I’m an interaction designer, coder and educator from Brooklyn, New York.
Typically I spend my days dreaming up, prototyping, and building tools that are intended to help people be more creative and productive.
I split my time between personal projects, collaborating with my good friend Presstube, and consulting to selected clients – most recently, the talented folks who make the Paper App.
I also love teaching, especially courses that blend code, design and the creative thought process. Together, students and I explore how technology can either empower or stifle our curiosity, literacy, and creativity.
The 89th Key
I came to interaction design by way of music. I grew up with a deep appreciation for classical instruments, amazed by how the Piano, Guitar and Violin had evolved over centuries to fit the way we move, think and feel. Today I see them as quintessential examples of great interaction design, applied over generations – to perfection.
I dedicated the first 20 years of my life to the 88 keys of the Piano. But once I started thinking about the missing 89th key, I went down a rabbit hole. A major part of my work today includes building custom instruments and seeing how they affect my work.
The Hammond Flower (10 years old, pre iPad days, in Flash) is my little day dream about the B3 Hammond organ. The B3 is one of my favorite musical instruments, and the Hammond Flower allows me to play it “upside down” (by moving the drawbars, without playing the keys).
A more recent example is the Sonic Wire Sculptor, where a new kind of notation helps me explore musical ideas that would otherwise elude me.
Code is glue
Around 2001 I met James Paterson (presstube.com), and we’ve been collaborating ever since. Where I came to code from music, James came to it from visual art. Our work often explores connections between animation and music, and code is the common language that allows us to glue it all together.
Our earlier works are at InsertSilence. If I had to pick three projects from that time, they would be: August 18th, Delight, and Pagan Poetry.
Together with James, I started to build tools in new areas beyond music.
Rhonda was created to allow artists to draw naturally in 3D, as if it was their sketchbook.
Chain Reaction is a contemporary dance piece, where custom tools where built for both the choreography and the animation (actually, the animation doubles as the choreography notation).
Our recent works can be found at PitaruPaterson. Our latest, Numby, teaches little girls and boys that real robots count from 0, not 1.
Everyone deserves to hack a monster with a chainsaw
Up to 2004, I looked at how music, drawing, sculpting and dance could borrow ideas from one another. Then I started to wonder if the methods I’d developed in the arts might produce interesting results when cross-pollinated with entirely new fields.
I was particularly interested in Assistive Technology, which is technology that is designed for people with special needs. I was curious to learn if there was a correlation between the tools I’d previously built for creativity, and those I was now encountering in the world of assistive technology; as in both cases technology is used to empower and bridge people towards new capabilities.
To pursue this idea, I enrolled as a full-time student at NYU’s ITP. I was actually teaching there at the time, so suddenly becoming a student was a bit of a jolt. Yet I felt that in order to truly grow I would need to venture beyond my typical comfort zone, and become exposed to new types of stimuli.
Not long after I joined as a student, I was introduced to a wonderful School in Long Island that caters to k-12 children with special needs. A chance encounter with some of the children revealed that they didn’t enjoy video games as much as other kids I knew. I became increasingly interested in how video games could be made more accessible to them. After all, games are one of the most joyful play activities of our time (to the dismay of some).
My thesis project on the subject was later extended to a grant by the MacArthur foundation. The result was published by MIT press, and kindly provided as a free PDF.
Prodding where I don’t belong
The recent financial storm turned my attention to the field of personal finance. At first, I was equal parts angry and curious about how we got into this mess. Then I started wondering if there’s anything an interaction designer might be able to do about it.
Joining minds with my brother Shahar and my friend James, we set out to build Plantly. It’s a simple financial tool that we hope can responsibly answer the basic investment needs of people like ourselves.
Kitchen Table Coders. Prepare for real eye contact.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve had the pleasure of teaching at great schools such as NYU’s ITP, Cooper Union, and most recently – SVA’s Interaction Design MFA.
For over a year now, I’ve also been hosting weekly workshops / salons in my Brooklyn studio, together with my amazing studio mates David, Ted, Jeff and Tims. We’re called Kitchen Table Coders, because we only allow as many people as we can fit around our kitchen table.
Every week we touch on a new subject. One week we might teaching artists how to code, and the next be geeking out on why functional scripting languages should take over the world.
If you’re looking for something that was once on this page, including my old old work, check out the archives.
My email is a at pitaru dot com. My twitter handle is @pitaru