Interactive Public Service Advertisement

Interactive public service advertisement(PSA) aims to increase the impact of PSA by converting it into an embodied experience. It maps the audience’s body movement to that of a virtual character in PSA, increasing the effect of empathy toward the public issue and the subject.

The project is a master thesis project at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology.

PROJECT Timeline

Jan – June 2019


Social change


UX research and analysis
Kinect programming
Interaction design
Content design


Unity Kinect SDK
Adobe Fuse

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link to the thesis

01. Problem statement

Public service advertisement(PSA) today doesn’t take into account the people they are targeted to, the public, which means they are not as effective as they could be.

I sought out to involve the public in designing new PSAs to drive empathy and make them feel more actionable.

02. Solution

  • Designed three interactive PSAs where users get mapped to the augmented sufferer character and experience the pain they are going through.
  • Proved the affectivedness of the embodied PSA on increasing empathy towards the social issues and the sufferers.
  • Suggested design guidelines for embodied PSA from user testing analysis.

03. Process

The project was conducted as my Master’s thesis at KAIST, where I worked as the main contributor wearing different hats as UX researcher and Kinect experience designer and programmer.


Competitive research
Co-design workshop

Design iterations

Scenario design
Level manipulation
Pilot tests

Evaluation and analysis

User testing
Qualitative, quantitative, video analysis
Design guidelines
thesis paper

04. Research

I started with the field research, looking into the principles of PSA and how they approach to enhance the compassion on the issues. From the field research, I found the advent of interactive PSAs where they used new forms of digital media to deliver the issues.
To prove the effectiveness of their approaches and to find the design gap, I conducted a competitive analysis. Multiple PSAs used Kinect to engage passersby, where they interacted with the subjects.
However, the current practices left the audience as the third person. This way, it’s insufficient to communicate the seriousness of the issue, compared to the first-person point of view method that most venues are taking, such as a serious game.

Field research

Looked into principles of PSA and how other interactive works approach to enhance compassion

Competitive analysis

Looked into how other PSAs engage audiences, checking the technology and interaction in use

Co-design Workshop

After finding the design opportunity, conducted co-design workshops with 10 interaction designers

Co-design Workshop

From the primary research, I found the design opportunity of creating embodied PSAs where the audience gets augmented to the victim of the PSA. To get more ideas on how to design the experience, I conducted co-design workshops.
Participants, interaction designers, were told to design interaction scenarios under the issue of domestic child abuse. PSA videos and posters were given for reference along with an augmented experience where participants can embody themselves onto.


Three groups, totall of 10 interaction designers

  1. Introductin (15 min)

  2. Ideation on interactive PSA scenario on child abuse issue (25 min)

  3. Focus Group Interview (20 min)



Intended restriction of the augmented characters’ movements was often brought up. Participants used the restricted interaction to symbolize enervation and helplessness feeling to the audience.


The posture of the character in the designed PSA scenario shared the commonality. Upright postures were often chosen to draw connections between the passersby and virtual characters.

05. Opportunity

From the insights derived from the research, I found the research opportunity of putting the audience in others’ shoes that considers the following points.

First person point of view

Meddling the situation in the character’s point of view gives an indirect empathic relationship

Embodied Interaction

Mapping participant’s body movement on to virtual character’s movement increases virtual body ownership illusion

Narrative Experience

A narrative storyline can also pave the way for further cognitive impact

06. Design


I designed three PSAs addressing issues of ‘domestic child abuse’, ‘passive smoking’, and ‘animal cosmetic testing’.
They are created referring to the following research and was iterated based on findings from pilot tests 1 and 2.

1. The guideline addressed in PSA theory

2. Analyzed the result of the co-design workshop

3. Flow patterns, appearing elements, and stimulus of the existing PSAs.

See design iterations

“The pain lasts a lifetime.
Help stop domestic child abuse”

“You smoke, they also smoke. Secondhand smokers are on the worst side of the cigarette”

“All life matters.
Fight against cosmetic testing”

Embodiment Level Manipulation

Embodiment level is manipulation and its potential effect on the audience was the insight derived from the co-design workshop.
Participants hypothesized the following impact when modifying the mapping rate.

Limited movement of the augmented character may bring audience feeling of oppression and helplessness

To test the theory, I designed three different modes of movement for each augmented character.

The three different levels of embodiment – 10, 60, and, 100 percent – were applied by altering the interpolation value in the script of Kinect Avatar Detection. The code Quaternion. Lerp() calculates spherical interpolation value between the start and target rotation.

Strong embodiment

Strong embodiment synchronously maps participant’s movement to that of the character

Medium embodiment

Medium embodiments limits the character’s movement

Subtle embodiment

Subtle movement strongly constrains the movement of the character

Non-interactive PSA

Overview of controlled, non-interactive, PSA shown to participants

Strong embodiment

Strong embodiment synchronously maps participant’s movement to that of the character

Medium embodiment

Medium embodiments limits the character’s movement

Subtle embodiment

Subtle movement strongly constrains the movement of the character

07. Evaluate



With the designed interactive PSAs, I conducted user testing to observe how experience affects the audiences.
The test setup was controlled to give participants a feeling of being in a public space.
I, the moderator, stood behind the blocking wall to observe both qualitative and quantitative data.

A participant going through user testing

Research question

The survey and interview sought out to answer the following:

  • Impact on participant’s cognition, empathy, sympathy, and perceived seriousness, and behavior change
  • Impact of manipulating embodiment levels on participant’s cognition and behavior
  • Significance of different virtual character’s features influencing participant’s experience
  • Design considerations on creating an embodied interactive PSA
TEST procedure
  1. Introduction on the test

  2. PSA experience 1 with followed up survey

  3. PSA experience 2 with followed up survey

  4. PSA experience 3 with followed up survey

  5. Interview (10 minutes)

* Warnings on the sensitive and pungent contents were notified in the process of user testing recruitment

Overview of the test setting

08. Findings

Impact on Empathy

Embodiment increases the audience’s empathy toward the character and the issue.
However, the impact depends on the participant’s personal experience. Issues such as second-hand smoking which most people experience are not impactful when converted to augmented experience.

Non-playful interactive experience

The serious atmosphere and moral consideration limited some audiences from making body movements, which made it difficult for them to realize their mapping to the character.
A content-wise uncomfortable trigger is needed to motivate the natural movement of the audience.

Effect of human and non-humanoid character on embodied interaction

The participants tended to accept the animal’s appearance and movement as it is. Also, they interpreted the limitation of the character’s movement as the impact of negative circumstances
On the other hand, when participants were tested with restricted embodied human character, few interpreted limitation as an error. Also, few showed hesitation toward the human character, pointing out their rendered style, race, and gender.

Impact of different level of embodiment

The participants interpreted the character’s limited movement in the medium embodiment as a result of oppression or injury from the tragic event. However, giving too much limitation leads to disappointment and irritation on user’s experience.

The participants interpreted the character’s limited movement in the medium embodiment as a result of oppression or injury from the tragic event.
However, giving too many limitations leads to disappointment and irritation in participants’ experience.

Characteristic of PSA topic affects the design approaches

Increasing empathy toward the context and the character may affect the expansion of the effect on empathy

Design consideration of using subtle embodiment and its impact

Interactivity is a double-edged sword

09. Takeaways

The project gave me an understanding of how to design embodied interaction in the public setting dealing with difficult but important issues. From the user testing, embedding interactivity is no answer to all, as providing immersive animation can often be more effective than an interactive approach.

I’ve submitted the work to Designing Interactive Systems (DIS) conference where I got critical feedback. The reviewers were pointing at the risk of work that may bring up the trauma of real sufferers. The experience of witnessing people interacting with context may bring ethical concerns.

From this experience, not only did I realize interactivity is a double-edged sword, but a crucial need to work with critical stakeholders in the earlier phase as possible. And this is why I left for another journey to study and find out the appropriate use of technology on uncomfortable stories.

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