Currents: SparkleLab: Widget Makers

School of Art, Media & Technology, Design & Technology Program
Parsons the New School for Design
Fall 2010

Faculty name: Ariel Churi

Course meeting times: Fridays 1500-1740

Course #, CRN, room: PUDD 4600D

CRN 5471

2 W13th L1006

Contact information: Email:

Office hours or by appointment only

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 the PDB 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.

Course Outline


Electricity and basic electronic circuit design

Lecture: Electrons and breadboards
Class Activity: Introductions, go over materials, books, outline class process
Assignment: Order books + materials
Power your breadboard
Use the following components in circuits:
Resistor, LED, potentiometer, photocell, button
Learn to use a multimeter to measure volts, amps, and ohms
Weblog: Create your account
Reading: Getting Started in Electronics


Electricity and basic electronic circuit design, continued

Lecture: LED driver, voltage divider, waves, transistors

Assignment: Build a circuit in Fritzing (
Get your Arduino up and running
Weblog: Document your homework
Reading: Getting Started With Arduino



Lecture: Arduino and the ATmega328.
Class Activity: Set up and test the Arduino IDE. Blink an LED.
Assignment: Arduino programing:
Fade an LED up and down (use a PWM pin)
Blink a pattern on button press
Read a photocell and see the output in the serial monitor (use an ADC pin)
Reading: Getting Started With Arduino


Microcontrollers, continued

Lecture: Programming a state machine.
Class Activity: Blink an LED twice on button press while another LED fades up and down.
Blink an LED but it should be bright in bright light and dim in dim light.
Assignment: Continue programming assignments.
Weblog: Document any problems you had programming and how you solved them in order to help others or explain an Arduino programming trick or feature.


Divide and Conquer

Lecture: Add-ons and peripherals.
Class Activity: Review possible peripherals and research areas:

  • Digital temperature sensor
  • Digital potentiometer
  • LED matrix and driver
  • 7 segment display and driver
  • Piezo melody
  • LCD display
  • Resistive sensors
  • Joystick
  • RGB LED (full spectrum fade)
  • Qprox
  • Servo
  • Arduino as an ISP
  • Arduino and battery power
  • Arduino and solar power

Assignment: Research chosen subject.
Reading: Getting Started With Arduino


Divide and Conquer continued

Class Activity: Quick presentation on your subject and then work on chosen subject
Assignment: Prepare to present chosen subject matter.
Weblog: Create post about your subject matter so other people could use it as a reference.


Magical Objects

Lecture: What can a magical object be?
Class Activity: Present chosen subject matter to the class.
Brainstorm possible devices.
Assignment: Think about what type of object you want to make and what feeling you want to impart.
Weblog: Make a post about what you would like to inspire your device (include visuals).
Reading: The Design of Everyday Things


Object Design and Interface

Lecture: Enclosure Design and interface flow diagrams.
Class Activity:   Present rough object ideas and get feedback from class.
Assignment: Choose a device you want to work on. Begin sketching ideas and possible interfaces to present in class.


Object Design and Interface, continued

Class Activity: Present final object idea.
Assignment: Design the circuit.
Weblog:    Post about your chosen object. Think of this post as an article in a magazine.

WEEK 10:

Circuit design working session

Class Activity: Work on circuit.
Assignment: Test your circuit. Build it in Fritzing.
Weblog: Post about your circuit.

WEEK 11:

PCB design

Class Activity: Layout your PCB in Fritzing.
Assignment: Complete PCB layout and print your circuit onto PCB transfer paper.

WEEK 12:

PCB etching and intro to soldering

Class Activity: Etch your PCB and basic soldering.
Assignment: Drill, populate and solder your PCB. Does it work?

WEEK 13:

Enclosure Design

Class Activity: PCB troubleshooting and enclosure design and layout for laser cutting.
Assignment: Laser cut your material and build your enclosure.

WEEK 14:

Working Session

Assignment: Create a one-sheet for your object.
Reading: Hand-out: Modern and classical grid systems

WEEK 15:

Final Presentation

Class Activity: Present objects and one sheet.
Weblog: Create a post about your finished device.

Required Text

Mims, Forrest M. Getting Started in Electronics. Master Publishing, Inc, 2003.
Banzi, Massimo. Getting Started with Arduino. Make:Books, 2008
Norman, Donald A. The Design of Everyday Things.  Basic Book, 1988.

Recommended Texts

Catsoulis, John.  Designing Embedded Hardware.  O’Reilly Media, Inc, 2002.
Igoe, Tom.  Making Things Talk. Make:Books, 2007.
Mims, Forrest M. Electronic Sensor Circuits and Projects. Master Publishing, Inc, 2004.
Mims, Forrest M.  Science and Communication Circuits and Projects. Master Publishing, Inc, 2004.
Mims, Forrest M. Timer, Op Amp and Optoelectronic Circuits and Projects. Master Publishing, Inc, 2004
Oxer, Jonathan and Hugh Blemings. Practical Arduino: Cool Projects for Open Source Hardware. Technology in Action, 2009.
Platt, Charles. Make:Electronics. O’Reilly Media Inc., 2009.
Reas, Casy and Ben Fry. Getting Started with Processing. O’Reilly Media, Inc, 2010.
Margolis, Michael. Arduino Cookbook. O’Reilly Media, Inc, 2010.


  • Safety glasses
  • Breadboard
  • Jumper wires
  • Resistors
  • Capacitors
  • LEDs
  • Potentiometers
  • Buttons
  • Transistors
  • Photo cell
  • Arduino board (Extra Atmega 328)
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Wire snipper
  • Wire stripper
  • Latex gloves
  • Small drillbits (2)
  • Pot scrubber
  • Materials for building your enclosure
  • Ex: acrylic and acrylic glue

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