Response #3: What do “Pictures Under Glass” mean for our future?

In his “Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design”, Bret Victor presents readers with an interesting perspective on the essence of our current technologies and what this current path of “innovation” is leading us to. As of right now, perhaps the most “effective” and used of technologies are the smartphones and tablets we cannot seem to separate ourselves from, as almost all aspects pertinent to our daily life – calendars, email, social media, etc. are compressed into these objects. In this line of thought, if the release of new and “enhanced” versions of such technologies are perceived more and more as innovation, then what does this mean for us in the future? As Victor contends, how could these Pictures Under Glass equate creativity in invention? And more so, how could an extension of this, in which such concepts are implemented into more objects, like windows, fridges, and walls, be considered the peak of human invention? These are some of the claims Victor presents in his rant, inviting readers to question what they truly think innovation is, and imploring us to “start using our hands”.

An important point Victor brings out is the emphasis of our hands as our primary method of interacting with the world around us, of receiving feedback from different objects, of learning through touch. With such capacity in our bodies, isn’t the present use of smartphones and Pictures Under Glass undermining and limiting our capacity? Through simple finger movements, the capacity of what we can achieve through smartphones and tablets is endless, but at what cost are we sacrificing our motor skills and practices? Perhaps currently the repercussions or losses resulting from current technologies is not felt. However, we are going on a path where everything is becoming more “effective”, equating less effort and movement on the user’s side. The use of actual notes and calendars is almost null, and even art practice is leaning towards digital mediums. What would it mean for us when “traditional” arts practices like drawing and painting are reduced to means where they would be solely mandated by touch and a Wacom tablet? What other tools or techniques do we need to sacrifice for the sake of “innovation”? These are some of the issues Victor brings up, inviting us to reflect on the current path we are taking and what this means for the future of interaction design.

Response #3: Aesthetics vs practicality

The first chapter of Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things dwells with the elements that constitute effective and successful design. As mentioned by the author, human centered design is perceived as the philosophy or, as I interpret it,  the essence of any interactive object. Only through the consideration of people’s needs, wants, and preferences can one truly create a successful design. He further contends that this can be achieved through the initial consideration of the user, his needs, and his margins for error. If one first considers a person’s motivations, behaviour, and drive, and then evaluates ways in which what is learnt regarding such aspects can be applied in design, an effective product will emerge. Rather than blaming the user for not being “smart enough” to understand an object, evaluating the possible improvements and slight nuances that could be implemented to allow for a more streamlined interaction would be the best “user-centered” approach.

Another aspect Norman focuses on in this initial chapter is the way different elements, such as affordances, signifiers, mapping, and feedback work together to improve an object’s discoverability. Up until this reading, I had truly taken for granted the small details in everyday objects. I had totally disregarded them as “givens” for any design. For instance, I had never considered how even the “simplest” of interactions, like those with the campus elevators, also incorporate affordances and signifiers. The ringing sound that occurs after the elevator reaches a level, the specific tone and light that turn on once a button is pressed, and even the two vertical lights that turn on and off as a way of signifying the direction the elevator is heading to are all essential aspects that result in streamlined interactions between users and objects. I also think that the fact that such aspects are so easily overlooked, as was in my case, serves as further evidence of the elevators’ successful design, as it is much easier to discover faults in such aspects through tedious or cumbersome interactions.

A final aspect I want to comment on is regarding Norman’s claims on Emotion & Design: Attractive things work better. In this reading, Norman brings up the debate of aesthetics vs practicality through the explanation of positive and negative affects and their influence on people’s everyday behavior. Norman concludes that “attractive things work better”. He implies that the pleasure emergent from an object’s aesthetics will be sufficient as to make a person’s interaction with it more effective, even granting the user patience to overcome the difficulties encountered with such an object. In contrast to his claims, I believe that a balance between practicality and aesthetics is the most efficient approach for any design. Regardless of how pretty or aesthetically pleasing an object is, if it fails to fulfill its purpose and function, then where does its value come from? If a pair of earphones is designed in a way as to make it the most visually appealing, but sacrifices its functionality and turns out to be uncomfortable and faulty, what use would there be for such an object? Would it just be kept as decoration? Would people truly overlook its uselessness just because it is beautifully designed? Thus, I believe a balance between aesthetics and practicality must always be sought after, and no extreme preference on one or the other should be made.


Assignment 2: “Heartfelt connections”

For this second project, we had to create something with multiple inputs and outputs. Thus, I considered two possibilities: 1) create a completely new project with different dynamics and switches or 2) build up a new system with more inputs and outputs based on my previous project. After much pondering, I decided to go with the second option and continue with my main purpose of connecting people through lights, making it only possible for the lights to turn on solely if people connected or collaborated.

The first thing I decided to do to expand this project was to add more switches by creating four more bracelets. I first considered making people do different poses or hand gestures that would cause different light patterns to emerge. I also thought of writing a code that would make the longer the connection between the bracelets the more complex the patterns for the light. In the end, I decided these ideas were a bit too complex to follow through, so I settled with the concept of making something that would change the light patterns shown depending on the combination of connected bracelets. After considering how I would implement this both physically in the Arduino and in the written code, I realised the difficulty of altering the switches in such a way as to allow this outcome. Therefore, I decided that the light patterns would change according to the number of connections made rather than the combination of bracelets. For instance, if no bracelets connected, all the lights would be turned off. As more bracelets started connecting, more patterns would ensue.

Initially, only 4 LEDs were placed in a single-file line. It was until later that I decided to add them to another breadboard and place them in a circle to make the patterns more elaborate.

The following video shows an example of my next attempt at making different light patterns depending on the number of connections made.To explain a bit fully, there were initially going to be 7 patterns. If bracelets A1 and A2 touched, switch A (first connection) was made, and pattern 1 would occur, if switches A and B were on, pattern 2 would occur, and this would continue on. In the following video, there are two patterns shown. The first pattern lit up due to the first connection, and  the second occurred due to the addition of a second one.

After writing the code for the next 5 patterns, I started thinking that perhaps my idea was too simple. What was truly the point of making different combinations with the switches? What message did I want to convey? After considering this for a long while, I decided to change my approach and relate the idea of connections to heartbeats. Now, depending on the number of connections, the LEDs’ flickering would simulate that of a heartbeat. When less connections were made between the bracelets, less lights would turn on and the slower the flickering, simulating a “normal” heartbeat. Once more connections were made, more lights would flicker in unison and the faster the flickering would become, culminating in all the lights being turned on. In this manner, I wanted to simulate the excitement that surges through connections and relationships with others. I searched through various online sources and youtube videos on normal to accelerating human heartbeats to try to make the flickering of my LEDs the most accurate.

Links to codes:

  • Link to the first code (only containing certain patterns and combinations).
  • Link to the final code with heartbeat flickers.

The following video shows the outcome of making two connections (or joining four bracelets together).

This next video shows the final product and what occurs when more and more connections are made. As is shown in the video, as more bracelets are joint together, the faster and the higher the number of flickering LEDs. The purpose of this final product is for six people to put the bracelets on and play along with the combinations to see the simulation of the heartbeats through the LEDs. As can be seen, once more and more connections start occurring, the more lights flicker and the faster they go.

All in all, this was a very lengthy project that, although seemingly simple, turned out to to take approximately 5 to 6 hours. The process of writing the code was a bit tedious, since a very minuscule error in syntax led me to a 2 hour delay of simply debugging and trying to figure out which components of the code were incorrect. Other than this, the code was full of “if conditions” that were initially difficult to get a hang of but were still manageable. The process that took the longest occurred once I decided to change my initial idea of having multiple patterns to the final heartbeat project, since I had to adjust the code to the new idea and had to change the circuits from a single file line to a circle with a larger number of LEDs.  Finally, if I had more time and more knowledge on Arduinos, I would have implemented sound into the project, as to make the sound of an actual heartbeat accompany the flickering of the LEDs. This would definitely add to the whole experience of connections between people with these bracelets.

Response #2: So, what truly is interactivity? Are “jumps to universality” still possible?

This week’s two readings offer insights regarding the true nature of interactivity and man’s century-long struggles of “jumping to universality”.

In the first reading, Crawford personifies the word “interactive” as a victim, one that has had to suffer continuously through abuse, dealing with constant misuse and misinterpretation. To “salvage” the remainings of this word, he sets out an analogy that, in my opinion, is true to the essence of this word. Crawford suggests that interaction is cyclical; it is a process through which a conversation emerges, and where both members consequently speak, think, and listen. Such an analogy proves to be successful in delimiting when a person is reacting rather than interacting with an object. However, this then brings to question what each person could interpret as a conversation, and the extent to which the interactivity of an object is contingent to each person’s subjectivity. As an attempt to further specify this definition, Crawford introduces a type of “interactivity spectrum”, to which different objects have varying levels of interactivity, all defined by how “well” an object speaks, thinks, and listens. Initially, this scale seemed to further narrow my perception of interactivity, but upon further thought, it brought up some more questions. What actually defines which objects present high levels of interaction? Is it their ability to surprise users? Or their ability to fulfill the most accurate of expectations? In this line of thought, then wouldn’t a calculator be considered the most interactive, as it receives a user’s request, processes it, and produces impeccable results? In comparison to Siri, which could be considered one of the most interactive of objects since she actually converses with users, wouldn’t a calculator be more interactive due to its almost nonexistent error margin? Such inquiries led me to understand how all these aspects are ultimately defined by the user’s needs, and how, ultimately, interactivity is all about the way users interpret, react, and utilize different materials.

In “The Jump to Universality”, the author contends about universality and the century-long struggle to reach this end. The aspect of this reading that stood out to me the most was how easy it is to take for granted this concept of universality, when it actually took centuries of effort to reach such inclusivity. It is interesting how, through different examples of the early “pictograms” and the various numerical systems throughout history, universality could have been reached through seemingly small modifications or additions to the systems. This is emphasized by the author to such an extent as to give the impression that such a “jump” was so obvious that perhaps ancient masterminds and mathematics purposely avoided this outcome. Out of all the examples presented, the one of Archimedes was of great interest to me. I find it extremely trivial how this mastermind had the jump to universality in his fingertips, yet either deliberately chose or did not realize how a small change in his system that restricted its limitations could conclude in universality. However, I do think that we only perceive such changes as obvious due to our wide exposure to universal concepts. Modern languages, alphabets, mathematics… all these concepts are already free of restrictions and have infinite possibilities. The “obviousness” we grant such concepts leads us to undermine the actual difficulty of reaching this outcome. The question now is, in such an age of innovation, where everything seems to already have been invented, are there any “obvious” changes we are missing to lead to more innovation and inclusivity? In present societies, is there still room for more “jumps to universality”?

NYUAD Automatic Doors: Truly Accessible or Additional Struggle?

When thinking of possible interactions I could observe, I considered interactions with objects that, although seemingly simple and effective, actually posed slight technicalities that led to cumbersome situations or hindrances. Amongst the options I considered, the automatic doors present in each residential building came to mind. People’s interaction with these doors are initially straightforward: a student swipes their ID card, the sensor validates it and opens the door for the student, and the student passes in a matter of seconds. This allows for an effective method of monitoring entrance to residential buildings and ensuring that only people with access actually come in. Easy. Or is it really?

Based on personal experience and on previous observations, these doors can actually turn this initially simple task into a momentary hassle. While observing the students swiping to enter, the inconvenience of using their net IDs was almost immediately seen. In most cases, students with almost no belongings simply swiped their card and entered, but those who had to hold laundry baskets, grocery bags, laptops, phones, or other objects such as pizza cartons had difficulty when pulling out their ID and swiping in such a manner as to make the sensor function without letting their items fall. In some cases, the security guards at the entrance even had to open the door for those students who were struggling greatly and were actually causing others to wait behind them. In other cases, people who had their IDs in their wallets, bags, or phones also experienced momentary difficulties when swiping. Since their room key would interfere and would cause the doors’ lights to turn red and emit beeping sounds, the person would have to take a step back and repeat the movement slowly until the sensor worked correctly. Circumstances such as these are the various points of failure that these automatic doors are subject to.

When considering all these factors, there is an evident discrepancy between the expectations versus the reality of such an interaction. Although very practical in terms of design and functionality, situations in which people do not necessarily have their hands free to swipe their ID lead to a failure in terms of effort and time effectiveness. Regardless of the automatic doors’ success in most cases, failure to address these issues makes interactions with them quite cumbersome at times. Thus, some possible improvements that could be addressed could be mostly aimed at facilitating people who are holding many objects. Placing trays or any type of placeholder at the sides of the doors could allow people the chance to place their items there momentarily in order to swipe their IDs effectively. Placing a sensor at the top of the doors’ surface rather than on the sides could also make it easier to just swipe the card while holding other items. As the current design of the doors is effective in most instances, slight improvements that address the issues stated beforehand could be the final touches to make these automatic doors truly successful, allowing for an efficient interaction with something that should be nothing more than just swiping and entering in a matter of seconds. 

Response: “There Are No Electrons: Electronics for Earthlings”

Through the use of simple language, effective comparisons with everyday objects, and various anecdotes about “little Greenies”, Kenn Amdahl strips down the multiple complexities of electronics into actually understandable concepts. As a person who had absolutely no previous exposure on the subject, Amdahl’s explanations of voltage, current, and resistance proved to be extremely comprehensible and effective. As was predicted in the preface of the book, I enjoyed the reading even if I had no previous interest in electronics, and learning was indeed a bonus to the task.

Amdahl begins by reestablishing readers’ previous conceptions of electronics by undermining the complex jargon this subject is commonly associated with. Establishing jargon as not only a way of simplifying scientific explanations but also as a method of “fooling others into believing that you understand something”, Amdahl presents readers the possibility of using different, non-conventional terms to understand electronics. Through this manner, he paves way for readers to ease into the idea of accepting explanations of concepts in terms of falling men, the Greenies’ need-to-party, and hoards of buffalos trying to get past a canyon.

Another aspect Amdahl emphasizes is the fact that scientific models are simply ways of explaining the workings of different topics, and should not be perceived as the actual reality. By questioning the validity of the universally accepted electron theory, Amdahl stimulates readers to look at widely acknowledged models through a critical lens, trying to really understand what they mean and imply, and to not only absorb any pieces of information endorsed by the scientific community.
Through such means, Amdahl successfully teaches readers about concepts such as the properties of static electricity, the workings of radioactivity, and terms like voltage, current, and resistance. By using simple analogies that compare the most unexpected of examples such as a person’s desire to dance to Johnny B. Goode with voltage and electricity, Amdahl ensures readers an entertaining yet informative way of understanding the workings of electronics, without forgetting that although these models offer simplified ways of comprehending such concepts, they should not be mistaken with reality.

Assignment 1: Switch

For this task, the main goal was to develop a switch to turn on an LED light in a creative fashion without using our hands. After much pondering, I decided to create a simple yet effective way of connecting people through a bracelet switch.

The personal objective I had for this task was to try to find a way of creating a light switch that would connect two people through collaboration. In class, the satisfaction of simply turning on a LED with the push of a button was the highlight of my day. Through this assignment, I wanted to spread this same excitement with someone else. Thus, I considered two ways of elaborating this. The first was to use any conductive material attached to a body part to create a switch. The second was to utilize other conductive items or objects to have the same effect. In the end, I decided to focus on the second method and play around with the concept of a “friendship bracelet”; this led to the development of creating a bracelet switch.

Some initial ideas I considered before arriving to the conclusion of connecting with others was to attach buttons to clothing materials and pushing them together to turn on the LED, making “workout” switches that would require a person to stretch in a specific position for the switch to work, or even to make a switch that connected directly to one’s foot. Nevertheless, in the end I decided that it would be better to utilize switches that would include others, making the switch more interactive along the way.

After finally settling on an idea for the assignment, I then obtained the materials that would be needed. Since I had no bracelets that could conduct electricity, I obtained several strands of conductive paper and conductive thread to wrap around the objects. Through this manner, it was ensured that the bracelet would conduct electricity in its entirety. Below are images of the process of wrapping up the bracelets, the original items I used, and the final version of the bracelet.

After doing this, I used more conductive thread to connect one bracelet to the “ground” wire in the RedBoard, and the other to the wire in the “ground” slot of the breadboard. In this manner, both bracelets would be connected to the circuit and their interaction would cause the light to turn on.  This is demonstrated in the following images and video:

As is seen in the videos below, this type of switch would allow for people to interact with each other in different ways in order to turn on the LED. 

This other example technically includes hands, but regardless, I thought it was an interesting additional way of using the switch. 

Before elaborating the switch, I first wanted to further understand how circuits work and what is actually happening with the components. Attached below are some notes I took as a means of trying to grasp the topics in class a bit more, to then apply to this assignment. The sources I used were  ,   , and

Overall, this assignment was a great opportunity to apply concepts learned in class such as circuits, resistance, and voltage in a creative way that could also help to connect with others in an entertaining manner. Regardless of the fact that my creation is quite simple, I believe it fulfills the purpose of sharing the small joy experienced when turning this LED light through one’s own means. This assignment also gave me the opportunity of having exposure for the first time to circuits and electronics, something I did not think I would have enjoyed as much as I did during this task.