Paper Apps

After 6 months of travelling around the States climbing I am back to begin my PhD. The title is Paper Apps, and it looks at applications for paper based printed electronics.

PhD Project Summary

Paper is the most versatile information and entertainment platform that we have. It is thousands of years old; is read-writable and is ubiquitous. It can be worthless and disposable or priceless and treasurable. What it doesn’t do is connect to the Internet. But what if it could? Novalia’s printed electronics technology enables paper to become electronic. You can turn paper into a touch sensitive area; you can connect the Internet, MP3 players, simple visual elements (LEDs/EL), mobile phones and so on. In other words paper can become new forms of Apps. However, new knowledge of how to integrate printed-paper electronics from a user centred design perspective is desperately needed. To illustrate this, consider the following positions:

* The difficulty for the printed electronics is that the investment in technology push is at times widening the gap between what the technology can do and what the market needs (NewElectronics, 2011)

* Design and creativity led innovation provides a significant competitive advantage to companies. “Companies that invest in their design capability and develop a reputation for innovation can avoid competing on price alone”. (Design Council, 2008)

In the PhD project Paper Apps, we want to explore how to join these two positions through design activity to explore new methods to generate new business for the printed electronics industry. The approach will be based on testing how the world will react to a future of hidden digital technology through experience prototypes and design concepts. Key research questions are:

* What methods can we use to test and predict social responses to emerging technology trends?

* What is the role of design in providing evidence on future trends in plastic and printed electronics?

* What methods can be developed to prepare designers, manufacturers and consumers for a sudden potential rise in printed and plastic electronic technology?

I have started off my work by making some quick paper prototypes. These prototypes look at what paper electronics could be in the music industry.

This is a pair of paper headphones which use paper thin piezos and silver conductive paint.

E.L record sleeve.

Record sleeve with circular LED array. This was created using BARE conductive paint and a laser cut stencil. BARE conductive paint has much higher resistance than the silver conductive paint, but is much more versatile as it can be screen printed. It is also much cheaper so it makes playing around a bit less stressful….

Paper USB pen using silver conductive paint and the circuit from within an old USB pen.

The experimenting continues…….

Announcing Insight Journalism

We are proud to announce the launch of the findings from the Bespoke Project


Download now!

This came about after Justin Marshall secured us a space at the V&A during the London Design Festival 2011. Given a 3 month window from June to September, we set about a speed-writing process of a summer in Falmouth. Locked in a room with Jusin, John Mills and Alicia Blum-Ross we set about generating the story of Bespoke – including blueprinting our methodology and sourcing stories from as many of the project participants as possible – including participants on the project (such as DubP and Dhee) and many of the researchers.

What I really enjoyed about it was that I was able to write knowing that I had the safety net of John and Alicia – who I have to say are absolutely incredible at working with my slightly raw content – picking up on the story and ensuring we were saying what we wanted to in a way that we wanted people to hear.

Alongside John and Alicia, Justin sourced an incredibly easy-to-work-with and talented Graphic Design agency, Sames and LittleJohns – who were very patient with our many requests for edits and changes and worked through some intricate and clear info-graphics for our blueprint and timelines. Nice work guys!

So my new thing is that if I’m going to write, I’m only going to write collaboratively – the mix of content, editing and graphic design made for something I’m incredibly proud to say I’m a part of…. but that’s my view. Download it – it’s a bit of a read (you wouldn’t want two and a half years of research to end up only with a 1,500 word paper would you….). If you read one thing, read the closing editorials.

But the take home message from this is that if you’re wanting to make a hire to find out about our communities – make sure you hire an Insight Journalist.

Interact 2011

In September, Paul and Larissa from the research studio attended the Interact 2011 conference held in Lisbon. Larissa took part in the Doctoral Consortium and a full paper was presented by Paul as part of the user experience track titled Structuring the Collaboration of Multiple Novice Design Ethnographers: Towards a New User Research Approach. The presentation itself went well with some great follow-up questions highlighting things to address with the next iteration of  the approach.

Other stand out talks from the conference were:

Helmes, J. et al., 2011. Meerkat and Tuba: Design Alternatives for Randomness, Surprise and Serendipity in Reminiscing.

Presented by John Helmes, Microsoft Research Cambridge. Meerkat is a semi-autonomous robot that has 3 LCD screens on a robotic arm that pops up and shows combinations of photos from the user’s computer. Its behaviour appears agitated if it is ignored and conversely gets bored when it is used too much. Tuba is a flip up device that changes to random content each time it is rotated. This could be playing music, showing photos, Facebook statuses or just simple fun facts. A scraper sits on the user’s computer and gathers the content from a specified set of sources. Both projects provoked interesting questions around the relationships people have with devices in the home and types of content people are willing to have on semi-public display.

Smyth, M., Speed, C. & Brynskov, M., 2011. Critical Design :: Is It Just Designers Doing Ethnography or Does It Offer Something More for Interaction Design?

The panel was a little poorly attended due to bad location and lack of promotion from the organisers but the discussion that ensued was thought provoking nonetheless. Some interesting tensions arose between the approaches of critical design and participatory design for engaging the public in decision-making in relation to new planning projects. Many of the concepts critical design proposes are frequently inaccessible to anyone not literate in this highbrow language of understanding design. Also, participatory design seeks to involve people in the design process but this then somtimes leads to an obligation to pursue the ideas people have helped to generate.

Norman, D, 2011. Industrial Programme Secret Keynote

Don Norman gave an informal stand-up keynote without any slides in the alternative conference location at the Hotel Marquês de Sá. He spoke about the research-practice gap in relation to research groups within companies and their need to align themselves better with the product groups. He also spoke about the need for more HCI people with MBAs so that they have a much more powerful voice within companies in comparison to the marketing or engineers who can always justify their reasoning by focusing on cost.

Aliakseyeu, D., Du, J., et al., 2011. Exploring Interaction Strategies in the Context of Sleep.

Admittedly, this talk from Dzmitry of Philips Research did have a few people yawning but not due to a poor presentation. It was because the content dealt with the relatively unexplored area of sleep. This first covered the social, psychological and physiological aspects of sleep then went on to propose opportunities for interaction design in this space.

Greenberg, S., 2011. Opportunities for Proxemic Interactions in Ubicomp (Keynote).

The keynote from Saul Greenberg provided the most depth out of all the keynote speakers at the conference. He discussed a proxemic ecology (a term originally coined by Edward Hall) in relation to ubiquitous computing. This is a way of thinking about all of the devices people interact with and how their proximity to them should change the way those devices behave. Such ecology includes non-digital physical artifacts, portable media devices, people, large-display surfaces and information appliances. He closed his talk by discussing challenges including the HCI field’s ever-utopian ideals and lack of engagement with ethical issues. He used the example of looking back on the literature on hypertext and how it includes no references to porn, gambling, e-commerce or advertising.

Dalsgaard, P., Dindler, C. & Halskov, K., 2011. Understanding the Dynamics of Engaging Interaction in Public Spaces.

One of the best talks of the conference discussing 3 case studies – a Lego augmented reality app in a retail store, a ‘hydroscope’ interactive installation based in an aquarium and a media façade called Aarhus by Light. These studies were used to develop a framework for aspects of engagement for in public spaces, which were content, physical, social and cultural. More info available at