Parsons The New School for Design
MFA Design + Technology
Fashioning Tech: Computational Craft
CRN 7960 || PSAM 5897 A
Fall 2013
Tuesday, 7 – 9:40 pm, 6 East 16th Street, Rm 1204A
Instructor: Liza Stark
Email: stare220[at]
Office hours: By appointment only.
Class site:

Course Description

The framework and focus of the spring course is computational craft. We will focus on the role of materials as it relates to objects (specifically interfaces) and environments. A main question the course will continually ask is how much do the materials we use determine our interactions and relationship with technology?

We will begin by examining how traditional crafting techniques can be interwoven with new materials and technologies to generate new behaviors and interactions. The second part of the course will focus on translating these ideas of interface and material to an architectural scale, exploring how computationally enhanced materials can define a space.

A few things:

Throughout the course there will be emphasis on project documentation, technical construction, and aesthetic creation. You do not need to have any prior knowledge of physical computing or electronics, though it may be helpful. While there is not a direct focus on wearable tech or body augmentation, much work done in this domain stems from it and we will cover some of its history as well as contemporary projects as needed.

Essential questions the course will address:

>> How can traditional crafting techniques can be interwoven with new materials and technologies to generate new behaviors and interactions?
>> How much do the materials we use determine our interactions and relationship with technology?
>> How can we translate these techniques to an architectural scale?
>> Specifically, how can computationally enhanced materials can define a space?

Learning Outcomes

Materials Knowledge
Develop a deeper understanding of new alternative materials and examine how they determine our interactions and relationship with technology at different scales, from object interfaces to architecture. Use alternative materials to construct aesthetic and functional computatioanally enhanced prototypes.

Computational Techniques
Gain a basic understanding of electricity and microcontrollers; Build a working knowledge of embedded computing techniques and develop the ability to translate these techniques to different scales.

Design Thinking
Demonstrate the ability to integrate the design process into work and translate material solutions to new processes.

Research Methods
Work with and document different processes combining traditional crafting techniques with new materials and technologies to generate new behaviors and interactions.

Class Structure

The course is structured as a series of workshops, each with an in class activity and outside assignment. These assignments are small exercises are to enhance technical understanding and material exploration. You will have a midterm and a final. The midterm will focus on interface, while the final will explore the implementation of class concepts on a more architectural scale.

At certain points in the semester, we will reflect on the direction of the course as a whole class to discuss things that are not working or demand further exploration. In short, I would like the class as a whole to take responsibility for our learning over the duration of this course. If you feel like something isn’t working, please let me know.


30% Participation + Attendance
30% Assignments + Documentation
40% Major Projects: Midterm + Final

Participation + Attendance
This class will conform to New School attendance policy. Only three absences are allowed without special permission from the instructor; any more and you will be dropped from the class with a failing grade. Two late arrivals or two early departures will count as one absence. You will also find this a very difficult class to miss even once; extra effort will be required to catch up. When in doubt, communicate with me as early as possible about any special circumstances.

I expect everyone to actively engage in class discussions and to complete in-class activities. You should come ready to make. Working on any work outside of this course will not be tolerated.

Much of class time will be spent workshopping in small groups or individually. When we are having a discussion or demo, your active participation is expected. Laptops should be closed when not needed and phones should be on silent.

Due to the late timing of this course, we may decide to hold individual work time at the end of class. In this case, you may choose to stay in class or work elsewhere.

Assignments + Documentation
You should bring all completed assignments (working or not!) to the next class. Weekly assignments should be documented and posted to the class blog. Here is a post outlining what a documentation post should include.

Materials + Supplies

This is in large part a materials-focused course. Some materials will be provided for example activities, but students are expected to purchase their own materials for assignments and projects based on their needs. All required materials for the class can be found here: Tool Box

If you find a new, totally awesome material, please post it with the category “New Materials.”


Week 1 (8/27): What’s in a name?
We will review the major themes and questions posed by the course, then review the syllabus, documentation format, and materials we will be using. Get to know everyone and your goals for the course, then get everyone set up on the course website.

1) Find a project that excites you and that uses the materials we looked at in class. Use the Resources page on the class blog to get started. Create a post that includes, images, video, or other documentation. Write a brief paragraph explaining what it is about this project that intrigues you.

2) Materials hunt. Find a material with interesting properties (form, ornamentation, conductivity, etc) and bring it to class. Canal street is a good place to start, as is Mood and surrounding stores.

3) Purchase materials listed in the TOOL BOX today or tomorrow. I know shipping might take a week or so, so if you don’t have them all by next week, no worries.

4) Read Organic User Interfaces: Introduction. Pay close attention to the three themes that define an OUI.

Suggested Reading for Next Class:

Electronic Textiles and Children’s Crafts by Leah Buechley, Nwanua Elumeze and Mike Eisenberg

MAKE Multimeter Tutorial Video

Week 2 (9/3): Crafting a Path
Theme: Embedded vs. Enclosed

Part 1: What is electricity? What is a conductor? Discuss parallel vs series circuits.
Part 2: Traces + Connectors (Copper tape, conductive ink, conductive fabric, conductive thread, gilded foil, silk screen, laser cutter, Robocraft, Shapeways). Look at different methodologies for constructing a circuit.

Activity 1: Experiment with different materials to make parallel and series circuits.
Activity 2: Multimeter Tutorial

1) Construct one series circuit and one parallel circuit:
- Use two or more LEDs (you do not have to solder).
- Try using two different methods we discussed in class to create the traces or two different substrates (e.g paper, wood, fabric, etc).
- Document each one and post it to the class blog as an in-class assignment. (This should not take you too long.)

2) Illustration project: Pick sentence or passage from a story that you like (children’s storybooks work VERY well). Illustrate one scene from that book and integrate a circuit into it using the materials we discussed in class. Post documentation to the blog and bring your final product into class.

Suggested Reading for Next Class:
What Do Prototypes Prototype? by Stephanie Houde and Charles Hill

Week 3 (9/10): Folding + Switch Workshop
Theme: What is interaction? What are the mechanics of interaction? What are the affordances of different materials?

Activity 1: Go to E-403 (to be rescheduled)
Activity 2: What is a switch? Construct two different types of switches. Switch with a classmate and come up with a retroactive design brief for what one of the switches might be used for. (Flap, tilt, magnets, other conductive connectors)

1) Make a switch using one of the techniques we just learned. Choose a mechanic to start.
2) Create a retroactive design brief that explains:
A) Why was it created? What is it used for?(Doesn’t have to exist in reality)
B) What it does do? (Imagine the LED represents something else)
C) Who it was created for? Who would use it?
Be creative. This can be set in past, present, future, or another reality. Tell me a story.

Suggested Reading for Next Class:
Interactive Paper Devices: End-user Design & Fabrication by Greg Saul, Cheng Xu, Mark D Gross.

Programmable matter by folding byE. Hawkesa

Week 4 (9/17): Sensor Workshop
Theme: The Role of Craft: What is craft? What role does it play in contemporary society?

Activity 1: Overview of Basic Craft Techniques: Sew it. Felt it. Fold it. Shape it:
Activity 2: Digital v. Analog: What is variable resistance? How are sensors constructed?

Activity: Construct a sensor using the materials and techniques you learned today.

(1) Construct a sensor using different materials and/or techniques than the one you made in class. Document the process of making it.

(2) Make sure you bring your Arduino and a breadboard

Suggested Reading for Next Class:

Week 5 (9/24): Microcontroller Workshop Part 1 
Theme: What is a computer? What is it made of?

Demo: Arduino
Activity: Wire up a switch on the breadboard in groups of two and connect it to Arduino. EVERYONE should have this working by the end of class.

Behavior story. Pick a behavior (breathing, etc) and create a circuit that exhibits this. Use the switch/sensor and circuit building techniques we have been discussing in class.

Week 6 (10/1): Microcontroller Workshop Part 2 + Capacitance

Demo: Wire up your sensors! Making a capacitive sensor

Activity: Wire up your sensor on the breadboard and connect it to Arduino. EVERYONE should have this working by the end of class.

Activity: Build a capacitive circuit and test different surfaces. Use the mapping function to achieve your desired effect.

Assignment: 1) Make two capacitive sensors. Have one turn on an LED and one make some noise.
2) Come prepared to present your midterm concept. You should bring any inspiration, prototypes, drawings, etc that will help us get a better idea of where you are coming from.

Week 7 (10/8): ATtiny Workshop + Midterm Work Session

Theme: Getting Smaller + Feeling Touchy: What miniaturization can do for us

Demo: The ATtiny: How to program it for your own devices.

Activity: Program an ATtiny. Hook up your switches and sensors. Experiment with different materials to construct traces and build a circuit.


Theme: Modularity + Choice: Interfacing with your user.

Activity: Informal presentations of midterm concepts. Group brainstorming session.

Assignment: Midterm presentations. LAMP PROJECT

Week 8 (10/15): Midterm Project Presentations

TO BRING FOR NEXT TIME: Bring a speaker module from Radioshack or a sound greeting card.

Week 9 (10/22): High Current Circuits + Speaker Workshop

Theme: How does sound work?

Demo: High current circuit and paper speakers

Activity: We will dive a little deeper into electronics for this session. First we will build a circuit to control actuators that require high current loads. For the second part of the class, we will construct paper speakers, then experiment with different materials.


Week 10 (10/29): Thermochromic Ink

Discussion: Getting Warmer with Paper Pixels: What are the properties of thermochromic ink? What are the interaction possibilities of temperature as input? How does this type of feedback change the relationship between the user and the object or space?

Activity: Construct swatches of different thermochromic mixtures and test them with a variety of conductive materials. Bench power supply tutorial.

Assignment: Finish building and documenting your swatches.

Week 11 (11/5): Nitinol Workshop

Discussion: Organic motion + the impact of scale.

Activity: Conduct and document motion and weight tests in small groups.

Week 12 (11/12): Group Problem-Solving + Student Check-ins
Discussion: Looking for creative solutions.

Activity: Present design problems and troubleshoot in small groups. Present findings to class.

**I will be meeting with students individually to talk about grades and class performance.**

Week 13 (11/19): Intro to Final
Discussion: Leveling Up: Scale

Activity: Present concepts for feedback and work on prototyping designs.

Week 14 (11/26): No class!

Week 15 (12/3): Work Session

Week 16 (12/10): Final Presentations


Divisional, Program and Class Policies

Students are responsible for all assignments, even if they are absent. Late papers, failure to complete the readings assigned for class discussion, and lack of preparedness for in-class discussions and presentations will jeopardize your successful completion of this course.

Class participation is an essential part of class and includes: keeping up with reading, contributing meaningfully to class discussions, active participation in group work, and coming to class regularly and on time.

Use of Blackboard may be an important resource for this class. Students should check it for announcements before coming to class each week.

In rare instances, I may be delayed arriving to class. If I have not arrived by the time class is scheduled to start, you must wait a minimum of thirty minutes for my arrival. In the event that I will miss class entirely, a sign will be posted at the classroom indicating your assignment for the next class meeting.

Academic Integrity
This is the university’s Statement on Academic Integrity: “Plagiarism and cheating of any kind in the course of academic work will not be tolerated. Academic honesty includes accurate use of quotations, as well as appropriate and explicit citation of sources in instances of paraphrasing and describing ideas, or reporting on research findings or any aspect of the work of others (including that of instructors and other students). These standards of academic honesty and citation of sources apply to all forms of academic work (examinations, essays, theses, computer work, art and design work, oral presentations, and other projects).”

It is the responsibility of students to learn the procedures specific to their discipline for correctly and appropriately differentiating their own work from that of others. Compromising your academic integrity may lead to serious consequences, including (but not limited to) one or more of the following: failure of the assignment, failure of the course, academic warning, disciplinary probation, suspension from the university, or dismissal from the university.

Every student at Parsons signs an Academic Integrity Statement as a part of the registration process. Thus, you are held responsible for being familiar with, understanding, adhering to and upholding the spirit and standards of academic integrity as set forth by the Parsons Student Handbook.

Guidelines for Studio Assignments
Work from other visual sources may be imitated or incorporated into studio work if the fact of imitation or incorporation and the identity of the original source are properly acknowledged. There must be no intent to deceive; the work must make clear that it emulates or comments on the source as a source. Referencing a style or concept in otherwise original work does not constitute plagiarism. The originality of studio work that presents itself as “in the manner of” or as playing with “variations on” a particular source should be evaluated by the individual faculty member in the context of a critique.

Incorporating ready-made materials into studio work as in a collage, synthesized photograph or paste-up is not plagiarism in the educational context. In the commercial world, however, such appropriation is prohibited by copyright laws and may result in legal consequences.

Student Disability Services
In keeping with the University’s policy of providing equal access for students with disabilities, any student with a disability who needs academic accommodations is welcome to meet with me privately. All conversations will be kept confidential. Students requesting any accommodations will also need to meet with Jason Luchs in the office of Student Disability Services, who will conduct an intake, and if appropriate, provide an academic accommodation notification letter to you to bring to me. At that point I will review the letter with you and discuss these accommodations in relation to this course. Mr. Luchs’ office is located in 79 Fifth Avenue, 5th floor. His direct line is (212) 229-5626 x3135. You may also access more information through the University’s web site at

Grade Descriptions
A 4.0
Work of exceptional quality. 95-100%
These are projects that go above and beyond the expectations and requirements described in the assignment. They demonstrate substantial effort and achievement in the areas of critical thinking, technique and presentation.

A- 3.7
Work of very high quality. 90-94%

B+ 3.3
Work of high quality, higher than average abilities. 86-89%

B 3.0
Very good work that satisfies goals of course. 83-85%
The “B” student offers a clear and convincing structure to a visual endeavor that is more complex and unique than a project at the average level. The creator’s point of view and point of the project are merged successfully and organized fairly consistently throughout the project. Although minor structural problems may be present in the assignment, they do not hinder the overall outcome.

B- 2.7
Good work. 80-82%

C+ 2.3
Above Average work, Average understanding of course material. 76-79%

C 2.0
Average work; passable. 73 -75%
The student demonstrates an engagement with the assignment. The project will show that the creator can identify and work with key ideas and examples found in reference material. Typical of a “C” project is that the original problem or assignment once approached, does not develop further. Projects may also have organizational, technical weaknesses.

C- 1.7
Passing work but below good academic standing. 70-72%

D 1.0
Below average work; does not fully understand the concepts of the course. 60-70%
Although this is passable work, the project only answers the minimum requirements of the assignment. The projects shows very little effort, is incomplete, late or incorrect in its approach. The outcome shows a lack of full understanding and commitment on the part of the creator.

F 0
Failure, no credit. 0-59%

Withdrawal Failing.
Instructors may assign this grade to indicate that a student has unofficially withdrawn or stopped attending classes. It may also be issued when a student fails to submit a final project or to take an examination without prior notification or approval from the instructor. The WF grade is equivalent to an F in calculating the grade point average (zero grade points) and no credit is awarded.