included a microSD card-based MP3 breakout board. An Arduino Pro Mini drives the lights and sounds. I used a “shake switch” (a spring-vibration sensor) to detect when participants move around during the night. I programmed the device to log key events to the Arduino EEPROM for our analysis during the study.