Electric Imping


Over Christmas I was having a bit of a rest from writing my transfer report by playing with my new Electric Imp.

This wonderful little device is the size of an SD card that can be embedded into objects to make them internet enabled. I managed to create a few Christmasy experiments over the festive period. The first experiment was to borrow Bendan Dawes’ wonderful example to create a tweeting Christmas tree, every time the tree lights went on in the house it sent out a tweet to let everyone know. This was done by sticking an LDR directly onto one of the tree lights to recognise when they were turned on. When the imp sees that the lights are on it sends a message to open.se, which composes a message and tweets for you.

Screen shot 2013-01-10 at 15.00.04


The second experiment was to make the Electric Imp work the other way round. Instead of using the real world as an input and digital world as an output,  I wanted to control the real world using the digital world. I managed to hack some code together from online examples so that every time a website was refreshed it activated a servo motor to spin a mini Christmas tree.

Electric Imp controlling a servo motor from michael shorter on Vimeo.

This code was then combined with a mains relay, now when the website was visited it turned the Christmas tree lights on, and then off when visited again.

Electric Imp controlling Christmas tree lights from michael shorter on Vimeo.


Conductive Ink Workshop at MakLab


Mike, Tom and Roy from the research studio held a conductive ink workshop at the wonderful MakLab in Glasgow. The aim of the workshop was to introduce conductive inks to to collection of Glasgow creatives to show them its potential. The workshop was attended by people from various backgrounds, from design to printmaking.

We went armed with some 555 timer circuits that allowed people to get stuck right into playing with the ink and interactions, and not worry too much about the technology side of things. The 555 timer circuits made it really easy for people to create basic noise making devices.

Due to the fact that the technology for the workshop was pre-prepared it really allowed people to concentrate on creating some great paper interactions. By the end of the night the ink had moved away fro paper and onto other objects like wooden blocks and even skin (much against the manufacturers recommendation).

Workshops like this are always rewarding because not only do you get to meet a bunch of great new people, you also always come away with some new information – this workshop was no exception. Sophie Dyer introduced us to a low tech screen-printing technique. This technique allowed us to rattle out  multiples of prints in less than an hour (this even includes cleaning the screen!). The magic thing about this process is that you can create detailed prints without having to expose a screen. Instead, you use a vinyl cutter to create the mask, and stick it on the underside of the screen. You then put a towel (or something soft) down on the table, tape your paper to the back of the screen and away you go!

Mozilla Hack Jam – Data Live!

Lat week we were delighted to host a Mozilla Hack Jam. Data Live! was an event to explore the future of an open web that collected live data for news and made it physical. It was amazing to see the how into making things real people are. And as one of the Mozilla Knight News Fellows Cole Gillespie commented on how easy it was do get started with an Arduino when you’ve got someone (that’ll be Ali Napier and Chris Martin) there to walk you through it. Cole spent the next 36 hours starting a love affair with electronics that he never knew he had… more on this later!

It was a pleasure to bring in Paul Egglestone, Andy Dickinson and Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino who riffed about journalism, news, hyperlocal, digital content and the meaning of physical digital over two-days of making and doing in the DCA.. Paul’s two blog posts really do some it all up perfectly – with The New News Entrepreneurs Make Real Stuff and #Mozparty Dundee

There’s this really simple thing that people just get – that when you make something controlled by software do something physical it is magical. It really is. Every single time you wait a few seconds for the first download and boom there it is the Jaw Drop. The first hack of the day by Ali and Chris did this to pretty much everyone in the room with their twitter bird that pointed in the direction of geo-tagged tweets to it.

This followed on from Daniella Rovira’s lovely twitter bird that uses muscle wire to flap the wings of a twitter bird when a #tag is tweeted.

We were joined by both Nokia and Imagination labs from London who joined forces to hit out an incredibly well resolved game that was a mashup between Have I Got News For You? and ‘Whack-A-Mole’. It was a formidable team who knew what they wanted to do, knew how to do it and just got right down to hacking. And what a result! Check it out!

And we were treated to two guests who travelled long and hard on their tour of Mozilla hack-hames – the now legendary Cole Gillespie and Laurien Gridnoc – who flew into heathrow and drove up the night before making several stops on the way… Wow these guys can hack – and I can see how well the Knight-Mozilla News Fellowship worked last year. Really – Wow! #talent. I REALLY love this thing that Cole knocked up after an hour on Arduino… Google Streetview controlled by a joystick. He was using it as part of a mashup he’d written for connecting street view to situated videos – so you could navigate along a street view and see tagged video and play it… Paul thought that this would make an incredible documentary film makers tool – Can we Mozilla – can Cole and Paul and I make this (I’m thinking a 1980s style arcade machine form…) and bring it to the Mozilla Festival in November?

All the while we had people who took on facilitator roles and quietly moved people’s ideas on. Dean Wilson from Sapient came up and worked with people to push their ideas and to think strategically about why their ideas should exist. We were incredibly lucky to have Justin Marshall travel all the way from Cornwall to help us in our digital fabrication and our approach to crafting the way we make things.

There is a lot we could talk about. For me it went incredibly well. The huge reflection that I and really ‘we’ the community have to work on is how to make this repeatable. To go beyond the fun of networking and learning new things for professionals – and to take this into the world so that ANYONE can do this. That they can do this to use hack jams as a way to solve problems and to make their world better – whether they are better informed, better entertained or simply better connected.

A huge thank you to @zandr and Richard for throwing on the digital infrastructure and keeping us all on the web! And for the connection to the outside world through their Air Mozilla streaming – check the results of the final presentations

And a huge thank you to all of the 50+ people that pitched up, grabbed a soldering iron and showed the world that you can make the web physical in 36 hours. Your tweets were great and I’ve tried to sum up on this Storify.

So what next? I hear some pretty interesting things are happening with Mozilla Japan……

Make The Web Physical!


Culture Hack Scotland, Skinny’s Jeans and Trackman Word Installation


Mike, Tom, Roy and Jack all headed over to Glasgow for Culture Hack Scotland last weekend for 24 hours of hacking objects using an amazing bunch of data sets from various cultural services.

After a couple of hours of idea generation it was midnight and we decided we had better decide on what ideas we wanted to make. By this time we were all getting a bit delirious and decided to take the Skinny’s listings data and make a pair of jeans progressively dance more as more events were happening in Glasgow, visualising the cultural activity in the city.

We also wanted to take the data from a new novel by Catriona Child, Trackman. 

We decided to isolate sections of text so the viewer could reflect on each element more than if it was in a body of text. We wanted this to be an interactive installation, the text would only reveal itself when the viewer was in proximity.

Mike holding up the workings of Skinny’s Jeans.

A quick video of the first testing of Skinny’s Jeans…….

Testing the pico projector around Society M.

The final install for the Trackman installation, subtly positioned on one of the desks in the main room with the pico projector cleverly hidden in a lamp above.

SXSW 2012


The Question:
Can Printed Electronics Save the Music Industry?

The Panel:
Jon Rogers, Pete Thomas, Tommy Perman, Kate Stone and Kenny Anderson.

The Discussion:

At SXSW we discussed how printed electronics could save digital music in the context of connecting communities to record labels and artists.

Printed Electronics is an emerging technology with the potential to change how we interact. We can now reliably print basic electronic components onto paper and card; and when connected to conventional electronics, has the potential to re-connect digital to physical for album covers, fanzines, merchandise, and getting new music heard.

We raised questions of what does digital mean to independent hyper-local record labels that want to connect with their community and how bespoke digital printed electronics on paper could achieve this and alter the future of digital music and how artists can connect to people.

You can listen to the full discussion here.

The Prototypes:

Mixer Release: This object looks like a 7” record release, but has no vinyl. It instead has an inbuilt mp3 player that the user can remix using a paper mixer built into the sleeve. This object was created to start discussions around piracy; what if there was no definitive version of a song.

Night/Day Release – This object is a CD sized card case release that has a built in mp3 player. The lyrics to the song change depending on light levels, if it’s dark then its explicit, and if it’s light then its child friendly. This object was exploring how music can be reactive to its surroundings.

‘Wireless’ is a paper radio!  It pulls audio content from the internet and plays it back on a piece of paper.  This particular prototype is ‘powered’ by audioBoo and plays audio tagged with #sxpaperapps.

This is an experience prototype of a potential future scenario, and as such, a few non-printed components have been used. In the not so distant future we’ll be able to print the audio speakers and print the silicon required for the chips. Importantly though, the backend of the touchpoints (‘buttons’) is conductive ink, so the user experience is as true as it would be if all of the technology was printed onto the paper using conventional printing presses.


MSC Invite – This invite was printed with conductive ink. When plugged in at the event the invite is turned into a musical instrument. This invite was created to add value to a normal piece of paper with very little expense.

Mike demoing some of the prototypes after the panel.

Paper Headphones – These headphones come in an A2 poster format, but can be popped out and built up into paper headphones. 100 of these were produced to test out the current efficiency of batch production.

#sxpaper Apps – we’re off to SXSW!

Tom, Mike and Jon are all heading over to SXSW to take part on a panel with incredible technologists and musicians from the UK. We’ll be presenting live during the Interactive ‘Can Printed Electronics Save the Music Industry’.

The panel will take place at 11am on the Tue 13th of March 2012 in the Austin Convention Centre: Room 12AB

Why are we going?

Because we are excited about making the web physical.

Over the last five years we have built a small research unit exploring socially led design research that can be used to respond to the needs of communities. We research and generate impact for how existing and emerging digital technology can be harnessed using design to enable new forms of interaction and production for the benefit of people.

South by South West is the world’s most important digital festival and we are working with printed electronics technology – and in an exciting change in direction from standard academic publishing we are putting our work in front of global industry leaders for a live and open debate. Can Printed Electronics Save the Music Industry? Of course it can! But only if we redefine what ‘saving’ means and what kind of music industry we want. The bigger question is whether our very early stage research will have any impact on this highly clued-up audience that have a reputation discovering the next big thing.

But it’s a debate – and we really have no idea where we’re going to quite end up. You get Jon’s view (@ileddigital) – but check out what King Creosote has to say about the whole thing:

“At this juncture, keeping music non digital is the only foolproof way
for recorded music to hold on to what remains of its value, and to regain
the sense of anticipation and excitement that used to accompany a record
release, thus supporting the re-growth of a beleaguered industry.
However, having made this bold backwards step as a musician and a record
label boss, the relevance of an online presence tails off dramatically,
which inevitably and ultimately leads to an outright rejection of the

What is most exciting to me about my trip to sxsw in 2012 is to be given
the chance to enthuse with the absolute clarity of my 20/20 analogue
vision about vinyl records and early 80s music industry values to an MP3
loving, largely digitally blinded audience and co-panellists.”

Which would explain why he hasn’t made a tweet since joining twitter in 2011 – but you have to love his 396 followers!

I think my favourite comment was when he presented at our Ideas Day a year back – “Get off facebook and into the pub!”.

Tom, Ziggy and Mike are all on stand-by to show off all our wonderful demonstrators including the paper headphones, paper mixer, paper internet radio and the invite instrument.

During our time out there, 7th – 14th of March,  we will be live blogging everyday to keep you posted on what’s going on out there! You can keep up to date with what we’re doing on twitter with #SXPaperApps

Paper Apps from Uniform on Vimeo.

Who are we going with?

Jon Rogers – Jon runs the Product Design Masters at the University of Dundee. He will be chairing the panel.
Pete Thomas – Pete is the Futures Director at Uniform. He is interested in how paper electronic will effect the future of print.
Kate Stone – A leading technologist in the field of printed electronics with her company Novalia. Kate will be able to give us all the technical info on the panel.
Tommy Perman – Member of Found, Tommy is very interested in new ways of releasing music.
Kenny Anderson – a.k.a, Mercury nominated, King Creosote, Kenny is the digital sceptic on the panel.

Please get in touch! @ileddigital

Timescapes workshop at NID

In parallel to the physical apps workshop, I had the pleasure to carry out a week-long workshop with a small group of incredibly talented students from NID. The workshop was organised around the theme “timescapes”. We spent 3 days discussing the subject as well as playing around with electronics, and 3 other days prototyping specific concepts.

The initial discussions led us to 5 different subjects namely:
boredom: uninteresting, redundant time vs moments of busyness that make us consider each second as invaluable
objects/physicality of time: mark of time on things – ranging from a cup of tea that gets cold after a couple of hours, up to buildings that physically change when left alone
natural time: aspects related to time in nature – its cyclical manifestations and different scales
waiting: idle time that involves the expectation of something that is about to happen as well as the frustration of not having it quickly or the comfort of not having to do anything
life time: related to different generations, memories and how the perception of time varies in different phases of life

After choosing a subject, participants sketched several ideas for objects that would make people reflect on this specific theme. Ideas were continuously expanded and filtered down until the fourth day, when one specific idea was chosen and the prototyping phase began. Images of the process can be found here. The final projects were:

Parallax by Dinesh Kumar, Neha Motghare and Sneha Ashok evolved from discussions about the conflict between boredom and busyness. The project challenges viewers to stand in a very specific position in order to read time accurately. The length and width of the clock hands are equal, but are oriented in such a way that the perceived length of each hand varies according to differnt view points.

Time window by Varun Prabhakar approached the physicality subject described above in an interesting way. The project attempts to incorporate a clock into the formal aspects of a window. The idea is to provide a new way of presenting time, in which hours are presented on the horizontal axis of the window and minutes on its vertical axis. This arrangement generates new a graphic composition at every minute.

The Crazy clock project by Virang Akhiyania aims to discuss the contrast between natural time (slow and cyclical) and constructed time (which leads to ever faster lifestyles). “The clock rotates crazily until someone passes by or stands in front of it. It then takes time to show the time: only when someone stands in front of it for a while is that its hands slow to the the accurate time.”

Sandesh by Sudhir Mor and Sivakumar T aims to solve a problem characteristic of rural areas in India. In these areas municipal water supply is irregular and untimely. People have thus to continuously wait for water to come in their pipes. After some tinkering, Sudhir and Sivakumar decided to hack a pressure gauge and connect it to a buzzer, which in this case is triggered by the movement of the gauge hand.

#PhysicalApps India!

Live capture of the Product Research Studio trip to India

Invited by Praveen Nahar from the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, we are here for two weeks to explore a range of digital economy projects – from exploring open learning with level 2 Product Design students – to testing workshops on our latest design/technology projects.

What follows is our blog as it happens in the NID studios.
Follow us on twitter at #productDundee and tell us what you think!

Friday 27th January 20:00

By Jon, Tom and Mike

It’s our final and show-time day. After two weeks of soldering, coding, sketching, prototyping, re-learning, making and a bit of talking we come to the deadlines. Four groups. Four Physical Apps. One idea – make the web physical.  For the students this was clearly crunch-time – putting into practice what they been playing with over the last two weeks. More importantly than putting into practice the technology (as this will happen anyway) it’s putting into practice the idea of playing with ideas to simplify them. Making things simple or SuperNormal – not in their form, but in their interaction.

We love these T-Pins – the epitome of SuperNormal

All of the final-four ideas fitted this brief – they all did one thing really well and were all based on an Indian internet. From a Uniform inspired Sweet Tweets machine when India wins at cricket, to a Martin Skelly (also at Uniform – erm, bit of a theme here!) inspired Indian Playlist Player radio.  We really liked the way that the students got the sense of making-it-work and keeping it simple in order to make-it-work. The result as you can see was a fanastic collection of Physical Apps India that are a demonstration of the process we used and maybe some of them will go on to live as products – but that’s not likely and not the point – it’s the learning  – the digital that we wanted the students to get – and they’ve got it!

So some final comments

A crit of the work

The three PhysicalApps delivered to the show first:

Local Playlist Radio The card model was great. We felt that more thought was needed for the experience of the interactions – if it’s physical, you have to make it a great physical experience – the dial was clunky/felt-flakey). Oh and WTF was going on with the aerial (for those of you not here – it was 25m long and went to the roof of NID.. luckily no lightening was forecast!)

Take home: Really – nice dials / switches / levers – we love them! Don’t skimp on these – it doesn’t take much. I rant a lot about this to my students back home…

Personal Stocks Great prototype! We love it! You got the tone just right. World – this is an exampler – you want to make a quick and dirty experience prototype using electronics – follow this. Simple. Easy to explain. Demonstrated the interaction. High 5!

Take home: Keeping it simple always works. Zoom out of the technology and think ‘what do people want to experience when they see/use this prototype/. Nice one!

Cricket Celebrator! Awesome thinking! So much of this was great – from the concept to the detail – fun, engaging and the show stopper! But, erm, so the electronics worked – but the mechanical interaction was ‘wide’ at the last over…  Come on – if you need a flat surface to make it work – make it on a flat surface! Check one stage at a time and stop adding stages when it stops working….

Take home: Go for it! Make inspiring exciting interactions. Design for a show if you’re showing at a show! But come on – check it works! It was amazing! But so close… can you feel the disappointment – it’s like being #2 in the world for cricket!

1)    Three out of the four projects pulled it off. Why didn’t the 4th? Quite simply – they didn’t listen. For some reason, and I don’t know why as they were a super-smart group that worked hard and had a great idea – they fell back in the ‘product trap’ – they were overdressing and over-engineering their sketch. Taking it away from being an experience prototype and trying to make it a product. The result being  that they pulled and pushed (both physically and mentally) the product until, well it just didn’t appear!

Take home: there’s a reason why we experience prototype with simple materials – it’s to communicate what it can do, not what it will be. Don’t turn up at the first date with a pram!

2)    Servo’s are the best motors to prototype experiences with! Alhtough simple motors are easy to turn on – they’re impossible to control. They sort of promise so much and deliver so little.

Take home: people like to make things move. Making things move is a defining characteristic of being physical.

For us and for digital economy research

To state the obvious, India is an incredible country. The challenges and opportunities are at times obvious as well as subtle and exciting. What strikes me is that it is a country that is a ‘cloud in waiting’ – while in the UK we are very much individuals struggling to form communities (hence all of the ‘big society’ and ‘connected communities’ rhetoric being slightly over-egged in the UK research communities) – in India it is very much crowd-based economy. It is a people based economy. It is an emerging digital economy – but a digital based on mobile and group-based problem solving. Socially and economically it is about crowds. Take a UK wedding – 100 is a lot of people. In India 1000 is not a lot of people. From restaurants to education – it is people on the ground that are working with you. Delays occur more from too much help than from too little! So you wait. What happens when, and I don’t know when this will be, when the Indian Nokia 3300 generation becomes the smart-phone generation – when the crowd connects to the cloud? All of the mistakes of the digital economy in the UK/US can be skipped. A digital ladder to an incredibly advanced socially led infrastructure could emerge that makes facebook look rather silly.  When India becomes the cloud. That’s a day I want to see.

Thank you NID!

Thank you to the students and staff of NID. You’ve been wonderful. Especially to Praveen Nahar and his wonderful family!

Thank you to our sponsors – to NCR for fully funding and directing our students (check out the parallel blog for http://productdesign.dundee.ac.uk/msc/) to conduct and commission a mobile insights study and report as part of their study with us. Thank you Mozilla for paying for Mike to conduct his PhD trials in PaperApps here. Thank you to Microsoft Research for funding Larissa’s Time and Space workshop. Thank you to DJCAD and the University of Dundee for paying for Tom and myself to be here.

PhysicalApps Brazil? Maybe….

Get in touch!

Mail me – j.rogers@dundee.ac.uk
Follow me – @ileddigital

Thursday 26th January 17:30

By Tom

So, deadlines are looming, the final exhibition at the forefront of everyone’s mind, the last 18hrs are here!

Tomorrow the student’s work will be displayed alongside some fantastic work from the NID Open Elective, so we’re all in for a great final day!

Not much more to say… Don’t want to show too much now – come back for the big reveal tomorrow, and if you’re on campus make sure you come and experience the exhibition.

NB – location tbc

Wednesday 25th January 20:00

By Jon

Jon and Mike take trip to the School of Design at the MITID Pune

Mike and I explored ideas on PhysicalApps India! with a new group of students at one of the private newer Indian Design schools. The students were really good – a group of 33 second year students who were super keen to work with us. It would have been great to get into technology, but for a 1-day session we wanted to keep it to ideas – about making the web physical.

It’s always good to give talks in new places – it helped me refine my thinking about why we are doing this…. and in the talk I put it this way – if product designers don’t start designing for the web, then who will? Will the web remain rectangular? You can imagine what the curriculum of a (post-industrial) product design course could look like in 10 years from now…

Week 1: Design a rectangle
Week 2: Make it shiny
Week 3: Graduation

OK so this is a huge over-exageration – more of an illustration than a prediction…. or rather more of a call to soldering irons to product designers to own the web. For Indian product designers to own the web.

Over breakfast scanning the PuneMirror I noticed this..

Which again shows the timeliness of our visit. I’m really excited to compare how India uses Twitter – particularly the natural comparison between Obama’s twitter-machine. @PMOIndia could have a billion followers…. that’s digital democracy. We sent him a welcome to twitter… just because we could.

The workshop followed a now standard path for our methodology – asking students to create 100 ideas to get on brief – using the ‘circle of selection’ to help students to navigate the difference between a ‘digital product’ in general and the more focussed ‘physical app’. Again, great to test this method – with the same rules coming up.

1. Does you ‘app’ connect to the internet – or does it need to connect to the internet
2. Does it do one thing
3. Is it an application

Again – initially students struggled on the difference between a more general platform that looked like a PhsyicalApp (e.g. a computer skinned to look like a first-aid box) – but the ‘circle’ worked that one through.

The day ended with some great examples of physicalApps India (pics to come).

A huge thank you to the faculty and students of MITID Pune!

And back over in NID…

By Tom

Today has been a long and productive day.  The students spent the entire day iterating their final idea through sketches and prototypes.  Towards the end, Arduinos and other tech were introduced, and the first experience prototypes took shape.  Throughout the day, the students were, in a way, left to manage their own time around 3 brief discussions – am, lunch, pm – and it was good to see that other side of their work..

Tomorrow is an Indian holiday, so hopefully at 3 – when Jon and Mike return to NID – we will be presented with good early stage experience prototypes and the basis of a Press Release.

Ideas look good so far – looking forward to seeing the prototypes!

Tuesday 24th January 18.30

By Tom

The mission for the students, which will continue first thing tomorrow, was to generate and iterate ideas and perhaps show their first physical sketch.  And they’re pushing on nicely, with well over 200 ideas being shown so far, they’re now in the process of narrowing them all down to one.

If they hadn’t already, they needed to break the brief down and really consider every aspect of it. Experience Prototype; PhysicalApp; Navigate, Space, Time, Information; India.  And from that, generate as many ideas as possible in the knowledge the great ideas will come, ‘quality from quantity’ (Jonism).

There were a number of phases of ideas that they needed to go through.  We had considered various idea generation models for when to generate, iterate, create ‘idea babies’ and when to synthesise and narrow to the ‘one’.  In the end we decided not to be too prescriptive, and used a simple process:

The ideas generated from this are looking good.  They’re currently in the middle of the big arrow (look above!) and they have really grasped the appropriateness of certain materials/processes at certain times of the design process and what type of sketching is appropriate when.  The other thing to mention is the different sizes of paper used at the different stages, it would seem that give the students an A4 sheet and they’ll create more considered and resolved drawings, but give them a sheet of A6. and they just bash the ideas out.. Both were exactly what we wanted!

So, we have given them a little longer at this idea stage to make sure the ideas have depth and are well considered. Tomorrow, they’re presenting their final ideas and early prototypes at 12pm.

So far, so good – really looking forward to what they present, I hope they keep it up!

(Mike may add further content later!)

Monday 23th January 19.30

By Mike

Today the students showed us what they had created over the weekend. There were some great projects which referenced their culture and local behaviours in very fun ways. For students that have never worked with technology before these guys have really got a great understanding of how to prototype with electronics.

First up is the Alien Communication Device. This device allows you to converse with aliens by emitting various frequencies. The circular patch works as a proximity sensor and controls the pitch. The semi circle is controlled by keeping your thumb on the small circle and sweeping your finger round. This controls the frequency.

Next up is the camera experience. These guys really wanted to combine bare conductive with origami. When turned on this device gives you an LED count down, and when stretched snaps open, exposing an LDR, and makes a camera shutter sound as well as a flash.

The bird poo hat. This hat plays an 80’s style computer game tune when pooed on (N.I.D. has severe bird poo issues between 6pm-7pm). What more can I say. These guys are keen on making a larger version, I’ll keep you updated on its progress.

This is the classic paper windmill, which are very common in India. Every time it turns a full cycle it beeps.

Then there was one more. Unfortunately I didnt take any photos of this one, I will stick one up tomorrow hopefully. These guys made some nice wind chimes. When strips of paper touched each other as they blow in the wind then play music.

After presenting their ideas the students were given the final big brief…

Create an experience prototype of a physical app, that pulls data from the internet, which allows you to navigate space, time and information within India.

We split the guys into 4 groups again and left them to generate (hopefully) hundredsof ideas, we’ll find out tomorrow. All of these idea generating workshops that have been happening over the last week have been developed to help our friends over at Mozilla find the perfect recipe for their up and coming idea jam events. Cheers for making it happen guys!

After delivering the brief Tom and I headed over to a famous paper mill where all the paper is hand made, seems relevent, and was really cool.

Friday 20th January 19.30

by Mike and Tom
[and Jon] today’s workshop was entirely run by Mike and Tom – but I’d like to give it a bit of a preamble… so bare with me…

Praveen’s shopping list for (and amazing) dinner we had with his family in the evening)

Paper is the most versitile platform for communication we have. It works across cultures, across communication forms and is both text based graphical. It’s universal and sustainable and after production requires no power to run. Add to this that it has changed the world many many times over, from interactions between individuals to global change. The cost-bandwidth is infinite – from worthless to priceless. And there is something beautifully simple about the content changing the value. I download a £16.99 App to my phone and is it worth £16.99 more? Yet the preciousness that is inherent in originality on paper is a thing to be both a little frightened of and to celebrate.

And when you start to layer it, bind it, print it, distribute it, fold, cut, scrunch, scrumble (that’s not a word – but I’d like it to be so), rip, tear, mark, draw on, scribble (which is a word and is the 2D version of scrumble), doodle, sketch, paint, collage, print render, glue, type and write on – you have a platform for everything and anything. And that’s why we love paper.


The thing is – we passionately believe that the internet is changing the world for ever and we love it – but we can’t connect it to paper and this that cuts…

Paper doesn’t connect to the internet

Until now – OK until about 5 years from now… but we can prototype that future right? With technology developed in the UK by two companies we love – Novalia and Bareconductive we can now start to prototype a simple new world of printing electronics onto paper – which we’re calling PaperApps.

In today’s workshop Mike and Tom delivered a day of paper-hacking and ideas jamming with our fantastic group of Products and with some new friends from Textiles.

So over to you Mike and Tom….

The brief: Interactive paper that can play music…..

We began the day by encouraging the students to really think about how we interact with paper. They started to sketch out as many uses and affordances of paper that they could think of. There were some really nice cultural uses as well as NID campus specific uses of paper. After all the different uses of paper had been sketched out we stuck them onto the windows of the studio to allow us to talk about some of the ideas. We went on to discuss the brief and asked the students to select which ideas they felt could make interesting interactive musical machines. To make the decision making process nice and quick the students voted on their top five ideas, and the idea with the most votes went forward.

The students then got back to the technology, this time with the added fun of using Bare Conductive! Bare Conductive allows the students to take the circuitry of the breadboards and onto the paper. Bare is a wonderful tool for allowing the students to find really playful ways of interacting with paper.

There were some great ideas coming out of the studio. A hat that plays music when birds poo on you. Here at NID between the hours of 6pm and 7pm milions of birds fly in for their toilet break, so bird poo is a hot topic here. We also have a paper camera taking shape. A paper windmill that plays music, also some paper wind chimes that play music in the wind.

We left the students to work away over the weekend, with the plan that we come back to some brilliant interactive paper music makers!

Thursday 19th January 17.22

By Tom

This morning was a continuation of yesterday’s electronics and programming.  We introduced ‘Analogue in’ and ‘Analogue out’ and now they’re all skilled up (Mike suggested, ‘Wired up’!) with Arduino..  As the afternoon arrived it was time to get off the computers and generate ideas around Indian physical apps.  There was a good discussion about the differences between digital products, gadgets, monitors, interfaces and what really constitutes a physical app.

They also began doing their own research into physical apps that currently exist, like ULAB’s Sweet Tweet, Berg’s Little Printer and our very own MSc students Physical App Store from Mozfest 2011.

As the evening stint begins, the enthusiasm continues!  A great level of progress has occurred in just over 3 days. The students have really managed to get their heads around all that we’re ‘bombarding’ them with.  And their enthusiastic work is being noticed right across NID which has lead to students from other courses joining in with the workshops – today animation students joined us and tomorrow a few textile students will join the ‘Paper Synth Workshop’

Wednesday 18th January at 18.15

By Mike

Today was all about exciting the students about code. We started the day by asking the students to write out their favourite recipe. In doing this we explained that cooking is like code, you have variables – temperatures/weights, constants are like equipment and loops are like cooking 10 rotis……. We were graced with another smashing Jonism:

We then moved onto Arduino, keeping it simple and teaching the hacking mentality. Not only is appropriate to hack objects , it is also very appropriate to hack code, especially with open source products. We emphasised how important it is to craft the behaviours of the inputs and outputs. We kept setting challenges throughout the day, including the classic logic/memory problem of recognising the change of state of a push button.

It was great to have the students start to figure out how to code themselves and help teach their peers, open source in action!

We kept encouraging the students to remember that they were designers, and to use design processes to figure out coding problems, basically remember to sketch things out on paper.

(over to Jon)

This thing about being a designer and remembering this is really really important. I had a fantastic email from the incredible MP Ranjan who we were privileged to have join our class for the afternoon- if you want to know social change read his Design For India blog, get in contact with him, get on the next plane to Ahmedabad and find him somewhere on the campus (having tea is best bet – but join the queue!)

Here’s Ranjan’s summary of the class

It was indeed thrilling to watch your class in action yesterday at NID and to see NID product design students, all undergraduate non engineers crack the electronics and software thinking abilities with a hands on approach to learning code and logic structures. This is a very important aspect of design learning that may have been ignored inmost design schools since these abilities are seen as core domains of engineering and left to geeks. Looking at the work that has been going on in your class and at the many diagrams on the walls of the classroom and the impromptu prototypes that “work” it seems to me that new design schools or at least new age design schools need to integrate such software skills and logic assignments into the very foundation programmes that have evolved as being the heart of a good design education.

Thank you Ranjan!

So tomorrow is a big day – we’re starting to drill down into a brief that extends our Wayfinding brief from our friends at Mozilla – to look in more general about information and wayfinding. So this means looking at not just how we find our way (mapping, locative technologies) but how we find our way in both physical and information spaces. Somewhere between MIT Media Lab’s Doppellab, the MSc Product Dundee’s Physical App Store and the Bespoke project’s Wayfinder….

Tuesday 17th January at 19.44

by Jon and Mike

Sketching verus experience (…and learning twitter!)

It’s the end of day two and most of the work in the class today has been done by Mike – re-inforcing the group’s view that I do money+enthusiasm…

Two main objectives were to wrap up the Fake Apps from yesterday and to use these to get the students thinking about their digital presence.

A quick divergence – students are asking me “what is a fake app” – and to back-track “what is a physical app”. Here’s a summary: PhysicalApp – n. A product that connects to the internet to do a single dedicated task. A great example of a PhysicalApp is Chris McNicholl’s Tweetingseat OR taking it further, our MSc Product Physical App Store for Mozilla Festival 2011 And by definition – a FakeApp is an Experience Prototype of PhysicalApp (it doesn’t actually connect to the internet… it just shows what would happen if it did). Thanks to @everythingiknow for as usual coming up with elegant people focussed resources for all of us mortals…

We had a bit of a discussion about the value of sketching Vs prototyping Vs experiences. Again like idea generation, students earlier in their career feel much more comfortable trying as hard as they can to make the most resolved finish to their prototypes – regardless of the stage they are prototyping. This is often a distraction – and Tom/Mike/Larissa commented that ambiguity is essential in prototyping. The more ambigous the more discussion and the wider the development of the idea into a product. Lock it down early with resolving a prototype’s visual language too much and you close discussions… And we want open at this stage.. .

I kind of came out with a bit of a Jon, er, classic…

Which I think worked! It’s about knowing/developing a visual style for how you or the world views your prototypes. White card symbols or icons do this well (yeah, I know some of you don’t agree… put a comment about it…).

Got into building. Ideas furthered and experience prototypes came together.. We pretty much left the students to get on with things while we went to iterate our hotel… (more for another in-the-pub-story when we get back)

So our first show of work from NID Product Design level 2


So now we get down to the reason we’re here. Let’s get prototyping and programming… starting that at 10.00 tomorrow morning… but first asked all of the students to bring me a recipe of their favourite local/home food… because if you can cook you can programme! Will be posting some of these tomorrow… mmmm

More tomorrow – I’m heading to meet the MSc Product students who have just arrived!

Monday 16th January at 18.03
by Jon

What a day!
Objective – get product students thinking from a single user, solution-lead, designs – to web based technology that mean multiple people (or communities), play-lead, prototypes.

So here’s a thing – a common approach of design is to think of a limited range of design ideas and test these against user needs and or technology viability. This is fine – but we like to do things a little differently. We don’t want students to pre-filter what makes a good idea. We think that every idea can lead to a great product. So we want students to create a 100 ideas – no wait – they did that – let’s go for 200 ideas – about what physical apps for India could be.

116 ideas on day 1 – Nice work NID!

Students played with simple electronics kits – water sensor, sound-to-light, wheel-of-fortune… building these up and then thinking of product ideas around them. We’re moving onto Arduino later in the week – but want to get thinking digital before the ‘wow!’ of programming blinking LEDs. This worked incredibly well and we’ve really started to see students moving from problem-solving to opportunity-finding.

Have a look at this game – it’s Minesweeper using a water sensor that kicks off an alarm when it hits water. This could easily be a product – think about having a roller to ‘paint’ a water maze. What if it was connected to the web? Online players? Too far? Get in touch if you want to help the students develop this….

More tomorrow – when we’ll be asking the students to make videos / blog and get their first prototypes out there.


Screen Printed Interactive Invite

We have created interactive invites for the Product Design MSc launch party. The invites also double as musical instruments, when brought along to the event the audience can plug their invite into a little box and they become fully interactive playing 8bit music. The user can control the pitch as well as the frequency of the beeping. The large circle acts as a distance sensor, the closer your hand is to it the higher the pitch of sound. The three small circles control the frequency of beeps. This all works with capacitance.

We decided to try and screen print the invites using Bare Conductive. Our first attempts did not work out too well as the ink is very fast drying and kept drying in the screen. When using this ink you really need to move fast……

Tom applying the ink onto our screen.

This process was great, it gave us an opportunity to figure out exactly what we could print with Bare Conductive. I guess the main lessons we learnt were:

Move fast – the ink dries very fast so we really needed a fast production line going.

Keep the screen small – we initially tried to print on a large screen (both sides of the invite) meaning more ink was wasted around the sides and you could not work as fast. We went on to just print each side separately on a smaller screen which worked much better.

Trace size – We were using a line thickness of 1pt If I were to do it all again I would increase this to 1.5pt or 2pt as the trace was sometimes broken.

Invite design.

When people bring their invites along to the event they need to plug their invite into something to play along with the entertainment. I created this little box that plugs into the P.A. system.

This box has an arduino inside that figures out what is being touch and creates the 8bit music.

One of the biggest challenges with paper electronics is finding ways to connect the paper to batteries/power/arduino. I decided to hack a bulldog clip that connects to 4 different traces on the paper. It simply involves a section of copper board scored into four sections sandwiched between two pieces of acrylic within the bulldog clip. This solution makes it easy for the user to connect their invites, it also does not damage the paper like crocodile clips or paper clips do.

I will upload some videos soon….