Human Breadboards

The idea behind Human Breadboards grew out of the Education group discussion at the 2015 eTextile Camp (there is a detailed post the about breadth of these discussions here). Working collaboratively, we developed a non-kit-kit called the Kit of Process, which is a online library of swatches designed for educators to learn and teach eTextiles. We spent a lot of time sharing experiences and ideas, and the Human Breadboards came a bit later.

Human Breadboards came about when we started to think beyond the idea of a static swatch, and centre ideas around learning in multiple dimensions. As a concept it was not as developed as much as some of the other ideas we had, however discussions were (are) happening right at then end of the camp, on the train home, and on email, so we are hoping to developing this idea much further. For now though, I’ve made some illustrations that punctuate some key points we discussed to give an overview of the idea surrounding Human Breadboards.



As part of our teaching we use swatches to illustrate concepts. 28 of us laboriously made, and lovingly exchanged 28 swatches for the eTextile swatch exchange. Hannah and Mika’s DIY site, How to Get What you Want, is crammed full of intricately sewn swatches, and is a huge inspiration. A swatch is a microcosm: a small insight into a much bigger picture. It is the tip of the ice-burg, and it holds a world of potential inside. In creating a new swatch we are simultaneously cataloging knowledge and developing skills, which is the premise on which our education group developed the Kit of Process.

We love swatches. However, we also understand their limitations. One of which is that a swatch is an abstract object: through their non-representational form (usually square) and static nature, swatches could be confusing or misunderstood by a learner.



So how about we get our swatches and link them to each other. We make them modular, a swatch connects to a number of different swatches: inputs, outputs, processing -kind of like a fabric little-bits. We give our swatch more dimensions, possibilities, and functions. And we start to tell stories.



And what happens if we go even further, and we give our modular swatches space?

This is what we started to test, and began to ask at the camp: what do we learn when we are leaning with reference to people, the body, the space around us? and how do we are respond to movement, to the heat of the summer, and moisture of the air?

An underlying foundation to eTextiles is that it is a spatial discipline: it is either about the body, place, or environment. And, more often than not, it is movement based. This is where Human Breadboards exists, it is a prototyping tool, just like a regular breadboard, however the prototyping exists in the same dimensions as the discipline. This is the beginning of Human Breadboarding.



Above are some of the thoughts and ideas we discussed in our group, but did we actually make a “human breadboard”?

Yes! At least, we made some initial tests to develop a prototype of a Human Breadboard* that uses connectors, wearable swatches, and wearable sensor readings (in progress) on the body. Testing the swatches was more complex than we had anticipated. The big issue was connections (as always), and we developed some custom connections as a solution.

*a prototype of a prototyping tool, now that’s some meta goings on!

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Custom connectors up close.


Some quick sketches of formats: swatches on a belt, a top, or as gloves.


A wearable swatch in action.

The Human Breadboards concept resonates with a lot of the work I’ve been doing in education over the past year or so, and I hope to research more into how multi-dimensional learning* could be used in teaching traditionally technical subjects (such as programming and electronics). I’ll be starting an MA course this month (more on that soon), and I’d like to take the multi-dimensional-technical-learning road in my research.

*a term I just made up, but as with most things you think up, I am pretty sure there must be a whole body of research with the same name, and I hope to find that soon.