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Smile, Please

A Participatory Installation Responding to the Societal Coercion of Emotions and the Prevalence of Emotion AI


What would a future increasingly driven by AI look like?

Smile, Please is an interactive installation created in response to societal coercion of emotions and the prevalence of emotion AI

The installation features a smile evaluation and training machine that trains users to become a citizen of “the preferred society”, where they are guaranteed better future prospects. The only entry requirement is that they smile well enough. The Smile, Please system uses a Polaroid camera to tell users if their smile is “good” enough while also using a TENS unit to shock the person if their smile was not “good” enough. After each user experience, participants are given a copy of The Manual of Smile Etiquette, a guidebook with exercises to improve on their smiles.

Through an extreme approach, dark humor, and by creating visceral discomfort, with mechanism referencing to Pavlov‘s classical conditioning and the Milgram experiment, we hoped to shock our audience into thinking about the implications and ownership of our emotions in the current societal and technological landscape.

Public Showcase

Performed at IMPAKT 2019: Speculative Interfaces and exhibited at the International Symposium for Electronic Arts (ISEA) 2019.

Concept, Interaction & Visual Design, Physical Computing, Installation Design, Fabrication


Conceptualized with Chenshan Gao

Arduino, Indesign, Illustrator
Winnie and Chenshan standing in front of Smile, Please installation with trailer playing on monitorA grid of 9 audience's response interacting with the Smile, Please machine

Visual Design: The Manual of Smile Etiquette

The content and language of the manual referenced The Ladies' Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness: A Complete Hand Book for the Use of the Lady in Polite Society published in 1860 and How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. A serif font was specifically chosen to reflect these references.

Graphic design for the booklet "The Manual of Smile Etiquette", with a spread of smile exercises
Technology & Process: Iterations, Playtests

The first iteration uses a thermal printer, which is replaced by a modified Polaroid camera in the second iteration.

  • TENS unit
  • MyoWare Muscle Sensor & Electrode pads
  • Polaroid camera
  • LCD Display
  • Arduino

We conducted numerous playtests on ourselves before trying it on other volunteers and putting it in public. Early playtests showed us the necessity of creating a strong narrative to translate our message to the audience effectively and to situate them into our fictional world. To do that, we created a dystopian narrative using graphic design, film languages and theatrical devices.

Process photos, including testing the TENS unit, hacking a Polaroid camera, testing the thermal printer
When a viewer approaches our booth, we asked them if they want to learn more about our smile evaluation and training system. We inform them if they failed the smile test, the system will generate a light electric shock to their face to remind them to smile better.

A user flow detailing the interaction of Smile, Please

If the viewer is open to the idea, we asked them to sign a waiver. If all is good, we proceed to attach the electrodes and sensors. Then, we asked users to press the push button whenever they are ready and hit the emergency button whenever they feel uncomfortable. 
Smile, Please machine on table with booklets on the side
Winnie and a audience trying the Smile, Please machine
Winnie and performer Jojo putting on electrode pads on an audience's face, preparing for the use of Smile, Please machine
This project would not be possible without the generous help from David Rios, Nick Hubbard, Kathleen McDermott, Aidan Nelson, Sejo Vega-Cebrian, and Koji Kanao.
© winnie yoe 2023