How does the Ardiuno shape creative practice in art?

Twelve people felt the Arduino enhanced their creative process, or accredited the Arduino to magnifying their ingenuity. The creative process is the process which creative insights are explained within preparation, incubation, intimation, illumination, and verification.[1] Creativity can also be affected through iterations in rapid prototyping.[2] Sixty percent of people interviewed used the Arduino for prototyping iterations in the design stages of their work. Bove, a designer of websites, consumer electronics, appliances, devices, and environments affirmed "It's helped me think about product behaviors with more tangibility. It breaks things down in a way that they can be prototyped." Interviewees reported two aspects which enhanced the creative process, usability and time. Due to the Arduino microcontroller usability, it decreased the amount of time spent on electronics for artists and designers. Interviewees conjectured that the time saved allowed for more creative thought and further iterations.

The Arduino microcontroller has expanded the creative process of many artists and designers because of its easy to use platform prompting more time for creativity rather than analyzing functionalities. Between designers, artists and engineers almost everyone had a different answer for ways in which the Arduino may have affected their creative process. Designers in particular felt creativity existed independent of tools and materials, but the innovation of the Arduino allowed capabilities within electronics to be expanded. This occurrence allows artists and designers to have more control of their tools and materials, including the option to create their own. These individuals mentioned specific functionalities which were less complex to program via the Arduino microcontroller and therefore they were allotted more time for creative thought processes. Haque refers to the learning curve of other devices as torture and asserts, "I really appreciate the way that working with Arduinos enables me to avoid the torture and just get down to building." Hoefs explained the example of i2c in his interview. I2c is an interface for busing data. The thought process when dealing with an i2c library is different than thinking through the act of pulling raw i2c data from the chip. Knowledge of the i2c process behind a sensor is not necessary to program a sensor when using the library created for the Arduino microcontroller. Instead, an object in the code tells the sensor what to do. The low level interface protocol does not need to be understood, and can be replaced by thinking about what the sensors will do. Artist Kollath had a similar manifestation with the capabilities of the LilyPad Arduino. Understanding what the Arduino was in the LilyPad form factor, she created her Breathing Books, Figure, which then grew into a Breathing Room. The ease of using the Arduino gave her the confidence to learn electronics. It enabled her to add the element of movement to her work.

breathing-book.pngPhotograph provided by NYC Resistor, NYFigure 5-12 Edith Kollath, "Breathing Books", 2008, LilyPad Arduino adapted with h bridge and servo motors inside a book, in collection of the artist.

As Kollath discovered how to control the element of movement in her artwork, Buzzini asserted the Arduino allows him to control another dimension of design, the element of time and speed in tangible objects and interaction. He says that "Arduino definitely helps designers think in a different way, to approach a challenge in a different way. It helps technologists be more visual and communicative. It plays a different approach in their code and their work." Artist John Bennett agrees with Buzzini, "Arduino, as a tool set, makes crazy ideas possible. In that aspect it's caused me to come up with installation ideas that normally I wouldn't have thought possible". Some engineers responded that the Arduino made them realize they could be creative.[3] Labrune stated that artists brought creativity to the Arduino and to technical people. "Artists bring a new perspective to technology and make the Arduino more creative."

Besides the ease of creating function pieces, time management was remarked to be a useful result of the Arduino microcontroller. Eight people spoke of time as an additional factor that impacts their creative process in addition to the Arduino's usability. Fabian Winkler,[4] an artist and professor says, "The Arduino board has saved me development time that I was able to use for other creative processes/decisions". It also helped reduce the prototyping cycle, so there was additional time for more designs. Vondle claims that it "…enhances the creative process by making it easier to go from concept to execution. Sketching in hardware as the Arduino allows, I can sit down with the board, search for code on the Internet, get it up and working, and test it so you know the behavior works and you can do it in three hours versus three days. That allows you to iterate through concepts a lot faster." Vondle acquired a building with a big glass block wall that looked like pixel cubes to him. He conceptualized a life size Pong game on the surface, but creating his own boards was too labor and time intensive. When he encountered the BlinkM's,[5] Figure, he realized that was what he needed to create his wall in a time efficient manner. By saving time, whether in the creating phase, testing phase, or conceptual phase, each portion builds on creativity, and the time saved allows for more creativity.

blinkm.pngPhotograph provided by todbotFigure 5-13 Tod Kurt and Mike Kuniavshy, "BlinkM," 2009

Aside from usability of the Arduino's functionality and time enhancing creativity, sixty percent of interviewees agreed that having a common platform and community with a common language, as the Arduino does, helps inspire them. Stern added that her creativity is expanded when she gets inspired from other projects happening within the Arduino community. Although the Arduino microcontroller is not directly responsible for creativity, creativity is a provoked side effect when designing with the Arduino.


  1. Graham Wallas, Art of Thought. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1926
  2. Steven Dow, Kate Heddleston, and Scott Klemmer, The Efficacy of Prototyping Under Time Constraints. Berkeley, CA: ACM Creativity & Cognition Conference, 2009
  3. One engineer insisted they had no creative process – which prompted an alteration in vocabulary for the interview questions. The question shifted to 'Is there anything you attribute the Arduino to for enhancing your creative process?' to add 'ingenuity or creative process.'
  4. Fabian Winkler (Artist and professor at Purdue University) in discussion with the author, October 2009.
  5. BlinkM, the smart LED. ThingM, http://thingm.com/products/bhttp://thingm.com/products/blinkm