"I became interested in working with technology when I began to see it as a powerful tool for learning and self-expression."
Recently, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Liza Stark, an amazingly talented craft circuit engineer, educator, game designer, and mentor. If you aren’t familiar with the creative circuit creations and games by Liza Stark, you’d be doing yourself a big favor by visiting her site - thesoftcircuiteer.net/. Once there, you’re guaranteed to be amazed by the incredibly fun craft technology and games she makes, like her beautifully delicate Point of View (POV) Fan. The POV Fan uses LEDs she embedded in the hand-crafted fan to send written messages using a circuit she programmed. Plus, it’s super beautiful!
The POV Fan uses LEDs she embedded in the hand-crafted fan to send written messages using a circuit she programmed.
Liza is a game designer at the Institute of Play, where she creates games that reimagine what learning can look like in traditional education spaces (pretty much the coolest job ever!). Recently, she co-designed a board game called Eureka Tesla, whereby two teams of two players compete to illuminate the most LEDs. While playing, students understand that circuits can be simple or complex systems that move electrical energy. We love how Liza comes to circuit building and engineering through play. Her games and craft+technology work is well crafted and polished looking, but also inviting and playful.
When we were first considering starting blink blink - a company that designs circuit kits to get girls excited about technology through crafting, making, and fashion - we were introduced to Liza by a mutual friend. Upon meeting her , we were immediately impressed by her incredible body of knowledge about creative circuits - the integration of circuit materials into crafts. We enrolled in a course she designed and teaches called ‘Computation Craft’ at Parsons the New School for Design. In Computational Craft, our circuit building, crafting, sewing, and making skills were put to the test. We wish every student could have the chance to take her class, and we tried our best to put that experience in our kit. Liza is one of our biggest lady-tech heroes, and we think her wisdom is beneficial to everyone in the blink blink community.
So, here we go!
Liza, how did you become interested in working with technology?
I became interested in working with technology when I began to see it as a powerful tool for learning and self-expression. And I'm not just talking about Google docs in the classroom as an organizational tool. Technology allows us to engage in authentic learning experiences, experiences that are directly connected to our interests and feel relevant to our lives. My first encounter with this was taking a soft circuits class at Parsons. After wrestling with programming for months, I finally had a way to connect it to my passion and expertise in crafting. It allowed me to grapple physically with the abstraction of coding while opening a tantalizing portal into a completely new creative world. At once I had discovered a new mode of expression and a tool I could use learn new things. This cemented my current work with educators around the meaningful integration of technology and a personal obsession designing various tools and experiences to demystify computational concepts.
What would you say surprised you the most about working with technology?
That elegance and simplicity have a much stronger relationship than developing something overly complex. Too often people choose the wrong technology for the job, either because they haven't done their research or fully understood the difference between a tool and a concept. Additionally, I remember being quite surprised by the community of people who were willing to help me learn or troubleshoot, on and offline. People are incredibly helpful if you just ask them.
What is your method for coming up with new tech and craft projects?
Recently I have been very interested in design fiction and storytelling as a tool for brainstorming. Some of my recent projects have started from quick vignettes and scenarios exploring the idea of non-verbal communication and gender. In navigating the boundaries of high and low tech, you also start to encroach on this blurry line between history and the future. It's a really fun, ripe design space. Other times, I'll challenge myself to work with one specific material or redesign a highly digital tool into something made out of paper and one LED. Creativity in the constraints.
Tell us how you came up with the idea for the POV Fan. We love it!
The idea for POV fan came up while I was running under the FDR past a group of Chinese women practicing a choreographed set of moves with brilliant red fans. It made me start thinking of various historical and cultural uses of a hand fan, specifically as a tool to communicate status, amorous advances, etc. After a little digging, I uncovered a language used by Victorian women they used to communicate discreetly with their pursuers. I'm three prototypes in and plan to continue work on the fourth over the summer.
What advice do you have for people new to exploring tech and craft?
1. Start simple. You'd be amazed at the interesting things you can make with a few LEDs and a coin cell battery.
2. Always sketch out your circuit first.
3. Find the right tool for the job, which means it might take a while and it might be wire.
4. Experiment constantly!
See more of Liza Stark’s computational craft projects and games here.