The Domino Design Process


Dominoes are small rectangular blocks with two groups of dots on one side. When the first domino is slammed down, it triggers a chain reaction that topples all the other dominoes along its path, leaving them “standing.” The process of dominoes falling is similar to how nerve impulses travel across the brain.

Domino, also known as bones, cards, men, or pieces, come in many shapes and sizes and are used for playing a variety of games. Generally, each domino has a line in the middle to divide it visually into two parts, with one side bearing from one to six dots or “pips” and the other blank or with numbers. There are a number of different games that can be played with a set of dominoes, although blocking games are the most common. Dominoes can also be used in educational settings to help students learn math and strategy while having fun.

The word domino originally denoted a long, hooded robe worn with a mask at a carnival or masquerade. However, the word quickly became synonymous with a gaming piece that was once made of ebony blacks and contrasted with white surplices worn by priests. The earliest appearance of the word in print was in 1750, but by the mid-18th century, it was commonly used in English and French to describe any game that involved a row of pieces.

As Hevesh sets up a domino setup, she considers its theme or purpose, brainstorming images or words that may be associated with the theme and then creating sketches of these ideas to help her create a concrete vision. After that, she begins experimenting with different shapes and patterns. She makes several prototypes to ensure that the dominoes will fall in a way that is pleasing and appropriate for the desired aesthetic. She also pays close attention to how the dominoes move and fall, observing what happens as each new shape is tested.

Hevesh’s final domino design isn’t just beautiful; it is an engineering-design process, not unlike the way in which a designer might develop a new car or airplane. Each new prototype is built to test a different hypothesis about how the dominoes might move, and the results of each are documented for future reference.

Each time a domino is touched, it converts potential energy into kinetic energy, the energy of motion (see Converting Energy). As kinetic energy travels from one domino to the next, it provides the push needed to knock over the next domino, and so on until all the dominoes have fallen. The process is identical to the way in which a nerve impulse travels down a neuron, from the site of the triggering trigger to the end of the cell’s axon. To see the phenomenon for yourself, place a set of dominoes upright and then barely touch a domino with the tip of your finger. You’ll be able to feel the energy move through the domino chain, just like a pulse in a nerve cell.