Hand Held: Creative Tools for Phones

Professor: Max Bittker (He/Him)

Email: mb8305@nyu.edu, maxbittker@gmail.com

Mondays 9:30am - 12:00am (09/12 - 12/12) Office Hours Signup

Course Description

The smartphone is not only the primary site for digital communication and consumption, it also hosts emerging forms of media production. Let's investigate the creative potential of the mobile touchscreen. We will explore mobile creative tools through research, analysis, and by creating and testing our own functional mobile web tool prototypes.



This course is a dialog between researching the existing world of mobile creative tools and building our own tools.

Collaborative Research

Students will document and discuss a wide range of tools, analyzing their designs and sharing through making.

The class will also compare mobile tools to their "mouse and keyboard" counterparts, identify common design patterns, and reflect critically on what the future of mobile creative tools will bring.

Project-based exploration

Half of class time will be devoted to applying this research towards the design and implementation of new tools.

We'll use web technologies to develop a variety of small shareable touchscreen interfaces, such as meme-makers, musical instruments, typography tools, and digital fashion designers.

By the end of the semester, we'll have built a body of research on the landscape of mobile creative tools, developed theories and principles about this space, and applied those principles towards a set of functional and shareable prototypes.

Technical Content:

Introductory familiarity with HTML, CSS and Javascript is required. Expect to sharpen your skills in research, interface design, and web programming. Projects will be structured to provide some flexibility for specialization.

Examples of coding concepts we'll cover in class:


Casual Creators Zine, Kate Compton [Paper]

"UI Design is Fun", Nathalie Lawhead

Wonderful World of Tools Made By Small Teams, Nathalie Lawhead

Open source, experimental, and tiny tools roundup, Everest Pipkin

Frank Wilson speaking about the connection between the hand & cognition

A *New* Program For Graphic Design, David Reinfurt

A Brief Rant On the Future of Interaction Design, Brett Victor

Stop Drawing Dead Fish, Brett Victor

A Pattern Language, Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein

Material Design Guidelines

Human Interface Guidelines

Designing For Subway Legibility Zach Gage (video version)

2007 demo of multi-touch interface design Jeff Han

Touring the history of Nintendo's creative tools David Cole

Kid Pix, the Early Years Craig Hickman

An App Can Be a Home Cooked Meal Robin Sloan

List of great CSS resources: https://zenith-square-add.notion.site/CSS-Resources-That-Are-Mostly-Comics-or-Games-19ee00f98ac548f486fc292b303209ff

Week 1 (9/2)

On the first day of class, we'll discuss creative tools we've used and also talk about what our goals or questions for the semester are.

Then do we'll do a fun laid-back exercise in Figjam related to creative tools and instructions as art.

Homework: Flip through these slides from class, and write down questions you have about the class. These can be either questions about the format or logistics of the class, or questions that you hope we will answer over the course of the semester. Post your questions in Slack!

Week 2

Brief tour of the browser.

Discussion of Human Computer Interaction, model of the loop

Anatomy of an interface (input, state, and output)

Why sliders are interesting subjects for our first investigation.

Reading: <input type="range"> - MDN Web Documentation
Homework: build a "CSS Toy", that demonstrates one of these style properties in an interactive way: Chose a property from this list.

Week 3


Share, playtest, & discuss slider toys

Explore the browser dev-tools

History of the web, plus how that history shapes the browser the mobile web.

Homework: Build a mockup of an imaginary home screen using HTML & CSS
Homework: Research Character Creation tools by creating characters & adding them to the shared document.
Reading: "Casual Creators Zine" - Kate Compton

Week 4

Picrew by ELI NOVA

Share fantasy homescreen designs & discuss feelings about our real homescreen.

What do Casual Creators teach us about creative tools?

Homework: Prototype a Mix & Match / character creator tool

Week 5

Homework: Produce a shareable version of your Mix & Match Maker
Reading: "Designing for Subway Legibility" - Zach Gage

Week 6

Present our Mix & Match projects and try everyone's projects!

Mark Making unit:

Reading: "UI design is fun!" - Nathalie Lawhead
Homework: "Pencil Case: Program 3 different digital pen brushes, and make a drawing with each one.

Week 7

Pen tool options, raster vs vector, color pickers

Week 8

Gesture Detection

Week 9

Collage, Drag and drop

Week 10

Collage, Pinch to zoom & rotate.

Week 11

Under Construction! Check Back Soon

Week 12

Week 13


Week 14

Share Final Projects