Boarding pass redesign

You know how when you get your boarding pass the teller highlights the boarding time and the gate? The fact that they have to do it is a testament to the abysmal design of boarding passes.

Through this assignment, I got interested in the design history of boarding passes. Turns out, the machine-readable component of boarding passes is regulated by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). But, as far as I can tell, there is no regulation on the human-readable elements. So, the only reason that we have these awful boarding passes is that some engineer who was only interested in the boarding pass barcodes made up a template for boarding passes which has been followed out of inertia since. Here’s an example from the ‘Recommended BCBP document layout‘:

An example template from IATA. Notice how the only point of concern is the dimension of the barcode.

Why then are we still suffering from awful boarding passes like this:


Here is an attempt to redesign this monstrosity:


Font used: Bitstream sans

Side note: If you’re interested in what information is contained in the barcode on the boarding pass, it’s easily decoded with a simple app. It is PDF417 format data-matrix code and contains mostly the same information as typed on the pass. But it can contain a lot more information as well, including the sequence number and frequent flyer number. More details in the IATA implementation guide.

Welcome to ITP Mars Simulator

This floor has been transformed into a floor on the ITP “Mars Simulator.” Recruits reside here for two years in preparation for a stay on the red planet.

Map and directions


(Elevator door opens)

Hello! Welcome to the ITP mars habitat simulator. I’m Gwen, your guide. Come with me.
As you know you’ll be spending the next two years in this self-contained unit, training for your trip to mars.

You’ll be here with the other recruits, testing the limits of human cohabitation, living and learning together.

Let’s take this left here…

(pause, walking, sound of cane and footsteps)

To your left is the Earth room. We are currently testing simulations of different locations on Earth; for recruits to go when they feel homesick

First, we are prototyping a rainforest: (Sound of rain, rainforest animals) …

As well as a field in the countryside (Sound of crickets, running stream)…

And the ocean: (Ocean sounds)

We also are working on a big city: (Sound of New York City, people walking on sidewalks, cars beeping, etc.)

Next I’ll show you where we are building the dorms… Follow me.

(pause walking)

The 3D printers will be moved soon, but they’ll remain in the habitat for repairs and maintenance.

The terrarium will be fitted here by the way, the unit will be self sustained for food and oxygen recycling.

(pause, walking, sound of cane and footsteps)

(Sounds of construction start happening in background)

This is where you and the other recruits will be sleeping. We are installing the oxygen tanks and testing the the cabin pressure.

Hey mark! could you use the oxy-acetylene torch away from the cylinders? You’re going to blow the whole unit sky high!

Let’s go to the meeting room, and meet the other recruits…

I was once a recruit, too, you know. But I had an accident onboard the ship and that’s why I’m using this cane… (Sound of explosions) (People running)

Oh no!

(Sounds of commotion fade out…)

PopEye – a safety glass addon

It is not a pretty sight when a drill bit rotating at 20,000 rpm gets caught on a work-piece. Even a light foam core model then seems like a deadly projectile, especially if it’s headed straight for your eye. This happened to me a few months back. What makes it worse is that I had my safety glasses right on my forehead! I had pulled them up to examine the part for a minute and forgot to put them back on. I want to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. Hence, PopEye.

PopEye is a safety glass add-on that detects when you take your glasses off and cuts power to the tool you’re using. It seems like a relatively straightforward idea, and for the most part, it is. One can use a Bluetooth low energy beacon placed on the glasses. The beacon is switched on whenever the glasses are put on. An accompanying power relay will go between the mains supply and the power tool. It will listen for the beacon packets and will switch off the power if it can’t detect the beacon. This entire setup can be completed quickly over a weekend. I explored IR and other wireless protocols as well, but the simplicity and extensibility of BLE make it the best choice. So, the major challenge is to detect when the glasses have been put on correctly.

3M 91252-80024 glasses.

Before proceeding much further, it is important to narrow down a bit and focus on a particular type of safety glasses. Safety glasses come in at least half a dozen different configurations. I chose to focus on over prescription glasses type, with an elastic band instead of stems. The elastic band will ensure direct contact with the face, making detection easier. I chose to go with 3M 91252-80024 glasses(image below). It is a cheap and effective choice. Although I will guide the design to have high dimensional tolerance so that it will work with any similar glasses.

Safety glasses on forehead
Strong contact with the forehead marked in red.

Back to the problem at hand, detecting when the glasses have been put on. When I put on the glasses, right away I noticed a few points of detection. The forehead/brow, arch and cheekbone regions make a tight direct contact with the skin when the glasses are put on correctly. I would imagine, based on facial anatomy, the arch and cheekbone contacts can be interchanged for support at the bottom, but the forehead must necessarily make good contact with the glasses. More importantly, if I move the glasses up to my forehead, there isn’t a strong contact. So, we have a long (~10cm) strip which makes good contact only when the glasses are put on correctly.

To detect contact in this region, a light touch micro-switch easily comes to mind. It can be placed on any part of the glasses which come in contact with the skin only when the glasses have been put on correctly. But it can get false positives, e.g., if the glasses are packed inside a bag.

Using skin conductivity is the next best idea. Two conductive pads can be placed on the top of the glasses such that they contact the forehead when the glasses are put on properly (see image above). If the glasses are not put on properly, the circuit will be open. A microcontroller can then read the resistance between the pads and only switch on the BLE beacon when the resistance is in a sensible range, say 1K to 1M ohms. This will prevent accidental switching on if the glasses are packed in a box, even if placed along with metal tools -thus shorting the pads. It is unclear if a microcontroller is needed, a clever analog switch should be able to achieve this while saving cost and -more importantly- power.

After doing some experiments with this, I found that this method works most of the time. Of the six people I tested on, only one person had a facial structure that prevented the pads from making contact with the skin. (Image above.)

NFC can be used to quickly pair safety glasses to a tool. So, in a shared workshop, people can sign punch in and punch out tools by simply waving their safety glasses close to the power terminal for the tool.

The next steps for development are as follows:

  • Test different pad configurations: length and separation of pads, material: conductive cloth, pogo pins, copper tape, spring contacts..
  • Explore analog circuits for switching power to the BLE beacon.
  • Procure and test BLE and beacons, and RFID/NFC tags.
  • Design PCBs to fit the brow of the glasses.


Good signage

One of the guiding principles of good design is functionality. When pertaining to signage, one of the most important features of functionality is visibility. The following examples show examples of signage that are visible from afar.

I love this example of wayfinding in Imaginarium a 3D printing facility in Mumbai, India. The different departments are color-coded and lines on the floor lead visitors directly to their destination. I love how the lines go all the way up the doors and end in markers that jut out of the door, marking the end of the line.

Bad signage

Signs at Port Authority bus terminal are very inconsistent in marking the ticketing locations. There are plenty of signs marking the gates, but the signs seem to include ticketing windows only occasionally. There is a distinct lack of directions to ticketing booths at the key decision points, of which there are plenty thanks to the boxy nature of the building. What’s worse, on the second floor of the south wing of the terminal, there is only a single sign marking that the ticketing booths are on the first floor. It is a poorly accessible sign right in front of the escalator going down.

This problem can easily be fixed by including markers for ticketing in the existing signage, as in the image below.

Fixed signage.png

If one wants to take a look at bad signage one does not need to go far from Port Authority it seems. Right in front of the ticketing booths, there are signs pointing to gates 1-34 along the length of a 150 meter long corridor. The gates are arranged in an orderly fashion on the lower floor, but on the upper floor, there is no mention of which escalator should be taken for which gate. I was led on a sprint through the terminal only to end up right under where I started after about a 250m dash.

Further notes on Port Authority signs: Sign design throughout the terminal is consistent and simple. They use Arial font and simple icons, most of which are available for free on the noun project. The color scheme of green for streets and subways, black on yellow for gates and ticketing, and yellow on black for restrooms, information, police etc. is consistent throughout the terminal. Except for the lack of signage at places and ill-advised placement of some signs, I really like this system.


Sound Walk – Group Project

“ITP space habitat” is a sound walk where you as a recruit get a tour of the habitat by a veteran astronaut. The space theme was inspired by the Applications class, and it allows us to work with some weird sound effects.


Sounds for editing (

1. Elevator door opening:

2. Earth room
– Rainforest room:
– Ocean room:
– Countryside room:
– City room:

3. Dormitory
– Construction sounds:

4. Explosion:

Original recordings:

1. Cane sounds:

2. Voiceover:
– Kemi to record voiceover (week 2)

Rough draft of the narration:

(Elevator door opens)
Hello! Welcome to the ITP space shuttle. I’m Gwen, your guide. Come with me…

(pause, walking, sound of cane and footsteps)

This is the Earth room. We are currently test driving simulations of different locations on Earth, for recruits to go in when they are homesick for our home planet.
First, we are prototyping a rainforest: (Sound of rain, rainforest animals) …
As well as a field in the countryside (Sound of crickets, running stream)…
And the ocean: (Ocean sounds)
We also are working on a big city: (Sound of New York City, people walking on sidewalks, cars beeping, etc.)

Next, I’ll show you where we are building the dormitories… Follow me.
(pause, walking, sound of cane and footsteps)
(Sounds of construction start happening in background)
This is where you and the other recruits will be sleeping. We are currently installing the oxygen tanks and testing the pressurization of the cabin.
Now we will go to the meeting room, where you will meet the other recruits…
(pause, walking, sound of cane and footsteps)

(Sounds of chatting)
This is where we will be holding the training.
I was once a recruit, too, you know. All of us senior members here were. Now I am a veteran due to an accident I had onboard the ship… (Sound of explosions) (People running)

Quick! Duck! There’s been an explosion in the dormitory!
(Sounds of commotion fade out…)

Video and Sound – 1

Notes on “The Ecstacy of Influence – A plagiarism” by Jonathan Lethem.

The gist of the article as I read it is: Some of the greatest art would not be possible without plagiarism. Copyright laws are there to “promote the progress of science and the useful arts” and not to protect the creator’s self-interests. Great art is by definition a gift and it cannot exist in as a commodity. It is therefore important to allow art to go into the public domain and to promote second use. While doing this it is vital for creators to acknowledge their sources and pay homage to their roots.

This article forced me to articulate some of my own thoughts on piracy and ownership. I believe that great art is measured not by any objective quality, but by the number of lives it has touched and affected. Star Wars is made great not by the directors and the film crew, but by the teenage kid who goes to Comic-Con dressed as a Wookie. Should that kid be sued for stealing copyrighted material, or monetarily compensated for advertising the franchise? If the franchise is made successful by the public, shouldn’t the public own it? In a world of digital rights management, when your entire book collection can be wiped by someone at Amazon; what does it even mean to own something?

Notes on “Embrace the Remix” by Kirby Ferguson

“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” the quote by Issac Newton may have been meant as a quip to Hooke, but that makes it no less valid. The greatest enterprise of humanity, The Scientific Revolution is built on free sharing of ideas. The ill conceived notion of equating creative property, with physical property -which can be stolen- is detrimental to progress. I firmly believe in free sharing and open-source. It is much better to allow everyone to work on the same, shared knowledge base than to stifle progress with artificial constraints.

Notes on “Her Long Black Hair” by Janet Cardiff

The woman in the red jacket will now forever be a part of my memories of Central Park. Starting out, I was a bit skeptical about the value of the sound-walk. I am an avid podcast listener and I thought that sound alone can create a landscape in the mind. So, I listened to the sound-walk on my way to Central Park from New Jersey. The things I missed on the first listen and the experience of having a moving scenery as I listened were simply staggering! The timing of cricket noises just as I pass by a bush, the subtle reverb in sound along with architectural changes and the melding of noises to a point where I couldn’t really tell if there was someone behind me added up to an unforgettable experience. Even though I didn’t relate to the story very much I shall not forget the woman in the red jacket.

Design Analysis

I selected a poster of the movie ‘My Neighbor Totoro‘ by artist Olly Moss. I think the poster does justice to the classic, capturing the essence of the movie in playful colors.

Original files on my github.




  • Lay out in gimp image editing software.
  • The color of the grid lines should be selected to contrast with all colors in the image.


  • Change the image mode to five indexed colors, letting gimp select the colors itself.
  • Identify the percentage cover of each color with the histogram tool in gimp.
  • Export the indexed image into InkScape.
  • Selecting the color using the eyedropper tool, make circles of area proportional to percentage cover of each color.
  • Align the circles to the right of the image.
  • Export the image along with the semicircles.


  • Open the image in InkScape.
  • Crop sections of image with each individual font.
  • Identify the font using WhatTheFont.
  • Use MyFonts to get sample text for each font (if the font is not free).
  • Grab the image samples and import them in InkScape.
  • Trace bitmap to get manipulatable vectors for the image.
  • Change the color and size of the vector to match the image context.
  • Export image from InkScape.

Finding the right stuff.

I’ve heard tales from elder makers about an era when one had to order catalogues and place orders on phone for getting a small supply of raw materials. As a relatively young maker, I’ve been pampered by eBay and amazon where anything I want is easily available online. Well, almost everything. Every once in a while I come across something I really want but isn’t available online. The problem is compounded by the fact that I prefer to but goods nationally to prevent customs delays. I often have to browse through a dozen sites before finding one that had the thing I wanted in stock and reasonably priced. One day, I had enough of this hunting and pecking, and I created a custom search engine with about four dozen sites that sold electronics and other maker supplies.

The search engine is available at So, the next time you need that ancient or exotic part, feel free to search for it there, and I bet it’ll save you time.

Space exploration, Perseverance and Utopia

I’ve had a love hate relationship with space exploration. The Sagan quote “These days, there seems to be nowhere left to explore. Victims of their very success, the explorers now, pretty much, stay home. Maybe it’s a little early- maybe the time is not quite yet- but those other worlds, promising untold opportunities, beckon. Just now, there a great many matters that are pressing in on us that compete for the money it takes to send people to other worlds. Should we solve those problems first, or are they a reason for going? Should we solve those problems first, or are they a reason for going?..” has been the topic of many a daydreams and lost thoughts. I recently heard a podcast about the Mars Orbital Mission and some of those thoughts came back to me.

Whether valid or not, space exploration has always inspired me for the sheer technological prowess that it represents. I made this laser etched Pioneer Plaque to keep right next to the desk at my workshop. I look at it when I feel tempted to give up. I imagine the emotions of the thousands of people involved in the project. Knowing that the satellite they were working on might just crash and burn, might never make it to it’s celestial destination. But still, they had the audacity to hope and dream, and put this plaque so that we may talk to someone out there. To me, this plaque represents perseverance and never giving up hope and believing against all odds that we as a collective can succeed.

I believe in the dream of the Utopian society; with no need going unsatisfied, nothing out of reach, but for the lack of reaching out. On a dark day, this plaque reminds me that ridiculous dreams can come true. And I forget whatever silly thing I was stressing about and get back to work. Because we’re not in utopia.. yet.

Self Surveillance

I’m a huge data nerd. I really like collecting data, even though I suck at data analysis. I always imagine a scenario where I build an amazing AI, and I’m collecting data for then. One of the types of data I like to collect are interesting conversations. The audio recorder is on my home screen. I always seek permission to record, of course. But, the best conversations happen spontaneously. I’m often lost in the conversation and we realize only too late that we should’ve recorded the audio. I can’t count how many good ideas I’ve lost because they came with like a half dozen others over the span of an hour of conversation. By the time you pick up your phone, it’s too late.

I want to make an audio recorder, that just keeps recording. It keeps a buffer of the last, say three hours of my conversations and gives me the opportunity to go back to the conversations and store them. By default, it doesn’t store anything, just keeps a buffer. It can be as simple as an app. No dedicated hardware needed. I always have a pair of bluetooth headphones on, so the phone being away or in my pocket is not an issue. I know that most voice assistants store voice as well, but I like the idea of this being away from the cloud. Some semblence of privacy and ownership remains that way.

Now, I know this sounds very black mirror ‘grain’ like, and privacy intrusion is a big issue. I’m not sure how I feel about that. One can argue that privacy is pretty much dead and we should just accept the fact. Our only real hope is to rely on the decency of our fellow human being. Huh, well.. good luck with that.

Put yourself in else’s shoes

I was really inspired by this story of Emma, a designer who lost motor control in her hands to Parkinson’s. She was unable to draw a straight line or sign her own name. The story is about a device that helped her get over the tremors and regain control of her hands. But, the thing that really interested me was the feeling of losing control. I cannot imagine what it must feel like to want your hands to move, to beg your muscles to contract in just the right way, and watch yourself fail.

I want to make a pencil which would simulate the experience of that frustration. I guess it would be a pencil with a wide, poorly designed grip which would force you to hold it the way Emma is forced to. It would have motors that would move the tip to match the way Emma’s hands vibrate. Or perhaps the pencil would just have electrodes and act as a TENS device, exciting the muscles involuntarily.

I hope that this would give me, and perhaps others a taste of what it might be to live with Parkinson’s; and make us more empathetic.


I’m writing this post because of a recent encounter with a friend, a designer. I came to know that in design the norm is to not discuss ideas and to work in secret until you are ready to release a project. I think that this way of doing things would constrain the design process and weed out good design talent because not everyone can work well in isolation. I understand the motivations of an individual designer to not share her techniques and ideas for fear of being copied, but this has to be detrimental to the field itself.

If you haven’t guessed already, when it comes to open source philosophy; I’m your typical hippie. I think all work should be open and free to modify. Anything less is unacceptable. Security by obscurity is a joke. And making money should not be the prime motivation of any project.

Practicing this philosophy has been quite easy so far. I share almost everything I do -hardware or software- under a commercial creative commons share-alike license (which is often not a lot, since I’ve only recently learnt the value of good documentation). I’ve been more or less completely disinterested in making money and do projects for the fun of it. I’ve turned down projects because they would include a non-disclosure clause.  I share ideas freely and without fear of being copied. And, so far this has worked out very well for me. Some of my best ideas have emerged when I have been explaining the workings of a project to someone. I’ve not had anyone rip off my ideas and try to pass them off as their own -at least none that I know of. And I’ve cultivated many good friendships based on love of electronics. Friendships that would certainly not have been able to cultivate if I was afraid of sharing ideas.

I can personally reverse engineer a fairly complicated two sided PCB in less than a day. And I know people who can do the same in a couple hours. In a world where automated tools can sniff code from a microconroller and de-obfuscation software is easily available, is it even worth protecting designs? I look up to companies like Sparkfun and Adafruit, which embody open source philosophy fully and are a commercial success never the less. I really hope more companies follow their lead. I know when my turn comes, I will.

Augmented Reality. Education. Textbooks.

Is that enough hints?
Okay, let me spell it out:
Kids don’t like to open their textbooks. If we can remove the dread of opening the textbook, and give them content that is relatable they’d learn more. So, what if you had an app that would work offline, in which you scan the page from your standard textbook and it puts relevant 3D models or fun graphics, or MCQ’s or short videos right on your cellphone screen? You don’t need to go through a menu or type anything or log into a web portal. It’s all about making relevant information available readily. It can be used as a teaching aid in a classroom or individually. There are some AR educational aids in the app store, but there’s nothing tied to a textbook as of yet. I think the big difference would come from the fact that the students can jump to a topic by simply turning the page. It maintains the searchability and tangibility of the book and the rich content availability from the cellphone displays. Of course the app would put the phone on airplane mode to avoid distractions.

I’m sure in India, where everyone is obsessed about high school education, this’ll be a smash success. Make it free and open, wiki style, and teachers will flock to add content, one hopes.

Please oh please someone make this! I’m not good enough at programming :/

Working in groups.

I know, I know.. it’s tough. You have a great idea, you’ve thought over it for a while and you think it’s the best thing since sliced bread. You know you can go solo and make it work and you just want everyone else to shut and follow or watch you work. I can relate to that. I’m wrong. You’re wrong.

The best ideas only become better through discussion and debate. If you think your idea is worth pursuing, make others believe in it. One of the largest difference between humans and  other animals is our ability to communicate complicated thoughts using language -well, that and opposable thumbs. Don’t give in to the lizard brain and throw away your gift. Just talk to people, listen to them and try to understand. If you feel frustrated or you lose your temper, just take a break. But, come back to the discussion and this time tell the other person what pissed you off; and you’ll do just fine.

And remember, if you can’t convince everyone else, you can always pursue the idea on your own. But make the best use of the time you have with your teammates. Work on something you can’t accomplish by yourself. Even if you work on something uninteresting.. at least you learn to collaborate.

Happy making!

Solve a problem, don’t sell a product.

Product design is tough. It’s hard to internalize the design thinking process. As an engineer it’s too easy for me to think of a tech and put it in a context. Hey, here’s a water pressure sensor, why don’t I use it to monitor the water level in my overhead tank? I wouldn’t think completely dumb ideas.. but they wouldn’t be truly innovative as well. The worst happens when I get to know of a new tech. My brain instantly vomits ten situations where I could apply the tech. It takes conscious effort to not start thinking this is the best thing since sliced bread. To reach God level in product design, it’s important to think of tech as tools and not products. The tech is a small piece of the puzzle. It needs to be put in a specific use case. So, the first time you think of a solution, stop thinking about the solution and start thinking of the problem. Forget the tech and understand the problem. Solve a problem, don’t sell a product.

All about context.

I’ve been ranting about bringing the digital to analog. I really want to pursue a set of projects that provide information through non visual means i.e. through haptic feedback, or sound.. So, a cup that screams when you pour hot coffee in, and shivers when you have ice tea. A work table that shouts out when you bang it too hard. And, I realized that I don’t really care for the non-visual bit of it. What the projects really have in common is that they provide contextually relevant feedback. So it doesn’t matter whether the cup screams or vibrates or turns red. What matters is that it does so when you pour coffee in, and not when say.. you’re rinsing it. It’s about contextual awareness.

Here’s another idea from the same stem.. a contextually aware digital photo frame. The photo frame listens to ambient conversations and changes the photos to become more relevant to the conversation. It can pull photos from facebook as you post them and run a simple search through the tags and comments. If you happen to come across a photo you like, clicking on it takes you to your feed back then, photos of your then active friends pop up. The point is to allow for nostalgia and rediscovery.

It’s all about context.