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Innovation Design Engineering (MA/MSC)

Danyi Shen

Hello there! I am Danyi Shen (Zoey) :

An Innovation Design Engineering graduate student at Imperial College London (@ ICL) and Royal College of Art (@RCA).

A product designer who has a multidisciplinary background and has worked for designaffairs GmbH and TG0 LTD.  

A creative technologist who has a keen interest in embedding daily humour into serious technical implementation.

A start-up co-founder who is developing an AI-led ideation tool to better incubate ideas for designers.

Feel free to contact me even you just want to have a chat.

Do you know how to tangle a knot from your earphone cables? You probably have no idea, but your pocket is really good at it.

Physicists Dorian Raymer and Douglas Smith investigated this earphone knotting problem in their paper, ‘Spontaneous knotting of an agitated string’, unveiling 120 different knot patterns after over 3000 experiments. This brought out my curiosity of exploring the possibilities of applying knot theory in the design field: “What if the chaotic pattern of the knot can be applied to somewhere else?”

The early understanding and experiments navigated the project to the intersection field of knot theory and cryptology: “What if knot theory works as a cryptological solution in data protection?” Through rigorous research and advanced experiments, the journey then led to the final concept KNOTALK.

KNOTALK is a cryptological translating system communicating between text-based data and tangible knots, which is potentially used in the scenarios like password generating, identification, and private conversation.

Cryptology, known as the method of making and breaking codes, is a discipline to protect data. Cryptology started in ancient Greek and has lots of inventions throughout its long history, such as the Caeser cipher and the Enigma machine. Modern cryptology, like symmetric-key cryptography and public-key cryptography, relies on strong algorithms to protect digital currencies, computer passwords, online databases and private conversations. However, the conflict between highly secure cryptology and easy management leads to users’ bad data management habits, threatening their data safety.

Knot theory is a branch of mathematics that studies knots. Tackling knot problems is like playing with a rubber sheet. It deals with the ways that strings can be twisted, bent, pulled, or otherwise deformed from one shape to another. The uniqueness, amorphization, and stability features of knots show the potential to develop a better solution to cryptology in the back-end algorithm and user interface.

KNOTALK is a cryptological translation system communicating between text-based data and tangible knots. The machine is composed of a control panel and a tumbling box. The control panel has a keyboard for data input. A button panel is attached to control the movement of the tangling frame, while the screen displays the data.

The frame refers to rational tangle in knot theory. Rational tangles are basic constructing blocks to tangle a knot. Two strings are tangled through the movement of the four endpoints. The control panel has eight directions, each of which represents a specific perspective and movement.

Software: @KnotPlot

— Users need to customize their knot reference before any operation. The reference comes from anything that users feel easy to memorize.
— Throughout the explorations, KNOTALK shows its possibilities in different scenarios: password generating and management, family memento, private conversation, identification and contract agreement.
— What if knots are passwords? Encode passwords into multiple knots and arrange them in specific places. The knots guarantee the ownership of the data and their deceptive forms disguise the users' actual intention.
— What if knots can be tangled into your family tapestry? Imagine encoding the diary of your life from 2021, then decoding it in 2100 and share it with your grandson.
— What if the knot is a new language to secure private conversation against super surveillance? What if the knot could be a new way for identification? What if the knot is the contract that protects confidential information when mutual commitment is encoded.

The initial experiments were driven by the knot theory features: How its uniqueness, deceptiveness, and stability could disrupt the current cryptological system? To narrow down the focus, scenarios of managing passwords and private conversations were mainly tested in this stage. A range of quick ideas and prototypes were developed, uncovering the best potential that knots embedded in a tangible interface to encrypt and decrypt data.

The advanced experiments with building prototypes discussed the physical frame of tangling the knot and the relationship between user input with the data encryption format. Rational tangle showed its best performance in user interaction, safety level, and prototyping feasibility, whilst the keyboard as an inclusive user input device should be provided to support the interaction.


Experts: Annalisa Marzuoli, Raphael Kim, Yuchen Wang

Professional input: Xianzhi Zhang, Xiaoyang Duan, Finn Crockatt

Users & interviewees: Wenwen Tang, Mick Lin, Echo Chan, Sean Hammett, Minyue Lin, Kuangxi Cui

Software & hardware: KnotPlot, Arduino, p5.js.

Thanks to all IDE tutors and cohorts.

China Scholarship Council