PSFK Talks To Mike Kuniavsky

PSFK Talks To Mike Kuniavsky

Mike Kuniavsky is the co-founder of ThingM, a design and computing device studio that specializes in making products for everyday problem solving and self-expression.

Daniel Edmundson
  • 13 april 2010

Mike Kuniavsky is the co-founder of ThingM, a design and computing device studio that specializes in making products for everyday problem solving and self-expression. He also researches, designs and writes about people’s experiences at the intersection of technology and everyday life–both in books and on his blog, Orange Cone.

PSFK recently had the opportunity to sit down with Mike to discuss activity at ThingM and his new book, Smart Things.

What are you working on right now?

“Well, I finished my next book, ‘Smart Things,’ a couple of weeks ago. It’s a guide to ubiquitous computing user experience design for interaction and industrial designers.

I also just wrapped up a project for a major handset manufacturer in which we developed a set of tools for helping project managers, designers and engineers think about prototyping mobile user experiences in new ways. I can’t talk about it more than that, but this is the second company I’ve worked with on building tools to help development teams shift their perspectives on what is possible with ubiquitous computing and I’m excited to see the results.

My company, ThingM, is about to release two new ubicomp user experience protoyping products in the same vein as our BlinkM and BlinkM MaxM smart LEDs, and we’re updating our sequencer software to allow someone with virtually no electronics knowledge to program and control sequences of multiple standalone smart LEDs at once.

So, for example, a costume designer could add some of our smart LEDs to a costume and program them to fade between colors that match the rest of the set design. With a little bit of simple programming, those same LEDs could change their colors (say, when a scene changes) using no external control and only a simple switch. It’s a driverless USB to I2C converter that makes it very easy for virtually any device with a USB port to program or control our smart LEDs (or any other I2C device). The other product is going to be a surprise. We’ll announce it at Maker Faire in San Mateo in May.

We’re also working on a consumer-facing product that’s currently being protyped in northern Italy. We wanted to tap the deep industrial design model making experience of northern Italy and were quite lucky to get a chance to do so. We’re hoping to also announce it at the end of May.”

What has been the most interesting reaction to your project?

“In terms of the prototyping products my company makes, the most interesting reaction is how they keep selling and how they keep on being used by a wide range of people. Everyone from set designers to car modders to roboticists have been playing with them, though that’s only the small fraction of folks whose work we know about. As a micro OEM, we actually know only a little about how people use our products (which is an interesting to challenge to me as a user-centered designer).”

What projects, people or ideas are currently inspiring your thinking these days?

“I’ve had my head down in book writing for a while, so I may not be up on the latest cool ideas, but I think that there’s a really interesting trend in opening up data sources. Pachube works as a free data stream brokerage that sits on top of TCP/IP and HTTP to provide a kind of semantic resource location technology for small net-enabled devices that has been missing. This kind of data openness is being matched by things such as the US Governement’s open data initiative at

The trend I see here is a combination of openly sharing data sources and streams and creating business models around making technology layers that make those data streams meaningful and valuable. Both Pachube and are a kind of search engine for data streams, rather than documents, which I think is a very powerful concept.”

What developing trend, idea or technology makes you most excited or hopeful for the future?

“I see increasingly more user-centered design methods across industries and companies, which I think is great. Creating technology outward from technological capabilities creates enormous waste. Engineers produce one technological artifact after another, and the organization they’re working for implicitly hopes that someone, somewhere will either want to buy it/use it or will figure out how to modify it so that it’s valuable. I think that’s an incredibly wasteful process and is probably responsible for billions of dollars wasted in production and for trash heaps full of useless tech. I am heartened to see that more companies are hiring user researchers and user-centered interaction designers, and changing their design processes to reward design that starts with people’s needs, rather than product managers’ powerpoints or technology spec sheets.”

Thanks Mike!


Orange Cone


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