FirdgeTop is a fridge surface application that allow family to connect even when they are far away by re-creating home-like experiences such as  photos, notes and space sharing. 




Sep 2011-May, 2012


Interviews, affinity diagram, personas, prototype, storyboard, culture probe, usability testing


UX researcher, interaction designer



The challenge of the CHI 2012 Student Design Competition was to "design an object, interface, system or service intended to help us to develop and share awareness, understanding or appreciation for our domestic experience as it relates to space, place and threshold." Due to our first phase research and interviews, and all of our team members current status, we decided to focus our project on international students who have temporary home experience outside their countries. As we learned, international students tries to rebuild home experience under the temporary stay of current home. However, it is hard to recreate home-like experience for them. Our goal was to find out how international students recreate home, especially when most of them live in a shared accommodation with roommates, and if we could address this problem with our design. 

Interview & Affinity Diagram

We began our project by interviewing 16 international students from various country, including China, India, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, and South Korea. All the interviewees had been in US for less than 2 years and are now at a temporary stage in their lives. We collected 289 notes from our interviews and created an affinity diagram. What we found:

  • Food, communication and memory objects are three categories that people relate to home.  


To further understand users' perception of home, we created a home-making model and in that we discovered that there are three phases to shape the perception of home. For international students, it is hard for them to recreate and extend home. 


Cultural Probe Study

Draw from our interviews, we further did culture probe study in kitchen space to see how people interact with the space and fridge surface. Ten objects are presented to users and they are asked to place wherever they want in the space; second stage, they are asked to place these objects in the kitche space, (they can also choose not to put them.) We found out that

  1. Personal and memorable items are usually hidden and not displayed in a public shared space.
  2. Memos, schedule and to-do-list tend to go online 
  3. Fridge remains to be the most interactive surface in the kitchen space. 



During the user research process, we hold several brainstorming session to collect team members design ideas. After iterations of design, we draw storyboard to illustrate use scenarios. We also sketch out our ideas before prototype to polish our thoughts. Finally, we came to a clear vision of our solution - fridgeTop - an interactive surface that connects distant family members by digitally replicating a common home-activity of placing items on the fridge surface. 


Design Solution

The main goal of the system is to revive the home-life experience of kitchen space in a shared accommodation. The proposed system consists three components: fridge, mobile, and desktop. Fridge is the core interactive and collaborative surface with the other two components provided for ease of content uploading. We try to provide a non-deliberate method of communication in kitchen space that mimicking the home-like experience of placing photos and messages on kitchen surface. 


Experience Prototype & User Testing

To validate our design concept and assumption, we use experience prototype to conduct user testing in a simulated environment.  We recruited 2 international students and 2 parents to get feedback from different perspectives. The testing was done on a mid-fi prototype using Keynote and projected the screen onto the fridge screen. Luckily, the testing went really well, people feel more connected to their family. "This makes sense! We used to do this at home!"



Out of 70 teams, our team was selected as the semi-finalists to present at ACM CHI 2012 Conference in Austin, Texas.