Time Portals: An interactive installation prototype


Designing an interactive installation, ‘Experience of Edinburgh’ for a location of my own choice, based on conducted observations and interviews, producing an interactive prototype and design fiction. The target audience was unknown until observations and ethnographic research, which was part of the project



  • Designing multimedia projects that make appropriate use of physical, aural, visual, time-based and interaction components to convey a message and reinforce its content
  • Identifying the appropriate technology to design a product or installation
  • Developing working prototypes to appropriately augment an interactive product or installation.

Chosen location 

West Parliament Square is a fragment of the oldest part of Edinburgh and it is placed next to main tourist destination, High Street. In contrast to the busy walkway, West Parliament Square is usually a quiet place. The location is quite spacious, closed with offices buildings and St. Giles’ Cathedral, and open from the Royal Mile side.


After the initial, historical research ten observations were conducted to gather data about the audience and activities witnessed. During some of the last observations four interviews were conducted to acquire more specific information about users. Read more about the research part of the project.

Results of observations




The majority seems to be tourist, interested in history and architecture of the city. Many of them do not speak fluent English. They are usually organised in small or medium groups. The second types of the audience are single or small group of people using the space to have some rest: pedestrians, shoppers, and staff from the nearby shops, restaurants, and offices.


Activities and social use of the space

Tourists usually start to use the space with a guide, take photos, look around, and learn about its history. Due to lack of sitting spaces they usually stand up or sit on the side of the space and the middle part seems to be unused most of the time. The second group of users usually uses the space for a moment to relax during shopping, walking or lunch break. Office workers never stop at the location and use it only as a path or a shortcut to the offices, never interacting with the space.



To summarise 10 conducted interviews with various types of users of the space, reappearing subjects are:

  • lack of seats
  • relaxing atmosphere
  • historic contexts of the location
  • a need for an intervention.

Initial thoughts about location

It seems to be very often empty. Consequently, the initial idea is to disrupt this state and attract more attention to it. The location seems to be unattractive and boring. It is also not public friendly location because there is clearly a lot of free space but no seats or benches.




Possible solutions

An interactive stage for street performers – the idea would include sound system including amplifiers synchronised with lights and on-screen visualizations, build in speakers, and some sitting spaces for the audience. However, this idea does not include an active type of interaction with the audience, just passive perception of show while one performer interacts with the stage. Therefore, this idea was abandoned.

Three interactive ‘portals’ connecting user with another dimensions of the location: past, present and future. An inspiration for this idea was historical character of the space. The concept was to show part of the history of the location and to engage the audience with immersive, visually pleasing, and playful experience. This idea could potentially incorporate all of the needs of the target audience and the character of the location. The experience would make user contemplate relativity of time and its relation to space.

Taking into consideration findings, conclusions and recommendation from the report, Time Portals Project design fiction was produced. The design considered the best location for the installation from the audience point of view, but also leaving enough space for other activities at the location.

from side


Design and Development

3 doors portals and seats with application controls and decorative solar clock on the top level of the bench.

The structure of the bench and controls for each portal seen from the top. Left: The Future portal, controlled with twitter hashtags. Middle: The Past portal controlled with the Morse code. Right: The Present portal controlled with the keyboard.


The portal shows distorted reality, which react on the messages inserted using keyboard. The user type the message, press enter and the message is displayed on the screen but also the effect of the liquid increase for a moment. Technical consideration: a keyboard,  MaxMSP and screen mounted into door frame a camera pointed at the cathedral.


fiction - cathedral

fiction - cathedral 1

structure now


The portal shows the old version of the street but the way of sending a message ‘back in the past’ is the old technology, the Morse code. System changes the code into text and display on the screen. There is an instruction for the code and the old wooden button to enter the code. Similar to other portals the effect increases after the message. Technical consideration: Arduino board, pressure sensor, MaxMSP, a screen mounted into door frame, a camera pointed at the High Street or old footage of the street.


fiction - royal mile 1


fiction - royal mile

structure past


The portal simulates a future version of the place behind the portal. Similar to other portal the effect  increase after twitter message. The user must use the hashtag to send the message to the future. Technical consideration: a user has access to Twitter • MaxMSP screen mounted into door frame, a camera pointed at the spot behind or VFX footage of the spot.


fiction - other side 1

fiction - other side


MAXMsp interactive prototype of the effects for each part:

from side