Last week Interaction Design students at the Oslo School of Architecture & Design participated in a Touch workshop where the brief was to design a playful, exploratory or characterful RFID interface. The emphasis of this workshop was on exploring the relationship between digital interaction through RFID and the material properties of physical objects.
This week we will be working with a technology called Radio Frequency IDentification or RFID. RFID is exciting for industrial and interaction designers because it is a cheap and simple technology that allows us to build quite advanced gestural and tangible interfaces. When an RFID tag is in the range of an RFID reader (usually about 10cm) it communicates a tiny amount of information, a simple short code that lets the computer know that it is present. This is usually used to identify an object, person or animal, for instance to open a door, to find the owner of a lost pet, to pay for a ticket, or to know if a product that is passing out of a shop door has been paid for.
RFID tags are tiny, fairly cheap and don’t require a battery. They can be embedded inside all sorts of materials easily and without much effort. RFID readers are also small and flat, enabling them to be embedded easily below surfaces such as wood, concrete or plastics. The only physical limitations are metal and water, which absorb radio signals and stop RFID systems from working effectively.
Designing playful RFID
You will design a physical interface that involves a reader, a few tags and a Tikitag application.
Industrial and interaction designer’s haven’t been working with RFID for very long. So RFID systems are usually dull and lifeless, with ordinary plastic or paper tags and flat plastic readers. There needs to be more experimentation with the physical aspects of RFID interfaces in applications such as toys, appliances and domestic interfaces. There may be great playful applications of the technology that have not yet been explored.
You must design the physical relationship between the tag, the reader and the resulting action. Your objects must be finished with quality and material choices that match the intended use and context of the application (such as waterproof plastics for the bathroom or turned wood for the coffeetable).
You will each choose a different application from our list of Tikitag applications. Sketch out ten ways in which the tags and the reader in that application should look, feel and behave. What kind of approach is most suitable? Should it be characterful, understated, loud? What other kinds of objects should it reference? List out the kind of materials that would be suitable for such an application.
Design one set of tags and a reader for your application. Think about size, shape, durability, surface texture, and the relationship between the reader and the tag. How do the objects relate to each other? How do the objects and the reader fit together? What metaphors and associations can you draw upon, are they like keys, do they encourage swiping, caressing, tickling? How will a user manipulate the objects? Will they have to place them in certain positions or sequences to achieve different results?