Final Project – Grant Johnson
For my final project I decided to construct a Bluetooth speaker. Some challenges I faced during this project include: Part shopping for the proper parts that would all work together and create a decent sound. Learning how to solder and using it to help add security to the internal wiring of the speaker. Figuring out how to power the speakers in an efficient/mobile way. Figuring out a well-designed layout for the housing/case that fits properly to help hold everything together. I’m proud of a couple different parts of my final work. I really like the aesthetic and physical design that I landed on for the final version and think that given a second go at it I could create an extremely cool looking exterior to the speaker. I also was just proud that I was able to get everything to work. I’ve never had a lot of experience with working electronics besides computers and it was cool to get a chance to mess with something set up so very differently.
My learning goal for this project was perseverance – I wanted to try and take this project beyond the point of simply ‘being functional’ and make it visually interesting and finished looking. I think one thing I definitely took away in the making of my speaker was that perseverance takes a ton, ton, ton of time. Trying things out, looking at stuff in different ways, and really finalizing what you want your creation to be takes thinking and experimentation until you can’t take it anymore. I still think that I have yet to hit my peak level of perseverance – I didn’t quite end up with the final product I wanted by the time the showcase rolled around (I would have liked to have had reactive LEDs and button controls. I didn’t necessarily not meet these goals because I lack the skills to be able to take on the challenges I set for myself, it was more because I didn’t actually force myself to take the time and really try everything as much as I could. I think one thing that I could definitely benefit from more is documenting what my construction process will look like before-hand so that I can get a better idea of problems that may crop up in the process. I’ve also come to realize how much this helps you figure out what you can do at different substages and helps identify different problems you can tackle within projects while waiting on other things to get solved or become available. All that said, I’m still insanely happy with my final product. As stated earlier, I’ve never really messed with electronics much besides computers and it was fun to make something that’s more on the ‘analog’ electronic side of things because I think the simplicity of how stuff like that works is very interesting. I was also really happy with my ability to solidify this product in a very short time. I was in a huge time crunch at the end of the semester and the fact I was able to create a finished product within a week or two is crazy to me. My project is also meaningful to me for two different reasons – one, it’s my first ever Bluetooth speaker (I’ve never had one before) and I got to make it myself and decide how everything would work and what functions suit me. Two, this project (as well as the iteration project) has shown me how I can take all the stuff I’ve learned in this class, as well as others, and apply them to solving problems myself as opposed to hoping that a solution is created by someone else. This autonomy is really powerful in my eyes and something that I definitely want to foster in myself.
I think there are probably two main things that I’ve built in myself over the course of the semester. The first, I would say, is the ability to get over my usual fears of talking to others and trying to have them give advice and/or help when I am trying to figure out an idea/project. The sense of community that gets fostered within a fab lab really is palpable and you realize very quickly how helpful it is to be surrounded by a community of people with similar goals/objectives as you, with skill levels across the spectrum in a broad range of topics. It’s also great to use other people as a way to figure out if what you’re trying to communicate or design is coming across in a way that makes sense or works. The second thing I think that I really gained over the semester is the ability to be unafraid to tackle a variety of different skills/crafts when approaching them from an exploratory place. There’s definitely a huge range of topics we cover in this course and I think that doing that allows people to look to even more varied skills and feel as though they have the ability to at least try something out because they know how to use the resources, tools, and documentation that can point them in the right direction. I think that the openness to at least try to learn different skills (and combine them over time) is something really beneficial that can be taken away from this class. I also think that I have built my confidence in my ability to fabricate and create things significantly. I’m an art minor so I’ve had opportunities to make tons of imaginative stuff, but never to design so thoughtfully and never to create more tangible, interactive objects. This confidence definitely makes me want to come back to making things more often in the future and taking on projects similar to those we did throughout this class.
I think this course has definitely helped me feel more connected to my STEM side in some ways, which I really appreciated a lot. I first came to UIUC for CS and then switched after realizing I wasn’t nearly as prepared as a lot of people coming in. This class felt like it bridged the gap between that style of thinking and the styles of thinking I see in classes like my advertising classes or my art & design classes. Even before I took this course, I would probably describe myself as a maker – I enjoy creating my own things and realizing my own distinctions and personal needs and design principles. I think it has become harder and harder for people to describe themselves as makers as time has gone on, but that nearly everyone can take on the role should they choose to. Making is something that is totally within the grasp of anyone, you just need a lot of persistence, patience, and passion. I think this class (and this semester for me personally, as well) has spurred a lot of those three things in me. I’ve started to realize that you can easily fall into some role where none of those things are really an importance, but I personally enjoy the personal growth that can come out of trying to achieve these things. I do still agree with Papert that the most significant learning is hands-on and personally meaningful. I think this class has really shown that to me. I’ve created a ton of stuff in a very short time that’s honestly super cool and decently practical. I’ve seen this through other classes as well – the one’s where I’m making stuff that is going to benefit me and personify me definitely catch my attention the most and help me hold onto the things I’ve learned the best. I think that having the chance to just get your hands onto different things can really help you figure out how you feel about different topics and hobbies in a much quicker way than just reading about it or hearing about it. Answering tests is great and all, but actually being able to show the knowledge physically is really great as well. I also think that working with your hands also just allows more nuance to the learning process and gives you a bigger connection to what you’re working on.