Spin is a photography turntable system for capturing how projects come together over time.

With Spin, you can generate GIFs of your design projects that are sharable anywhere. The Spin system consists of a DIY Arduino-driven turntable and a mobile app. They communicate with one another via audio in order to coordinate photographing an object from multiple angles.

Makerspaces around the world have used Spin to capture their design projects in playful ways.

Initial sketch of Spin from February, 2015

design principles

Like most of my projects, Spin started with a sketch, and guiding design principles were iterated upon over time.

Make the act of creating documentation fun

Documentation is sometimes perceived as necessary rather than desirable. Can the act of creating documentation be fun so that users are more motivated to do it?

Create an engaging documentation format

I wanted to take advantage of rich media options to create a compelling format that would draw audiences in to learn more, without necessarily conveying all the detail normally included in DIY documentation. I was especially interested in formats that could appeal to a more general audience than just other makers.

Reduce the effort needed to create documentation

Continually capturing one’s process can be difficult, especially for audiences documenting for the first time. I sought to reduce the effort needed by incorporating automated ways to generate documentation.

Connect to existing communities

Rather than create another community, I wanted to leverage networks that makers already use so they could more easily share their work with their peers. A design requirement for the system was to output to a common file format that can be embedded on existing social media platforms.


Before investing any time into building the technology for this system, I wanted to test whether the format of GIFs for project documentation was compelling.

I took a music box that I had built a few years ago and photographed it using a manual turntable to see how I could generate a GIF from a compilation of frames. Then, I embedded the animation on a webpage and began experimenting with what a timeline and corresponding documentation might look like.

An initial prototype of a GIF viewer [Web Prototype]

After gathering some initial feedback, I decided to strip down the UI even further to align with the goal of reducing the amount of effort needed to create documentation. In the end, the viewer consists of primarily the animation itself, which can be viewed in continuous animation mode, or in filmstrip mode where the various spins within a single project are shown side-by-side.

The final viewer [Spin Animation]

An alternative filmstrip interface [Spin Animation]

The prototyping of the turntable hardware, web app, and mobile app all happened simultaneously and largely took place over the course of four weeks. The turntable consists of an Arduino Uno, a custom shield, Sparkfun's Easy Driver motor controller, a stepper motor, and a turntable bearing. If you are interested in the full process, I have it documented on Build in Progress, or you can check out the assembly instructions.

user interface

The first step to use Spin is to download the mobile app* and pair your device with the turntable. Philosophically, I wasn't against people using the app without a turntable, but since my lab had to pay Heroku and AWS fees, I decided the project would be more maintainable with a smaller initial set of users, which is why pairing is required before you can use the application.

*The app was available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store for a few years after I graduated, but then I couldn't really justify the continued cost of paying the annual developers fee out of pocket for a project that makes $0. If you would like to use the app, email me and I can send you the app package!

The pairing process on the Spin iOS app.

After pairing, you can create a new "spin," or 360-degree GIF. In the app, when you create a new spin the turntable automatically spins the object in 24-degree increments over the course of one minute. The photographs are then stiched together into a GIF on the device, and the compiled GIF and video is uploaded to the Spin web app.

For any given project, you can add multiple spins. I created a "ghost" mode so that you could see the outline of the previous frame for scale and alignment.

A few months into the project, I built in an audio recording feature that teachers used for students to be able to record a brief description of what they were working on.

Adding an additional spin to a project

Adding an audio recording (the door slam in the video is ambient noise. 😅


I built 5 Spin turntables that I invited any makerspace to request and use for up to four weeks. During the course of this project, 2500 spins were created in 30 different makerspaces around the world:

My favorite part of this project was seeing all the creative and unexpected ways people ended up using it. Here are just a few.

Most of the requests for the turntables were teachers and facilitators who knew the value of documentation but found it difficult to motivate young people to engage in creating it. One teacher stated,

The great part about the animation is that it gives them something to reflect on...If you do a Spin of your object every day for a week, you have a much better chance of getting a 10-year-old to tell you a week later what they did each day as opposed to, ‘Well, I built the thing.’

When embedded in makerspaces, the Spin turntable was often installed in a visible way that served as a reminder to document and minimized the friction to go from creating a prototype to documenting it. Notably, this physical embodiment differs from purely digital documenaion tools on mobile devices, since apps are inherently less directly visible in a physical space.

Several markerspaces even developed custom backdrops for their Spin turntables:

Custom backdrops built for Spin turntables

An in-depth study of how Spin was used in various learning environments, including museums, schools, community makerspaces, and libraries, is summarized in a paper I wrote for DIS in 2016.


From studying the uses of Spin, I created a set of design principles for supporting design documentation:

Designing for Engagement

Make documenting engaging in and of itself

When documentation is fun to create, people will be more motivated to take the time to do it. Both the process of documenting and the resulting documentation should be something people seen as being worthwhile. With Spin, we witnessed users injecting humor and playfulness into their documentation with selfies and taking pride in their resulting animations by sharing them with friends.

Empower users to hack and extend the tool

We encourage the design of open documentation systems that empower people to hack and extend the tool through visible indicators of documentation practice. Physical hardware and visual animations provided ways for people to extend Spin through custom stands, designing backdrops, and even using the app without the turntable. We are excited to explore how the use of DIY components such as the Arduino may provide entry points for hacking the hardware in the future.

Integrating into design practice

Give a physical presence to documenting

A space should communicate that it values and support documentation practice. This can be done through the integration of physical hardware for documenting, decorating the space around documentation tools, or exhibiting digital documentation on external displays, signaling the importance of documentation to members of the makerspace.

Celebrate design moments but minimize disruption

While passive documentation tools may capture design process with minimal interruptions, we think there is value in celebrating design moments through intentional stopping points for documentation. The 40 seconds it takes to create a Spin is short enough to not be too much of a disruption while providing a time for educators to ask questions that evoke reflection. Yet, this time is also non-trivial; the most successful integrations came from spaces where documentation became part of everyday practice, with teachers promoting and suggesting documentation throughout an activity.

Enabling modularity

Connect with existing platforms

There are a range of platforms people use to connect with different audiences, and the platforms in vogue are always shifting. Rather than create a community within Spin, we designed the platform to integrate with existing social media platforms so people can directly share their projects with the people they care about. Furthermore, we enable people to export their projects in a common file format they can use anywhere. Connecting with existing platforms minimizes the development and support needed to sustain a community while opening up opportunities for people to customize their documentation for their desired audience. This integration was especially important for teenage makers and adult educators using Spin.

Embrace incompleteness

A consequence of combining documentation is that each component does not need to embody all elements of the project. Spin is designed to help people capture important moments in a design process rather than every step that goes into creating a project. We reduce the barrier to creating meaningful documentation by making the process integrated into design practice and minimizing the time and effort to document. If users are interested in providing additional information about their process, through writing or other mediums, they can do so by embedding the animations elsewhere. We encourage rethinking documentation as modular, incomplete components that paint a more complete picture when combined together.