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.


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