Handheld Device Warmup

Designers can make use of available materials to rapidly and thoughtfully construct a prototype that can serve as a rough proof of concept that communicates a design idea, and allows for initial testing. In this assignment, students work individually to very quickly prototype and test a small, handheld physical device with at least one type of basic functionality (switch, knob, slider, etc.) that is tied to a visual, screen-based element. They will make use of found components and crafting materials to create something that conveys a more polished idea. Students will complete this as an individual assignment, but will collaborate with a peer for short usability tests and feedback during Studio Section.

Learning Goals

  • Rapid ideation and sketching as a means of quickly exploring design ideas
  • Understand basic form factors and ergonomics
  • Use of off-the-shelf components for “on-the-spot” construction
  • Effectively incorporating a satisfying and intuitive interactive component
  • Understand how to connect an interactive physical component to on-screen elements
  • Demonstrate an understanding of physical design material properties and uses
  • Develop proficiency in rapid lo-fidelity physical prototyping


  • Lectures
    • Prototyping Interactivity
    • Working with Materials (previous relevant lecture)
    • Design Constraints (previous relevant lecture)
  • Design tools
    • Crafting tools: scissors, cutters, pliers, markers, tape, etc.
    • Crafting materials: cardboard, foam core, plastic, paper, etc.
    • Assortment of "found" electronic components: switches, buttons, toggles, sliders, knobs, etc.
      • NOTE: Please make sure that you return all electronic components to an instructor at the conclusion of the assignment so that they can be reused,
  • Readings

What to do

Your goal is to quickly design a lo-fidelity, rough prototype of a handheld device. You should choose one of the four options below as the direction for your prototype:

1) A remote designed to control one or more aspects of a smart home

2) A medical device designed to monitor and display some form of biometric data

3) A musical device designed to produce sounds for a musician "on the go"

4) A device designed to help pet owners track and monitor pet behavior

One goal is for you to try and communicate your intent for the device through how you present the screen and controller it incorporates. While many such devices now rely heavily on a touch-screen interface, you are tasked with integrating a physical, tactile, interactive element to your device, paired with a digital screen.

You must use a minimum of one of the available interactive electronic components (switch, button, etc.), the physical functioning of which must then be logically and creatively linked to a screen on the device. The screen will likely be represented by paper, with the digital elements of the screen represented by a sketch/drawing. You are encouraged to incorporate multiple versions of the screen to simulate interaction (à la very rough paper prototype), specifically showing the interactive relationship between the physical component(s) of the device, and what is displayed on the screen.

One thing to keep in mind is to strive for intentionality and coherence in the type of task or interaction your device is meant to support, and to then effectively design and communicate that to your audience/user in a clear and useful manner, and in a very short amount of time (yay constraints!). Once you have constructed your device, you will then be asked to do some quick usability testing with a peer, assisted by a worksheet, before writing up your findings.


  1. Sketch: Produce 5 very quick sketches of different designs based on the device type you have chosen. Make sure to include and explore both the device concept, the screen, and the interactive physical component. Keep available materials in mind.
  2. Create: Working from your sketches, translate them into physical form using the materials and tools available to you. Remember to focus on communication, interactivity, and the relationship between the physical aspects of the device and the "digital" screen—as well as how you will represent changes in state of the device to the user, or provide other feedback.
  3. Usability Test 1: Working with a peer, conduct 2 to 3 "five second usability tests" as outlined in the reading and as documented in this worksheet, which will also be provided to you in class (modifying the protocol slightly for our purposes). Make sure you do not tell your peer which type of device it is prior to this testing. Record the results on the worksheet.
  4. Usability Test 2: Using the provided worksheet, create two to three specific tasks that you can ask your user to perform, based on the type of device you have chosen, and how you have implemented that design. Ask the user to perform those tasks without direct guidance, paying close attention to how they interact with the device, what their expectations are, and whether or not they are able to complete the tasks. You can encourage the user to "think out loud" during this step. At the end of each task attempt, ask questions to gather additional information about how users are interpreting your design, and what you can learn from this. Record the questions asked and the responses on a separate sheet.
  5. Evaluation: Make sure to record and summarize the results of your tests, making note of anything that stood out to you during any of the ideation, creation, and testing stages. You should also jot down any ideas for improvement or modification that come to light during your testing.

NOTE: It is expected that a majority of the work described above will take place in class and studio section. You *can* take any materials you have already specifically purposed for your device with you to work outside of class. However, you are NOT allowed to remove any of the tools (scissors, cutters, pliers, etc.) from the classroom, and you MUST return any and all electronics components (switches, buttons, knobs, etc.) at the end of the assignment so that they can be reused.


On Canvas upload a single PDF (named A4-Lastname-Firstname.pdf; eg., A4-Scott-Taylor.pdf) with the following content in this order:

  • Title page with your name, pID, date, and the type of device you design and explored
  • Stage 1 sketches (can have multiple on one page)
  • Photos of your final handheld device from multiple angles
  • A brief (1 to 2 para.) description of what your device is, how it functions, and what type of interaction it supports
  • A list of materials used for your prototype
  • Walk-through of any/all screens, annotated and captioned as needed
  • Summary (1 to 2 para.) of the results of your Stage 3 and 4 testing/findings you recorded on the worksheet
  • A copy (scan/photo/etc.) of the usability worksheet you completed.
  • A brief (~2 paragraphs) evaluation of the success of your design, including areas for improvement, and a reflection on what you learned from completing the assignment.

Grading Rubric

Grades will be based on the following:

  • Does the design meet the requirements?
  • Do the solutions offer a satisfying and thoughtful implementation of interaction?
  • Is the relationship between the screen element and physical interactive element clear?
  • Are the physical components of the device effective at communicating its purpose?
  • Are the screens effective at communicating their purpose and intent/results/feedback of interaction?
  • What is the visual and/or tactile appeal of the design?
  • Is the usability testing completed as outlined?
  • Completeness and quality of final deliverable