Creating the Smart Objects Course at SVA

Students from the second session of 2017’s course with their final projects.

I was brought on as a professor of design by SVA to teach their Smart Objects class.

Smart Objects is a 7-week course that all of the first-year students from both the Products of Design and Interaction Design students are required to take. It focuses on the role of design in the Internet of Things. As a skeptic of the surge towards connecting every object human beings could possibly touch to the internet, I built this class around internet security, understanding marginalized groups, systems engineering, and iterative prototyping.

A diagram from a class exercise, mapping out the subway metro card machine interface from memory.

Students started with exercises to get an empathetic understanding of users who were highly divergent from them. The course then turned to design strategy, historical approaches to solving problems in new technological areas, and IOT security. We had guest lecturers come in to delve deeper into infosec and how weak IOT devices generate gigantic infrastructure security problems. For the first session, we had an in-depth conversation with Eva Galperin, cybersecurity director of the EFF, about attacks that have exploited common design features of IOT platforms. For the second, we had Trammell Hudson, a security researcher at Two Sigma, in to talk about best practices for designing connected devices that contribute to a secure IOT infrastructure.

Interviewing Trammell Hudson of 2Sigma on hardware security best practices.

For the final project, students were split into groups and asked to develop a connected device that followed an exacting design brief. They had to design something that reflected core knowledge they possessed that could be used to evaluate the quality of the concept as they iterated. The final deliverables included a 5-minute presentation, product renders, a looks-like, and a works-like model of their device.

Student projects included a wifi router that detected network intrusion and gave users options for live triage, a two-way printer for physical instant messaging, and a bookmark that brought the highlighting and archiving capabilities of ebooks to physical print.