Sketching in Hardware 2: my intro

Over the weekend of June 23-24 ThingM organized Sketching in Hardware 2, the second installment of the conference that Matt, Judith and I put together last year (for more on that event, see my thoughts about it last year). It was a great time with fantastic presentations by an incredibly talented group of folks. I felt very privileged that they had come, some from as far away as Sweden and Japan, to our event. Thank you! I'll be posting more about the event in the coming week, but I wanted to share a couple of things.


Ruth Kikin-Gil, one of my co-hosts this year, created a Flickr Photo Pool of all the photos at the conference. Here's a random selection. Click on the icon on the right to see the full pool.
photos in Sketching in Hardware 2 More photos in Sketching in Hardware 2

My Intro

I introduced the conference with some general framing of the history and ideas behind the conference. It's a general view and if you follow this blog, you have probably heard many of the ideas before. However, I do end with an idea about the responsibility that we, as tool creators have to make good tools that make it easier to do the right thing than the wrong thing, an idea I got from Jeff Veen years ago and which guided my thinking when I worked with QUALCOMM to develop their internal guidelines management tool.

Hi! My name is Mike Kuniavsky.

Thank you very much for coming. Some of you have come here from far away, others are here on short notice. Thank you.

Let me get started by telling you who don’t know me a bit about myself and then telling you a little about how Sketching in Hardware started.

I’m a user experience researcher and designer. As such, I’m primarily concerned with the personal, social and cultural impact of technology and how to create technology for people. Most of my career had been spent as an interaction designer for the web. Having spent a lot of time thinking about people and technology, about five years ago I realized that the greatest impact was not going to come from the Web. Three years ago I left Adaptive Path, a web design company I had cofounded, to pursue the integration of information processing into objects that don’t look like computers. I shifted my focus to interaction design for ubiquitous computing. As I was about to leave Adaptive Path, I met Matt Cottam of Tellart at a workshop in Vienna, at the CHI conference. It was a workshop on the integration of interaction and industrial design. We got to talking and realized that we had similar visions for how that integration should work, and it revolved around sketching.

That conversation was the most direct genesis of this event, but let me back up a bit and talk about sketching, or at least sketching from my perspective.

Sketching is a fundamental process of design. Whether you make music, architecture, processes, or whatever, we sketch in some way. For me, I learned the value of sketching working with a classically-trained animator named Lawrence Marvit. He had a pile of pencil nubs of all difference colors and he’d start sketching with roughly light colored pencils, then he’d move to darker and darker colors as the idea took shape. Finally, he’d trace the final idea in either black or dark blue pencil. This was eye-opening to me, because it showed me that pencil sketches have quality that few other things have.

Lawrence and I worked together 13 years ago. When I started thinking about sketching again three years ago, I thought back to what made his work so interesting to me, and I came up with several criteria:

  • They’re fast
  • They’re provisional
  • They preserve history

Bill Buxton recently wrote a book recently that is an excellent discussion of the role of sketching as a philosophy to the process of innovation and interaction design. In it, he enumerates a number of other qualities of sketching.

Now, think about which of these qualities hardware has. Almost none of them. As practices go, developing physical computing is nearly the opposite of sketching on paper. So what? Why is that a problem? Well, as many of us here know, sketching is not part of the production process; it is part of the idea generation process. When you sketch, you’re not working on a final product. Sketching is a process through which the sketcher explores the problem space and uncovers possibilities and constraints within that space. By being bad at being as sketching medium, electronics greatly limits the breadth of ideas we can have.

Thus, this conference. The goal of this event is to bring together

  • the people who make the tools that allow for sketching in hardware
  • the people who use electronics expressively and push the boundaries of how to sketch in hardware
  • and the people who teach how to understand and use electronics,

and discuss what it means to create hardware sketching tools and how to make the tools we have more effective. This conference is also structured the way it is because I feel it’s important to create a community of people who are interested in this, and the way we create community is not just by listening to presentations, but by walking together, by having dinner together and by collaboratively sketching in hardware.

I also have an even broader agenda, and please indulge me in sharing it with you. I believe that ubiquitous computing is going to play a major role in humanity’s future. The possibilities for information processing embedded into objects has enormous potential for improving the lives of people and the earth. I’m very bullish on the idea, in general. But I’ve also studied people a lot, and I know that people will, on the whole, take the easiest route to a solution, without considering the broader implications that solution has on the world. This easiest route is often defined by the capabilities of the tools people use because some things are easier to do with a tool than others.

So here’s what I’ll end on:

If we are the community of tool makers whose tools will define the shape of the information devices of the world to come, then if we create tools with which it is easier to do the right thing than to do the wrong thing, the net effect will be cumulatively better than if we did nothing at all. When we create capability, we braw a boundary. We are in a unique position to draw those boundaries that can make a better world. Let’s keep that in mind.

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This page contains a single entry by Mike Kuniavsky published on July 2, 2007 3:07 PM.

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