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Magazine > Lesson #3

Lesson 3 - 15/11/2011

The New Technology

During the week we enhanced our "tool box" with a weird green creature called I-PAC. A natural continuation of Keyboard Hack, which we mentioned last week, I-PAC is a PC interface with 32 digital input possibilities, and each of its inputs is mapped to a key on the keyboard. In other words, it closes an electrical circuit between the I-PAC's ground terminus and one of its input terminuses when a particular key on the keyboard is pressed. As long as the circuit remains closed, the computer "thinks" that the key remains pressed. If in our first week at the Lab we engaged in a switch that operates an electrical circuit, now we have a way of using it to operate a computer and stimulate a variety of new reactions in our interactions.

From a technical aspect, our first assignment was based on the relationship between man-object-switch-reaction. Our present one is based on the new relationship between man-object-switch-computer-reaction. Our interactions advanced accordingly.

Design Lab | Interactive Design | HIT

A Few More Words About Products

Our instructors, Shachar and Luka, talk to us about last week's assignments. There were beginnings of interactions with very strong anchors in products. We've already defined interaction as a dialogue with objects, and since most of the objects we are familiar with are products, it's quite natural that when asked to design interaction we'll go in the direction of designing a product with such characteristics. But the emphasis of the Lab, our emphasis, should be less on the product and more on the dialogue. The important aspect in the context of this course is the behavior of the objects.

For example: An object that flees from you is interesting in itself. It is far less important what the object is or why it's fleeing.

This Week's Assignments

iCandle - Dina Rubanovitch Even-Paz and Shay Merci

At a time when entire relationships are maintained long distance with the mediation of computers, Dina and Shay looked for a way to share long distance birthday celebrations. Before us is a cake decorated with ordinary candles and one special one in the center that has a paper flame. On the screen of nearby computer, a video clip shows a lighted candle. When Shay blows on the candle on the cake, the candle on the computer is instantly blown out, and party music begins to play, much to everyone's delight.

After the excitement dies down, Shay and Dina explain that concealed in the paper flame is a sensitive membrane switch. Blowing on it brings the membranes together and closes an electrical circuit, the message is transmitted to the computer through the I-PAC component, and the clip jumps to the appropriate place.

Design Lab | Interactive Design | HIT

Luka emphasizes that the interesting part is the connection between what you do - blow - and what happens on the screen. Maybe you should get rid of the cake, he says, and the party and everything else, and just leave the flame, because that's what's interesting. He also mentions the binarity of the interaction, since there is only a lighted candle and an extinguished candle. It would have been interesting to see intermediate situations that occur as a result of blowing. Shachar continues, and suggests getting rid of the flame as well, to completely disengage from the situation we started with and investigate the interaction in a more uninhibited way. The exercise is supposed to ask a lot of questions rather than attempt to provide answers. The project can progress in two directions: investigate what more can be done in the situation, or investigate what more can be done with blowing.

CuBeat - Itay Kurgan and Osher Shukrun

A development of the stacking game from last week, at the end of which lights light up, this time the reward is musical and more sophisticated. When the first cube is attached to the base, the computer starts to play a basic musical beat. Each cube that is added in the correct order and orientation, adds another musical layer to those preceding it. The final cube completes the tune with a catchy and emphasized melody. The last and most memorable part is the one that will make people want to complete the game and not make do with a partial tune.

The connection between the cubes and the base was made with a PLCC connector. The connector posed some difficulty due to its fragility and unsuitability for multiple connect/disconnect actions. Osher and Itay built the musical piece with the generous help of Amichai Dani, a professional musician who also provided them with guidance on the logical order of integrating the bits to create maximal interest.

At the critiquing stage, two schools of thought emerge: some of us consider the gradual building of the tune as the main point, while others think the point at the end is more important. Luka congratulates them on introducing another dimension to the game, but points out that the maze depicted on the sides of the cubes, which served as an aid in the game last week, is now an unnecessary addition and somewhat steals the focus from the music, which is the main occurrence. Just about each and every one of us has an idea or suggestion for developing the interaction, and that in itself is a sign of a successful experiment.

KeyShirt - Dana Mick and Omer Ben-Naim

The setting of the interaction is an office. We see Shmulik sitting in front of his computer at work and playing a computer game. But the game is controlled by touching his shirt buttons rather than keys on the keyboard. When Aviad, the evil boss, comes to check what his employee is doing, Shmulik touches his top button, and a Word document appears on the computer screen.

The interaction speaks about concealment, both of the control mechanism, which looks like an ordinary buttoned shirt, and of the game itself by means of the built-in "boss button". Dana and Omer continued their previous interaction by using soft connectors and refined it by connecting it to a computer with the I-PAC.

Design Lab | Interactive Design | HIT

Luka commends the technical experimentation with the shirt buttons and the idea of controlling by means of a garment. In his view, the use of buttons was more natural last week. Perhaps this time they should have used other parts of the shirt, or even a different garment. Shachar claims that operating it makes the user use his stomach muscles in a particular way, and perhaps that is a possible direction for developing a project. In his view, had there been more time to develop the project, it would have been advisable to abandon the frame story and the concealment, and develop only the interaction.

Operating Glove - Shahar Yaacoby and Shmulik Mauda

Shmulik and Shahar investigated using hand gestures to operate appliances. With his hand in long red satin glove, Shahar brings his fingers together and turns his hand as though he is turning an imaginary button. In reaction, the volume of the music playing on the computer goes up. When he turns the imaginary button in the other direction, the volume goes down. Shahar makes a grasping gesture in the air and an electric kettle appears on the screen and starts to boil. Then, Shahar holds out his arm and makes a pulling gesture. A cabinet appears on the screen and one of its drawers is pulled out. When Shahar pushes his hand back, the drawer shuts.

As part of their research, Shmulik and Shahar asked people about the gestures they identify with operating appliances. The glove was designed with the aid of electrical contacts planted in the thumb and other parts of the glove. They also used a number of tilt switches to mark the direction of the hand movement in each gesture. Communication with the computer is effected by means of an interface board they took out of a wireless keyboard and adapted to their needs. The clips they used to demonstrate served as a substitute for a real kettle and drawer. Since the focus is on the control mechanism, the actual appliances do not need to be realized.

Design Lab | Interactive Design | HIT

The demonstration evokes associations of phrases like "pulling the strings", and "control in the palm of your hand". Luka says that their progress from last time is interesting because the interaction remains in the same domain but this time is presented from a different direction. It could have been interesting to ask people if they recognize the actions based on the gestures even after the glove has been completed. Talia remarks that just as an image of a diskette serves as the icon for saving files on the computer, the control gesture doesn't have to be identical to the action as it is executed today.

Ray of Light 2.0 - Jenny Bahar and David Kantor

The subject of sunglasses as a communication tool remains from last week. The chosen interaction setting is a nightclub where it is difficult to make eye or voice contact. Jenny demonstrates the communication possibilities with the aid of the glasses: when she slides the glasses to the tip of her nose to get a better look at a guy she likes, a heart-shaped light set in the middle of the glasses lights up. When she wants to attract the bartender's attention, she presses the glasses against her face and lights set in the sides of the glasses start to flicker. If the bartender still hasn't noticed her, an additional touch will cause longer flickers, and if she still hasn't managed to attract his attention, a third touch will cause a continuous flicker, which is impossible to ignore.

The next communication occurs if Jenny has been separated from her friends at the club. She places the glasses on her head, and in response an SMS is sent to the cell phones of all her friends. At the end of the night when Jenny takes off her glasses and folds them, a Twitter tweet is posted in which she announces that that the night is over and she's going to bed.

Research for the project included examining gestures typical of people who wear glasses in general, and of clubbers in particular. The position of the glasses is registered by means of touch switches and tilt switches, and transmitted to the computer by means of the I-PAC. The logic is operated in the Processing development environment to which we were introduced last week.

Design Lab | Interactive Design | HIT

Some of us feel the glasses are missing feedback to the user who doesn't know when he's flickering, texting and so forth. According to Luka, an interesting addition since last week is communication layers of which the user is not directly conscious. All the gestures that were chosen are conscious to one degree or another and they are interesting because the object creates a new language for them. He says there was room to focus either on lighting or data communication rather than on both.

The issue is the gestures, not the glasses, and perhaps they could have done without them. Shachar adds that as a research object the glasses are interesting because there is no interaction vis-à-vis the user, hence use is completely transparent. Perhaps they should have focused on the most interesting gesture, for example "where are my friends", and built a more developed interaction rather than developing a lot of gestures superficially.

ToileTune 2.0 - Roni Rosen and Aviad Fux

In front of the same toilet from last week there is now a rug that's divided into sections. Entering the bathroom operates an automatic recording of different sounds: a door slamming, water flowing, a zipper being undone, and anything else you can imagine. One loop for each section on the rug. Sitting on the toilet activates the rug, which can be played by treading on it. One rug section starts a recording and another plays the recording. The object is intended for a home bathroom rather than public ones.

The sounds are recorded and played by a computer. Treading on the rug presses contact switches in each section, which by means of the I-PAC are translated into pressing keys that the computer can understand.

Design Lab | Interactive Design | HIT

Luka remarks that the development since last week is evident and the rug looks good. It has the complexity of remote control, but is connected to the toilet without being an integral part of it. On the toilet itself there is ample opportunity for self-control rather than by means of another object. Here too the position and shape of the object are less important, and more important is the interaction. Shachar adds that another direction for development could have been detaching the rug from the toilet and developing it as a separate interaction.

Facebook T-Shirt - Doron Segal and Geva Rosenthal

Doron is wearing a white T-shirt with icons, including a few smiley-faces and the Facebook logo. The shirt enables connection to a social network without a computer, and has the potential of becoming an alternative social network of interaction T-shirt wearers. Each of the icons is a pushbutton and performs one action. The Facebook button opens the user's profile, a happy smiley changes his status to something positive, and a sad smiley informs everyone that Doron is having a "Mustache Day". An encounter with a stranger on the street, portrayed by Dana, ends with her touching his arm and connecting them as friends on Facebook as well.

In another scenario, a hug from a girlfriend stimulates a unique status message.

Design Lab | Interactive Design | HIT

Geva and Doron, too, used soft connectors and touch connectors in their T-shirt. The computer interface is effected through the I-PAC, and the actions on Facebook through Macro Express.

Shachar remarks that there is a strong connection between the graphic design and the interactions, and their work could have been enriched if there had been any significance to touching a combination of icons rather than each icon doing only one thing. Luka adds that the icons chosen for the sides of the shirt - inviting someone to be your friend, or sending a hug - are more connected with the natural gesture and less with the graphic world of Facebook.

Technical Problems, Murphy's Law, and Other Animals

This week we've all discovered that as the complexity of the projects increases, so do unexpected and unanticipated technical problems. Things that worked in the workshop don't always work on submission, and things that worked fine "just an hour ago" stop cooperating at the moment of truth. Beyond the understanding that everything needs to be checked as close as possible to the place and time of the demonstration, Shachar and Luka try to convey the message that it's better to concentrate on designing the interactions and not completing the technical layers. The interaction is more important than the technique.

More Tools and a New Project

The two exercises so far have been a warm-up, each one with a different technical emphasis. Starting now, the reins are removed and we're asked to use anything we like and anything we can to help us realize the interactions, which are the heart of the matter.

We are presented with two more tools:
The first new tool is a system called Phidgets, a USB computer interface with a range of different tools, sensors, and expanders. The interface kit is also known as 8-8-8, because it includes 8 digital inputs, 8 analog inputs, and 8 digital outputs. The addition of analog inputs and digital outputs facilitates functionality that the I-PAC cannot provide. It can be used to sense movement, position, and temperature using virtually any other sensor you can imagine. You can operate servo motors, create sounds, and interface with electrical appliances and other systems.

Broadening our technical horizons doesn't come free of charge - to enjoy it, from now on we're going to have to program as well.

The second tool we're introduced to is the graphic programming language, Max. Maya, a member of the Lab staff, demonstrates. She shows us how movement input can easily be translated into sound output and all by means of a graphic data flow diagram. Right now it's all up in the air, but in the coming weeks new insights on this subject are in store for us.

Exercise Three: Motion

"Motion is one of the basic elements of everyday human activity. Motion is a powerful component and important tool in interaction design. In this exercise you will be required to design an ‘object' whose interaction revolves around motion. Despite the technical challenge, which is always there, this exercise is not a technical one. It is about designing interaction that relates to motion in space. Put emphasis on the interaction at the expense of ‘use' or the product story. The exercise will last two weeks. Next week you will present a video-prototype of the interaction and initial proof of motion feasibility".

We are split into new, bigger groups, and set off on another adventure. We've got a week to meet, come up with an amazing concept, research, experiment, plan, experience, formulate, and learn. In that time there's also the opening of a new exhibition at the Museum, and from now on our interactions will be presented to the general public, so come and say hello and have a look for yourself. We're dying to know what you think.

We wanted fame. Well, fame costs...

Written by David Kantor
Photographs by Omer Ben-Naim and Itay Kurgan


- Introduction

- Lesson 1

- Lesson 2

- Lesson 3

- Lesson 4

- Lesson 5

- Lesson 6

- Lesson 7

- Lesson 8

- Lesson 9

- Lesson 10

- Lesson 11

- Lesson 12

- Final Lesson

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