In Spring 2020, I taught a course on Interaction Technologies on the Human Computer Interaction masters at the university in Salzburg. The brief was to expose the students to everything "beyond the screen", so over 8 weeks we covered the basics of haptics, light, gesture, motion and future tech.

Teaching an online course in physical interface design was... interesting. The original intent for the first lab was a group trip to the flea market to purchase and dismantle hardware implementations of buttons, switches and knobs. Instead, we made extensive use of Miro and a home Arduino kit, supplemented by some custom parts which I hand delivered to the students across Salzburg one spring morning.

Ashamed Button, by Irina Mittermayr
Fearful button, by Robin Baudisch
Startled button, by Jakob Bechinie
Sassy button, by Philipp Wagner
Cheerful button, by Isabella Wimmer
Stressed Button, by Diana Solkazian

Emotional buttons

The course ended with an exercise to build an emotional button. The students took references from films, memes and cartoons to extract the core of an emotion and recreate it as an interactive experience. Without access to workshop facilities, projects were built with whatever was to hand: shoeboxes, kitchen utensils, old soap dishes and a mouse trap.

The creative variety was a joy to see. The fearful button hid in the dark, recoiling from an advancing kitchen knife. The sassy button waved away the advancing finger. The jealous button grew increasingly irritable when its neighbour was pressed. With permission, I've embedded a few examples above.

Haptics plotting from the students in Miro
Haptics plotting from the students in Miro

What's next?

For 2021, we plan to expand the course and introduce some topics we couldn't cover previously: designing with sound, active haptics and smart materials.

If you'd like to know more, or see some of the materials used in this course, please drop me an email.