Form and Function

Electronic platforms are becoming more malleable to artists and designers, in particular the Arduino. At first designers had to be conscious of the size of their designs when using the Arduino microcontroller. As stated in the debates that follow, the size and shape of the Arduino's footprint have often been an issue. While at IDII, Bove originally assumed the footprint of the Arduino was an unchangeable form that was a limitation to live with. Dana Gordon[1] reflected on how designers began pushing the aesthetics of the board almost immediately, asking Banzi for different colors and smaller sized boards while at the IDII. There are currently smaller versions of the Arduino microcontroller, 4 years after the birth of the project. These include the Arduino Mini and Arduino Nano. Many current works of the interviewees were handheld. Jeff Hoefs[2] is an artist at Smart Design. Hoefs says that sometimes the Arduino Mini is too big, so he uses the same chipset for his code which allows it to be developed in the Arduino IDE. Hoefs then creates his own board designs implementing the smaller chip. Kopel comments on Arduino's square PCB shape, "it is truly a case of 'form follows manufacturing technology", however Buechley's circular LilyPad moves away from the traditional shape.

The dimensions of the Arduino microcontroller often drive the choice of which version is used. The LilyPad has different physical parameters. It has played a role in certain sized art pieces and solved a problem for several people. Kollath, the artist behind Breathing Books, Figure 5-12, used the LilyPad because it was flattest of the Arduino versions. The female headers on the Diecimila and the Duemilanove were too high to fit inside her pieces, which were hollowed out books. Hoefs also uses very low profile components – his general complaint was that the headers that stick up too high. Similarly, in Stern's sculpted Vase, the flatness of the LilyPad board was integral to her design. Another artist, Jacoon (who is a robot) and his collaborator Oskar Torres (a human) needed to use the LilyPad because it was the lightest in weight of the Arduino set. In all three cases the shape and size of the LilyPad board assisted in completing the artwork through a different form factor.

Several people interviewed use an Arduino for prototyping their designs and altered it for the final piece, for either form or function. Hoefs, Younghui Kim[3], and Julian Bleeker[4] felt this was the major role the Arduino microcontroller played in prototyping both form and function. Hoefs modifies the shape of the electronics in his designs rather than the prototype or product being designed. Kim says she leaves the Arduino as is for prototyping and modifies it if needed for her final project. Her students use the Arduino to prototype their projects and created DMDuino[5] (an Arduino clone) in 2007 because it was difficult to get Arduino microcontrollers shipped to Korea. They chose to create a longer skinnier shape than the Arduino Duemilanove.

dmduino.pngFigure 5-3 Hyun Hong, DMDuino, 2007, Digital Media Design Department in Hongik University, Korea

Bleeker says, "Once I have tested and refined a prototype with an Arduino, I often make my own PCB." The examples to follow include full board modifications for art and design purposes. Form affected the Arduino Mini, while function affected the LilyPad Xbee and the StandAlone Arduino.

  1. Dana Gordon (Architect and designer using Arduino) in discussion with the author, August 2009.
  2. Jeff Hoefs (Artist and engineer at Smart Design) in discussion with the author, September 2009.
  3. Younghui Kim (Artist and professor using Arduino) in discussion with the author, August 2009.
  4. Julian Bleeker (Designer using Arduino) in discussion with the author, November 2009.
  5. DMDuino. (visited on 03/30/2009)