Parsons the New School for Design (UNITED STATES)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2012 Proceedings
Publication year: 2012
Pages: 8-15
ISBN: 978-84-615-5563-5
ISSN: 2340-1079
Conference name: 6th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 5-7 March, 2012
Location: Valencia, Spain
In this paper we present an innovative way of introducing hardware design and electronics to artists and designers within an educational setting. Using two classes taught within the MFA Design + Technology program in the School of Art, Media and Technology at Parsons the New School for Design, the authors outline key trends in interactive design education utilizing a simple approach to educate students how to understand and utilize electronics in their work. The two classes, “Scrapyard Challenge” and “Soft Circuits” represent divergent yet connected approaches to creating accessible, and engaging learning opportunities at the novice level. Through carefully scaffolding experiences, these classes create a bridge between disciplinary boundaries, and point towards new curriculum and methodologies for artist and designer-led creativity in the technological realm.

We begin this paper by describing the institutional context that we have been working within. The MFA in Design + Technology at Parsons the New School for Design encourages a broad base of creative inquiry, and it is in this cross-pollinating environment that our educational endeavors have thrived. In addition we point to four recent trends in the interactive technology design sphere that have influenced our work:

1) The emergence of open source software and hardware, and online communities supporting the democratization of technology.
2) The rise of platforms for computation and design, which have emerged from art and design centers (such as Processing, OpenFrameworks, and Arduino) and targeted towards artists and non-technical people.
3) Artists, who have historically been supporters of new technologies, and contemporary trends surrounding emerging communities of artists who are inspired by DIY, Maker communities, and artist-run Media Labs with a strong desire to engage with new technologies as a means for self-expression and communication.
4) The Expanding material universe for technology as a material for creative expression which includes both new materials that were not considered as tools for creative computational expression (such as conductive ink, fabric, and threads) and old materials, such as e-waste and obsolete electronics.

Next we introduce the classes we have taught in the MFA Design + Technology Program at Parsons the New School for Design:

1) Scrapyard Challenge. Focus: Hacking, exploring, making and learning.
2) Soft Circuits. Focus: Fabrication, exploring, creating, and learning.

We outline the workshop-based methodology we used for developing the curriculum, emphasizing a hands-on, and tinkering focused approach. The descriptions of each class include an outline of curriculum, and a brief description of student work from each class. Through detailing the connections between these classes and their shared focus on making and providing a low-barrier, accessible entry point to new technologies we establish a framework for utilizing materials and tinkering as a way to teach interactive design. We argue that our approach has been particularly effective at supporting artists and designers in their efforts to learn the tools and technologies needed to prototype and implement interactive design projects.
Interaction design, Art, Design, Curriculum development, Technology, New materials.