Critical Making will operationalize and critique the practice of “making” through both foundational literature and hands on studio culture. As hybrid practitioners, students will develop fluency in readily collaging and incorporating a variety of physical materials and protocols into their practice. With design research as a lens, students will envision and create future computational experiences that critically explore social and culturally relevant technological themes such as community, privacy, environment, education, economics, energy, food, biology, democracy, activism, healthcare, social justice, etc.

While no previous technical knowledge is required to take this course, class projects will involve basic programing, electronic circuity, and digital fabrication design. While tutorials and instruction will be provided, students will be expected to develop basic skills in each of these areas in order to complete the course projects. The course will result in a final public show of student work.

The course goals are:

  • develop a critical understanding of emerging making technologies and their role within the current cultural and social context
  • establish proficiency with the fundamental concepts, methods, and practices of physical modeling, sketching, form giving, electronic prototyping, and hands on making across a range of materials
  • improve students ability to make expressive, physical, interactive objects that critique and advance computing culture through the production of making and artifact creation
  • advance the communication and presentation skill of students through the process of the studio critique


This is a studio class with time devoted to lecture, discussion, practice activities, design worksessions, and critique of student work. This course will consist of two Provocations and a Final Project demonstrating a functional interactive object set within a real life context and scenario. There will also be a series of Field Activities and in class sessions that are included in your grade.


Readings will be assigned throughout the semester.  Everyone is expected to read the readings.  One or two people will be selected for each reading to prepare a class presentation.  Each student is expected to engage in class discussions when readings are assigned. This counts towards your class participation grade.


Most classes will begin with a zip.crit.  A zip.crit is a rapid crit of an interface, object, design, etc.  We will be rotating through the class roster and choosing one person to do a zip.crit each class.  That person will select an interface, object, design, instructable, kickstarter, toy, etc.  At the beginning of class that person will briefly introduce the object, interface, design to us. The class will collectively critique the artifact.


Work and performance in the course will be evaluated after each Provocation and the Final Project. In addition, the process of exploration is as important as the final product, so it is important that students manage time well and devote time to working on the assignments during the course of a week. If class time is given as a worksession and is not put to good use, students’ grades will be penalized. For assignments done in teams, students will be graded on individual contributions as well as synthesis with the team. Work that is late will be decremented in grade.

rules of engagement

One of the main learning exercises in this course is the critique. We will be building this skill throughout the semester Each of the assignments will be critiqued in class.

Be there!

Critique days mandatory attendance. If you are not in class or late, we will deduct from your attendance grade. There will be no exceptions.

Attendance of all classes is mandatory. You are allowed two absences for the semester without penalty (except critique days); thereafter you will receive zero credit for the missed studio. To receive an additional excused absence, you must ask in advance, and receive an acknowledgment from the instructor.

Excusable absences include family emergencies, job interviews, and presenting at a conference. It does not include wanting to leave early for long weekend or vacation. To receive credit for attendance, you must arrive on time. No late assignments will be accepted.

Be active!

During the in class critique everyone is expected to be engaged in the discussion. Assignments, timely attendance, and in-class and team participation are a critical part of the grade. Bringing examples from outside of the class is considered to be an assignment and is also important.

Be attentive! 

We will intimately engage in a range of electronics and you are encouraged to often use such devices.  However, at specific times you will be asked to put away such devices.  During  those times, no laptops, phones, glass, electronics or other distracting devices are allowed to be used during critique and at other selected parts of class.

grading criteria

  • participation in assignments
  • good use of class time: attendance, critiques, (NO multitasking)
  • problem selection
  • rigorous design explorations
  • quality of craftsmanship and level of completion
  • quality of the team’s reflection and communication about a design solution and process

For projects done in teams, students will be graded on individual contributions as well as synthesis with the team. Work that is late will be decremented in grade 33% per day.



All students will be waitlisted prior to the start of the course. Enrollment from the waitlist for Critical Making is based on an application the instructor will distribute on or before the first day of lecture. Enrollment will not be based on waitlist order but you must be on the waitlist to be admitted to the course. Please put yourself on the waitlist. Do not use Phase 1 TeleBearas as your position on the waitlist will not matter.

related classes

CS294-84: Interactive Device Design

INFO 262 Theory and Practice of Tangible User Interfaces

IEOR 170 Industrial Design and Human Factors

CS160 User Interface Design

Matt Ratto’s Critical Making Lab and Course

Art Center College of Design Critical Frameworks course by Garnet Hertz

ME 290R: Computer Aided Design and Manufacturing

ARCH39D: Design & Activism

Garnet Hertz Critical Making Zine (review)

Important Enrollment Info for Spring 2017

Dear prospective Critical Making Spring 2017 students:

** UPDATED on 16 Nov **

(this has been updated to accommodate the Phase 2 Enrollment)
We are all excited to start the upcoming semester in January of Critical Making. Please read this message as it has important information about enrolling in Critical Making. Critical Making is significantly oversubscribed. This unfortunately means that many of you will not get to take the course this semester. We will make enrollment decisions by 12 Dec 2016.
You must complete the enrollment application by 02 Dec at 11:59pm to be considered.
We will not be handling or adding enrollment after that date.  Timeline:
28 Nov  – Email goes out to all waitlisted students with link to online enrollment application
02 Dec  – Online enrollment application period closes at 11:59pm
12 Dec  – Final enrollment decisions sent out all students
To be considered for a slot, you must take the following three steps:
1) Be waitlisted for the course.  If you are not waitlisted we cannot enroll you. If you are an undergrad see below.
2) Fill out the course petition by 11:59PM on 02 Dec 2016
2) Attend the first class meeting on Wed 18 January 2016 10-12pm in 220 Jacobs Hall
How will enrollment proceed?
We will accept online petitions using the URL until 11:59PM 02 Dec 2016
We will use that information to make final decisions about enrollment by 12 Dec 2016
Once enrolled, you MUST attend the first class to hold your enrollment.  If you do not attend the first class you will be dropped. If you know now that you will not be back to start the semester on time please do not enroll in Critical Making.  There will be no exceptions to this rule.
Make sure that you have enough time in your schedule to devote to a project class. If you are no longer planning on taking Critical Making, please let us know by removing yourself from the waiting list. Critical Making is offered every Spring, so you may have additional opportunities to take the class.
A few other points:
The class is NWMEDIA 203.  It is a grad level course.  To be waitlisted as an undergrad you must email Lara Wolfe (
Accepted students must take the full 4 unit course for a letter grade. Note that the majority of the work in this course is conducted in the form of a group projects. Unlike other courses, dropping the course before the end of the semester has negative consequences for your other group members. So please make sure to answer the question about your commitment to staying in the course.
The course is cross listed as MEC ENG 205.  This is only used by a very small number of Mechanical Engineering MEng students.  If you are a MEng students use this this course number.  If you are not an MEng student do not use this course number.  MEng students must also fill out a course petition.
NWMEDIA 203 will not be listed as a CS course.  However, NWMEDIA 203 fulfills does  fulfill CS/EECS technical elective requirements.  That is, even as a NWMEDIA course it fulfills the requirement.
Failure to complete this form will result in you being removed from the waitlist and you will not be considered for this course.
We will not be handling additional enrollment for the course after 02 Dec 2016.
Looking forward to an exciting Critical Making 2017!
You can read more about previous offerings of the course here:
Professor Eric Paulos
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