Design Review Part 1: Detailed Plans for the Desk Toy

For my final project, I am going to create a desk toy with a trinket of some sort that moves up and down. My vision for the project is to make something simple, yet still interesting to look at. I want it to express my interests outside of engineering.

There are a number of materials that I will need in order to make this project:

  • Acrylic, for the box
  • Acrylic or PLA, for the trinket
  • Switch
  • Arduino
  • Battery
  • Motor
  • Wiring
  • Support material for the trinket
  • Miscellaneous hardware

There are two different aesthetics that I hope to incorporate into my project; one for the box, and one for the trinket. For the box, the aesthetic that I will be going with is “minimalism”. Generally, minimalism in art is described as “sleek, geometric works” and having an “emphasis on the physical space occupied by the artwork” [1]. This applies to my work because I am very conscious of how large the box will be, where it can fit/should fit, and making sure it won’t detract from the main focal point which is the trinket. For my project, a box is just a box. There won’t be any decorative or intricate details, and it will most likely be one solid color. It really only exists because it is necessary to hold all the electronics and to serve as a sturdy base.


As far as the design itself, I plan on using in order to create the template for the laser cutter. The picture below shows an example of what my box will look like. However, I will need to edit the files or make a second set of laser cuts in order to add holes that are not shown here. Specifically, a hole for the switch in the front, a hole for the trinket in the top, and a removable section in the back for access to the batteries. As of this moment, the exact dimensions have not been determined, as it highly depends on the electronic configuration.

The aesthetic choice for the trinket is fandom. Generally, a fandom is any fanbase for a certain piece of pop culture. The pictures I have included below encapsulate the fandoms that mean the most to me. They are (from left to right) Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, space in general, My Chemical Romance, and Good Omens. There are a lot of options that can explored by using a fandom for inspiration. Favorite characters, logos/insignias, quotes, etc. I’m very excited to explore this aesthetic and choose something that I feel really represents who I am outside of engineering. I’m ready to let my nerd flag fly!

Image Sources:

One of the biggest design challenges I have is figuring out how to make the trinket move up and down. So far, I see two different paths that can be taken. The first, which I had discussed in a previous post, is to use a one-way motor and a specially shaped bar that would allow the trinket to move up and down. Much like a merry-go-round setup, this would alleviate the need for multiple commands from the Arduino. However, it is problematic because it creates an issue with balancing the trinket. The second option is to use a traditional two-way motor. This would mean that I would not have to worry about the balancing issue for the trinket, but it would mean more complicated controls.

Image Source:

Presentation (also linked in Design Review Part 2 post)

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4 Comments. Leave new

  • Justin Engbrecht
    March 16, 2020 11:33 am

    As a neutral question, I asked Mary if her project was inspired by “The Useless Box”. She said not initially, but her table discussed some similarities after they learned of her project.

  • Noah Verspohl
    March 16, 2020 11:26 am

    Statement of meaning:
    I like the research you did on minimalism.
    I like your use of the “Merry-go-round” mechanism.

  • Hey Mary,
    It’s a really good idea to build a desk toy as we spend most of our time sitting on the table, working on something. I love the idea of using the fandom aesthetic as it would let you build something that you love. I think if you could implement something digital, that would be cooler, like it would speak about the particular pop culture you’re using. And you could like control the movement of the trinket through your phone. Great strategy on getting the laser cut pieces, as it would save up a lot of time. Overall it looks like a really cool project, would love to see the end product. Personally, I’m biased towards HP 🙂

  • Thomas Buckholtz
    March 13, 2020 1:38 pm

    Hi Mary,
    I love the idea of having a trinket representing things your a fan of attached to the toy. The mechanism for achieving the movement seems well though-out and relatively cheap and easy to achieve, at least as long as you can find one of those rods off-the-shelf.
    Do you think it would be possible to design the trinkets in such a way that they are easily interchangeable? This way you could easily switch up the toy to whatever mood you’re feeling! It also depends on how intricate you are planning to make each trinket.
    I personally think it would be better to spend a lot of time on a singular or just two trinkets, as it’s what the user will be looking at most. If that’s the case, you wouldn’t need to worry about an interchangeability aspect quite as much, but it might not be too much work to incorporate it anyhow in case of future additions.


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