Physical interfaces, 2008-2011
Creative technology, design research, teaching

I fell in love with physical computing while in graduate school at ITP and while 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 from those years.

Homesense, 2010-11. A collaboration between Tinker London, EDF, and Lancaster University's HighWire program, Homesense provided research participants with a toolkit, training, and technical support to build their own smart home solutions. Rather than trying to build comprehensive systems that had historically been the focus of development, participants created small ways to improve shared living: reminders to perform chores or to keep noise levels low; machines to automate routine tasks such as watering plants or turning the kettle on; and alerts about public transportation to improve commutes. The Homesense kit was shown in MoMA's Talk to Me exhibit.

Photograph of the HomeSense kit, consisting of several small circuit boards packaged in a box. On the left, a diagram showing how to use elements from the HomeSense kit to build a demo project. On the right, an image of one of the projects created by research participants: a map showing the status of nearby bike sharing stations.

Big Red Button, 2010 and Creds Roulette, 2015, with Tinker London and Moving Brands. The Big Red Button was commissioned by Russell Davies to use as a PowerPoint remote, a highly visible interface that was a counterpoint to the invisible UI trend. It was used at the 2010 LIFT conference and was shown in MoMA's Talk to Me exhibit.

Several years later, at Moving Brands, I built a variation on the theme: a slot machine arm that triggered a random progression through a display of images. While the appearance is different, the underlying technology (a hacked keyboard) and idea were the same: an over-the-top physical interface that made a simple digital interaction extremely visible.

Close-up photograph of a large red button attached to a cable Three photos, showing a disassembled slot machine arm, a closeup of a keyboard's power supply and circuit board, and the assembled slot machine arm.

Rewind, 2009, with Tinker London. For the UK launch of the Nokia N900, an early smartphone, we built a set of retro interfaces to showcase the phone's capabilities and hackability: a Speak & Spell that sent text messages; a Rolodex that scrolled through contacts; a Viewmaster that took stereoscopic photos; and a radio that played songs requested by text message. Rewind was exhibited as part of the N900 launch, at London Design Week 2009, and in a creative showcase organised by the UK Department of Culture, Sport, and Media.

Photo showing a Speak-n-Spell opened up, wiht a phone, Arduino, and bluetooth module. Three photos showing the remaining interfaces, plus a page from an instructional booklet on how to connect to the phone via bluetooth.

Moving Parts, 2008, at ITP. Moving Parts was a physical/digital, two-player pinball game in which players could select from among four rule sets 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 in different versions 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). Moving Parts was presented at the 2008 SIGGRAPH Video Game Symposium.

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

Teaching and speaking, 2008 onwards. I have taught Arduino, prototyping, and innovation in university classes, workshops in R&D departments, conferences for new media artists, etc. Highlights have include a series of workshops with Tinker London that introduced UK designers and developers to Arduino; teaching at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design for a two-week project in which students developed new interfaces to old devices; and running workshops and courses at the V&A museum on Processing, Arduino, toy hacking and smart clothing.

Photo of a workshop on Arduino.
from Medialab Chrzelice 2010, a weeklong workshop on digital creativity in Poland.