[Work-In-Progress] Lê La: A Souvenir for Wanderers

Lê La: A Souvenir for Wanderers

Packaging Design, Pattern Design, Typeface Design, Printed Electronics Technology

About Progress Updates: From mid-January to mid-April 2016, I art directed a design project of my own and posted new photos and results of my works here every week. 


Imagine wandering within a crowded neighborhood with friends, looking for a place to eat or just to hangout. That experience is Lê La.

With two components, box and cards, Lê La hopes to (1) help backpackers discover the street-food culture of the Old Quarter and (2) foster the friendships both among tourists as well as between them and locals. The wooden box is carved with patterns inspired by Vietnamese tribal textiles and the cards, each represents a street-food vendor, can be picked up at participating shops.

The cards are printed using electrically conductive ink. Once a card is inserted into the box, touching any of the four buttons on the card activates the speaker inside the box. This project utilizes printed electronics technology and uses touchboard and ink from Bare Conductive.

How to use Lê La:

  • The box can be purchased at any souvenir shop in the Old Quarter. Each comes with an instruction leaflet.
  • Tourists can choose to go to any of the vendors listed on the back of the leaflet. There they will be given the card that matches the vendor of their choice. Carrying the box is optional.
  • Insert the card into the slit of the box that was previously installed at the shop.
  • Tap any of the four buttons on the card to activate the speaker. Each button prompts a different message (see image on the right). Double tap to stop playing the message.
  • Repeat if necessary to learn about the food and communicate with the vendor.


After finalizing my creative brief, I ordered the Touchboard Kit from Bare Collective and tested how it works (see video below). The touchboard was as small as I expected it to be and worked very well with the black conductive ink. One of the greatest things about this ink, besides its electrical conductivity, is that it can be used for screen-printing.


With great helps from my two engineering friends, I designed my first prototype for the Street Food Box (name is subject to change) below using 3D printing technique. In this version, the card reader hasn't worked yet since I haven't been able to figure how to connect the ink printed on the card to the touchboard efficiently without using alligator clips. However, the textures were irregular among different sides of the box and I decided to make my box from wood after this.


The second prototype was made using basswood and at this point, I have had an idea about how to connect the ink to the touchboard (see images below). The system works but not very smoothly due to the sensitivity of the touchboard. I have also moved away from making a radio-looking box to a jewelry box to emphasize on the product's function as a souvenir. Having spent the first two weeks working on the technical of the box, this week I have started designing patterns for both the box and cards. The motifs are based on Vietnamese tribal textiles.


This week I focused on designing a new typeface system to be used on the food cards inspired by Vietnamese tribal textiles. I have taken a few calligraphy classes before and they proved to help me a lot through the process although I have to admit designing a typeface is one of the most difficult challenges that I took. The system is far from being finished, but see images below for some sneak peaks!


I spent the past busy week on creating another prototype and improving the typeface system along with the tribal patterns.


Last week was separated equally between working on both the technical and design aspects. I installed the printed electronics successfully into the 3rd prototype (check out test video below!) and refined the typeface as well as designed the introductory leaflet.


I was finally able to choose a name for this project/ idea/ experience: "Lê la" in Vietnamese means to wander within a crowded place with friends to look for a place to eat or to hangout. I also finished making the 4th and hopefully last prototype. See images below.


During the past 2 weeks I worked mainly on the an opening mechanism for the box. After a peer critic session, I came up with an idea of making the experience of opening the box more exciting (see images below). I also had a chance to test print the cards using letterpress which turns out really well.


The second batch of cards were produced using screen-printing and letterpress techniques. And they worked! (see video and images below). 


The last two weeks were spent mainly in printmaking and letterpress studios. Each card was first screen-printed with electrically conductive ink before inked with patterns and type using a letterpress printer. See some photos of the final products below:


Final movie is ready to be shown tomorrow during review. The box and this movie will be shown to public during the BFA show at Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts on Thursday, April 28th.