Clipper, A Campus Safety Device

My Roles: Developing research plans and conducting research; interpreting research results; ideation and prototyping ; running User Enactments with other team members


As a team, we built Clipper to respond to the lack of portable and functional safety devices for campus students. Following Interviews, Diary Studies, Cultural Probes, and User Enactments, we decided to create a sensor-based portable device that, as its name suggests, can be easily clipped to students’ belongings. Clipper departs from existing safety devices, most of them in the form of phone applications, in its elegant design and incorporation of the ”Internet of Things.

See the Video Enactment for our device.

video snapshot
Video Enactment: Clipper, a Safety Device



The following research problems underpin the conceptualization of our design concept:

  • Understand what makes students safe/unsafe on campus
  • Discover actions students take when feeling at risk
  • Evaluate students’ needs for safety devices

Research Methods

Four our primary research we used the following qualitative methods:

  • 6 Interviews with University of Michigan students
  • 2 Diary Studies (Media Elicitation Studies)
  • 1 Cultural probe
  • 7 User Enactments, testing 6 different scenarios

A detailed description of our Secondary Research can be found here.


Interview Participants: We conducted 6 interviews with University of Michigan students, three of whom were male and three others female. Our participants were selected from both the undergraduate and graduate student population for more diverse and reliable results.

Interview Process: Two interviews were conducted by phone, with the rest being conducted in person.  Interviews varied from 15 to 20 minutes in duration. Our Interview Protocol can be found here.

Diary Studies (Media Elicitation Studies)

Participants: Two female students volunteered to participate in our diary studies: 1 freshman and 1 senior.

Process: We followed up with our interviewees and invited them to participate in our diary study. Diary study participants were given two tasks:  1). to take photographs of places where they felt unsafe and bring them to the follow-up interview; 2). to choose and bring to interview an object that makes them feel safe.

We designed the diary study to understand contexts in which students feel unsafe. We also wanted to understand what types of objects make students feel protected. Our Diary Study protocol can be found here. At the end of the diary study, we followed up with a 25-minute interview in which we talked at length with each participant about the pictures taken and the object brought to the interview.

Cultural Probes

Participants: Graduate Students in the School of Information at the University of Michigan.

Process: In order to elicit more data and to differentiate between the the notion of safe and unsafe environments, we designed a cultural probe. More specifically, we used foamcore to build a box, which we placed in the School of Information’s Graduate Lounge.  Graduate students were asked to answer anonymously two questions, as shown in Fig. 1 below.  A week later, we had 15 responses.

Picture of cultural probe designed by SI students showing a box
Fig. 1 Cultural Probe, University of Michigan School of Information

Study Results

Following this initial set of research methods, we met as a team to go through, tabulate, and analyze all the information. We used the following methods of analysis to interpret the data:

  1. Interview Coding
  2. Word Cloud to visualize data from the Cultural Probe
  3. Empathy Map

More on our methods of analysis, including detailed description of concept development, can be read in the Formative Study for our project.

Based on the above research findings, we sketched out three design concepts:

  1. Never Alone: People derive safety not from devices but from having friends and other companions with them. Based on this finding, we decided to incorporate ubicomp elements such as the hologram in our design.
  2. Beyond Wearables: Our interviewees were skeptical of wearables, feeling they were either overpriced, whence our decision to move beyond designing a safety wearable.
  3. Eliminate Fear through Design: Respondents felt fearful partly because of the barage of campus alerts.We decided to consider a design concept that made place safer by incorporating sensors and lights on dark streets.

Some of our sketches reflecting the above concepts are below.

never alone, sketch of our design concept
Design Concept: Never Alone
Design Sketch of the concept beyond wearables
Design Concept: Beyond Wearables
Sketch of design concept eliminate fear by design
Design Concept: Eliminate fear through design

User Enactments

For our next round of research, we decided to test some of our futuristic design concepts, such as holograms and the Internet of Things, by using User Enactments.

User Enactments are particularly popular in ubicomp design because they can test the limits of ubicomp devices and their acceptance by users. As a method, a user enactment recreates the setting as realistically as possible, asking participants to enact the situation and recording their reactions to cutting edge futuristic technologies.


We recruited 5 graduate and 2 undergraduate students at the University of Michigan, as detailed in the table below. We used the first participant to pilot our UE test.


We conducted 7 user enactments (UE), including one pilot test, testing 6 different scenarios as detailed below. We used user enactments to test users’ reactions to particular types of technologies that we deemed futurist, intrusive, and encroaching on users’ privacy. Following each UE, we used a short questionnaire to get users’ insights on the technologies tested. All UE were video recorded with participants’ permission.

Design of User Enactments 

Each user enactment was designed with an eye to testing major criteria we had identified in earlier research stages: 1) users’ tolerance to loss of control when confronted to autonomous devices; 2) users’ comfort with anthropomorphic technologies; 3) users’ concern about privacy issues, especially given the pervasive technology we had in mind; 4) and users’ reaction to the technological surveillance and ubiquity of devices (what we called the “Big Brother effect”). The scripts of our enactments, including a description of the setting and UE results, can be accessed here.

User Enactments: Testing the Hologram Concept
Screen-Shot, dark room and a closeup of a moving eye
Scene from User Enactments






Our user enactments yielded the following results:

  1. Users preferred to have an object in their hands when feeling in danger
  2. Most users felt the Hologram was the type of technology they would avoid in the future
  3. Users had mixed feelings about remaining in control of their technologies
  4. Participants found the Internet of Things compelling
  5. Privacy was not a concern for participants

Final System Proposal

Following our research, we created the following new list of criteria to define our final design concept:

  1. Tangible Design: Based on users’ preferences for holding the book during the enactment, we decided to reconsider our design concept to include a tangible object that users could hold and find useful in dangerous situations. We decided that we would consider attaching sensors to objects students carry with them on a daily basis.
  2. Internet of Things: Following our participants’ positive response to the Internet of Things, we decided to create a device that incorporates synchronization with other sensors and devices.
  3. Sensitivity: Because participants showed concern about the sensitivity of sensor-based devices in general we decided to ensure that the device would not go off mistakenly and place accidental calls to DPS.
  4. User Control: Because participants had mixed feelings about giving too much control to technologies, we decided that our final prototype should incorporate ranging degrees of control by the user, depending on the severity of the situation.

Design Concept

Based on the above criteria, we created our refined concept and prototyped it. Our final prototype consists of 1). the safety device itself and 2). a mobile application. To respond to users’ comfort with concrete objects, we moved away from the typical invisible or minuscule devices and phone applications. Instead, we prototyped a small device in the shape of a paper clip that we called Clipper.

As its name suggests, Clipper can be attached to students’ belongings, from backpacks and books to sweaters and jackets. A phone application is needed at the very beginning to set up the device and connect it to several phone numbers: that of friends, campus security, and the police. Consisting of a series of sensors, Clipper can connect users in danger either to friends or security, depending on the situation. The device has two buttons that allows users to pre-set their calls so that, when feeling at risk, they can simply press the button to alert the desired persons.

Clipper also works in situation of maximum danger when users have little time to react to their environments. In this case, sensors in the device can read users’ physical data, interpret the situation, and decide on the need to alert the police. When the wearer becomes incapacitated,  the sensor also begins capturing audio, creating documentation for potential future investigations.


Final sketch, the prototype, and snapshots of the mobile application for Clipper can be found below.

final skecth of clipper showing it being attached to objects
Final Sketch: Clipper, portable and easily attachable to objects


image of the device Clipper pinned to a person's sweater
Closeup of the Final Protoype


snapshot of the Home Screen of the mobile app for Clipper
Mobile Application for Clipper: Home Screen

snap shot of screen shot: Pair Device


screen for Check your device
Mobile App Clipper: Check your Device
Screen pf Pair alerts for the device
Mobile App Clipper: Alerts