Parsons The New School for Design
MFA Design + Technology
Computational Craft
PGTE 5582 || CRN 5266 A
Fall 2016
Tuesday, 7 – 9:40 pm, 6 East 16th Street, Rm 1204A
Instructor: Liza Stark
Email: stare220[at]
TA: Max Ma
Email: max095[at]
Office hours: By appointment only.
Class site:


Craft is a practice underlying all cultures, unifying hand with mind, materials with tools, and high technology with low technology. Historically, craft is a means of communicating the knowledge, stories, and values of the individual and local community across generations.

The rise of DIY, open source, and Maker culture has contributed to a growing design field that we will call computational craft: the combination of crafting techniques with alternative and traditional materials to produce computationally infused or inspired objects. Over the course of the semester, we will spend much time unpacking and revising this definition, and examining the role of this field at the intersection of design, technology, and contemporary culture, pulling in knowledge and practices from performance, architecture, education, fashion, product design, anthropology, science fiction, and more. New materials give us the opportunity to explore new interactions between people and technology. The unexpected is our currency.

We will begin by looking at ways in which traditional crafting techniques can be interwoven with new materials like conductive ink, thread, fabric, and more to generate “soft” interfaces. During the second part of the course, we will explore actuators such as thermochromic ink, soft speakers, and shape memory alloys. Throughout the course, we will think critically about how utilizing these materials shapes our interactions with technology (e.g. why is a paper piano more whimsical than a knobbed midi interface or a traditional piano?) and the problem solving involved in customized sensor design for objects, surfaces, and the body.

If you would like to escape the screen for the hand, this is a great opportunity.


Week 1 (8/30): Course Introduction
Assignment for next class:
1) Find a project that excites you and that uses the materials we looked at in class. You can use one from today’s class or find something new. 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 Fabrics 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) Review this multimeter tutorial. This tool will be your best friend.

Week 2 (9/6): Crafting a Path: Fabric and Paper Circuits
Assignment for next class:
1) Illustration Exercise

Week 3 (9/13): Input: Switches + Sensors 
Assignment for next class:
Swatch Exchange
1) Create 3 swatches to share with the class and post documentation.
2) Bring your Arduino supplies to class.
3) Watch the Arduino documentary.

Week 4 (9/20): Control 1: Arduino Workshop, Part 1
Assignment for next class:

Week 5 (9/27): Control 2: Arduino Workshop, Part 2 + Special Guest, Irene Posch
Assignment for next class:

Week 6 (10/4): Control 3: ATtiny Workshop
Assignment for next class:
Midterm presentation

Week 7 (10/11): NO CLASS
Assignment for next class:
Continue working on next assignment.
Bring a sound greeting card, a recording module from RadioShack, or an ⅛ inch audio cable you are willing to cut.

Week 8 (10/18): Midterm Presentations
Assignment for next class:

Week 9 (10/25): Output: Sound
Assignment for next class:
Bring paint brushes, plastic containers, paper / fabric of various weights and sizes

Week 10 (11/1): Output: Heat + Color
Assignment for next class:
Bring paper / fabric of various weights and sizes

Week 11 (11/8): Output: Motion 1 
Assignment for next class:

Week 12 (11/15): Output: Motion 2 + Final Mapping Exercise: Dualities in our practice
Assignment for next class:
Post your final concept statement and sketches to the blog.

Week 13 (11/22): No class
Assignment for next class:

Week 14 (11/29): The Invisible World Around Us: Radios + EMF
Assignment for next class:

Week 15 (12/6): In class work time
Assignment for next class:
Post your final concept ideas to the blog. Come to next class ready to present your concept and any prototypes.

Week 16 (12/13): In class work time
Assignment for next class:
Work on your final project. Bring your prototypes to class.

Week 17 (12/20): Final Presentations

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 share it!


Materials Knowledge + Techniques
Develop a deeper understanding of these new materials and their affordances; Determine appropriate materials based on the project; Apply this knowledge to construct aesthetic and functional computationally enhanced prototypes.

Electronics + Computing
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 + Process
Demonstrate the ability to integrate the design process into work; Able to find material / electronic solutions and integrate them into a larger project; Documents extensively and shares work online.

Research Methodology
Use different lenses and frameworks to approach the design process and user research. We will pull from elements from narrative construction and storytelling, situational design, craft research, game design, and more.

Class Structure
The course is structured as a series of workshops, each with an in class activity and outside assignment. These activities and assignments are designed for you to enhance your technical understanding through peer to peer learning, explore materials and their appropriate (or inappropriate) usage, and apply both through rapid prototyping. The final project will assess your overall knowledge and growth from an integrated, holistic approach.

You will have 2 major projects. We will discuss all of these at length, but here is the short overview:

(1) Midterm Project: You will design a light giving object that responds to a narrative or metaphor. No wires allowed.

(2) Final Project: For the final project you will respond to a theme or question. It is due the last day of class. Final documentation will be due a few days after.

Note: 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.

35% Participation + Attendance
40% Assignments (in and out of class) + Documentation
25% Major Projects: Midterm (10%) + Final (15%)
TOTAL 100%

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.

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

Laptops should be closed when not needed and phones should be on silent. Specifically, I have no tolerance for inattention during student project presentations. A core principle of this program is peer feedback and I expect all of you to respect this.

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.

Major Projects
A central goal of this course is creating a database of techniques for others to learn from. Extensive documentation is required for each project in the form of an Instructable or other appropriate platform. You are encouraged to work in groups for all projects. If you wish to combine one of these three projects with a deliverable for another course, you MUST ask me first. Failure to do so will result in point deduction. I am open to this, but it is imperative that we establish the goals of the project as they relate to each course.

Grade Descriptions
You are expected to complete all assignments as described above to receive full credit. We will discuss the requirements for each project when introduced. If you have any questions about how you are assessed, please reach out to me.

A Work of exceptional quality
Exceptional work goes above and beyond the expectations of the required project criteria. It exhibits a critical eye towards the themes of the course, while synthesizing the design principles and technology practiced to create interesting and contextually significant work. All work is thoughtfully documented and communicated in both digital form and in presentations. Overall, the work is considered a contribution to this growing domain.

A- Work of high quality

B+ Very good work

B Good work; satisfies course requirements
Satisfactory completion of a course is considered to be a grade of B or higher.

B- Below-average work

C+ Less than adequate work

C Well below average work

C- Poor work; lowest possible passing grade

F Failure

GM Grade missing for an individual

Grades of D are not used in graduate level courses.

Grade of W
The grade of W may be issued by the Office of the Registrar to a student who officially withdraws from a course

within the applicable deadline. There is no academic penalty, but the grade will appear on the student transcript. A grade of W may also be issued by an instructor to a graduate student (except at Parsons and Mannes) who has not completed course requirements nor arranged for an Incomplete.

Grade of WF
The grade of WF is issued by an instructor to a student (all undergraduates and all graduate students) who has not attended or not completed all required work in a course but did not officially withdraw before the withdrawal deadline. It differs from an “F,” which would indicate that the student technically completed requirements but that the level of work did not qualify for a passing grade. The WF is equivalent to an F in calculating the grade point average (zero grade points), and no credit is awarded.

Grades of Incomplete
The grade of I, or temporary incomplete, may be granted to a student under unusual and extenuating circumstances, such as when the student’s academic life is interrupted by a medical or personal emergency. This mark is not given automatically but only upon the student’s request and at the discretion of the instructor. A Request for Incomplete form must be completed and signed by student and instructor. The time allowed for completion of the work and removal of the “I” mark will be set by the instructor with the following limitations:

Graduate students: Work must be completed no later than one year following the end of the class. Grades of “I” not revised in the prescribed time will be recorded as a final grade of “WF” (for Parsons and Mannes graduate students) or “N” (for all other graduate students) by the Office of the Registrar. The grade of “N” does not affect the GPA but does indicate a permanent incomplete.


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

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

Faculty members may fail any student who is absent for a significant portion of class time. A significant portion of class time is defined as three absences for classes that meet once per week and four absences for classes that meet two or more times per week. During intensive summer sessions a significant portion of class time is defined as two absences. Lateness or early departure from class may also translate into one full absence.

Use of Canvas 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.

Electronic Devices
Use of electronic devices (phones, tablets, laptops) is permitted when the device is being used in
relation to the course’s work. All other uses are prohibited in the classroom and devices should be turned off before class starts.

Academic Honesty and Integrity
The New School views “academic honesty and integrity” as the duty of every member of an academic community to claim authorship for his or her own work and only for that work, and to recognize the contributions of others accurately and completely. This obligation is fundamental to the integrity of intellectual debate, and creative and academic pursuits. Academic honesty and integrity 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 faculty members and other students). Academic dishonesty results from infractions of this “accurate use”. The standards of academic honesty and integrity, and citation of sources, apply to all forms of academic work, including submissions of drafts of final papers or projects. All members of the University community are expected to conduct themselves in accord with the standards of academic honesty and integrity. Please see the complete policy in the Parsons Catalog.

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.

Student Disability Services (SDS)
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. SDS assists students with disabilities in need of academic and programmatic accommodations as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and Section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973.