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Design Tool Design February 23, 2012

Posted by reto wettach in prototyping tools.
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Bret Victor, a designer who worked amongst others for Apple and Al Gore, talks about creativity and tools and has some important principles he follows when developing his tools:

“Creators need an immediate connection to what they are creating.”

He means by this that – while creating – changes has been experienced immediately. I agree on that: in art and design this is called “thinking within the material”. Bret says that “so much creation is discovery – and you can’t discover anything if you cannot see what you are doing!”

Applied to software developement, Bret is criticizing that coding (aka writing text into a text editor) is disconnected from the result. One works “blindly” in the text editor – “without an immediate connection” to the result.

Instead Bret is suggesting a system, where result and code are next to each other, and where changes in the code affect the result immediately. These changes can be done by typing of by a slider, which allows to change values dynamically:

(image source 3:46)

This is programming philosophy is also working for dynamic results as computer games and for complex programming algorithms!

Bret is applying his design principle also to electronic design – based on simulation:

(image source, 25:59 – with the mouse one can change the current)

I am a little surprised that – for design of analog electronics – Bret is talking about the simulation – even though they look wonderful and convincing for the chosen example. I would think that his principle applied to design of electronic circuits would be rather based on doing the real thing than playing with a simulator…

Regarding Fritzing, I am wondering what this philosophy would mean. I guess the first step would be to have more transparent programming environment for micro controllers, which not only allows the modification of values and code in real time, but also give feedback on every single piece of information available, be it on value of datatypes or on current situations at various ports. In a next step it would be interesting to develop certain electronic components, which can change their behavior dynamically (as a resistor).

Great talk!


M2M for very beginners February 17, 2012

Posted by reto wettach in gadgets, new technologies, physical interaction design, prototyping tools.

As I wrote a couple of months ago, I am currently preparing a new research project which focusses on the easy access for non-engineers to the so called “Internet of Things”-technology.

(image source)

The other day I stumbled over a wonderful project called “Ninja Blocks“. This is basically a piece of open source hardware, which can easily be connected to the internet and allows basically anybody to set up simple rules based on “triggers” and “actions”:

Example Triggers:
“Movement has been detected”
“The temperature has risen above”
“You’ve been tagged in a photo on Facebook”
“You’ve sent a new tweet”
“A button has been pushed”
“Sound is detected”
“Your friend has checked in”

Example Actions:
“Display text on an LCD display”
“Play a sound”
“Send a tweet”
“Open a relay”
“Turn on a light”
“Send an SMS to my phone”
“Post a message on Facebook”

What a great idea!

The block itself contains an RGB LED, a built-in temperature sensor and an accelerometer, four expansion ports and a regular USB port allow you to add further inputs and outputs.

The basic design philosophy follows quite a high-level approach, not comparable to Arduino. I guess that is the way to go: though this kind of plug&play approach even more people will be attracted to work creativily with hardware.

All the best for your kick-starter initiative, Ninja Blocks!


M2M for beginners December 3, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in entrepreneurship, innovative interfaces, new technologies, physical interaction design, prototyping tools.
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I just re-submitted a fund application for developing an M2M-development environment for non-engineers, following the philosophy of Processing, Arduino and Fritzing. Today, my colleague Stefan Hermann pointed out to me the project Twine, which is currently applying for crowd funding.

(image source)

Twine was invented by the two MIT-grads David Carr and John Kestner and already received more than 160K in funding! Well done and good luck!

(video source)

IAA: PCB-mounted dials September 22, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in prototyping tools.
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(own image)

Once you think about it more than a second, it makes sense to solder the dial motor directly on a PCB, which also holds all the LEDs necessary to display the different in-car informations on the dashbaords – but still it is nice to see the actual thing!

The company producing these specialized stepper motors is called Sonceboz. Here you can find the data sheets of these product line.

That’s why we made the PCB-view fully editable in Fritzing

IFA: Finally a printer for PCBs September 13, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in new technologies, prototyping tools.
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Well, it was clear that it would come – and still I find it exciting: The Japanese SIJTechnology Inc. presented at this year’s IFA a printer for printable electronics – unfortunately starting in the price range of 125.000 US $ – which means that Fritzing-users will have to wait a little longer before having access to this technology ūüė¶

(image source)

As far as I understood, they are particularly proud on the precision of their printing and on the fact that one can basically print any kind of metal.

Internet of Things August 31, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in innovation process, physical interaction design, prototyping tools.

Last year, I wrote an application for research funding together with Prof. Vandenhouten from the University Wildau. We were suggesting to developing a easy-to-use prototyping environment for the next generation of internet of things.

(image taken from the application, artist: A. Knörig)

Similar to the concept behind Fritzing and other high tech prototyping tools we follow the philosophy that making new technology accessible to non-experts leads to a wave of innovation. The art is to design these tools right – with a low entry barrier, high ceiling and wide walls – as Ben Sheiderman describes it in his wonderful paper “Creativity Support Tools” (2006):

“low threshold to enable easy entry for novices, high ceiling to enable experts to work on increasingly sophisticated projects, and wide walls to support a wide range of possible explorations.”

We suggested to not only design a new board, but also to develop a programming environment, which suits the potentials of an always-on hardware. Furthermore we wanted to adress many of the complicated and delicate issues (as privacy) in the background and proved a support platform with courses, sample projects etc.

Our application was perceived positively by the jury – with 91 out of 100 possible points. Unfortunately the German government decided recently to cut down on spending and so only a low percentage of projects have been funded. However, my partner and me decided to submit our application again for this year’s call.

Now, we are looking for partners, especially from telecommunications: even though we are planning to develop an open tool, it would be nice to have a partner, who brings in knowledge in the telecommunication side of this project and – at the same time – has an interest in opening the infrastructure for small-scale and innovative projects – and not only for the classical use cases as the car industry…


The Elements of User Experience July 20, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in prototyping tools, theory, visual design.

We recently are having lots of discussions about how to integrate visual interface design into the entire design process. As we at IxDS follow our own understanding of  co-creation as discussed by Sanders, especially in the field of service design, we are now trying to understand how to apply this process also to visual design.

Jesse James Garrett, founder of Adaptive Path,  suggested in 2000 the following model:

(image source)

Well, I think Garrett did a great job in naming these different elements of user experience, however I am not sure whether these elements should be carried out in such linear order (time) as suggested. I rather think that Visual Design needs to be approached in parallel to the other challenges – and not at the end!

Garrett puts the decisions on User Needs and Site Objectives at the starting point of the process, which I agree on. In my point of view those decisions – developed together with all stake holders – are the base not only for the Interaction Design etc., but also for the Visual Design.

So, when we work on such a challenge, we continuesly develop the visual design, using our own “prototyping” approaches according the needs of each phase. As with the interaction itself, also the visual design needs to be prototyped with increasing detailedness.

Garrett claims in this illustration that Visual Design is rather “concrete”. I am not sure that he is right in this point. Many qualities of Visual Design can be discussed and represented (prototyped) in a very abstract way, as e.g. colors or emotional qualities.



Reto Wettach Interview June 6, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in innovative interfaces, prototyping tools, theory.

Last weekend I gave an interview in maybe Germany’s most interesting radio program for “media and digital culture” called Breitband (German for ‘broadband’).

On the occasion of the International Design Festival DMY¬†we were discussion the challenges of interaction design, especially ‘design for debate’, ‘co-creation’ and the importance of design tools for design. The title of my part of the show is “design as a cultural technique” -wow!

The interview is in German and can be heard online.

Ubiquitous Computing getting closer and closer May 8, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in new technologies, physical interaction design, prototyping tools.
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The basic philosophy of my foundation class teaching in Physical Interaction Design is very inspired by the thoughts on Ubiquitous Computing by Marc Weiser dating back to 1991. He did this nice graph showing the development in computing, from main frame to what he call ubiquitous (many computers per person):

(image source)

Not only that he was very right, today I read about a PC called Raspberry Pi device for 25$ in the size of an USB-stick:

(image source)

With this size and this price and the fact of not being an embedded or proprietary system I guess that a lot of new use cases are thinkable! And I think that Arduino and these friends need to update their concept as well – as least the price!

I also talked to J. Cohen, our wonderful lead developer of Fritzing, and he said that even Fritzing might run on this device. We need to try, but that would be impressive!

Another Platform for Computer Science Education May 6, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in learning, play, prototyping tools.
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Just stumbled across The Finch, a new and very cute robot for computer science education, developed by¬†Carnegie Mellon’s Create Lab.

I was quite impressed that the software to program the Finch is available in a lot of different languages, amongst others Java, Processing and Python.

I also quite impressed by the price and robustness of this device. The only thing I am not so excited about is the permanent connection of Finch to a PC via USB-cable. This seems to be quite troublesome or limiting, even though one doesn’t need to take care of batteries – as they say in their video…

In the introduction video the inventors argue for Finch based on their own framework for using robots in the computer science eduction:

  • Works Everywhere
  • Rich Interactivity
  • Aesthetically Appealing
  • Robust Hardware
  • Minimal Curricular Changes

I think this framework sounds reasonable, however the point “Minimal Curricular Changes” is too applyed for my taste. I prefer the thoughts of my ex-MA student and colleague Andr√© Kn√∂rig, who described in his MA-thesis the goals of our tool¬†Fritzing¬†as “low entry barrier”, “high ceiling” and “wide walls”.