Interdisciplinary design of pervasive computing products

Students working on designs in kiva


Who we are



Successful pervasive computing products require a balance of computing, design, and business expertise throughout their development phases. Without this collection of expertise, the product is likely to fall short in some critical technical, functional, or market requirement. Our design process includes cultivating a playful environment in which creativity can flourish, developing numerous options to choose from, prototyping early and often in a variety of mediums to help choose between options, and considering the user throughout the design process.

We believe that the value of interdisciplinary collaboration is at its apex during the concept generation stage, what some call the creative stage. Some believe that concept generation is about how to design something. But true conceptual thinking is actually better utilized and more valuable when focused on the opportunities of what to design. The discovery of the right thing to design is the real value of collaborative concept generation and it requires a more open ended approach and attitude than more traditional ‘straight-line’ methodologies. The interdisciplinary collaborative design process is more organic, more circular, as diverse ideas are freely discussed, merged with others, discarded, renewed and reframed. It is a replicable process only in the sense that an enabling environment of mutual respect, suspension of egos, and the consideration of possibilities unencumbered by discipline specific experiences can encourage it. It can be further encouraged by the physical environment and experienced participants who understand how to encourage creative group dialogue.

Who we are

Eloise Coupey, Marketing
Ed Dorsa, Industrial Design
Ron Kemnitzer, Industrial Design
Lisa McNair, Engineering Education
Tom Martin, Electrical and Computer Engineering


Tom Martin, Eloise Coupey, Lisa McNair, Ed Dorsa, Jason Forsyth, Sophie Kim, and Ron Kemnitzer, "An interdisciplinary design course for pervasive computing," IEEE Pervasive Computing, January-March 2012, vol. 11, no. 1, pp. 80-83. Published version in the IEEE Digital Library and local PDF of the final submitted version.

Tom Martin, Kahyun Kim, Jason Forsyth, Lisa McNair, Eloise Coupey, Ed Dorsa, "Discipline-based instruction to promote interdisciplinary design of wearable and pervasive computing products," Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, December 2011. SpringerLink published version and local PDF of final submitted version. (This is an extended version of the ISWC 2011 paper below. The print version of this journal issue is to appear. The final publication is available at

Thomas Martin, Kahyun Kim, Jason Forsyth, Lisa McNair, Eloise Coupey, Ed Dorsa, "An interdisciplinary undergraduate design course for wearable and pervasive computing products," Proceedings of the 15th International Symposium on Wearable Computers, June 2011, pp. 61-68. pdf (Nominated for best paper)

E. Coupey, E. Dorsa, R. Kemnitzer, L. McNair and T. Martin, “A Case Study of an Interdisciplinary Design Course for Pervasive Computing,” The Third Workshop on Pervasive Computing Education, September 2010 pdf

L. McNair, C. Newswander, E. Coupey, E. Dorsa, T. Martin, M. C. Paretti, “Self-Organizing Units in an Interdisciplinary Course for Pervasive Computing Design,” American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition. Austin, TX, June 14-17, 2009

K. Kim, L.D. McNair, E. Coupey, E. Dorsa, R. Kemnitzer, and T. Martin, “Situativity approaches for Improving Interdisciplinary Team Processes,” American Society for Engineering Education Southeast Section Conference. Blacksburg, VA. April 18-20, 2010

E. Coupey, E. Dorsa, R. Kemnitzer, T. Martin, “Things you probably didn’t think of…or tips for creating a successful interdisciplinary product development program,” Proceedings of the 2008 IDSA/Eastman National Education Symposium, Phoenix, AZ, September 2008, pp. 55-60.

For more information, please contact Tom Martin, tlmartin AT


March 2012: Ed Dorsa and Jason Forsyth will be conducting a workshop on Creating Interactive Prototypes at the IDSA Southern Design Dialogue conference in Atlanta in April. Here's the full schedule.

February 2012: We have been selected as the winners of the 2012 Virginia Tech XCaliber Award for outstanding contributions to technology-enriched learning activities.

October 2011: Lisa McNair and Tom Martin are selected to attend the National Academy of Engineering's Frontiers of Engineering Education symposium. Read more...

June 2011: One of our papers is nominated for the best paper award at the International Symposium on Wearable Computers.

April 2011: Tom Martin receives the 2011 Edward S. Diggs Teaching Scholars Award. Read more...

December 2010: One of our student teams wins the medical products category in the VT $5K Entrepreneurship competition. Read more...

April 2010: Our class is featured in the ECE 2010 Annual Report. Read more...

Acknowledgement: This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. EEC-0935103. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

The local copies of the IEEE Pervasive Computing and ISWC papers above are copyright © 2011, 2012 IEEE. Personal use of this material is permitted. Permission from IEEE must be obtained for all other uses, in any current or future media, including reprinting/republishing this material for advertising or promotional purposes, creating new collective works, for resale or redistribution to servers or lists, or reuse of any copyrighted component of this work in other works.

Last updated on 22 March 2012