Physical interfaces
with ITP and Tinker London, 2008-2011


Early in my career I focused on designing and building systems that brought together physical and digital interactions.

My learnings from that time continue inform my design approach across all media. This includes prioritizing context, considering how people physically interact with devices, engaging with broad systems thinking and technical details, and striving to make complex systems easy to understand.

Role and team structure

Interaction designer across many projects, typically working in a small team with engineers and designers, sometimes independently.

Key activities

  • Design and build physical-meets-digital interactions and systems
  • Facilitate community-led design projects, teach interactive prototyping, speak at events
Photo of several small circuit boards packaged in a box.

I fell in love with physical computing in graduate school at ITP and when working for interactive product design studio Tinker London. My work during those years focused on building novel interfaces with computing systems, improving our understanding of how to design for physical/digital systems and teaching physical computing and creative coding.

Below are some of my favorite projects that highlight key learnings from that time.

A diagram showing how to use the HomeSense kit to build a  project and a photo of a project created by a research participant.

Homesense, 2010-11: Using co-design to highlight the importance of context

A collaboration between Tinker London, EDF, and Lancaster University's HighWire program, Homesense was a research project that provided participants with a toolkit, training and support to design and build their own smart home solutions. I contributed to toolkit documentation, training and analyzing outcomes.

Traditional 'smart home' technologies were one-size-fits-all. Historically, 'smart home' solutions were integrated into an entire single-family house: smart lighting, heating, access control, etc. But the study participants lived in urban apartments, with little control over their homes' infrastructure. Their problems centered around sharing space with housemates or navigating densely populated neighborhoods.

User-led solutions focused on context. By starting with their own problems, participants built solutions that focused on small, specific needs. They created reminders to perform chores or keep noise levels low; automation for watering plants or turning the kettle on; and alerts for when public transportation would be available. This divergence from existing top-down solutions highlighted the need to consider context when designing for something as personal as a home.

The Homesense kit was shown in MoMA's Talk to Me exhibit.

Three photos showing physical interfaces, plus a page of documentation.

Rewind, 2009: Demonstrating novel ways to interact with a phone

The Nokia N900, an early smartphone, allowed users to connect external devices to read sensor measurements and trigger actions. For the UK launch, Tinker London built a set of interfaces to inspire other technologists to experiment with the phone, along with documentation to help them connect their own devices. I contributed to concepting, physical prototyping, coding and presenting at events.

Many ways to see, act and communicate. We used retro devices (which were easily recognized and in line with esthetic trends among the target community) to create a variety of interfaces to the phone. A Speak & Spell sent text messages; a Rolodex scrolled through contacts; a Viewmaster took stereoscopic photos; and a radio played songs requested by text message. Each project showcased different technical capabilities and more importantly involved different senses and forms of physical interaction, inviting users to think beyond screens.

Rewind was exhibited as part of the phone's launch, at London Design Week 2009 and in a creative showcase organised by the UK Department of Culture, Sport, and Media.

Screen grab of the pinball game and four photos of players.

Moving Parts, 2008: Uncovering complex links between a system's rules and how people relate with each other

My thesis at ITP, Moving Parts was a physical/digital two-player pinball game in which players could choose different rules that placed them in different relationships to each other: competitive vs. cooperative, more solitary vs. more interconnected.

Through observation and interviews, I evaluated how players communicated with each other and identified factors important to social game experiences. Some observations were obvious (players spoke more in slower-paced games), others less expected (they laughed more in competitive games and expressed more anxiety in cooperative games). The project highlighted how simple changes in systems could trigger complex and unexpected changes in people's behaviors.

Moving Parts was presented at the 2008 SIGGRAPH Video Game Symposium.