Tech+Art Podcast: Anna Fusté


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Welcome to the new Tech+Art Podcast!

Join us on this adventure as we meet & speak with: artists, makers, researchers, designers and creators from all background and fields.

Our objective is to understand their creative perspective, dive into their workflow & creative process, be inspired by new ideas and their work – and stay one step ahead of cutting-edge industry developments.

"But having a conversation with someone that has a slightly different set of rules than you have, I’ve found this to be fuel for creativity for me."


In this episode, we’re chatting with Anna Fusté, a creative technologist and HCI researcher.

Anna joins us to share her story as a creative technologist and researcher – a journey that’s included time with creative agency, being a part of Google Creative Lab, studying at MIT’s Media Lab and now focusing on R&D at PTC with their Reality Lab.

Anna shares her insights around creating amazing experiences and creative projects through simple prototyping techniques.

She is the creator of a really cool platform called HyperCubes – an augmented reality platform to help children understand computational concepts drawn from their physical surroundings.

Question 1: So video got you started in the creative space, but once you started to explore and wanted more control over what you were creating, what were some of the biggest challenges you needed to overcome?

[ 8:34 ] – I really liked video but then again as I said, I was doing a degree that was more based on the design and creativity that you would apply to create a nice short film or the design of an interactive story. So all this technical background that I didn’t have – that was an obstacle that I saw that it was very important for me to overcome. That’s why I started studying this more technical degree that gave me all this technical knowledge that I needed.

Question 2: What has been your most ambitious project to-date? And can you tell us more about your Hypercubes project?

[ 9:34 ] – It is this platform for children to foster computational thinking skills in a playful way using augmented reality. It uses paper cubes that children can build themselves and then use to control and program a steam of different characters, shapes or animals. Each one of the cube has different behaviours attached to each side and then all these behaviors are related to a computational concept like emitters, graphical transformations or effects. And so this is my masters thesis project that I did at the MIT Media Lab.

Question 3: How do you approach building tools (design systems / creative systems) to help you realize your art/projects/concepts? What is that discovery process like?

[ 11:05 ] – It’s a mix of different things and obviously I have been working in a lot of different environments and it varies a lot. But for creativity, often people think about it as one magical moment in time where someone has this fantastic epiphany and that’s about it. And it has never worked this way for me. […] I often start with a spark, with something of interest and then I think by myself if it has potential for whatever I’m trying to do. But that doesn’t mean that this spark of idea is valid, so I’ll seek feedback from people around me […] which is a bit of a tricky thing to be honest, because it can be very helpful but it can also demotivate you a lot if people don’t understand what you have in mind. And that’s the reason why it is very helpful to do quick prototyping before talking about the idea with others. For me, quick prototyping has been the basis for trying to communicate my ideas. You don’t need to create a final product, but more of an example of how your idea will materialize.

[ 12:29 ] – It is very different to have an idea of something in your mind and seeing it with your own eyes, working in front of you – even if it’s just a trick.

[ 13:41 ] – […] In an hour, we had a quick, fake prototype and we could identify if our idea was valid or not – or what parts of it worked and which didn’t work.

[ 15:15 ] – Creativity is more powerful when it is collective […] We create these rules in our brains that we forbid ourselves to cross. But each one of us has created a different sets of rules – they can be similar the more similar our experiences have been in the past. But having a conversation with someone that has a slightly different set of rules than you have, I’ve found this to be fuel for creativity for me.

Question 4: One of the things that struck me as super interesting is the way that you come up with these ways of reducing friction and the cost to create something, especially within an hour - with paper, with magnets. Is there a secret to that? How do you become “creative enough” to build prototypes?

[ 16:40 ] – I think that the point here is to try to lower the barrier to creativity. So have the most basic system that you can have as quickly as possible and prototype very fast a lot of different ideas. And not have to develop this entire project and have to work on it before being able to validate your idea.

[ 17:03 ] – So I would suggest that people create these fake prototypes that would allow them to see if their idea is valid or if it’s not; or what parts of it are valid or are not valid. User experience is something that you cannot evaluate until you try it by yourself or you see it in front of you.

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Question 5: What indicators do you look for to know that you should invest more time, more technology and take this prototype to the next level? What marks a successful prototype?

[ 17:40 ] – I think that first of all is your feeling of how you interact with it. With a fake prototype, you see very fast if something works or if it doesn’t. Because you are working with it. You are actually touching it, you’re playing with it. So you very quickly have this sense of what works and what doesn’t. And then you have a sense of what can be improved. I would also try to have more people collaborate with me and try this fake prototype that I have and then create a video out of it and share it with more people and get feedback from other people […] and then based on their reaction a lot of time you can tell if this idea has potential […]

Question 6: Earlier you mentioned that each experience gives you a new tool in your toolkit for the next job or project. Can you tell us about your day-to-day job? Especially when it comes to turning a creative idea into a commercial project?

[ 18:42 ] – Currently working at The Reality Lab at PTC and it is a research lab in the company so we have a lot of freedom in how we perform our job everyday. We constantly brainstorm and have conversations about a lot of different things: about the company’s challenges, the future of Human-Machine Interaction, the future of technology. And these conversations generate ideas in the group that we evaluate and consider for development. If we are constantly talking about a concept, then it means that there’s something in there that we are curious about so we start thinking about prototypes that we can build around that.

Question 7: Where do you think the creative or technology industry is headed? And how have you seen it evolve over the past couple of years?

[ 22:00 ] – In my opinion, I think there is this democratization of tools. The old system based on a company releasing a tool, and users making use of it is kind of obsolete. And the boundaries between tool maker and user are kind of vanishing… We’re moving towards a future where anyone will be able to shape their tools and customize to whatever they need.

[ 22:25 ] – I haven’t been working a lot on Machine Learning, but there are all these people exploring ML and creating tools to make it more accessible. And I find it very interesting the collaborative part of it for creativity […] Sougwen Chung, she creates these artworks in collaboration with this robot. It’s a human-machine collaboration to empower human creativity. And I think this is where we should all be headed. Try to empower creativity by taking advantage of a system that gives us the space we need at a certain moment in time, but helps us in times where we get stuck for example.