Starting an Internship

Since I started my internship at MK2, working on their Stemtap project, I’ve struggled to explain to people exactly what I’m doing.

“We’re making connected devices for students to practice coding with and I’m designing the physical exterior of those devices.” – Most people just glaze over at the vagueness of it. I don’t blame them.

Here’s what we’re actually doing:

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This traffic light thingy is speaking to that box thingy, which is plugged into the computer. By referring to the devices in a program script, I can direct certain lights to turn on and off via lines of code.

The initial dream (and still the end game) was to make traffic light modules to that students could research how traffic light systems work and build their own traffic light systems with car sensors, pedestrian buttons and all!

After a round of testing last year, the new goal is to create a very basic, simplified set of modules that introduces coding with baby steps. These will be an input module (with a series of buttons, switches and dials) and an output model (with a series of buzzers and lights).

The two guys that run the company are a hardware engineer and a software engineer. They do all the amazing techno-genius stuff. Fellow intern, Kay and I have come in to investigate how these devices could look, feel and be better used and understood.

We’re able to see the initial prototypes that the engineers have already created to understand how these devices might work. Really though, the devices are only limited by our imaginations, our budgets, and what will work in a classroom.

With the initial instruction to find a cheap enclosure that we could knock out a quick first prototype with, I researched pre-existing cases and rated them in terms of price, appeal to the user and usefulness to us. I realised that the quickest, cheapest way to get an enclosure that would look great and suit our needs was simply to make it. This hadn’t occurred to our non-industrial-designer employers and they were stoked with the idea.

Having used vacuum forming last year for my torch project, I thought it would be a cheap way to design working prototypes in monthly iterations using the university’s facilities. I was able to meet with a uni workshop tech to learn more about the process and the options it gave me. I highly recommend you check out the image-rich google doc I made on my learnings.

Shane, the workshop tech convinced me that cardboard would be the way to go for our first few prototypes. This was an especially helpful idea, considering the workshop would be closed until classes commenced at the end of February.

These are some of my initial drawings:

My first round of cardboard models were a great way to get some forms in my hand and see how they felt in my hand and sat in the environment.

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After discussing these with the team and seeing Kay’s ideas. I reimagined the project with new sketches and models. Stay tuned for more!

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