CAIRN – a tangible apparatus for data visualization (Open Files)

As part of a research project to understand practices at NYU MakerSpace, we built a tangible apparatus for data visualization . It is composed of a wood top, mounted on wood leg pieces and colorful pieces and rods. Our design was inspired by the design of a similar apparatus in a Parisian Fablab (Gourlet and Dassé, 2017). We adapted our design to our specific research questions. This document explains how we designed and built  the CAIRN apparatus.  

                                                              Top view of CAIRN, NYU Tandon MakerSpace

                                                             Side view of CAIRN, NYU Tandon MakerSpace                         


CAIRN looks like a table and invites people to stand around it. It has a flat rectangular surface with rounded side.  For the mount, we built wooden table legs attached to the top using screws. It maps the 5 areas of the MakerSpace.

Visitors are invited to reflect on their activities. They are proposed twelve activities, organized in four dimensions. The four dimensions are represented by- rods, diamond shape, teardrop and circle.

  • First dimension “I am here for” (rods) aims to uncover the motivation for being in the space: for a project, for an event, by curiosity, or to hang out.
  • The second and third dimensions (respectively diamond and teardrop) distinguish between the mode of engagement – digital, with a computer, or physical, with a machine.
    • For each mode of engagement, there are three activities: “I made”; “I learned”; and “I shared”.
  • Fourth dimension (circle): in team or alone


We designed the shapes and laser cut them on an acrylic sheet. The holes in the table and pieces were created to enable people to insert rods to build their CAIRNS. The radius of the holes in pieces and table was matched with radius of the rod so, they could be inserted easily. To hold the rods, four boxes were created using transparent acrylic sheets. We built the design of the box using Make a Box, where we just added the dimensions for the height, width and depth.  

                                                                                The CAIRN Pieces

The illustrator files can be found –

  1. 2*4 sized table –

Tools used – Sketch for prototyping, Illustrator for hi-fidelity & laser cutting versions

Universal Laser Cutter for engraving on the top and drill for the holes


P. Gourlet, T. Dassé, 2017, “Cairn: A Tangible Apparatus for Situated Data Collection, Visualization and Analysis.” Proceedings of the 2017 Conference on Designing Interactive Systems.

Fayard, A-L, Bill, V. , Kush, S. and Nicolas, M, 2018, “ CAIRN: A Tangible Research Tool to Materially Visualize Practices in a Makerspace.” Proceedings of the 2018 ISAM Conference.


Design: V. Kush in collaboration with A-L Fayard and V. Bill

Fabrication and Production: M. Nicolas