How To Make (Almost) Anything Usable

This presentation was given as a recitation as part of the official 2021 Fab Academy Curriculum on May 3, 2021.


Fab Academy will teach you how to make almost anything. But how do you make something that's actually a pleasure to use — by yourself or whoever you're designing for? (Hint: an LED blinking out binary codes to communicate error messages is usually not the way to go.)

This talk provides some hands-on tips for tweaking your project so that it becomes easier to use, both by yourself and others. These tips are based on fundamentals of how we perceive, think about, and interact with the things around us, like gestalt laws, affordances, natural mappings, and simple golden rules of user interface design and design thinking. How can people tell what your device is currently doing, and what they can or should do next? Should you use push buttons or toggle switches for function X? What's the best way to arrange the input controls on your project? And how can you quickly debug and improve your project idea with feedback from others?

These tips will help your final project tell a more convincing story when you present it, and they will be invaluable if one of your future projects ever grows into an idea for a product or startup.

About the Speaker

Jan (pronounced "yunn") Borchers (pronounced... never mind) is a professor of human-computer interaction in the computer science department at RWTH Aachen University in Germany. His lab is one of the country's most successful research groups at the international top conference on the topic. His department recently named him teacher of the year for his compelling lectures. He's been running Germany's first Fab Lab since 2009, and his lab first participated in Fab Academy as one of Germany's first universities in 2016. More details at

Previous Years

A condensed version of this topic was presented as a recitation in the 2019 Fab Academy Curriculum on Monday, Mar 11, 2019.

This talk was first presented as a recitation in the 2018 Fab Academy Curriculum, on Monday, Feb 05, 2018 (slidesvideo).

File Description File size Downloads Last modified
180203 How To Make Almost Anything Usable Jan Borchers.pdf   17591 kB 2322 2018-02-03 18:28
210503 How To Make Almost Anything Usable - Jan Borchers.pdf   29362 kB 395 2021-04-22 09:53
210503 How To Make Almost Anything Usable - Jan Borchers - Updated.pdf   33581 kB 834 2021-05-03 12:44

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