Engineering Through Designerly Conversations with the Digital Material

Time: Fri 2015-12-18 13.00

Location: Kollegiesalen, Brinellvägen 8, KTH

Subject area: Mediated Communication

Doctoral student: Jordi Solsona Belenguer , MID

Opponent: Professor Anna Vallgårda

Supervisor: Professor Kia Höök


The role of IT devices and technology in our everyday lives is growing.The commercial availability of sensor and wireless communications technologies has led to an increase in the number of systems utilizing these to provide compelling experiences. Designing embedded systems is challenging, as the properties involved are often hard to observe, touch, and experiment with. Being that these technologies can inspire, drive, or limit design processes, methods and tools must be developed to create a shared knowledge for multidisciplinary design teams. This thesis focuses on how engineers can better communicate their knowledge of digital materials to non-expert technology designers and multidisciplinary design teams.

In particular, this thesis focuses on a class of embedded systems that we have named Proxessories. Proxessories consist of sensors, actuators, and wireless communication together forming accessories placed on or around the body that communicate with other devices, acting as accessories to other devices and objects. The goal of this research is to contribute new approaches and tools to help engineers convey their technological knowledge while working within a multidisciplinary design team. To accomplish this, the emerging topic of materiality in interaction design is introduced and used to discuss how an engineering perspective can be altered to cater to processes wherein digital materials are utilized as a design resource to create a better understanding of their experiential properties.

The research method of this work falls broadly under the header Research through Design (RtD). That is, this work claims that through designing a range of Proxessory applications, a set of tools and methods can be extracted to better support the dialogue between engineers and other competencies in a multidisciplinary design team.

This thesis results in providing an engineering design approach that is instantiated and materialized through hardware and software tools. The first tool, Inspirational Bits, is an approach where bits and pieces of technology are revealed to a multidisciplin ary design team in a playful manner, exposing them to the interactive, dynamic properties of digital materials. The second tool, the rFlea, is an Arduino-based board, with an inbuilt ultra-low power wireless connection, the size of a coincell battery. rFlea can connect wirelessly to another rFlea or existing tablets and mobile phones by means of pre-made libraries. The third tool, Insbits Studio is a cloud-based visual programming platform that can connect to the rFlea, adding cloud services abilities and connections to Internet of Things products and services. Together these three tools point to a novel philosophy of how to approach engineering. Instead of solving a given problem, engineers must open the design space and expose the material properties and affordances in such a manner that the team can experience them in the early phases of a design project.

Keywords: Proxessories, Prototyping, Interactive Materials, Material, Human Computer Interaction, Interaction Design

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