Character Design with Microbit


Microbit’s 5x5 LED array
From Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics (1993)
Shigetaka Kurita’s original set of 176 emoji for NTT DOCOMO (1999). Designed to a 12x12 grid.
Expressions in Kurita’s emojis

Challenge #1: The 5x5 LED array requires eyes that are no wider than 2px, which limits the range of expression.

Symmetric mouth with 1-pixel base
Symmetric mouth with 3-pixel base (invert the first to get a frown)
Symmetric mouth with 5-pixel base (invert the first to get a frown)

Challenge #2: Attempting to maintain symmetry, an important aspect to how we interpret faces, is hard with an odd pixel grid

Tamagotchi (Bandai, 1997). Original screen was 32x16 pixels
Nano Baby (1997)
Nintendo’s Pokemon Pikachu digital pet / pedometer

Microbit Experiments

A series of Microbit expressions, mapped out across emotions and eye width
Glancing Around
Character states: 1) wakes up, 2) glances around, 3) gets bored, 4) falls asleep, 5) gets poked (by pressing a button) and wakes up

Tinkercad Prototyping

New design on right has character’s form extruded from Microbit case, rather than formed completely around it.
Slots near both arms make the plastic more bendable, and there is additional material behind the levered arms to make pressing the pushbutton easier.
Tinkercad design with embedded Microbit (


Microbit Character Prototype

More Opportunities to Explore

  1. Coming up with new expressions to add to the Microbit Expression Cheatsheet.
  2. Figuring out more creative ways to embed the Microbit in a 3D print that don’t appear so boxy.
  3. Improving the 3D design so that the Microbit is more secure in the enclosure.
  4. Adding an embedded battery holder so that the character can be mobile.
  5. Connecting the Microbit to external actuators like servos or motors to make the design even more animated with moving parts like arms and ears.
  6. Experimenting with different materials to make the LED array further embedded in the 3D-printed design.
  7. Using the built-in radio to prototype multiple characters interacting with one another!



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