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Device Art — the real art of product design

George Gally Hacker Noon profile picture

George Gally

An irregular round-up of creative coding inspirations and disruptions in advertising, social, urban play and human computer interaction.

Device art is a playful subversion of product design, born out of Japan at the end of the last century. A way of taking everyday objects and subverting their use for artistic pleasure.

It’s an exciting and brilliant space, that innovates and subverts, without take technology or itself too seriously. A growing discipline that will become only more prevalent in art as technology enables artists to express themselves like never before.

No conversation on device art would be complete without first mentioning first Professor Hiroo Iwata, who not only heavily influenced most of the artists in the scene, but also taught and mentored many of them.

So let’s kick off with two of my favourite of his projects, pretty relevant today with all the AR stuff that is happening:

Robot Tiles, a floor that moves to keep you stationary:

And another goody. The Floating Eye, separating vision from the body:

Building on Iwata’s concept, UK artist Marc Owens built the Avatar machine, a wearable system which replicates the aesthetic of third person gaming:

Here’s how it works: http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/gadgets/high-tech-gadgets/avatar-machine.htm

Also check out some of Marc’s Da Vinci Alarm Clock as another example of beautiful device art.


Maywa Denki:

Another big name in device art in Japan. Maywa Denki is an art troupe dressed as salaryman engineers and build mostly musical products they refer to as nonsense machines.

Here’s a quick intro to some of their nonsense:

They also invented the amazing Zihotoch, the anti-smartwatch:


And you gotta love their analogue machine band: 

A quite detailed explanation of some of their bizarre inventions:

Touchy — the Human Camera

Built by Eric Siu, a Hong Kong media artist, Touchy is a device that renders the user blind until someone touches you. And if they touch you for an extended period of time it takes a picture of you:

Hahn robotic beer holder

A good and viral example of device art and robotics in advertising:

Nicodama, empathizing with ordinary objects around us:

Another big name in device art is Ryota Kuwakubo. Nicodama is a super simple device that turns any object into a face, and allows us to empathize with it, hankering back to ancient Japanese culture where objects were considered to have a spirit:

The SiliFulin is a robot tail that moves in reaction to your movements:


My favourite of all his pieces has to be the Video Bulb:

I’ve always loved the simplicity and magic of this device, which connects to the analogue input of your TV and plays a simple pixel animation. Done many years before stuff like Arduino was even around:

As a bonus, here’s an interview with Kuwakubo san at his lab:

Necomimi wearable ears:

Probably one of the most famous pieces of device art are Necomimi wearable ears:

Tomoko Ueyama’s Watashi-chan:

A waistcoat that listens and reacts to sounds around you:

Cadbury did something similar with the Joy Jacket:

Digioxide, a Portable Pollution Sniffer:

And finally, the great work of Dmitry Morozov. Digioxide is a portable device equipped with sensors that measures air pollution and dust particles, transforming the data into generative art, and printing it out as a “snapshot” of your surrounding environment:

Also check out his pretty cool tattoo controller: https://creators.vice.com/en_us/article/4xqdng/artist-turns-tattoo-into-an-experimental-instrument

Well that’s it for this very brief introduction into the world of device art.

There’s tonnes more amazing stuff out there. I definitely missed loads… but hope this inspires you…

Keep on rocking.

And follow me here for data art, interaction design, media art and generative art:




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