Matt Cottam at interaction10

Matt Cottam, founder of Tellart, presented Wooden Logic: In Search of Heirloom Electronics at interaction10 yesterday. Here are my running notes on his discussions of sketching with tangible objects, physical interfaces to the iPhone, and heirloom technology.Sketching with Tangible Objects
As a student at RISD, Matt mocked up things, including electronic things, in sensual materials such as wood. Tellart was founded to capture and apply his experience of sketching with tangible objects. Recently, Matt applied this to a course he taught at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design. Students experienced interaction design without the use of computers.

Matt printed out pictures of old objects, and directed students to build it with foamcore and other materials. The students were not told the machine’s original purpose, and they had to build it as if it were designed today with a purpose they were free to make up. One team decided the device they were shown was an avatar creation machine. They’d select the characteristics with brightly colored knobs, and people would come out of it dressed and made up in the attributes they selected.

Avatar Maker
photo from CIID Intro to IxD: Retro-Fiction Interfaces

Physical Interface to iPhones
Matt also described Tellart’s open source NADA Mobile and the physical iPhone interface they built around it. It reads a sensor (such as a force-sensing resistor) and sends a tone to the iPhone over the microphone port, which an app on the iPhone decodes. NADA Mobile avoids the need for Objective-C by using Apple’s Dashcode, which lets students sketch ideas rapidly using Arduino and iPhone. Related post: Sketching physical computing apps on the iPhone w/Dashcode and sensors.

NADAMobile

Wooden Logic/Heirloom Technology
The last part of Matt’s talk covered the idea of bringing organic materials to the sketching process. We don’t keep old technology around any more. Who hangs on to their own cell phones (well, besides me)? But Matt has carried a bag of old lead/zinc type around with him, even though he will probably never own a printing press. A lot of the stuff we make today does not have a lasting aesthetic value. You won’t keep obsolete stuff around unless it’s beautiful in some way.

As he explored this idea, Matt came across an old book, the American Girl’s Home Book of Work and Play on Google Books. He used heavy stock paper with a laser cutter to create paper versions of the designs from the book. Related post: Laser-cut Doll Furniture. As Matt went further with this, he built mice and other peripherals in the wood shop. The idea was to create a sensual experience with electronics. He remarked how he’d “never seen anyone who holds a mouse up to their nose to smell it.” For more details on this, see Sensing and Sensuality, Spring Summit 2009