Interactive Public Service Advertisement

Interactive public service advertisements (PSA) are master’s thesis project, designed to increase empathy towards social issues by incorporating embodiment in their storytelling. 

I explored how a first-person immersive experience can impact a user’s perception and created design guidelines based on the user research findings.

Work timeline

Jan – June 2019
(6 months)


Social change


Unity Kinect SDK
Adobe Fuse


I was responsible for the entire process of the project, including market research, content and interaction design, Unity Kinect prototyping, and UX research.

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About the project

  • Embodied public service advertisements were designed to answer the question of how PSAs can increase audiences’ empathy and understanding of social issues.
  • Competitive research identified a research gap in PSAs by putting the user in a first-person perspective. During a co-design workshop, design opportunities were found to increase immersion and impact.
  • Deliverables included three interactive PSAs on different social issues, proof of the effectiveness of the embodied PSA in increasing empathy, and design guidelines based on research analysis.
learn more from the thesis


I conducted this project for my Master’s thesis at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. As the main contributor, I wore different hats, including UX researcher, interaction designer, and Kinect programmer. I received advice from my thesis advisors and graduate students at Wonderlab.


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


Competitive research and co-design workshop

01. Research

I began with competitive research to identify research opportunities. Then, I conducted a co-design workshop to narrow down design considerations and questions.

02. Design iterations

With research findings, I designed interactions and scenarios with varying levels of embodiment. I developed three interactive public service announcements (PSAs) through two pilot tests.

03. Evaluation and analysis

I conducted user research with 36 participants, using both qualitative and quantitative methods. Based on the findings, I developed design guidelines and a thesis paper.

Design iterations

Scenario design, level manipulation, and two pilot tests

Evaluation and analysis

User research on qualitative and quantitative data with video analysis turned into design guidelines and thesis paper


Field research

I began with field research, studying the principles of PSA and how interactive PSAs emerged to enhance compassion for social issues.

Competitive analysis

PSAs used new forms of digital media to deliver messages. To determine the effectiveness of the approaches and identify research gaps, I conducted a competitive analysis. While multiple PSAs engaged audiences with Kinect, most of them took a third-person perspective and allowed viewers to interact with victims. I found this method insufficient in communicating the seriousness of the issue compared to the first-person point of view, which is utilized by most venues such as serious games, to increase compassion and immersion.

Co-design workshop

Through primary research, I identified a design opportunity to create embodied public service announcements (PSAs) in which the audience is augmented to become the victim of the PSA. To generate more ideas on how to design this experience, I conducted co-design workshops. From these workshops, I derived two main design patterns from the participants:

1. Restrict the movements of the augmented characters to bring feelings of enervation and helplessness to the audience.
2. Use upright postures for the characters to draw connections between passersby and virtual characters.

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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

From the co-design workshop, I was able to derive insights from a focus group interview. Designers’ ideas showed following patterns:


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.

Two workshops were conducted, each with 4-5 interaction designers. They were asked to design interaction scenarios related to the issue of domestic child abuse. To aid them in their task, they were provided with PSA videos and posters for reference, as well as an augmented experience that allowed them to embody themselves as the child through the screen.

The workshops were conducted in the following order:
1. Introduction (15 mins)
2. Ideation on interactive PSA (25 mins)
3. Focus group interview (20 mins)

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.

Research opportunity

Based on my research, I have identified the following points to focus on for this research opportunity.

01. First-person point of view

Experiencing the issue from the victim’s perspective can establish an indirect empathetic connection.

02. Embodied interaction

Mapping a participant’s body movements onto a virtual character’s movements can increase the illusion of virtual body ownership and enhance immersion in the virtual environment. Furthermore, adjusting the degree of mapping can have an emotional impact.

03. Narrative experience

A narrative storyline can enhance cognitive impact by providing engaging structure for presentation of social issues.

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

Research questions

To guide the design and user testing, I formulated research questions based on the research opportunities.


Will mapping the body movement of the participant onto the victim of the PSA show an impact on their cognition, empathy, sympathy, perceived seriousness, and behavior?


Will different levels of embodiment bring about changes in cognition and behavior?


Will the characteristics of the PSA topic and victim appearing in it influence the participant’s experience in the embodied interactive PSA?


What design considerations should be taken into account when creating an embodied interactive PSA?

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

Design and iterate

PSA scenario design

I have created three public service announcements (PSAs) addressing the issues of domestic child abuse, passive smoking, and animal cosmetic testing. Each PSA has been designed with the following key points:

  • The guidelines addressed in PSA theory
  • Analyzed results of the co-design workshop
  • Flow patterns, appearing elements, and stimuli of the existing PSAs
  • Findings from two pilot tests
See design iterations

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

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

Animal cosmetic experiment
“All life matters. Fight against cosmetic testing”


Embodiment level manipulation

During the co-design workshop, participants considered potential effect on the audience when manipulating the embodiment level. Participants stated the following.

I think limiting the movement of the augmented character can create a sense of oppression and helplessness for the audience.

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

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

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

Medium embodiment
limits the character’s movement

Restricted embodiment
strongly restricts the character’s movement.

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




I conducted user testing on the designed interactive PSAs to observe the audience’s experience.
To give participants the feeling of being in a public space, the test setup was controlled. I stood behind a blocking wall as the moderator, observing both qualitative and quantitative data. Warnings about the sensitive and pungent content were provided during the user testing recruitment process.

A participant going through user testing

Test procedure

Overview of the test setting

  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)

Each participant went through three stages of user testing. First, they received an overview of the test. Then, they had three different PSA experiences, each followed by a survey. Finally, they participated in a 10-minute in-depth interview.
For each PSA, the embodiment level was randomly chosen from three different embodiment versions and a controlled version.


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


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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