Our future technologies will engage, express, and co-habitate with us across a myriad of landscapes and manifest themselves in a variety of forms - from the expected to the unexpected. As HCI practitioners using interaction design as a lens, this studio based course will challenge us to reflect on these future technological artifacts as well as be emboldened to explore risk taking ideation of new forms of interaction. The course explores three primary themes:

physical sketching - learning to give form to ideas using drawing, sketching, cutting, folding, as well as modeling software tools such as Fritzing, Tinkercad, Sketchup, and EagleCAD


materials - fluid use of new materials for making such as paper, cardboard, foam core, play-doh, fabrics, textiles, string, wire, etc.


sensing and expression - skills in electronics from programing simple Arduino based microcontrollers to attaching sensors and actuators in the design of novel, compelling interactive objects

In this studio course you will...

get your hands dirty

make real physical objects

cut paper

sew electronics

design circuits

program sensors

and you will have great ideas....and bad ideas....

...and you will gain a set of indispensable skills for approaching, framing, and tackling many of today's foremost physical computing and interaction design challenges and those in your future

We will also examine how new technologies have impacted the way HCI practitioners, designers, and artists observe and interpret the world. The course will result in a final show of student final prototyped interactive physical technologies.


goals for the course


In this course, students will explore the fundamentals of physical interactive design prototyping using HCI as a lens of approaching and making work. Students will be introduced to and have opportunity to practice the fundamental concepts, methods, and practices of physical modeling, sketching, form giving, electronic prototyping, and hands on making. They will explore how physical objects create experiences, and understand the role that interactive experience can play in furthering that dialogue. Finally, students will improve their ability to make expressive, physical, interactive objects and present their design ideas.



This is a studio/seminar class with time devoted to lecture, discussion, practice activities, design worksessions, and critique of student work. This course will consist of two Design Vignettes and a Final Project demonstrating a functional interactive object set within a real life context and scenario. There will also be a series of Field Activitiesthat are incuded as a portion of your particpation grade.




Readings will be assigned throughout the semester.  Everyone is expected to read the readings.  One person will be selected for each reading to prepare a class presentation.  Each student is expected to engage in class discussions when readings are assigned. This counts towards your class participation grade.



Most classes will begin with a zip.crit.  A zip.crit is a rapid crit of an interface, object, design, etc.  We will be rotating through the class roster and choosing one person to do a zip.crit each class.  That person will select an interface, object, design, instructable, kickstarter, toy, etc.  At the beginning of class that person will briefly introduce the object, interface, design to us. The class will collectively critique the artifact.



Work and performance in the course will be evaluated after each Field Activity and the Final Project. Students will receive a grade at mid-term and again at the end of the semester.

In addition, the process of exploration is as important as the final product, so it is important that students manage time well and devote time to working on the assignments during the course of a week. If class time is given as a worksession and is not put to good use, students’ grades will be penalized. For assignments done in teams, students will be graded on individual contributions as well as synthesis with the team. Work that is late will be decremented in grade.

rules of engagement

One of the main learning exercises in this course is the critique. We will be building this skill throughout the semester Each of the assignments will be critiqued in class.


Be there!

Critique days mandatory attendance. If you are not in class or late, we will deduct from your attendance grade. There will be no exceptions.


Attendance of all classes is mandatory. You are allowed one absence for the semester without penalty (except critique days); thereafter you will receive zero credit for the missed studio. To receive an additional excused absence, you must ask in advance, and receive an acknowledgment from the instructor.


Excusable absences include family emergencies, job interviews, and presenting at a conference. It does not include wanting to leave early for long weekend or vacation. To receive credit for attendance, you must arrive on time. No late assignments will be accepted.


Be active!

During the in class critique everyone is expected to be engaged in the discussion. Assignments, timely attendance, and in-class and team participation are a critical part of the grade. Bringing examples from outside of the class is considered to be an assignment and is also important.


Be attentive!

No laptops, phones, electronics out or used during critique or during other critical discussion parts of class.


grading criteria

participation in assignments
good use of class time: attendance, critiques, (NO multitasking)
rigorous design explorations
quality of craftsmanship and level of completion
quality of the team’s reflection and communication about a design solution and process

For projects done in teams, students will be graded on individual contributions as well as synthesis with the team.
Work that is late will be decremented in grade.






Google Group: AO2011


Flickr Tag: ao2011


lab support technician

Yamanoor N. Sai Ram


DevLab @ 3612 NSH


Mon 2-4 pm

Wed 2-3pm


related courses


Making Things Interactive (MTI) 48-477 - this is a fantastic course taught by Mark Gross in CMU's School of Architeture as an interdisciplinary studio in which students design, build, and demonstrate projects in tangible embedded interaction. MTI uses the Arduino microcontroller as a platform for exploring the design and implementation of physical objects and places with computational behaviors. MTI focuses on many of the fundamentals of interaction and electronics programing. MTI foregrounds the interdisciplinary and open exploration concepts of interaction design where Activating Objects approaches the design of tangible and physical interactive experience through the lens of HCI. Both courses complement each other and both are highly recommended for students pursuing a tangible interation design practice.


Applied Gadgets, Sensors and Activity Recognition in HCI (Gadgets) 05-833 - this is a course taught every other year by Scott Hudson with HCII at CMU. Gadgets, as it is often referred, provides a terrific foundation for hacking and building electronics and gadgets. Like MTI, Gadgets and Activating Objects, capture a related theme of physical making and electronic programing. Gadgets foregrounds more of the electronics challenges in its curriculum where Activating Objects approaches this landscape from interaction design and industrial design framing. Both courses complement each other and both are highly recommended for students pursuing a tangible interaction design practice.


Gadgetry 101 - another great making course. Offered in the Robotics Institute at CMU, Gadgetry 101 provides one of the strongest backgrounds in electronic building. Brian Kirby and Tom Lauwers expertly instruct students of this course in advanced electronic circuitry and a myriad of valuable, custom electronic skills.




30 Aug warning: the future will be physical


Lecture: Intro


Handout: Field Activity 1 (due 06 Sept)


01 Sep

MAKE: cardboard and foamcore hacking

Handout: Design Vignette 1 (due 27 Sept)


Assign Groups


Tutorial on working with cardboard, foamcore, and glue


Handout: Foamcore Basics


DIY Cardboard Furniture

Jim Henson on Making Muppets 1969

Baily Blade Car Design (video 1) (video 2)

How to Make a Cardboard Chair

Collapsible Stool

How to Make a Paper Robin Hood Hat

1001 Things To Do With Duct Tape

Studio Activity: FreeMake


06 Sep
discuss: Physical computing


Critique: Field Activity 01




Ishii, H. and Ullmer, B., Tangible Bits: Towards Seamless Interfaces between People, Bits and Atoms, in Proceedings of Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems CHI '97.


Scott R. Klemmer, Bjorn Hartmann, and Leila Takayama. 2006. How bodies matter: five themes for interaction design. In Proceedings of the 6th conference on Designing Interactive systems (DIS '06). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 140-149.


Video: IDEO DeepDive Physical Protoyping

08 Sep

make: electronics intro


Lecture: Electronics Intro


Handout: Electronics Kit


Useful websites:






13 Sep

discuss: electronic making


Physical Computing by O'Sullivan and Igoe (chapters 1 & 2)


Make: Electronics: Learning by Discovery by Charles Platt


Making Things Talk by Tom Igoe (selections)

15 Sep

make: microcontrollers


Lecture: Microcontrollers


Event: dorkbot pittsburgh 7:30pm 2 brillobox (meet your local makers)


20 Sep

discuss: physical experience




J. P. Djajadiningrat, W. W. Gaver, and J. W. Fres. 2000. Interaction relabelling and extreme characters: methods for exploring aesthetic interactions. In Proceedings of the 3rd conference on Designing interactive systems: processes, practices, methods, and techniques (DIS '00), Daniel Boyarski and Wendy A. Kellogg (Eds.). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 66-71.




PGH Maker Faire entry deadline

22 Sep

make: worksession


In class worksession


27 Sep

CRITIQue: Field assigment 1


5 groups @ 10 min presentation each

29 Sep

MAKE: layout


Lecture: Soldering, Eagle, Wiring, Fritzing


Assign Groups


Kinetics (selections)


Handout: Field Activity 2 (due 20 Oct and Maker Faire)


04 Oct

discuss: KINETICS - art, motion, and meaning




Steve Benford, Holger Schnädelbach, Boriana Koleva, Rob Anastasi, Chris Greenhalgh, Tom Rodden, Jonathan Green, Ahmed Ghali, Tony Pridmore, Bill Gaver, Andy Boucher, Brendan Walker, Sarah Pennington, Albrecht Schmidt, Hans Gellersen, and Anthony Steed. 2005. Expected, sensed, and desired: A framework for designing sensing-based interaction. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact. 12, 1 (March 2005), 3-30.


Tom Djajadiningrat, Ben Matthews, and Marcelle Stienstra. 2007. Easy doesn't do it: skill and expression in tangible aesthetics. Personal Ubiquitous Comput. 11, 8 (December 2007), 657-676.



Lecture: Stelarc: Alternate Anatomical Architectures: The Cadaver, The Comatose, and The Chimera (5 October 4:30 PM)


06 Oct

make: sensors and actuators




servo motors



FETS / transistors


11 Oct

discuss: ambiguity and ludic design


Phoebe Sengers and Bill Gaver. 2006. Staying open to interpretation: engaging multiple meanings in design and evaluation. In Proceedings of the 6th conference on Designing Interactive systems (DIS '06). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 99-108.


Gaver, W, Designing for Homo Ludens, i3 Magazine 2002, pp. 2-5. and Gaver, W. Curious Things for Curious People, Goldsmiths Technical Report 2006


Art as experience By John Dewey (selections)


Discuss: Data Souvenirs


13 Oct



Groups cross critique session




18 Oct



Event: art and code


20 Oct

critique: field activity 2


7 groups @ 10 min each


Event: Maker Fair PGH (23 Oct)


Event: art and code


25 Oct



Maker Faire rehash

Making Thinks Talk...and Move...and Project...and See...

Sourcing Materials and Hardware





Handout: Final Project(due 15 Dec)

Assignment: 20 ideas : pinup 5 : present 3 (themes)

27 Oct

make: IDEAS


Check Point 0: Critique Ideas (3 min)


01 Nov

discuss: Design noir and critical design


Hertzian Tales: Electronic Products, Aesthetic Experience, and Critical Design, Anthony Dunne: Chapter 5: Real Fiction (pp. 83-100) and Hertzian Space and part 2 (pp. 101-145).

Heekyoung Jung, Youngsuk L. Altieri, and Jeffrey Bardzell. 2010. Computational objects and expressive forms: a design exploration. In Proceedings of the 28th of the international conference extended abstracts on Human factors in computing systems (CHI EA '10). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 3433-3438.


Jeffrey Bardzell. 2009. Interaction criticism and aesthetics. In Proceedings of the 27th international conference on Human factors in computing systems (CHI '09). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2357-2366.


Assignment Noir

03 Nov



How to Pitch


Video Skteches


Storyboard Design



08 Nov




10 Nov

make: Laser cutter & 3d printer


Laser Cutter Introduction


3D Printer Introduction






Assignment: Create Laser Cutter Design and Print (due 17 Nov)


Assignment: Create 3D Object Design and Print (due 17 Nov)

15 Nov

Critique: Check Point 1


Critique Ideas (Check Point 1):


- Present Ideawith focused theme

- Storyboard of idea (6 panels)

- Plan

- List of Materials (BOM)


17 Nov

discuss: soft computing


Present Laser Cut Objects

Present 3D Objects


Switch Craft: Battery-Powered Crafts to Make and Sew [Spiral-Bound]


Fashioning Technology, A DIY Intro to Smart Crafting By Syuzi Pakhchyan Publisher:O'Reilly Media / Make


22 Nov

make: textile computing




Working with conductive thread and soft textiles


Conductive Thread Info

24 Nov





29 Nov


01 Dec

Critique: Check Point 2


Check Point 2: Final Design / Present semi-funtional prototype / final plan (5 min + 3 crit)


First Ten:


06 Dec

Critique: Check Point 2


Check Point 2: Final Design / Present semi-funtional prototype / final plan (5 min + 3 crit)


Second Ten:


08 Dec





1:00 - 4:00 pm 8

Location: TBA



related links



Squishy Circuits


related additional readings


Where the Action Is (chapters 1 & 2) by Paul Dourish

Leonardo Bonanni, Amanda Parkes, and Hiroshi Ishii. 2008. Future craft: how digital media is transforming product design. In CHI '08 extended abstracts on Human factors in computing systems (CHI EA '08). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2553-2564.

Kuniavsky, Mike (2010), Smart Things: Ubiquitous Computing User Experience Design (Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 and Chapter 5 and Chapter 7


Rittel, Horst, and Melvin Webber; "Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning," pp. 155-169, Policy Sciences, Vol. 4, Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company, Inc., Amsterdam, 1973. [Reprinted in N. Cross (ed.), Developments in Design Methodology, J. Wiley & Sons, Chichester, 1984, pp. 135-144.]


Samuel Johnson and AnnMarie P. Thomas. 2010. Squishy circuits: a tangible medium for electronics education. In Proceedings of the 28th of the international conference extended abstracts on Human factors in computing systems (CHI EA '10). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 4099-4104.


Acting with Technology (chapters 1, 2, & 3) by Victor Kaptelinin and Bonnie A. Nardi


Eva Hornecker and Jacob Buur. 2006. Getting a grip on tangible interaction: a framework on physical space and social interaction. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human Factors in computing systems (CHI '06), Rebecca Grinter, Thomas Rodden, Paul Aoki, Ed Cutrell, Robin Jeffries, and Gary Olson (Eds.). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 437-446.