Final project prototype

This is a small prototype of my final project.  The full-size object will have miter joints so there will be no visible seams.

Also, I may change the design a bit.  I think the thick band of acrylic looks very nice but I plan to experiment with an extremely thin band as well.  There will be a light source inside so that the band of acrylic glows.

Design analysis: AmazonSupply

For my design analysis I chose AmazonSupply, an industrial supplier operated by  My current work outside of ITP is in a similar industry, and the design practices associated with this kind of industry are usually very bad.  However, AmazonSupply sets the standard for such a website.

The home page has five columns - one for navigation and four for product grouping - that keep the information organized.  The header content is split over the first column and then centered over the remaining four columns.

As far as negative space is concerned, there is not that much room to breathe.  One of the hallmarks of this industry is to pack in as much information as possible.  AmazonSupply uses the grid system combined with a white background to make the content stand out through contrast.

The two primary fonts are Verdana and Arial, used for the product category links and the vertical navigation menu, respectively.  I could not identify the other fonts in use (in blue and green boxes) although part of this is the AmazonSupply logo.  Regardless, all fonts are sans serif which gives the page a clean feel.

Finally, the color system is very simple which adds to the clean feeling.  Besides black and white. there are only six colors used: two blues (#2161BD, #6391D4), three shades of gray (#2E2E2E, #484848, #BFBEBE), and a gold for link hover (#CC7A00).

To summarize, adherence to a strict grid, use of similar typefaces, and a basic color scheme make AmazonSupply easy on the eyes and easy to use.

Midterm project: Color flute

Get the code: Arduino + Processing

My partner (Yu Ji) and I decided to expand on my earlier project and create a device similar to a flute which could be used to draw colors on a screen. From the start Yu had wanted to use a sensor to detect blowing air, and a woodwind instrument seemed to be a good metaphor from which to start the design process.

I drew a rough diagram of what we thought the device should look like, along with a few details on what sensors we wanted to use. We were going to use a MPX5100GP air pressure sensor but it proved to require a pressure far too powerful for a device meant for human breath input. Instead we used a simple piezo buzzer.  The rest of a diagram is accurate - three photoresistors, one for each RGB color channel, and an accelerometer to detect the device's movements.

While looking for materials to house the device, we happened upon a long bamboo pole.  Wanting to be economical, we decided to use it since it was free, but we also realized that it was aesthetically pleasing to combine a natural wood with bare sensors.  I cut a small length from the larger bamboo and drilled small holes for the photoresistors.

For testing purposes, we wired the necessary sensors to an Arduino Uno using a breadboard. It was at this stage that we decided to binarize the photoresistor values since it was difficult to achieve accurate results in dynamic lighting environments. Choosing a threshold value between "on"and "off" allowed us to use the photoresistors much like the holes on a woodwind instrument.

Once we got everything running fairly smoothly, we miniaturized the circuit on two tiny breadboards hooked up to an Arduino Micro. I set aside channels for power and ground, and tried to minimize the area of the circuit by grouping like components together while allowing for sufficient space for the necessary wire connections.

One of the hardest parts was inserting the miniature circuit into the bottom of the device.  We used wires which were too hard to bend, and as a result at least one wire would come unhooked each time we installed the circuit, forcing us to repeat the process a number of times until the serial monitor confirmed that all of our sensors were functioning as desired.

The finishing touches were acrylic glass end caps that I cut to hold the piezo in place at the top of the tube and the circuit in place at the bottom of the tube. I happened to have acrylic scraps that exactly matched the color of the photoresistors, which was a bonus.

Above is the final result. This project was a challenge and it really helped my understanding of the device design process, from rough sketches to prototyping to fabrication to circuit optimization. It also highlighted our respective strengths. I was able to contribute much of the code and some of the elements of fabrication, and the "optimized" circuit I designed would have been a disaster without Yu installing the sensors into the physical device, making sure to keep the bundles of wires separated and marked, allowing for ease of troubleshooting later.

Response: Revisiting the definition of physical interaction

In my first post about physical interaction, I defined it as "two-way communication...between an object's physicality and/or the physical senses" used "in meaningful ways to achieve some end." Looking back, I still think this definition makes sense, but I have gained more insight into the nature of the interfaces providing this interaction.

Tom's theory that "nothing is intuitive" is important to me because it eliminates absolutism from interaction design.  Good design pushes boundaries in ways that can be adapted to rather easily, and it is in the design that the "user manual" should be coded implicitly.

Given this new take on what we are capable of, both as designers and users, I will continue to feel more confident in proposing design decisions that may not be classically accepted, as long as the user can learn in a way that recalls past experiences.  I am also optimistic that we as a technology-producing society will be freer to experiment with nontraditional paradigms that will speed the rate of advance in interface design.

Rubber molds and resin casting

I casted some small hardware using OOMOO® 30 silicon rubber for the mold and Smooth-Cast® 300 urethane plastic for casting.  I didn't document the entire process but it's somewhat similar to the method used with my previous mold. The big difference is that this mold is reusable, and I was able to cast several times until I got the quality I wanted.

The bolt and screw were casted from exactly those objects.  The coil/spring objects on the right were actually the result of failed casting of the screw.  The urethane plastic leaked out of the bottom of my mold but managed to coat the details of the screw's threads.  On my last attempt, I was able to cast the fully formed screw after ensuring that no plastic could leak out of the mold.

Prototype of a prototype

Since I decided that my final project would involve layers of acrylic glass, I have been playing around with the material to get a feel for its potential uses.  I cut several small pieces, stacked them vertically, and sanded a curved edge.

The belt sander makes quick work of the acrylic but has the unfortunate effect of melting the layers together at various points (see the red mark above).  However, sanding by hand creates a very smooth and reflective surface, and I will be exploring that technique more in the coming weeks.

Lab: Waste mold of a hand

For the first of two weeks on molding and casting, we made waste molds of our own hands.  Waste molds are usually not reusable; hence, the material is thrown away after just one use, which is far more wasteful than other mold methods.  However, waste molds are very easy and can be extremely detailed when the proper technique is observed.

Only two materials are needed to make this mold.  The first is alginate, a naturally-derived substance that absorbs water quickly.  Powdered alginate is mixed with an equal volume of water to create a gelatin-like substance that takes the impression of the object to be casted.  It's important to coat the object to be casted in a mold release agent (in this case, Vaseline) which enables the object to release from the alginate without damaging the mold itself.

This negative is called the mother mold, and it is into this mold that the second material, plaster, is poured.  Once the plaster sets, the mold is removed from the container, beginning the detailed process of cutting away the alginate from the surface of the plaster cast.

The reason that my cast was not of my whole hand was that I did not make enough alginate for the mother mold.  When I put my hand in the alginate, there was only enough to cast up to my knuckles. However, I do like how the finished cast turned out.

The level of detail this type of mold affords is quite remarkable given the total effort required. If you did everything as fast as possible I think you could completely finish a casting like this in about 40 minutes.

Drawing colored ellipses with a glowing box

My assignment (with Sheri Manson) was to make a physical interface for use with a Processing sketch from Introduction to Computational Media.  I waived this class but Sheri had a sketch for use with this project.

Her original sketch was a canvas on which you could draw multi-colored ellipses using a mouse. The color, opacity, and audio was determined by the mouse pointer's coordinates and the speed of motion. We modified this sketch to use an accelerometer as a controller, with changes in motion along its x-, y-, and z-axis controlling these same attributes.

We mounted the accelerometer (with Arduino) in a semi-transparent acrylic box, along with a multi-color LED that we programmed to match the color on the canvas.  The movements were very fluid; however, the LED proved to be unable to represent the entire color gamut of a computer monitor. Nonetheless, the glowing box created an interesting emotional feeling as its true contents remained hidden from view.

Experience: A free coffee, a stranger, and a decoration competition

The experience I designed is relatively simple, and it involves my favorite coffee joint, Everyman Espresso.  Here I am, outside:

My invitation consisted of a coffee cup, a free drink coupon (in the form of a buy 10, get 1 free card, completely filled out), and a note with instructions.

The note read like something like this:

  1. Have a coffee on me (don't forget to tip!)
  2. Collaborate with a stranger to decorate the coffee cup
  3. Present the decorated cup to the barista(s) for judging, and encourage them to start an annual cup-decorating competition.
The idea was to see if I could affect change indirectly; that is, by getting someone to carry out my idea without me actually interacting with the people at the other end.  And of course, to get the person who received my invitation to leave ITP for awhile, have a delicious coffee, and interact with someone completely unknown to them.

Lab: Acrylic box

This week's assignment was to make a box with acrylic glass.  I came up with a trapezoidal design since I wanted to try something slightly more interesting than a cube.

I drew a rough sketch of a cube with one slanted face, the shortest and longest dimensions being 3.5" and 7" respectively.  After cutting the necessary pieces on the bandsaw, I "glued" them together at the edges with methylene chloride, a chemical which fuses acrylic on contact, then sanded all over to make the edges and corners smoother.

I'm excited to continue working with plastics, and I've decided that my final project in this class will involve acrylic glass in some way.