Wooden Logic: In Search of Heirloom Electronics

Session Title

Wooden Logic: In Search of Heirloom Electronics


Matt Cottam, Tellart, RISD, CIID, UID

Session Type: Presentation

Electronic products often lack the aesthetic qualities that make us want to keep them for a long time. The speed with which digital technologies become obsolete often precludes the use of natural materials and time-consuming manufacturing techniques. In this presentation I explain my process of sketching and swatchmaking (prototyping) with both digital and analog tools, using both electronic and organic materials. This hands-on journey in search of “heirloom electronics” uncovers several possible relationships between the digital, material and natural through a series of working sketch models. Through these sketches and swatches I have sought to explore a harmonious intersection between tradition and technology, and between natural materials, high craft and digital functionality. I have consistent evidence that the emotional value of handling wood as an interface brought delight to people, and I believe that these studies suggest many possibilities for product, material use and manufacturing techniques.

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Matt Cottam | Co-Founder, Tellart

Matt has been responsible for setting strategic direction for Tellart since co-founding the company in 1999. He provides both inspiration and direction through active involvement in client projects, academic research and teaching, as well as international design and technology conferences worldwide.

With Tellart Matt has directed design and strategy projects for clients including Nokia Design, Humana Inc. and Otis Elevator (United Technologies Research Center). He has been publishing and presenting for over a decade and has become an internationally recognized speaker on a wide range of design and technology topics. Recent lecturing venues have included the Google Tech Talks series, the at Stanford University, the O’Reilly Emerging Technologies conference (ETech), Intel’s Future Technologies Research Summit, PICNIC08, SIGCHI, IDSA/ICSID, DEFCON and the Designing User Experience (DUX).

Matt is a member of the part-time faculty at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he has taught studio courses since 1999 on wide-ranging topics such as emergency medicine, physical computing and service design. He is also an Adjunct Professor at UmeΠInstitute of Design (UID Sweden) where he leads core interaction design modules and contributes to ongoing curriculum development. He is a member of the Visiting Faculty at the Copenhagen Institute for Interaction Design (CIID, Denmark). Matt is also a visiting speaker at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO, Norway), and at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing (CAFA).

Matt received both a Bachelor of Industrial Design and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Rhode Island school of design (RISD). His thesis work at RISD, conducted in partnership with the Habitability Design Division at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, focused on advanced life support in extreme environments. Matt earned a Masters of Interaction Design from the UmeÂŒ Institute of Design (UmeÂŒ University, Sweden), using his thesis project to investigate the relationship between texture, materials, aging and interaction in the context of physical computation. He is a licensed paramedic and enjoys ski patrolling and racing sailboats in his free time.


  1. Car
    Posted September 17, 2009 at 10:51 am

    This could be a great presentation – certainly its on an important topic. Its also a topic that bridges the worlds of design practice and design research, and finding points of intersection between those fields and presenting them at IxDA seems most appropriate.

  2. Posted September 21, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    This seems really cool. WANT.

  3. Posted September 22, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    Yes, please. Good one.

  4. Posted September 26, 2009 at 10:37 am

    Lots of research in this area. Richard Banks at MSR Cambridge has collected it and put it here:

  5. Posted October 2, 2009 at 2:59 am

    I very much want to see this presentation. I presume you’ll bring some of your work with you and include some history as part of the presentation?