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Some prospective students may have the impression that the MFA in Interaction Design program only has courses that focus on design. I was under this impression myself while researching graduate programs. As a developer, my aim for grad school was to find a way to apply my existing skills in a design context.

At the start of the process, I considered several different cities, but narrowed it down when considering job opportunities after graduation. To be honest, I also didn’t have a driver’s license, so public transit was a big consideration! Therefore, I narrowed my choices down to New York City and San Francisco.

Surprisingly, these cities didn’t have an abundance of options offering the blend of technology and design that I was looking for. Some were too research-oriented, while others were too technology-focused. I wanted a program where I could understand how to combine technology and design seamlessly.

I sent an email to my undergraduate professor, who had already earned a master’s degree in NYC. He strongly recommended SVA due to its curriculum and alumni network. I looked into the curriculum and discovered the ‘Physical Computing’ and ‘Hello World’ classes, which were more technology-focused than I expected.

In this two-part series, I want to specifically highlight these courses for prospective students like me, who may not be aware of them.

Part One: Physical Computing

In the first week of physical computing, we learned about circuits. 

The assignment: create a homemade switch that activates LED lights.

First Team: NYC -> Korea.

This team of students created an interactive installation where moving a figurine triggers a light, symbolizing the journey from Korea to NYC.

They used a box to create an installation, placing Arduino and LEDs inside. However, finding the perfect box proved to be quite challenging. See their journey as they brought their idea to life from their initial sketch:

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The first iteration of their project:

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See more about this team’s process at Yujeong’s blog.

Second Team: Diwali Diya Lamp

First, they made a small prototype using a small box and attaching the wires to the coin battery. Then, the students attached the wire to the cardboard box using aluminum foil and transparent tape. They placed the multimeter to check if the current was flowing, and then once that was confirmed, the students put their LED light on the aluminum foil.

Sketch & Prototype: 

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This team added some colorful papers to decorate the lamp and emulate actual diya lamps more closely.

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See more details about this lamp over at Jisang’s blog.

Third Team: Lifeline

The third team addressed ecological problems that we are currently experiencing. They drew a safe zone for a polar bear and other animals, and it triggered a light display.

Image of model polar bear and tiny animals within an electrically conductive circle connected by lead

The team learned that nature contains conductive substances other than metals, such as graphite, which contains carbon. Therefore, this information is inspired by related works using graphite as a conductor.

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Read more about this group’s journey at Youer’s blog here

Fourth Team: Love Signal

This group was inspired by the sensation of falling in love to create their circuit. When the two figurines turned and ‘saw’ each other, this movement triggered a light that changed from red to green. 

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See more details about the love signal project in Sohee’s blog

Fifth Group: Octopus 

I was really impressed by the octopus circuit, which was created with kids in mind.  When you match the octopus’ legs to a particular shape, it triggers a light.The making of the octopus: sculpting its shape and then adding color with paint. This team designed the octopus to foster children’s cognitive development in a fun and engaging way.

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See more details in Leticia’s blog

Finally: my group! 

We created an ‘alien tree’: a sculpture that lit up when salt water was added to the base. The salt water acted as a conductor. 


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Our finished prototype! 

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Read more on my blog for the class here

Enhancing the Homemade Switch

After the critique session in the physical computing class, our classmates began learning about Arduino. Some students had no prior experience in programming, so this was definitely their first time saying ‘Hello, world!’ (a significant phrase in programming).

In the first class, we hadn’t yet learned how to connect wires and batteries so we simply put them together in the box. After learning Arduino, you can see our progress in the second, more refined, versions of the project. 

The paper octopus has become smaller, with a cuter and softer design. It can also make sounds! When you touch it with conductive materials, it says its name.

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The Diwali Diya lamps were improved in this second iteration too. There are now four of them! Additionally, there is a lighting sensor so you can see the light at nighttime.

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You can read more about all student projects at the Physical Computing blog here

Thanks for reading about our first Physical Computing journey! Next up: Hello World, our programming course.