Hi, I'm Johanna Brewer.
Technology Design Activist
My research explores how marginalized communities challenge surveillance capitalism and my design practice aims to increase inclusion on media platforms.
A Brief Bio
I am an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Smith College and the Director of Research for AnyKey, a nonprofit that advocates for diversity, inclusion, and equity in gaming and live streaming.

For my work on the aesthetics of urban mobility in the field of ubiquitous computing, I earned a PhD in Informatics from UC Irvine. I've authored a host of articles in leading human-computer interaction, media studies, science & technology studies, and computer supported cooperative work publications.

My ethnographic research explores how marginalized communities challenge surveillance capitalism and my technology design practice aims to increase inclusion on media platforms. By collaborating with grassroots groups who transform our world through new economies, forms of expression, and styles of governance, I seek to develop technologies that benefit our diverse society.

As a design activist, I founded several counterculture tech companies including frestyl for live music discovery, Rhomby for anti-surveillance smart homes, and Neta Snook for diversity-focused R&D. Beyond my startup life, I've also held research positions at MIT, Intel, WBUR, ETH Zürich, and Boston University.

Besides working for fun, I make and collect music, play video games, juggle kendama, weave wampum, hack and repair electronics, walk long distances, befriend the animals, talk to the plants, travel the world on public transport, swim the oceans, and cook lots of vegetarian food.
Contact Me
Direct message on Discord is your best bet to reach me. I am terrible at responding to email. I will read it, but you will either get a reply right away, or between two days and two years later.

I hold open office hours on a rotating schedule. If you would like to meet, please book an appointment to chat with me.
Bass Hall 106

Mailing Address
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063 USA

Office Hours
Check times on Calendly


Teaching Summary
As an assistant professor at Smith College I teach a variety of classes in the computer science department which can be found in the course search. For more detailed information, review the descriptions and syllabi below.
CSC151 Programming Languages Concepts
How do we become fluent programmers?
Bridging the gap from writing your first program to creating complex data structures can be daunting. By practicing multiple ways of solving problems with code, this class instills the skills to become a fluent programmer.

This introductory course is designed to help students: develop awareness of how theoretical concepts are expressed in code; gain experience with diverse languages (Python, JavaScript, Java, and Ruby); understand the differences between imperative, declarative, functional, and object-oriented programming; build confidence with new ways of "speaking in code".

Spring '22 Syllabus
CSC223 Software Engineering
How do we build software for use “in the wild”?
All software that is used in the real world was created under real constraints. In this course students learn how to engage in the messy-guessy process of specing, planning, designing, and building a software product that they intend to deploy in the wild.

The class centers around a major group project to deploy a functional web application in Ruby on Rails. It is designed to give students the confidence to: compare engineering methodologies; practice rapid prototyping & agile development; model complex system architectures; design software that satisfies needs & constraints; and build & maintain a real system.

Fall '21 Syllabus | Spring '22 Syllabus
CSC356 Platform Activism
How can we effect positive social change online?
Networked platforms like social media sites, gig sharing apps, and game consoles have become important spaces for grassroots activism, but human-computer interaction researchers continue to grapple with the question of how our work can effect positive social change online.

Through seminar discussions of current readings and a major self-guided research project, students have the opportunity to: examine how platforms shape our creative labor & communication; develop a critical perspective on the power of big tech; contrast approaches from design activists; practice participatory design with a grassroots community; build & release a new tech intervention on a media platform.

Fall '21 Syllabus
Portfolio Highlights
Below are some of the more interesting projects I've had a hand in creating. For a more comprehensive view, please open my design portfolio, consult my curriculum vitae, peruse my publications, or check out my community activities.

My research spans a broad range of domains including: video games, live streaming, nutritional literacy, sustainable technology, public radio, home automation, live music discovery, public transportation and interactive toys. So far, I've never met a computer I couldn't get along with :]
AnyKey's Inclusion 101
Educational Outreach for Gaming Groups
Translating years of research exploring critical issues in esports and live streaming, this comprehensive curriculum was created to make diversity and inclusion skills accessible to folks from a wide range of gaming groups.

The Inclusion 101 program includes online training seminars, as well as downloadable curriculum materials and facilitator’s guides. The course was designed to help anyone in the game industry build practical skills in allyship, bystander intervention, media literacy, and conduct enforcement.

Watch an allyship training VOD
AnyKey's GLHF Pledge
Fostering Inclusion in Online Gaming
Good Luck, Have Fun is a promise to make a difference as a positive and inclusive citizen in gaming. More than 1,300,000 gamers have signed the code of conduct and equipped AnyKey's global chat badge on Twitch.

To ensure that the AnyKey symbol maintains integrity as a sign of respect and inclusion, a community-based moderation system was launched in 2019. It allows anyone to file a report if they see someone abusing the badge, giving folks a direct role in enforcing the values of the pledge.

Take the pledge
Inclusive Streamers
Marginal Ethnography in Live Streaming
Gaming is a historically toxic environment for women, people of color, disabled and LGBTQ+ folks. But on Twitch, minority streamers and their allies are creating safe spaces for their communities and keeping the trolls at bay.

Inspired by their achievements, this in-depth study was launched in 2018 to learn more about the inclusive streamers behind this growing movement.

View slides from MiT talk
The Food Rainbow
Nutritional Visualization for Public Health
As an unbiased and kid-friendly way to reveal the nutritious values of any food, this visualization uses colors to represent the six macronutrients that make up everything we eat. The rainbows simplify the USDA guidelines and allow for at-a-glance comparison of day-to-day dietary choices.

Initiated in 2016 as a response to the current health crisis, this ongoing project is focused on building a grassroots movement to promote nutritional literacy using The Food Rainbow as a common framework. Several tools, including an app to translate nutrition labels, have already been released.

Explore the online tools
Sustainability Champions
Experimental Ethnography in Media Production
Taking an experimental approach to creating meaningful marketing content for a growing sustainability tech startup, this project involved filming a series of ethnographic interviews on location and in high definition.

Creating a collection of short videos accompanied by in-depth journalistic articles ensured that the authentic insights captured on camera would be enlightening for employees and potential customers alike.

Watch the web series
WBUR Let's Talk Audience Survey
Participatory Ethnography in Public Radio
As the most extensive study of WBUR's audience to date, this research project was especially notable because of its large-scale participatory nature. Designed and analyzed by a team of 36 members from the station's newsroom in 2017, the Let's Talk Audience Survey received responses from nearly 1% of listeners.

Results were published internally as a 160-page Opportunity Report book whose purpose was to give all members of the NPR station's staff a shared, actionable understanding of their audience's identities, opinions and values.

Download the Opportunity Report
Dynamic Growth Dashboard
Data Science for Organizational Management
The development of a customizable internal analytics dashboard was the culmination of a participatory design effort to identify, share and compare key organizational metrics at WBUR.

This multi-user KPI dashboard capable of tracking virtually any type of metric was designed following an ethnographic study of organizational data gathering practices. After coaching senior managers to incorporate measurement and feedback cycles into weekly meetings, this cloud-based software was developed to share this practice across public media.

Read an article about the dashboard
Anti-Surveillance Smart Homes
Designed as an enhancement for home automation ecosystems, Rhomby is a toolkit for keeping tabs on the locations of mobile devices. With a pocket-sized server, a single Bluetooth iBeacon for each room and a lightweight mobile app, Rhomby enables programmers to create responsive, context-aware controls based on where people are in the house.

Developers can deploy this real-time indoor location tracking and geofencing system in less than an hour, allowing them to quickly create seamless, hands-free experiences for people as they move between rooms or leave home. Unlike other smart devices, Rhomby is completely self-contained and private. No data ever leaves the home or gets transmitted online.

Learn more about Rhomby
Live Music Discovery & Promotion
Launched in Rome in 2010, frestyl was once the most comprehensive web service for concert discovery in Italy. After relocating to Berlin in 2012, frestyl relaunched as a B2B2C service that directly connected live music event organizers with fans to increase attendance at shows.

frestyl's mobile application was featured by Apple as Best New App in Germany thanks to a custom recommendation algorithm providing weekly personalized concert suggestions, as well as a unique built-in music player allowing users to stream playlists for upcoming gigs nearby.

Watch an interview with the founders
Aesthetic Journeys
Ethnography and Design for Public Transportation
My PhD thesis reframed mobility for ubiquitous computing by examining the aesthetic aspects of urban movement. By conducting a series of studies on public transportation in Portland (OR), London & Paris, I developed both new ethnographic techniques, like object shadowing, as well as a set of design principles for urban mobility.

This Intel-funded research led to the creation of undersound, a conceptual mobile music sharing system integrated into the London Underground, and SeeShell, a prototype RFID ticket card holder with an permanent ink display that emerged over time based on a rider's journeys.

Download my PhD dissertation
Interactive Toys for Office Collaboration
The world's first hybrid tangible interface and an ambient display, Nimio was a set of interactive office toys designed for the core administrators of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2).

These hand-held, translucent silicone toys were given out as individual playthings, but wirelessly networked via RF to act as input-output devices for a collective visualization of distributed activity. With embedded sensors and internal LEDs, action around one Nimio caused the others to glow in distinctive patterns and colors that became uniquely identifiable by the group using them.

Watch a video about Nimio
F77 Interface to CP2K
Supercomputing Interface for Molecular Simulation
CP2K, often referred to as the Swiss Army knife of molecular simulation, is a program used to generate models of solid state, liquid, molecular and biological systems.

As a research assistant at the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre (CSCS), I aided in the implementation of a modernized Python and C-based interface to this historic Fortran framework.

Learn more about CP2K
4D Tumor Tracking
Computer Vision in Radiation Oncology
While pursuing my Master's degree I implemented a real-time 4D tumor tracking and modeling system which used fluoroscopic imaging for advanced computer-assisted radiation therapy.

As a research assistant for the Massachusetts General Hospital's Integrated Radiotherapy Imaging System (IRIS) Project, my work helped improve the efficacy of beam-guided and respiratory-gated radiation therapy.

Download my Master's thesis