Content: Activation Assignment

“An environmental awareness group loves your container and wants to use it to educate people about their new product, a takeout container made of plastic from algae – a totally carbon neutral option. They want the activation to be peaceful, calm, and approachable for the general public: informative, but not overwhelming.  They have a garant to find a way to distribute it (if only through documentation) to all homes in the US.”

A billboard made of transparent tubes stands in the middles of the park. The tubes are filled with a green fluid in a pattern which spells out a name or logo of a company. Every minute or so, the fluid moves and is replaced by fresh fluid, again in the same pattern. The accompanying sign reads:

These tubes are filled with algae which convert sunlight into hydrocarbons and make plastics. Press this button to purge the algae and see the plastic created by the algae so far.

Pressing the button removes all fluid from the tubes and the pattern stands out as a thicker layer of plastic tubing. As the installation continues, the tubes will get thicker and thicker eventually becoming solid.

Holding Hearts – content review

Holding Hearts is a soft robotic demonstration from Rusty Squid, a soft robotic studio based in the UK.

Describe– The project is a red rubber-like geometric heart that is cut in half. There is a tube connected to the heart and into a box. People on the street are invited to hold the heart in their hands. They seem to enjoy the experience and are amazed or weirded out by it.

Analyze– After seeing the making-of video, it is clear that the heart is made of casted silicone, in a 3D printed mold. There are pneumatic ‘muscles’ placed inside the cast. The box contains pneumatic pumps that make the heart ‘beat’ at the same rate as the person holding the other heart. The overall process shows a mastery of craft in fabricating as well as a strong understanding of how the human heart functions.

Interpret– The piece aims to bring people closer together through a shared experience. The technology is just a medium.

Judge– The piece works as intended. But because it is presented to the audience without context, some of the effect is lost. It would work much better as a museum exhibit with accompanying text or graphics that guide the experience.

Rubrics of success:

The piece was produced by Rusty Squid, a studio specializing in soft robotics for advertising. As such, it needs to be evaluated as more of an advertisement than a person maker project. Some of the rubrics of success are enumerated below:

  • Generate publicity for Rusty Squid
  • Act as a demonstration of their capabilities
  • Deepen ties with Kings College London, for future collaborations

Content and (dis-)contents: Assignment 1

Container: PCBs

Prototyping Printed Circuit Boards is now cheaper and easier than ever before. This is because of automation of the production process in a large-scale bringing down cost of manufacturing. And, the availability of free tools and tutorials to design circuit boards.


The container offers affordances in the form of layers of materials sandwiched together. The layers are silkscreen, solder mask, copper, FR4, copper, solder mask, silkscreen. From the perspective of a designer, the material offers more affordances than can be easily counted, so I shall focus on affordances to the user of a produced PCB. Here are some of the affordances and great examples of their use to create good content:

  • The copper layer affords passage of electricity. All the other layers provide the anti-affordance of blocking the flow of electricity. e.g. PCB motor
  • The copper layer provides the anti-affordance of blocking light from passing through, all the other layers provide the affordance of letting light pass through to varying degrees. e.g. PCB visual Art
  • The FR4 material provides the affordance of structural stiffness and temperature stability. e.g. PCB drone badgePCB enclosures
  • The copper layer affords to stick to solder and soldermask affords the anti-affordance of repelling solder. Together these afford sticking components on the board strongly and precisely. e.g. PCB Braille signs

Response to in-class questions:

What is content? What makes “good content”? What makes “viral content”? How are they the same and how aren’t they?:
Good content satisfies needs, viral contents satisfies wants.

How is it useful or detrimental to think in terms of content/container? Is there another way?:

Container/content model separates the users from the designers i.e. designers make the container, users use the container to make content. Granted there is often overlap in the people acting as designers and users i.e. a person can be both a user and a designer. Nevertheless, there is seldom an overlap in the thought process of acting as a designer/user i.e. a person seldom acts as both at the same time or in the same mindset. So the divide is valuable. At the same time, I feel like better design emerges from a narrow divide between designer and user, and both should inform and influence each other.

Can the same “content” be translated across different containers?:
Yes, definitely! For example, a painting can be made in any medium, a piece of music can be played with many instruments, The same spice/texture palette can emerge from different ingredients. But also, synesthetic nature of humans means that similar emotions can emerge from different sensory inputs.

Can the same “content” be translated across different containers?:
I put container first, more often than not. In fact, I see the world in terms of simple components e.g. I see a toaster as a heater connected to a timer rather than a means of generating toast(the content). My process is to explore the perceived affordances of a container, drill down to the real affordances and think of which affordances are invisible. Then, make them visible! For example, the copper layer of a PCB affords bending, but this is seldom visible because the FR4 layer affords stiffness. I am currently exploring making bent PCBs to surface this previously less visible affordance.

Can the same “content” be translated across different containers?:
Yes, users deserve compensation from the content they create. Even if it is non-monetary compensation in the form of reputation/credits..


Reflections on the reading:

Two forms of bad writing that I hate are (a) jargon-heavy text with runaway sentences (b) writing that makes universal claims without citation or context. The reading Rethinking Affordance- An Introduction seems to combine the two into a perfect mix of misery. After reading the piece three times I still don’t understand what the author wants to convey other than that they think that ‘affordance’ needs to be redefined for the digital age. I have more issues with the text than can be easily listed, so I shall not attempt to list them.