Interaction Design with Functional Plastics

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: Computer Science


This fellowship will design, deploy and evaluate a new kind of design platform based on functional plastics - cheap conducting or semi-conducting polymer materials that can be arranged or printed to build circuits, transistors, sensors, displays and many other electronic components. This class of materials is particularly interesting because it provides opportunities to cheaply build electronic capabilities that are tightly coupled or even merged with product design materials which give prototype devices their form and aesthetic, integrated to an order of magnitude more than the current 'circuit board plus silicon' approaches. This will allow designers to manipulate materials of form and function together, supporting the design of electronically functional prototypes, yet based on familiar personal fabrication tools such as printing, laser cutting, or even hands-on sculpting. To achieve this vision, the fellowship will create inexpensive and open hardware and software interfaces which are legible in the range of opportunities that designers can take advantage of, yet remain opaque to the complexity of the underpinning science. Importantly for HCI, this will shed light on new ways of conceptualising the boundaries and distinctions between physical and digital design.

Planned Impact

According to the Design Commission's May 2014 report "Designing the Digital Economy", the design networks and ecosystems which underpin the UK's world-leading position in creative industries are already worth £71bn to the UK economy. Good design can make or break new technologies in the hands of people, so designers "need to wrestle back the innovation agenda and work with technologists in order to create new forms of social and economic value". This fellowship will design and deploy a hardware-software platform to create interactive devices with functional materials. We expect the outcomes to be new and emerging industries underpinned by our tools and techniques, increasing use of personal fabrication approaches for innovation, and increased accessibility of functional plastics for design.

The fellowship partners with 3D printing and creative design partners to enable impact in a range of design domains. 3D Systems and the Pervasive Media Studio will help provide access to the Bristol ecosystem's strengths in both creative and microelectronics industries. These sectors provide a perfect locus from which to launch an emerging manufacturing base to counterpoint the status quo in which UK digital design companies depend heavily on offshore manufacturing. However, as the Design Commission report emphasises, the knowledge gap between design innovation and underpinning technology is a major barrier to this goal.

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
EP/M021882/1 01/10/2015 30/09/2019 £1,587,356
EP/M021882/2 Transfer EP/M021882/1 01/10/2019 31/03/2022 £454,139
Description MIT 
Organisation Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Developed protospray project, collaborated on technologies and authorship.
Collaborator Contribution Developed sprayable user interfaces project, collaborated on technologies and authorship.
Impact Two full papers at CHI 2020.
Start Year 2019