John Kestner.

Now working on supermechanical objects at

John Kestner is a graduate and research affiliate of the MIT Media Lab, where he prototypes post-computer products in the Information Ecology group.

John is a product/interaction designer who uses physical forms and meaningful data to create connections among humans, objects and spaces. His work has been showcased through the ID Annual Design Review, Ars Electronica and NPR.

jkestner at media mit edu

On the stove.

Active projects currently in various stages.


Physical interface to the photo cloud

Remember when we made a connection by handing someone a photo? Now we fiddle with too many cables, menus, and communication channels, and those individual connections get drowned out. Can we return to physical experiences while retaining the collective intelligence of the network?

Tableau is a nightstand that stores and retrieves memories. It may put friends' photo postcards in the drawer, or post mementos to your online scrapbook. This is an example of task-centric computing, where the interface is distributed across connected physical objects. Apps that run in the cloud can weave available objects into environmental I/O, giving users computing experiences that fit into the flow of life.

User experience: Tableau is an example of humane computing, overlaying new functions onto established interactions rather than shifting computer interfaces to new contexts. It is a nightstand with an integrated photo printer, camera and wireless Internet connection. It quietly drops photos sent to it through Twitter into its drawer, for the owner to discover. Images of things placed in the drawer are posted to Twitter as well. It acts as a bridge between users of physical and digital media.

Product design: Principles of reuse are applied to both the physical and electronic qualities of Tableau. The table is an old one, and as it was refinished, previous finishes were preserved in a strip to celebrate its history. This is intended to encourage an emotional attachment that contemporary consumer electronics do not have. A supporting language of digital patinas is explored by the green "pixel moss" motif on top and a vestigial cable knob for the paper drawer. Tableau's physical and digital affordances suggest a longer life for electronic objects in which they may be reprogrammed and repurposed.

Ubiquitous computing: The table is one node in a network of connected objects. Each object is focused on input and output, which is exposed on Twitter in a simple API. Apps in the cloud use the API to marshall the appropriate objects to execute human tasks. Using a social network as transport allows apps and their owners to manage a large network of computing objects with the same constructs that we use to manage many human relationships.

Proverbial Wallet

Teaching financial sense

We have trouble controlling our consumer impluses, and there's a gap between our decision and the consequences. When we pull a product off the shelf, do we know what our bank account balance is, or whether we're over budget for the month? Our existing senses are inadequate to warn us.

The Proverbial Wallet gives us that financial sense at the point of purchase by un-abstracting virtual assets. Tactile feedback reflecting your personal balances and transactions develops a subconscious financial sense that guides responsible decisions. These wallets use Bluetooth to get personal financial information via your smartphone's Internet connection.

Peacock: The wallet appears to grow and shrink using a servo to reflect the balance in your accounts. Your assets will be on display to attract potential mates.

Mother Bear: The wallet protects the money within it when you need to be thrifty with a shorted motor in the hinge that resists opening. It promotes saving to weather out financial winters.

Bumblebee: The wallet buzzes through a vibrator motor whenever your bank processes a transaction. This encourages a conscious connection between handing over your credit card and your hard-earned money being harvested from the bank, and alerts you to fraud when you get a buzz without making a purchase.

Exhibited at Ars Electronica 2009

With Daniel Leithinger, Jaekyung Jung


An ambient social navigation instrument

Would you know if a dear, but seldom seen, friend happened to be on the same train as you? The proximeter is both an agent that tracks the past and future proximity of one's social cloud, and an instrument that charts this in an ambient display. By reading existing calendar and social network feeds of others, and abstracting these into a glanceable pattern of paths, we hope to nuture within users a social proprioception and nudge them toward more face-to-face interactions when opportunities arise.

Exhibited at Ars Electronica 2009

With Henry Holtzman

Social cars

Building virtual community through physical objects

The challenge in this design provocation was to maintain a positive experience for Zipcar's growing and heterogenous user community, specifically addressing the friction that arises from a driver returning a shared car late. We favored using community carrots over corporate sticks.

We use the warmth and reach of physical and social networking channels to amplify the sense of community among a group of strangers, through the vehicle they share. Playing off of Zipcar's habit of naming its cars, we give them a voice as well through Twitter and connected dashboard objects. This allows drivers to get, and send, the right information at the right time and place in order for the whole operation to flow smoothly -- in a friendly, human manner.



A framework for social productivity

We all use systems for organizing our cluttered schedules, from the day planner to Getting Things Done. One time-honored method, if messy, is writing to-do lists. Daydar is a framework that makes this process social: Can you learn from the working styles of others? Can you collaboratively create an environment of healthy competition by being aware of your friends' daily accomplishments? Can this help you to find a better balance between work and play? Within this framework we are experimenting with various systems, both physical and digital, that allow you to monitor your own and others' productivity, help you to get motivated, and enable you to document and visualize the process of accomplishing whole projects.

Exhibited at Ars Electronica 2009

With Henry Holtzman and Richard The

Twitter Weather

condensing the cloud

The vast amounts of user-generated content on the Web often produce information overload as frequently as they provide enlightenment; Twitter Weather reduces large quantities of text into meaningful data by gauging the emotional content. Twitter Weather visualizes the prevailing mood about top Twitter topics by rendering a weather-report-style display. Supporting Twitter Weather is a user-trained Web service that aggregates and visualizes attitudes on a topic.

With Henry Holtzman and Stephanie Bian


Critical Lenses for Reading Wikipedia

Even the most open content system is only as transparent as its interface. Taking cues from the timeless activity of annotating the margins of books, Marginalia provides a visual overlay for analyzing Wikipedia articles. Employing a number of different visualizations, users can browse Wikipedia with a critical eye for who authored each section, how contentious an article or topic is, or the geographic diversity of the authors. Marginalia pulls back the curtains on the collaborative authorship process, and has broader applications in the critical reading of online works.

With Jeffrey Warren

Social Gardening

Tend your relationships

The Internet supports many great tools for communicating at a distance in order to maintain personal relationships and build social networks. However, these tools rarely help us realize which relationships are strained by lack of attention. Social Garden explores using virtual plants as a metaphor for relationships, encouraging us to tend to our social connections as we do our gardens. By tracking and analyzing communications through email, instant messaging, social websites, SMS, and phone, Social Garden proposes to give feedback on how our relationships are flourishing or wilting, and organizes our social circles. We also explore the garden metaphor as a practical interface to browse and manage conversations and contacts.

Exhibited at Ars Electronica 2009

With Henry Holtzman

In the fridge.

Past projects that may be reheated at some point.


The screen is your canvas

People like having conversations. They often use shared television experiences as a backdrop for those conversations. But with the increasing popularity of social networking technology, television is competing with a diverging field of social media. Television is broadcast at the viewer, and interactivity has been limited to how you can watch. It's remained one-way communication. how can the viewer talk back, and create new shared experiences?

AsDrawnOnTV uses television as the shared canvas on which we converse, letting the user draw over television content with a telestrator interface. The user's input is recorded along with the underlying video. The user can comment on anything she is watching, and share it with others in her social circle. Shared videos with commentary pop up as additional channels on your friend's television, available for immediate viewing or reply. We see the telestrator as one application on top of a framework for creating and sharing new content via the television.

With Henry Holtzman, Katie Orthwein and Amanda Peyton

My Ears Are Burning

Bringing the idiom to life with earmuffs that heat up when people give you online attention

We provide a software and hardware toolkit for creating an on-body network of tactile and ambient information accessories, connecting people physically with information accessed via the internet. My Ears Are Burning uses the toolkit to make a user aware of attention being paid to her online presence. Heating elements placed on the user's ears are activated when, for example, her Web page is accessed or she is tagged in a photograph on Facebook. The toolkit hardware consists of a Bluetooth module outfitted with simple-to-use I/O pins for connecting input sensors and output actuators. The software component resides on a cell phone that acts as a router between the Bluetooth modules and the Internet. This platform is also used for the Proverbial Wallets project.

With Henry Holtzman, Danny Bankman

Ghost River of Dazhi

Dredging up lessons of where we came from

A public art installation in the Dazhi district of Taipei, along a road where the Keelung River once ran before it was moved for flood planning purposes. We prototyped this using blue and UV paints and electronics to modify road signage in shifting, playful reminders of life along the old river. QR stickers were encoded with poetic and cryptic messages (decodable by common cameraphones) and placed in locations to encourage residents to find nearby pieces and learn more about local history.

Led an interdisciplinary team of designers, architects and urban planners from MIT and SCU in Taipei

La Conversazione

Connecting people with each other through rich media on mobile phones

Hearkening back to the days when watching television was a shared experience, La Conversazione defines a system and application that uses the senses available to cell phones to grab context-sensitive media and contribute to a virtual neighborhood.

With MacGregor Campbell, Ana Domb Krauskopf

Haptic-Spatial Memory Game

Connecting people with each other through rich media on mobile phones

Using Oblong's g-speak spatial operating environment, we've prototyped a memory game in which you have to find matching virtual haptic objects (hobs) within a room using haptic and aural feedback.

With Daniel Leithinger


Hierarchal visualizations of code using plants.

With Jeff Warren, Doug Fritz

Watt Watchers

Network household lighting as an ambient energy monitor

People are aware of the need to reduce their energy use, but a wealth of consumption data does not effect a change. And devices that automatically shut off without the user having to make a decision address the symptom, not the problem. How can a user be made conscious of his consumption habits in order to change his overall behavior more effectively?

Watt Watchers is a network of collars for light bulbs that collectively dim to encourage better consumption habits. Using lights as a proxy for household energy use, the system reminds users when they are consuming above average power by mimicking a brownout.

We explored the barriers to monitoring energy consumption in a way that leads to a reduction, and proposed that a goal-directed product with immediate ambient feedback throughout the home would keep the users' interest long enough to meaningfully affect their behavior. A functional system was then quickly prototyped and installed in users' homes. Initial testing indicates that people recognize the need for such a system and respond to a goal-oriented system.

With Jordan Fischer, Sarah Jones, TJ McLeish

Vivien digital mailbox

Translate digital media into picture postcards

Older generations want to be tuned in to what's going on in the lives of their family and friends, and user interviews showed that they enjoy the tangibility of photos and letters as a way of doing this. But printing and mailing actual photos doesn't fit in the social interaction model of younger people, who are more likely to email a photo or to send one captured with a cameraphone via SMS.

Vivien translates between generations. This concept prints pictures with messages on the back from family and friends, placing them right into a photo frame. It presents a friendlier model than that of a printer and requires no computer, receiving emails with pictures, subscribed photostreams and SMS messages through Wi-Fi.

Kinesic Interface

Body language as a socially compatible interface

We tolerate technology as much as we embrace it. Every new device intended to make our lives easier and more enjoyable ends up putting another barrier between us and the human experience. Interacting with our devices in public often communicates separation to the people around us.

The Kinesic Interface is an exploration of using gestural interfaces to reintroduce a warmer social element. By using body language, it adds a layer of human-human interface to the primary human-computer interface. It proposes that devices be stripped to their primary function and given an interaction framework that incorporates the flourish of human body language.

With Abe Camacho


See products through your personal filter

Retail shopping is at odds with the Information Age. The limited data available in a retail environment, compounded by the proliferation of product choices, puts the store in a position of power. Shopping for food adds the complexity of dietary needs as a consideration.

The Shoppingmaid is a concept that takes advantage of the barcode information and a wireless network to bring relevant information to the shopping experience. Data is filtered through personal preferences and condensed into simple, relevant graphics that present nutrition, allergies and "bang-for-the-buck" information to the shopper. This is based on ethnographic research in a grocery store environment and user profiling, to ideation and technical research and specification.

Class projects.