In Hardware, Usability is Key

Four examples of hardware entrepreneurs and inventors that prioritize usability:

1. Leah Buechley celebrates 10 years of her invention the Lilypad Arduino, an affordable, easy-to-use electronics platform for prototyping wearable technology.

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image via adafruit.com

 

2. Hardware startup Moxxly is acquired to redesign the breast pump experience

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image via designerfund.com

 

3. The Bare Conductive team makes tools that make prototyping electronics easy and fun. Check out their latest project here: bare conductive lamp project on kickstarter

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image via @BareConductive twitter feed

 

4. Heather Kerrick, Senior Research Engineer at Autodesk, explores usability issues for future products and users. Check out this rad interview

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image via adafruit.com

 

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Visualizing Air Quality Data

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This semester my Ithaca College students in Make Better Stuff Studio are collaborating with Wicked Device Electronics Co., the makers of Air Quality Egg–an affordable, web-connected air quality sensor made in Ithaca, NY–to design an exhibit for EdTech Day at IC. Make Better Stuff (MBS) Studio is a pilot course in IC’s Department of Environmental Science. In the course, students learn sustainable design principles and design methodology through hands-on projects.

Last week we had one of the egg’s inventors, Vic Aprea, visit our class and help us install an egg in the lab. The students enjoyed meeting Vic and gained a sense for what it takes to get a complex product like the egg up and running and collecting data.

The question I’m asking the students to consider for the exhibit is this: How might we inspire people to engage in air-quality monitoring and activism? The students have been brainstorming, paper-prototyping, and testing creative responses to this question. Their next step is to take their ideas from prototypes to reality. To help them, they will learn to use some new tools: a laser cutter and the arduino.

For laser cutting, we are visiting Elliot Wells, a member of the local makerspace Ithaca Generator, to learn how to create 3D objects with a combination of laser cutting and good old-fashioned wood glueing and clamping. Then next week I’ll introduce the class to arduino and we’ll program color-changing lights. The laser cutter and the arduino are the two dominant tools in a discrete “box of crayons” the students have to work with for the project. These “constraints” will help make the exhibit pieces from each of the six teams display as a cohesive whole. I’m excited to see what they do with these tools and how they respond to the challenge at hand.

AQE in FastCompany

AQE facebook page

Ithaca Generator makerspace

IC EdTech Day

Arduino

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Reflection

It’s coming time to see all my people at the holidaze then hibernate for the winter with a few good projects. It’s time to look back at the year, remember what happened, and process it. Here goes:

LUNAR CLOCK, DEC 2013. This time last year I was finishing up a lunar clock that KR helped me with. This was a project that combined interesting media theory (a bit from Douglas Rushkoff’s Present Shock) with cool technology (laser cutter, arduino, and eagle). I enjoyed turning theory into a designed object–something I could hold in my hands. That’s me in a nutshell. In order to understand something, I have to build it and hold it.

GAME COURSE, JAN 2014. This year started with teaching a pilot course at Ithaca College called “Designing Games for Sustainability.” The class was small but we busted out two cool games. One was an arduino powered waste-sorting game and the other was a laser cut variation of Settlers of Catan called Wasteland. It was amazing to come up with cool ideas and then be able to manufacture and test them. Ideas into reality.

SUSTAINABILITY, MAY 2014. When the semester ended in May, I joined my ASU Sustainability crew at ISSST in Oakland for a great conference. And again in July for a desert retreat. Both gatherings were fun and enlightening in different ways. The former was in an urban setting and academic. The latter was in the desert and spiritual. What I love about these folks is that they value all of it. These people feel like home to me.

MIT >> POP UP DESIGN STUDIO, AUG 2014. In August I traveled with JC to MIT for a Scratch conference. There we met amazing people in the Harvard Grad School of Edu and were so inspired by their work that we came back to our makerspace and implemented a new project called “Pop Up Design Studio.” On the first friday of each month, we open our doors to the public and invite them to make art on the laser cutter. The combination of generosity on the volunteer side with creativity on the public side has been joy to be a part of.

TEACHING, SEP 2014. This fall I’ve been teaching 4 classes in the Integrated Marketing Communications program at Ithaca College and loving every minute of it. As an introvert, teaching 80 students is intense, but there’s nothing I’d rather spend my energy on. The program and the students have this great mix of business and creative thinking going on. It’s a pleasure and a challenge integrating the two – the practical with the wild dreams!

UPCOMING, DEC 2014. In ten days or so I see my family for the holidays. When I get back, I dig into some juicy projects for the winter: product design, electronic music, and a few workshop gigs I’ve got cooking. Winter is a great time for projects. Then when the sun comes out in May, there’s time for being outside with nature and friends. I like seasons and the structure they bring to my year.

LOCAL FOOD. On the local food side of life, I enjoyed a farm share at Sweet Land Farm this past summer and am now a week or so into a winter share from Full Plate Collective. These things keep me connected to the soil, the water, and the air. I’m grateful to the farmers who put it all together.

Let me know how 2014 treated you and what you’re up to this winter.

XO

from ‘What We Know’ to ‘A New Aesthetic’

When we invented industrial manufacturing, we looked to Victorian era products and mass-produced everything from dishware to ovens with Victorian ornamentation. We did this until the Bauhaus came along and demanded that new technologies require a new aesthetic. The members of the Bauhaus “listened” to modern materials and processes and “heard” that they wanted to be simple and clean and not covered in lacy decor.

Another example: When we invented computing, we grabbed what we knew – a type writer and a TV set – and mashed them together to make a desk top computer. Only today are other types of computing starting to take hold. Google glass is a known example of mobile and hands free computing. Smart products with simple micro-controllers, another. Computing is finally moving beyond sitting at a desk or having your head down in a phone screen.

Today we have the desktop manufacturing revolution. There are all kinds of new technologies becoming available but none other has captured the publics’ imagination like 3D printing has. I think this is because the objects that a printer makes look like objects that we know from the store. Objects from 1950-2000 that are enclosed in injection molded plastic. Which is ironic because this late 20th c. aesthetic is the epitome of hiding a products’ inner workings from consumers–ironic because makers are interested in openness and product transparency.

We’re in that early stage of a new technology – making what we already know. It’s just what we do. In art school, that’s how I learned to draw – from copying 16th century masters. But I wonder how long it will take us to move from making what we know to demanding a new aesthetic–to listening to these new materials and processes and hearing what they want to be. And I wonder who will lead this change.

Repost: 4PS OF THE MEDIA LAB

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This post originally appeared at http://ithacagenerator.org/

Last week a fellow IG member and I went to the Scratch Conference at MIT Media Lab. Scratch is a visual programming language developed by folks in the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT and the Graduate School of Education at Harvard. The goal of the project is to help kids (and adults) transform themselves from “consumers of stuff” to “makers of stuff.” (Sound familiar?)

What impressed us about the conference is that it wasn’t only focused on technology, but on the social aspects of engaging with technology. The Media Lab has four principles that guide their techno-social-creative process: PROJECTS, PEERS, PASSION, and PLAY.

PROJECTS

Makers don’t just talk about ideas. They make stuff. So PROJECTS are the physical manifestations of making. We participated in two project-oriented workshops:

1. DIY CARDBOARD INTERFACE https://vine.co/v/MVmqeOYPP6b
by https://twitter.com/adlogi
2. ARDUINO + SCRATCH https://vine.co/v/MVKUblOhZ6X by https://twitter.com/qramo

Both workshops were scaled well and effective. Something that stood out to us was how the participants, who are educators from around the globe, interacted with each other. We helped each other troubleshoot and explore. All of us seemed comfortable with rapid trial and error. Which leads to the second principle – Peers.

PEERS

In the keynotes, there was a lot of emphasis put on the role of peers when we are learning to program or make things. In the keynote on Day 2, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl https://twitter.com/ElyseEA of the National Writing Project said something that hit home. Now, her project is to transform “readers” in to “readers who write” but you can see the connection to transforming consumers to makers. Elyse pointed out that hour-long workshops have their place because they introduce people to writing. But to become a writer, one needs to engage with a community over time. They need to share their work. They need to get and give feedback. They need to mentor and be mentored. Something to think about as we look at our programming at the makerspace. How do we nurture our community so that more Ithacans can go through this transformation?

PASSION

One thing we think about at IG and in tech overall is how to foster more diversity and inclusion in our community. One way to help more kids and adults learn technology is to offer experiences that enable them to tie technology – which is new and foreign to them – to something that they are already passionate and knowledgable about. Then the technology becomes less of a scary thing that newbies can’t do and more of a new tool for expressing ourselves. This passion principle is held by Harvey Mudd College where they offer joint majors that allow people to integrate a field they are passionate about with CS. It seems to be pretty effective with women filling over ½ of their CS student slots.

PLAY

There’s a lot of talk about PLAY in the creativity space. At MIT, they make an interesting distinction between PLAYGROUND play and PLAYPEN play. The playground is a social environment where we interact with people and explore our decision making processes. In the PLAYPEN, our activity is more constrained. We don’t have the freedom to reach outside of ourselves. So when we are designing playful environments, it’s important to keep this distinction in mind.

The last session we went to at the conference was a session hosted by women who created the FAMILY CREATIVE LEARNING https://twitter.com/ricarose guide and GUERILLA POPup MAKERSPACEhttps://twitter.com/GuerrillaMakers. Both projects integrate all 4 Ps of the Media Lab. Here’s a secret they shared that we really love, “The aesthetic of these things is that it should feel like a family gathering. We always start with food.”

YOUR TURN

We welcome your insights on the 4 Ps or other principles that have captured your imagination. Share them with us in the comments or on our facebook or twitter streams.