Saturday, December 19, 2009


This class was definitely an interesting experience.
I enjoyed the fact that the class was focused on solar technologies. This made it possible for me to familiarize myself with a energy source that is discussed often in the media. However, most people do not have the basic knowledge about solar, in terms of installation, management, and its current level of efficiency. I now feel confident in my knowledge of these aspects of solar technologies...

I am really satisfied as well with the classes use of Arduino's and micro controllers. This was an unknown world to me before I took this class. While I am probably still a novice when it comes to electronics and programming, I have my foot in the door. If I were ever in a situation in the future that involves electronics, I certainly know where and how to start.

This class provided a framework for students to familiarize themselves with digital fabrication as well. This was an extremely attractive aspect of the class in my view. While I already have lots of experience with the laser cutters, stereo lithography machines, and the CNC Mills, I had never used the Water Jet for cutting out metal sheet stock. If I hadn't taken this class, I would not have had that opportunity.

As far as teamwork goes, this class is pretty much the archetype situation for learning team building skills. The one to two week assignments were a nice opportunity for us to familiarize ourselves with the other classmates, and to start thinking about team dynamics. There was some really efficient teamwork in those two week assignments, some of the best that I have seen.
As for the final project, the team dynamics basically determine your experience with the project. If your team works well together, everyone is happy; If not, then everyone gets grumpy and there is going to be some drama. The point, however seems to be that you must work through those problems to achieve the final goal of producing your project by the deadline. And beyond that deadline, I was able to learn a lot more about teamwork by just reflecting on my experience.
Furthermore, The final project proved to be didactic beyond the teamwork aspect. Learning to budget your projects is an extremely valuable skill, and learning to do this with a budget of 3000 dollars gave some real legitimacy to this learning experience.

So overall I think that this final project was a success. There was of course the first three week period of the project where every team failed to settle on a final idea and plan. I really get baffled at why this happened, other than the thought that we all must have been terrified to start using our 3000 dollars without being absolutely certain that our concept was a worthy one. To this end, I think that the constraints that were added helped the teams. With a completely open ended assignment and such a huge budget, the pressure was tangible. I think that it is also obvious that the constraints didn't limit our creativity, with the evidence for this being the completely different outcomes that were seen in the gallery.

Perhaps one way to avoid that three week period of uncertainty would be to assign the final teams and project earlier on in the semester. In this situation, you could give the team on week to develop their idea, then put the project on hiatus for another one to two week mini assignment. This would allow the team dynamics to gel a little bit more, giving the teams another opportunity to see what works and what doesn't. After the mini project in over, then jump right back into the final project again. This approach might address that indecision that was present early on in the project.

On a different note, this class did change the way I view my discipline. While I know that industrial designer's were always part of a collaborative effort to create meaningful and useful objects, I had never had a chance to see what that collaborative effort was like. In the School of Art and Design, If your are brave enough to try and pursue industrial design, your certainly restricted to producing projects on an individual level most of the time. Rarely are you presented the opportunity to work with engineers and architects, and this is exactly what motivated me to take this class.

So I would like to thank John, Karl, and Max as well. You all had a collaborative effort of your own in teaching the class, and I think that you succeeded. I certainly enjoyed being able to have the perspectives of professors from all three disciplines present in every class. Your combined knowledge amounted to one of the largest resources the students had available to them.

Overall this was a positive learning experience that is outstanding from the other classes being offered at the University of Michigan.

Friday, December 18, 2009

... Pictures...


In a 20/20 look back on the project, I am really satisfied with what we accomplished. And I do mean WE. At this time I would like to make amends with reality:

During the critique, I let my exhaustion and frustrations get the best of me. I made some exaggerated statements about doing the majority of the work. The reality is that every one worked, and this is everyone's project (everyone on the team). This was most certainly evident on the last night, as everyone stayed up for the final construction in the gallery. My frustration blinded me and ultimately I said some things that weren't true, and that I am kind of embarrassed about.
Sure, I did do a lot of the work in terms of producing the material aspect of the project, but if I felt that the work load was a problem I should have made more of an effort that discuss it with my team, And I didn't. So where I was implicitly discounting my teammates work when said those things during the critique, I should have been talking about my failure to communicate those things to my team more effectively. I just recently apologized to my team for saying that, because after that long night, I'm sure the last thing they needed to here were my complaints.

With that said, I am happy with what the team pulled off. Of course, there is room for improvement if we were to do this all over again, but it looked great in the gallery. The modularity really worked for us. Aside from being practical in terms of allowing our system to be installed in a variety of interior spaces, the modularity also made assembling the modules a much easier task. After all the work with preparing the components was done, we essentially just had to struggle to build only one module. After this initial module was built, the rest of the modules were extremely easy to assemble. Beyond this, stacking the modules into one wall was a breeze. The geometry chosen ended up working really well.

Wiring the modules was a little tedious. In a future iteration, I think that this could be addressed. In general however, it worked. The paths that were incorporated into the modules for wiring did work well. It was simply running the wires through and attaching them to their intended servos that proved time-consuming. To that end, I supposed all teams ran into the same wiring issues.

The panels also ended up looking nice. Originally, one face was going to be painted white. But in a last week revelation, the polypropylene that was laminated on, ended up providing us with a superior flat white surface. All together the acrylic, aluminum, polypropylene, and veneer created an interesting materials palette. Considering the primary variable of light, the materials combined to have an intriguing luster and transparency that I believe worked quite nicely. As you can see in the pictures, the light traveled through the acrylic very beautifully, and really emphasized the honeycomb form.

The programming worked pretty well also. Unfortunately, the power issues we were having made it hard for people to see the full function of the wall, but we were able to demonstrate the program with more than half of the modules. I am confident that if our wall was actually installed in a south facing window space, that it would impress, and preform its intended task in a way that intrigues people.

The product of this project was a quality modular system, many learned lessons about new processes (such as using the water jet), and many learned lessons about teamwork. I may have said this before, but the most valuable educational opportunity that this class presents, is the chance to work on your skills as a team player. Even if you manage to screw some things up, you may learn some things by reflecting on your mistakes. It and certainly does hurt that you end up with a portfolio quality project at the end of it as well.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Holy Shoot, Its time


The website says 1 day left, and we still have a lot to accomplish.... Hmmmm why do I have the sneaking suspicion that I wont be able to touch my bed until after class on Friday?

At any rate I would really appreciate it if my whole team is able to show up and get this thing installed and working tonight, or else the hard work of at a few will pretty much go to waste..

See everyone on the flip side of tomorrow...

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Arduino... is a bar?

This is an interesting article... It was featured on core77 and details the creation and concept behind the all important Arduino, a resource which has been vital to the innovative spirit of our class. Among the interesting points in the article are that the concept of the Arduino micro controller was developed specifically for design students and that the name itself, 'Arduino' comes from a local watering hole frequented by the developers...

check it out at:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

its about that time...

I worked on constructing our model out of the components that were laser cut out. I used foam core in the place of the aluminum, and a scrap piece of ply in place of the blind...

On a good note though, I have figured out a way to attach our blinds to the servo. I went to the hardware store and looked around for an hour or so and found a piece of hardware that looks like the funky cousin of a lock washer. I also found the screws that will fit into the interior of the servo shaft. and when you add up those to things with a cheap aluminum profile you get what you see in the picture above. when the washer (which has little teeth in it) is placed in between the aluminum and servo it prevent any sliding because of its teeth, and creates a nice connection between the two.

There are several problems with it that need to be addressed tomorrow before we move on with the rest of the modules. We also need to secure our order of aluminum and some more cast acrylic (really soon)

There is an interesting thing about the nature of this progress. It has been democratic in terms of design; everyone has something to say in terms of why something should not be done a certain way, which makes for a very long design process. And yet it hasn't really been democratic in terms of bringing the design into fruition. Frustrating to say the least.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Smartsurface Conundrum

I think that our discussion with Michelle Addington made for one of the best discussions of my senior year. In part, I think that this is because the discussion exposed many broader implications about collaboration and the nature of progress that are extremely relevant us as students right now, as we are all bound for “real world” employment next year and must integrate ourselves into a company consisting of people educated in various disciplines.

I think that the most interesting aspect to the discussion was the exposure of the conundrum of this Smartsurfaces class, which is the troubling relationship between the ‘subject matter’ of this class and its ‘educational content’. I would broadly classify the subject matter of this class as heliotropism. I think that the ‘educational content’ of this class is inter-disciplinary collaboration, or rather the actual process of collaboration that takes place in each group’s quest to conceptualize the final project and bring it to fruition.

Of course, as we have all discovered in our group projects, these two variables combine to make for a roller coaster of excitement, progress, creativity, and frustration.

So, in one respect we (the students) have the impression that the criteria for judging the project’s success lies in the impressiveness of our end product, however, I think that the real criteria for judging success might actually lie in how we came to improve our collaborative approach throughout the project.

In short I would almost be more comfortable with struggling and perhaps failing to produce the “product” if I am able to come to terms with the difficulties of interdisciplinary collaboration. In this regard I personally feel that the most valuable “product” of this class is not the impressiveness and installation of our concept and project, but the gained ability to interact with others to create pertinent concepts and bring them to fruition.

Interestingly, the criteria by which people outside of this class will judge its success and value (including those university officials responsible for funding the future of the class) will be the impressiveness of end product and the impact that our projects will make on them within the gallery installation, and not the more valuable aspect of each project which is the process by which we interacted to actually create them.