Featured Course

Embedded Interactions: Wearables and the Internet of Things

Embedded Interactions is a four-week intensive studio, where students design and build prototypes that utilize a mix of working systems, wizard-of-ozing, and video simulations.

With the advent of wearables and the Internet of Things, and with increasingly accurate voice, gestural, computer vision and brain-computer interfaces, our interactions are transitioning from point and click, multi-touch, and typing to talking, gesturing, behaving, and even thinking. Interactions are also shifting from working with a single device to simultaneously conversing with multiple devices.

This creates new Interaction Design challenges. Instead of using obvious “interfaces,” these interactions are embedded within our contexts. And rather than commanding, we “converse” with autonomous, seemingly intelligent wearables, implants, smart objects, rooms, cars, etc. These embedded interactions put the emphasis on the context created rather than the device, and may eschew the conventions of HCI, user experience, and interaction design. This new ecology of things opens up the possibilities for interactions between systems where the person is only one part; moving beyond user-centered design to a new form of design that is centered on the ecology or milieu created by the active participation of people and devices.

This kind of interaction (and the related Conversational User Interface or CUI) presents a new set of affordances and qualities for interactions, as well as challenges for designers as they adapt to this new approach. And as everyday computational systems move from computers and phones to wearables, smart objects and environments, what are the implications for design? What are the new design patterns? How does the character of interaction change when there is no screen to look at or touch? What new uses will embedded interaction create?

Course description written by MDP core faculty Phil Van Allen


Philip van Allen

Phil van Allen is an interaction designer whose work ranges from the practical to the speculative. In the past, he has been a recording engineer, software developer, digital studio founder, and researcher.

Students Present at Microsoft Design Expo 

This summer, Embedded Interactions students Sche-I Wang, Lee Cody and Xing Lu traveled to the Microsoft mothership in Redmond, WA to take part in the Microsoft Design Expo. Each year, Microsoft Research supports the participation of leading design schools, asking student teams to design a user experience prototype that addresses an emerging issue related to new technologies. From these groups, a representative team from each school presents its work to Microsoft at an open event in front of several hundred people. Over the period of 3 days, they rehearse, visit designers at Microsoft, make their final presentation, and then enjoy a party and awards ceremony hosted by Microsoft. The team also had a chance to visit the Microsoft Design offices to learn about the company’s work with inclusive design and had an opportunity to try out working prototypes of its augmented reality vehicle, HoloLens.

MDP faculty member Phil Van Allen led the team who presented their solution to this year’s challenge: Design a product, service or solution that demonstrates the value and differentiation of the conversational user interface (CUI)—these are systems like Microsoft’s Cortana or Apple’s Siri that people converse with. ArtCenter’s speculative project “Trans-Actor” UX for AI, proposes that a computer should have its own identity, rather than mock human behavior, so that people can better understand how an artificially intelligent (AI) talking device "thinks," resulting in more rich and open-ended conversations. Former Media Design Practices Chair Anne Burdick reported “our team won the award for “Most Thought-Provoking” entry, an outcome that Microsoft has come to expect from the Media Design Practices team each year.”

The experience proved very rewarding for both students and Microsoft. “Companies like Microsoft are quite capable of solving short term problems, but they need help seeing into the future, and imagining how their technologies can be applied and what new ideas and realms are interesting to pursue,” noted Van Allen

You can see the entire fascinating presentation and Q & A session here. As critic and famed technology design innovator Bill Buxton commented, “This is really important to be doing” the work to create CUIs that by design help people understand the device's characteristics and limits.