Art 483 | Fundamentals of Interface Design | Winter 2007

Course Information

This course is an experiment in interdisciplinary education. Since it is made up of students from many different fields and with widely varied expertise, the design process is intended to be highly collaborative. Working in teams, students will learn from each other and gain an appreciation for very different forms of problem-solving.

We will explore complex issues in technology-driven design, using the simple programmable robots of the Mindstorms NXT system. Using Mindstorms as a sketching platform for prototyping interaction designs, students will craft experiences in space and time.

The course is divided into two segments, each roughly half of the schedule. In the first half of the course, in order to gain familiarity with the underlying principles and practice of building and programming interactive robots, we will go through a series of exercises and assignments using the Mindstorms system. The second half of the course will be taken up with a design challenge, working in small teams, to create interactive behaviors using Mindstorms, culminating in a group presentation of the projects.

The exercises, a series of small Mindstorms robot building and programming assignments, are designed to introduce students to the basic principles of software design. We will use the NXT robot hardware and the Robolab visual programming system to explore these basic concepts. The exercises consist of modeling some very simple animal behaviors in NXT robots. While fairly simple in physical construction and software logic, the exercises and associated assignments will give students familiarity with fundamental components that can be used to create a more complex design in the larger project.

The large design project which occupies the second half of the course is an open-ended challenge to be accomplished by small teams of students from different disciplines working collaboratively. Each team will develop a written project concept proposal, "pitch" it to the instructors for approval, and revise the proposal based on feedback. The team then will implement their design, and prepare the resulting project for a final presentation during exam week. Also required is the production of a document that summarizes, in a few pages of text and images, the concept and implementation of the project.

We have Mindstorms NXT kits (the robot "bricks," building parts, motors, sensors, cables, etc.) for you to use during the course. You will be working in pairs or teams on the exercises, assignments, and projects, and therefore sharing these kits. In addition to minimizing our purchases, we also want to encourage collaboration among students from different disciplines.

At the beginning of the course, we will give you the kits and record the serial numbers of each team's NXT. You are free to take them home or to another studio or keep them on campus for easy sharing amongst team members. But you are responsible for the kits and all the component pieces and must return them all in good order at the end of the course.

We will collect the kits during exam week, after the final presentation. If you do not turn the kits in then, or there are significant components missing, we will withhold your grades for the course. You'll receive an incomplete until you do return the kit.

Participation is everything. Please be present, prepared, and engaged. And please let us know ahead of time if for some reason you cannot attend class. Your contributions are important and valued, especially in a course in which collaboration is so integral to the process.

Grades will be based on both the quality of your work and your participation and collaborative spirit throughout the course. They are determined as follows:

  • 33 1/3 % : Exercises and assignments
  • 33 1/3 % : Final project
  • 33 1/3 % : Participation and collaboration

The criteria for grading are:

  • mastery of concepts and practicalities of programming and building Mindstorms systems
  • creativity and practicality in design and implementation of projects
  • conceptual and technical innovations
  • clear articulation of ideas in writing and speech
  • participation in discussions and critiques
  • collaboration in team efforts

If you would like to request academic accommodations due to a disability, please contact Disabled Student Services, 448 Schmitz, (206) 543-8924 (V/TTY). If you have a letter from DSS indicating that you have a disability that requires academic accommodation, please present the letter to us as early as possible so that we can discuss the accommodations you need for this class.