Project Brief
DMI Design Workshops


The design workshops were organized by me and Johnny (PhD student at CIRMMT). This event was the first one that we managed with the students of Prof. Marceloʼs MUMT 620 “Gestural Control of Sound Synthesis” class. The students in the class are music technology Masters students who already possess a great deal of knowledge in the realm of DMI technologies and design. 


The workshop was adapted from the “Making Magic Machines” workshops developed by Kristina Andersen and used in a variety of design contexts including workshops for developing new DMIs. The methodology used here varied in the second half of the session, as we used the workshop activities to generate tangible design elements that could be used in future. My role as a RA was to help Johnny observe students' behavior, gather their feedback, and later analyze the results.

Design Activities 

Activity #1: “Draw the music”

The first activity was for the participants to consider the music they make, or wish to make, and draw it with black marker on an index card. The activity lasted 2 minutes.

Activity #2: Non-Functional Prototyping (NFP)


Participants were asked to build instruments to play the music that they had conjured in the first activity. A wide variety of crafting materials was laid out on the table for them to use: rigid poster board, Popsicle sticks, cups of various sizes, colored index cards, wire, twine, mesh netting, various kinds of tape, glue, scissors and utility knives, paper clips, and more.

While they built, they were asked to think about the following things:

  • Instrumental Qualities: Functionality, Playability, Musicality, & Context ​

  • Design Considerations: Physical Form & Ergonomics, Interaction Methods, Sound Production, Feedback, Name

Activity #3: Presentation and Discussion


Each participant was asked to present their instrument. While they presented, we wrote down key elements of their designs on post-it notes and put them up on the board next to the instrumental qualities and design considerations they most closely aligned to. After each presentation, the group had a brief discussion where they could contribute additional important elements to add to the board, ask questions and make comments about the instruments.

P2: Hand & foot controlled granular synthesizer 

P5: "The SAND Instrument" (physical modeling of materials)

P3: Augmented guitar with levers

P4: The Key-quencer

P6: Ambient timbre-based soundscape generator 

P1: A Crankable turnable/ accordion with foot pedal

Activity #4: Dot-voting Elements

Next the participants were asked to consider all of the elements that had been identified on the whiteboard, and vote for the items that they thought were most important in the design of a new DMI. Elements identified for each participantʼs instrument. Cells highlighted in yellow indicate the top vote-getters in the dot-voting.

Activity #5: Discussion about co-design of a single instrument 

For the final activity, we reviewed the results of the voting, then turned the discussion towards how we could combine some of these elements towards the design of FUNCTIONAL prototypes.


  • This participant group was made up of music technology graduate students. Most of them were actively interested in or already designing their own instruments. The official study recruited performing musicians, and not instrument designers, so it will be interesting to see how different the sessions go.

  • Return to the “draw the music” cards after NFP

    • Re-draw the music after NFP?

    • Have them reflect on the music they drew at the beginning during their presentations.​

  • Also participants should have more votes (stickers). Each had 6 this time, it could be good to give them 10.

  • Referencing known instruments and performance modes was a key strategy for all participants.

  • It will be good to go back to the sound at the end of the exercise (this was somewhat lost in the presentations).

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​2020 Collin Wang