Interaction 19
4-10 February 2019
Seattle, WA
United States

Designing art and education into emerging circular economies

workshop – Half day (4h) | Feb 5 – 9:00

Can hacking, reprogramming, and repurposing be leveraged as intentional interactions for transformational product design?

The Circular Economy is a newer buzzword for the down-to-earth product and business roadmaps that recognize the sustainable material limits of natural resources and ecologies. The phrase is also a working umbrella for many different design strategies which expand canonical “user journeys”. This workshop studies two very different electronic hardware products, the iTrip radio transmitter and littleBits modules, and exercises two different workshop curricula which extend these products’ reach in both classrooms and studios.

After beginning with a survey of contemporary sustainable design methodologies, we will explore a sound art and design curriculum built around a product which is accidentally circular, an early version of Griffin Technology’s iTrip. This first hands-on mini-workshop takes an obsolete, nearly free, micro power FM radio station and updates the device to work as a radio transmitter in the modern, “iPod Nano 1G”-less world. The task is simple enough for an introductory electronic literacy course (e.g. how to solder, what is code), and engages a classic design question: “Why was this made to break?” While the curriculum finishes on iTrip’s planned obsolescence, this workshop investigates the device’s designed features further. Is this design actually obsolete, as it can be updated, repaired, and taught? What are the specific features and interactions which allow for this repair and repurposing? How can creative and educational interactions simplify cyclical product lifecycles? How do UI’s effect all these questions?

The second hands on session will cover very similar subject matter, but analyze a curriculum centered around a product which was intended for constant reuse specifically in educational and artistic contexts, the littleBits system. We will focus on the system’s failures as well as successes and build on questions posed in the first session. Comparing both curricula, we will end with a round table discussion of the group’s conclusions.


A. Circular Economies seen by the ID/UX designer - Design for reuse and disassembly - Opensource, Heirloom, Compostable, and biomimetic design

B. Circular Product Lifecycles and emerging ‘Users’ {Hands on the iTrip} - Language translation, Internationalization, Intersectionality - The other “moment”, disposal 1. Reboxing and Repair 2. Mourning and Outgrowth - Carting / Recycling 1.Sorting and reclamation 2. Grey and Black Markets - Warehousers - Designers and Fabricators

C. What can Art, Media, and Education Scale? Fix? Simplify? Smash? {Hands on littleBits} - Ownership and Intellectual Property - The digital divides - The screen and the screenless - Advertising and Marketing

D. Round table discussion

Target audience

Because of the fundamentally holistic nature of the topic, almost everyone, at any level, who professionally or academically engages with a hardware or software product will see this workshop’s relevance to their professional and personal lives. As a motor for change, however, these workshops target current and future product managers, executives, and academics.

No prior knowledge is required, other than a basic knowledge of media devices (e.g. what a radio is, how to turn on a TV). Technical discussions will focus on intuitive literacies, that is, revealing what we already know about technology. The topic’s critical history, economic, social, and ecological motivations, and technical foundations will all be built up from the daily experience in a developed, modern economy.

About the speakers

Ed Bear

Ed Bear

My name is Ed Bear and I am an American performing artist, educator, and engineer working with robotics, sound, video, transmission and collective improvisation. As an teacher and designer committed to an open source world, I research and practice material reuse as a civil responsibility.

Since completing my studies in engineering at the Polytechnic Institute of NYU, I have provided freelance design, manufacturing and engineering services to start-ups, acclaimed artists and musicians, film and theater productions, and leading education institutions. As a research specialist at the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, I investigated technology-neutral, reuse based, commercially viable solutions to dimming and control for emerging solid state lighting systems with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Alliance for Solid-State Illumination Systems and Technologies. I am currently working with littleBits, Inc. to revolutionize modular electronics.

I have toured extensively in North America and Europe as a performer and teacher, working with organizations such as The Mattress Factory, The Montreal Pop Festival, Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and Moogfest. In 2009 and 2010 I received National Science Foundation and other funds to study e-waste streams as educational resources, software defined radio, and energy harvesting. I am a 2017 Signal Culture Toolmaker-in-residence, a 2017 Harvestworks EARS , a 2016 Unit 11, 2015 WaveFarm, and 2012 LMCC SwingSpace artist-in-residence, 2010 free103point9 AIRtime fellow and received the 2008 Roulette Emerging Composer Commission. My music is available on Peira, Azul Discographica, Ever/Never, Roar Tapes, and several other record labels.

Andrew Bernstein

Andrew Bernstein

I am a composer and artist based in Baltimore, MD. My work has taken form in solo and ensemble performances, generative audio/visual software, interactive multimedia and robotic installations, and music for theatre, film and dance. I am 14 of the experimental rock band Horse Lords, am on the board of the High Zero Foundation, and am on the faculty of the MA & MFA in Digital Arts at Goucher College.

Joyce Lainé

I am a physicist turned filmmaker who helps run the collective artisanal film lab, Atelier MTK, in Grenoble, France. This intrinsically involves recycling & hacking materials & machines for various purposes. Current projects involve the fabrication of emulsion and trichromatic film.

Angela Wang

Angela is currently a Graduate Assistant in Program Physical Object at New York University. She is dedicated to discovering how culture and the mind progress and express through art and technology.

Dominic Barrett

Dominic is currently enrolled in the Interactive Telecommunication Program (ITP) at New York University. He is a creative technologist with a focus on developing tools for creators and artists, in both practical and conceptual approaches.

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