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A Conversation with Rob Faludi

Whether designing interactions for a clean-tech startup, educating graduates on the fundamentals of physical computing, or running workshops enabling the making of ninja wireless gloves, Rob Faludi is concerned with interactions that engage people in the real world. Recently back from ETech where he led a conversation on smart energy and what’s ahead, Rob chatted with us about not only the work he’ll be doing in the MFA program and but also what’s on the horizon.

School of Visual Arts: You’re teaching The Fundamentals of Physical Computing to the MFA students this fall. Why is this kind of hands–on exploration critical to graduate students in interaction design? How are you approaching it?Rob Faludi: People are physical, so the richest interactions engage us as grabbing-leaning-jumping-head-banging beings rather than mere accessories to the screen and keyboard. We’re alive and embodied and attracted to interactions that treat us like whole humans. That’s what physical computing is all about — crafting interactive things that are capable of meeting us on our own terms in the real world.

In Fundamentals of Physical Computing, we become facile with technologies for sensing, reacting, and with the algorithmic machinery that links inputs to outputs in physical devices. Rather than skim the surface in a broad survey, we take a deep dive to discover the tools needed to begin immediately prototyping physical interactions. The learning is better that way.

Code is easier to understand when it’s directly linked to physical output. Technical skills make more sense when they’re applied to solving interface challenges. Along the way students get hands-on experience generating affordances, writing programs, hooking up electronics, then trying out their creations on real people. By the end, they have the practical skills needed to design compelling real-world experiences for their fellow travelers.

SVA: Recently Botanicalls, a project you collaborate on, has been getting quite a bit of press. What other projects are you working on that are keeping you going? What are you most excited about?

Picture showing a Botanicalls Kit being used with a smartphone. Botanicalls is an electronics kit that allows a user to monitor plants using sensors.

LilyPad XBee, a radio transceiver you can sew onto your clothing to create wireless wearables

On the horizon, I’ve been thinking a lot about our increasingly tenuous connection to nature. Over the past few months I’ve happened into a series of conversations with technologically savvy people who report a curious combination of information overload, a ramping up of commercialized social interactions, and immersion in low-resolution media. It seems to result in a disturbing sense that the natural world and opportunities for deep thought are slipping through their grasp. I think this creates a compelling opportunity for humane countermeasures, and I’m toying with some ideas around this theme to explore in a summer or fall project. In addition to mastering technical skills in the MFA program, we may get an opportunity to develop interactions that quench our thirst for something wild.

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