Smart Object Design

Faculty: Matthew Borgatti



COURSE Description

The definition of a smart object is a product that enhances interaction between people and other objects. The ubiquity of embedded computing has redefined the role of form in material culture, leading to the creation of artifacts that communicate well beyond their static physical presence to create ongoing dialogues with both people and each other. This course will explore the rich relationship among people, objects and information through a combination of physical and digital design methods. Beginning with an examination of case studies, students will gain a sense of the breadth of product design practice as it applies to smart objects. Through a combination of lectures and hands-on studio exercises, students will investigate all aspects of smart object design, including expressive behaviors (light, sound and movement), interaction systems, ergonomics, data networks and contexts of use. The course will culminate in a final project that considers all aspects of smart object design within the context of a larger theme.


Course objectives

In this course, students will explore theories of product design as they apply to both physical and virtual systems. They will learn techniques for crafting product behaviors and develop strategies for using tangible experience prototypes as part of the design process. Students will gain an understanding of physical interaction, networked objects, product personality, information displays, ergonomics, haptics and the role of smart objects in contemporary design practice, while learning methods for testing and communicating new ideas in physical/digital design.



In this course students will learn:

  • How to develop design-actionable insights through dialogue with users, clients, observation of human behavior, and market analysis.

  • How to invent and define product ideas, features and benefits.

  • How to select and prototype core features to understand more about the impact of that idea.

  • How to define and apply dynamic product behaviors using rapid hardware, firmware, & software prototyping techniques.

  • How to select appropriate technologies and systems to achieve design goals.

  • Methods for crafting product personality by identifying and analyzing key moments of interaction.

  • Ways of defining and documenting information structures through experience flow diagrams, systems mapping, and overall information architecture.

  • Techniques for creating manufacturing documentation, including Bill of Materials, Electrical Schematic, and 3D drawings.


course deliverables

The main deliverable will be a physical interaction design project communicated through a final presentation using prototyped artifacts and presented to a panel of designers and relevant industry experts. Students will need to work in groups in order to identify user needs, develop scenarios, and build user experience frameworks around a given topic. 


required texts