interaction design

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

Island Art Encampment and Cartography Archive

In late July of 2011 Uta Hinrichs and I (working as the TRAUBENSAFT! Collective) took residency on Bumpkin Island in Boston Harbor, and spent five days using experimental cartography and psychogeography methods and strategies to create a map archive of the island– a participatory mapping project. This Archive is part of the Berwick Research Institute’s Annual Bumpkin Island Art Encampment, produced in cooperation with the Boston Harbor Island Alliance and the MA Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Visitors to Bumpkin during the Encampment browsed Traubensaft’s small collection of original, experimental maps of the island. The map archive also offered visitors use of a “map-making kit”, with materials and instructions to create their own maps. As part of the map making process, physical flags/pins could be placed in the environment (and carry a message or label) by the artists and participant cartographers. These flags referred to landmarks or symbols recorded on particular maps, and created visible signs of the mapping process on the landscape.

Visitor-created maps were donated/contributed to the Bumpkin Island Map Archive. The Archive headquarters and display site was fully integrated into the landscape, located on under a tree at the center of the Island. At the end of the project, the archive consisted of over 70 maps, the vast majority created by the public. This project is documented on Traubensaft!’s website.

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

Awkward_NYC, a map of awkward social interactions in public spaces

Awkward_NYC, or The New York City Map of Awkward Social interactions in Public Spaces, is a collaborative online map for reporting social accidents and small interpersonal traumas that occur unexpectedly in public spaces. The map pinpoints sites in the New York Metropolitan area where misunderstandings, outbursts, physical altercations, arguments between friends or strangers, and romantic spats or break-ups have occurred. These mishaps are characteristic of the human urban experience– they’re unsettling, often comic, strangely powerful mini-narratives and dramas that would otherwise go untold, but may linger in memory for months and years, as we move through the same urban landscapes, day in and day out.

Anyone can add a story to the map; the project is fully web-based and participatory. The map taps into the confessional, voyeuristic, narrative impulses that typify online behavior and subverts the notion of mapping as reductive, objective, and authoritative. As stories are added to the map, a series of data visualizations depicting the emotional terrain of the city will be generated.

Awkward_NYC is a 2012 commission of New Radio and Performing Arts for its Turbulence website. It was made possible with funds from the Jerome Foundation. Thanks to Rodrigo De Benito and Adam Lassy for troubleshooting code.

Click here to use the map on

Friday, May 13th, 2011

Twigster: find a tree, find a friend

Twigster is an concept design and prototype for an iPhone app and associated website to help urban users discover and explore the often-overlooked natural world in the city, and connect with others doing the same. The project plays on the basic human impulse to collect and categorize— whether a collection of specimens in a herbarium, or a catalog of friends on a social networking site. This project is a collaboration with Rodrigo de Benito.

While moving about the city as usual, Twigster users are on the look-out for trees on the street and in parks. They use Twigster’s interactive, step-by-step visual key on their iPhone to identify an unfamiliar tree. The key calls out certain features– leaf shape, twig arrangement, etc– in helping users make an identification. The result, along with GPS data marking the tree’s location, can be sent from the iPhone to the user’s personal Twigster account, and to a collective interactive map. Users may choose to add a photo or notes about the tree they’ve found.

Some users may chose to interact with Twigster like a game, trying to identify the most trees, or seeking out the rarest, most unusual, or farthest flung trees in the city. Since identification can be tricky, users can mark a tree as a “mystery tree,” add it to the map, and ask other Twigster users for help in identifying that tree. Some users may be interested in monitoring the health of particular local trees, tracking seasonal changes in foliage, or observing bird and animal life associated with the trees, and sharing this information with other users: they can add tags and notes to the map for all users to see.

Twigster’s streamlined, online social networking component makes sharing information, experiences, and stories with other users easy and satisfying. Twigster aims to create a community of users fully engaged in exploring, understanding, and sharing nature with each other.

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Voodoo Buddy, a networked wireless voodoo doll

As a critique of our culture of constant, instant contact and ubiquitous spam, we updated the voodoo doll for contemporary forms of communication. A human presence can be contained in an image, or in a three-dimensional representation: a statue or doll. These forms abstract presence, condense it, symbolize it. The power of representation is in this concentrated “second” presence, extracted and separated from the original. In Voodoo Buddy, presence is (mis)placed into a miniature physical form, a doll. This usually friendly, cuddly plaything becomes an agent of misery and annoyance. Users enter the email address and phone number of their victim into the web interface. When the Voodoo Buddy is pricked with a pin, and the output is annoying spam, disturbing email images, and disquieting text messages and phone calls channeled to the victim. Users beware! Your Voodoo Buddy could turn on you– prick too often and the doll might take your picture and send it to your victim, revealing your identity. The handmade doll integrates an Arduino microcontroller, a BlueSmirf BlueTooth unit, and a wireless camera with php and asterisk phone server coding.

A schematic shows the inner workings of Voodoo Buddy. The doll contains a microcontroller, conductive padding in several areas, and a tiny surveillence camera. The doll essentially acts as a switch. When users hold the doll in one hand, they make contact with a metal pad at the back of its head. When the user pricks the doll with a pin held in the other hand, they close the switch and complete a circuit– a very small, imperceptible current (or “curse”) runs through the user’s body. The microcontroller inside the doll registers this current, and wirelessly sends signals to the Voodoo application running on a nearby computer. Feedback (which is randomized) is then sent to the victim– it may be an emailed image or message, a text message, or a phone call (mediated by the Asterisk server) that plays a disturbing recording. Excessive pricking of Voodoo Buddy increases the chances that the camera in the doll’s eye will be triggered, taking a photograph of the user and sending it on to the victim. In this way, the doll takes revenge.

Click to see Voodoo Buddy in action. Video courtesy of Gizmodo.

Monday, February 14th, 2011

Give-n-Get Economy Outlet

The Give-and-Get Economy Outlet is a pop-up store and a dynamic, distributed collection of objects. It’s a structure that serves as a site for interaction. And it’s a series of practices, strategies, and resulting interactions with and between users.

As a system, the Give-N-Get is an experimental economy, with transactions (exchanges) between participants (who are all members of the same community). It seeks to produce a new narrative form: an object that contains personal meaning or emotional value, transformed into a “product” using explicit visual language and conventions of commercial/advertising practice.

In the Spring of 2009 I built a cardboard and masking tape structure, the Give-n-Get Economy Outlet store, and installed it at 721 Broadway, 4th floor. Prior to the store’s opening I collected small keepsake objects from some members of the community. I requested objects that had particular abstract, personal emotional value or meaning independent of any material value; I asked contributors/investors to write an explanation of the object’s history and meaning to them. I created hand-drawn graphics for each object, and packaged the objects as consumer products. When the store opened, these objects were its products; visitors to the store could acquire an object only by trading a keepsake of their own. Incoming keepsakes were packaged and added to the inventory.

While the outlet was open, there was usually free limeade and cake available to lure in potential visitors. These consumables also had an abstract meaning/story connected to them, which was explained on hand-drawn and hand-lettered signs. Promotional pins were also given away at the outlet. The outlet was open for 5 days, during which 62 trades were made. A total of 66 objects passed through the system, plus 3 gallons of limeade, three cakes, and 40 free pins were distributed.

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

Sandwich Competitions

The Sandwich Competitions were experiments in interaction design for large groups. They were planned as an antidote to the screen and technology obsessed and stressed culture at my graduate program, the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU. We wanted students take a break from pixels, code, and microprocessors, and get a chance to be creative with organic, messy, sloppy, gooey, tactile, and flavorful materials. Rules were devised by the Sandwich Commissioners, myself and Vikram Tank. Sandwich Competition participants had 30 minutes to make a number of identical sandwiches. Toaster sharing was required. The ITP community was invited to sample the sandwiches and use our custom text-to-vote system to express their opinion. Real time results were visualized with a Processing application.  The project was a collaboration with Vikram Tank; Tom Gerhart assisted with coding the visualizer for the second event. We founded the Sandwich Competition in 2008 at ITP; I co-organized the first and second annual events. A third event was organized by current students in 2010.

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

Mobile Fitness App

A mobile app for a short, easy fitness program in which users do a series of simple exercises for about 30 seconds each, for maximum workout efficiency. The program is based on scientific research on interval training.

I did UX wireframes and the visual/character design for this app. The goal was to make the user experience as friendly and simple as possible, while leveraging key persuasive technology principles (Ability, Motivation, and Triggers) to encourage users to adapt this new exercise behavior and use the program successfully.

Ability: The animations of each exercise, the gallery with tips and explanations, and the simple timer function ensure that users have the information to do the workout properly and for the correct intervals.

Motivation: A calendar allows users to see how many workout sessions they’ve completed and track progress over time. Awards or badges are assigned for a certain number of workouts completed on days in a row, a certain number of workouts per month, etc., so users can work toward a specific goal.

Triggers: Users can set alarms to remind them to complete the workout at the best time or times for them during their day.

These materials were produced for Bitseries.

Friday, June 13th, 2008

Web Design: Katie Peterson

A custom WordPress site designed and built for the poet and writer Katie Peterson, whose poems explore interior and exterior landscapes, exposure and shelter. Below are design treatments and mock-ups for the site.






View the site at .

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