SparkleLab: Widget Makers @ Parsons the New School for Design


I am teaching a new class at Parsons School of Design. SparkleLab: Widget Makers is similar to a your standard physical computing class. We cover basic electronics and microcontrollers with Arduino. But, instead of thinking up some contraption to make, we will create relatively simple devices. The focus will be on making a solid and pleasing prototype with a refined interaction design.

Course Description
The perceived value of new devices and interfaces is as much affected by the way it looks and feels, by its surrounding graphic materials and documentation, as its actual value and utility. In this class students will all create a simple electronic device. Each device will have minimal requirements. An input such as a button or light detector and an output such as a light or a speaker. Emphasis will be on the craft of prototyping and the presentation of the prototype over original ideas. To this effect students can choose to work on a single design with other students. The prototypes may interact with one another. Students will first consider the attitude of the device. What is the feeling they wish to evoke in a user and how to best implement it. Design the circuit. Prototype it on a breadboard. User test the circuit. Design the enclosure. Use a software tool to create a PCB mask. Etch the PCB. Drill and populate the PCB. Sculpt or 3D print the enclosure. Cast and mold the final enclosure. User test the device and analyze the data. Create documentation and presentation materials for the device. This course is available to graduate and undergraduate students with basic skills learned in Physical Computing or Creative Computing or other courses with a focus on branding and usability.

Learning Outcomes

The objectives of this course are for students to:

  • Develop a conceptual and practical understanding basic electronics.
  • Develop an ability to demonstrate this conceptual understanding through circuit design.
  • Develop a practical understanding of microcontroller programing.
  • Develop a basic understanding of printed circuit board design.
  • Understand and demonstrate a responsible, engaged and informed critique.
  • Develop formal, craft and presentation skills in a manner that appropriately and
    successfully reflects and communicates intent.
  • Develop a basic understanding of hardware interface design.

Here are the slides from my presentation for the class:



The first assignment is to create a how-to on a research area related to the Arduino. This could be researching a hardware peripheral such as a real time clock or a software process. Students will gain an in-depth knowledge of their research area as well as be able to take advantage of the other student’s research for their final project.

The basic process for the final project will be:

  1. Decide what you will make
  2. Present your proposal
  3. Create an interaction diagram
  4. Create a functional block diagram
  5. Prototype the circuit
  6. Layout the circuit in Fritzing
  7. Create the enclosure
  8. Etch and populate a PCB
  9. Build the final device
  10. Presentation

You can follow our exploits on the class blog.

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