Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, 2004-06

Strangely Familiar


With James Tichenor

Before settling on I Can Feel the Music, James and I made a number of prototype radios. Each had a different type of interaction, and each was prototyped in a way that demonstrated its key qualities.


Break to Listen

This radio has a top made of wood or aluminum foil that must be punctured to let out the sound. This is an unique opportunity to break a product, and ensures the personalization of the radio to its owner. The prototype works by replacing the volume knob with light sensors. There's a movie of the prototype in action.

Wood-Burning Radio

This radio's front face starts as a blank wooden surface with a single knob. Over years of use, the most-listened-to stations burn lines into the wood, creating a custom tuning dial. The radio's appearance was prototyped as an animation of still photos taken as the radio was marked with a soldering iron.

Pushpin FM

To change stations or set the volume on this cardboard radio, simply push a pin into the appropriate spot. The prototype has two layers of tinfoil on the back of the radio, separated by a layer of masking tape. The pushpin connects the layers, and, according to its location, simulates the press of a specific keyboard button. A USB keyboard controller sends keypresses to the computer, where Applescript and iTunes simulate a radio.

Five-Button Monty

A foam-core prototype includes five unlabeled buttons, each of whose function changes when the radio is turned off. It works the same way as the previous prototype: a USB keyboard controller sends the keystrokes to an Applescript program, which instructs iTunes to change tracks or adjust the volume. You can try this Mac OS X program (.zip) to get the idea.


Before building the prototypes, James and I analyzed the physical movements needed to use an existing radio. James put his hand in a black sock with an LED at the tip of his index finger and operated the radio. I took pictures, leaving the shutter of the camera open for the duration of each task.


Turning on the radio and setting the volume.

Setting the alarm.

Assigning the current station to a preset.


This work was done for a physical computing course at Interaction-Ivrea. Strangely Familiar: Unusual Objects for Everyday Life was taught by Massimo Banzi, Heather Martin, Yaniv Steiner, and Reto Wettach. The brief was to: “rethink existing products, harness their existing functionality and make them more understandable, meaningful and delightful to use.”