Teaching Physical Computing in IxD Curricula

talk – 20 min | Feb 3 – 11:30

To teach physical computing is to teach technology for the real world, or as Dan O’ Sullivan and Tom Igoe (2004) describe it, “a conversation between the physical world and the virtual world of the computer” (p. xix). As this conversation, or interaction, between digital systems and physical experience becomes increasingly implicit in our everyday lives, interaction designers need skills in, and an understanding of, physical computing as an expansion of their creative practices in the design of engaging, multi-sensory, digitally-mediated experiences.

This is a presentation of a course curriculum I have developed over the last ten years at the University of Delaware that takes students from an introduction to electronics to the design and fabrication of interactive experiences. Over the course of one semester, the curriculum transitions from technical skills to creative applications of technology; students are shown how to make electro-mechanical things and then challenged to develop prototypes for specific users and contexts, following a design process. Interaction and industrial design concepts like feedback, affordance, mapping and consistency are woven into assignments that cover aesthetic, interventionist, gamification and theatrical approaches to interaction design.

This presentation includes a wide variety of student projects as demonstrations of learning objectives and is applicable to educators who wish to include physical computing in their existing courses and/or those who are seeking ideas and assignments for new undergraduate or graduate courses or degree program curricula. The new dawn of interaction design relies on treating technology as an integral component in the design of human experiences and a tool for ontological experimentation.

Ashley Pigford

Ashley Pigford
University of Delaware, United States

About the speaker

Ashley Pigford

Ashley Pigford

University of Delaware, United States
Ashley is Associate Professor at the University of Delaware. His background is in graphic design and semiotics, (MFA RISD 2006), and for the last decade his practice-based, creative research has focused on relationships between people and technology through tangible interaction design. His work involves the creation of electro-mechanical solutions and experiences ranging from assistive devices for people with specific disabilities to more experimental objects, installations and collaborations. He operates his studio, Design is good for you, as a philanthropic creative research laboratory and lectures widely about his pedagogy and other creative pursuits.

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