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Smart Mask Design & Design Fiction


How might people live and get information in a severely polluted future with a mask?

Project Overview

Duration: Dec. 2016 - Feb. 2017   (3 mo)

Type: Individual Passion Project


Tag: video prototyping, voice interface, future,            storytelling, design fiction


This project is a dark design fiction, discussing the conflict between the economic interest and the environment. The future mask serves as the main media for people in this future setting to communicate. I played around with the interaction people might have with this smart mask, such as projected interfaces and voice interfaces.



Not a user-centered design ahead. It's an imaginary story with an AR projection design.

Ready for a dark future?

Welcome to $mocity...

In $mocity, the air is fully contaminated. It’s smoggy every day. Since sunshine is hard to be seen, the plants have to be grown in greenhouses.

Ironically, the super-automated factories are still producing cheap products to fulfill people’s desire for materials, at the cost of damaging the environment.

People in $mocity serve as
using their lung 
as the pump
to take PM 2.5 in the air
into masks.

To motivate people to clean
the air, PM 2.5 is the
currency in $mocity. People
are running around to
collect as much as PM2.5
as possible to buy the
goods they desire.

Final Design Fiction Video 

(Estimated watching time: 5min)

This video prototype shows how the mask works and the thesis of my design fiction.​

The problem of smog is more of a socioeconomic problem than a technical one. 

While we are suffering from the polluted air, we are also enjoying the economic interests brought by PM2.5. And this has made the problem of air pollution complex.

Not able to watch a video now? Click here to view a storyline

Mask Interaction

Project on the Wall

By double tapping the surface of the mask, the projection is activated and projects on the wall.

People can swipe to switch interfaces

IMB_qVrE59 2.GIF

Activate Voice Assistant

When people are running, they can use the gesture of squeezing nose to activate the quick voice assistant.


Set up Motivation Mode

When running, people can project on hand and swipe to set up the motivation mode. 

If choosing 10, they will get a sound notification for every 10 bucks that they earn.


How did I start on this wild idea of a smart mask?

It all started with air pollution in Beijing... During my undergrads, I was living in Beijing. In winter seasons, I had to wear masks to go out every day. It was very depressing because it was hard to breathe in the mask, and I feel my health is threatened every day by the smog.


Then I began to think: what if the pollution gets worse and worse? Will people have to go out wearing masks every day? In that case, how will masks be more functional? I strongly felt this can be a very exciting design topic. Inspired by the concept of design fiction, I decided to pull my ideas out of my brain and present them to people.

problem statement.png

Then, I started to ideate...

Mood Board

The Ideating is all about figuring out what is the story that I want to tell. The initial directions include using mask as the social media medium, as the cleaner, or as the kissing amplification. But according to my brief survey of the air pollution problem, 80% of people didn't realize the severity of the problem. So in the end, I decided to move forward with the cleaner idea, and try to tell a story about money and environment.

Initial ideas

Mask as Social Media

Whispering in the Mask 

PM 2.5 Cleaner

Kiss With Mask

Now let's see what technologies support the mask

Bone conduction headphone

Supporting audio feedback

Flexible touch screen

Recognizing gestures to control the
projector or trigger the headphone

Miniature projector

Projecting interactive
interfaces on various surfaces
like walls, palms, etc.

Gas flow sensor

To detect the gas flow velocity
of people’s breathing process

Highly sensitive laser sensor

Making use of light scattering theory to
measure real-time PM2.5 concentration

How does PM 2.5 in-take convert to money?

Interaction Flow

interaction map_2x.png

Sound design

To choose the sound of audio feedback, I made a rough prototype by attaching an earphone with the mask and invite people to put on the mask, run a little and listen to the tracks. According to the feedback, I chose track 2 in the end because it is not annoying and sounds pretty motivating.

Track 1

Track 2

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Track 3

Gesture design

I invited people to put on the mask and gave instructions like double tap your right cheek, pinch your nose or touch your chin to test the proper touching areas and gestures.


My reflection

I have a better understanding of the sentence--designers should consider about the consequences of implementing their design. To make up a convincing story, I thought deeply about the context from many perspectives like social, cultural and financial.



There are two more things I want to do in the future to make progress. One is to rewrite the storyline of the mini film to make the theme (conflict between economic interest and environment) clearer.  The other is to make a workable prototype and see if the mask can be of use in any daily scenarios.


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