An Experience Designer’s Guide to Arduino

An Experience Designer's Guide to Arduino

If you work in environmental or experiential graphic design or related fields, you can use Arduino as a powerful prototyping tool. Let's get started with a few basic resources.

What is Arduino?

If you’ve ever Googled “What is Arduino?” you’ve likely been barraged by unhelpful descriptions like “open source electronics platform,” “modifiable hardware/software board,” or “IO microcontroller.” In the simplest of terms, Arduino is like a miniature computer that can interact with its environment. With very low effort, you can use Arduino as a powerful prototyping tool. You could prototype interactive LED light patterns that correspond to the motion of your hand. You could attach a motor and wheels, and quickly create a self-driving rover. You could even make simple games for your kids to play. Arduino will empower you to make the things you’ve always wanted to make.

What do I need to buy?

Arduino is cheap, but not free. I recommend buying a starter kit from Arduino(~$100) or from Sparkfun (~$110). If you’re on the fence, you can buy hardware separately. My recommendation for the bare essentials: an Arduino Uno board,a USB cable,a breadboard,jumper wires,monochrome LEDs,tri-color LEDs,an ultrasonic sensor,and a trimpot (~$52 total). 

How do I program it?

You’ll need to download the Arduino IDE(free), the programming environment. The Arduino language is structured around the C programming language, but you definitely don’t need to know C to be successful. Programming an Arduino is a lot less daunting than it sounds. 

Now what?

You’re ready to start making! Find a simple Arduino tutorial exercise online, and see where it takes you. I recommend starting with this blinking LED tutorial from Sparkfun.Happy making!



Neil Shankaris a creative consultant in the Bay Area. Follow Neil on Medium,Twitter,and Dribbble.

Related Video: Michael Shaub of Gensler shows attendees at the 2017 XPlorer Workshop how to use Arduino to create content.


New Member Offer

Click to access the 2020 "Never been an SEGD member before" $185 sign up offer

Upcoming SEGD Events

Digital Signage Experience 2022
2022 Present Yourself
2022 Conference Experience Portland