Erin Marie Panttaja

I grew up in Northern California first on a goat dairy in the South Bay and then among the grape vines in the North Bay. I have always been fascinated by storytelling: in short stories, in live storytelling, in video games, in movies, in plays, in the ways people get together to tell the stories of their lives.

I am always looking for new ways to tell stories: as an interaction designer, inventor, human computer interface creator, puppetmaster, writer, playwright, and commentator, creating new content for entertainment, education, and the elucidation of our world.

My educational background is in interaction design and multimodal user interface design, with two degrees from MIT and recent work designing and building games and ARGs for training. My avocational work is in playwriting, short stories, and children's books.

I am currently looking for a job doing user interface design, game design, or project management.

Details of some of my projects can be found below.


Helical Training: Dark Waters

Helical Training is an adaptation of Alternate Reality Games to create medium-intensity, long-duration training for information management, organizational navigation, and communication skills. The Dark Waters scenario put over a hundred trainees in an imagined Joint Forces Task force on a humanitarian mission after a natural disaster.

I worked on the Dark Waters team developing the story line, training goals, and the Looking Glass Interface, a specially-designed instrumented web portal. During the run, I served as a puppetmaster, playing several group leaders.

Press release on Helical Training

Pdf slides on Helical Training

Dyad Puzzles

SABRE is a game-based testbed for psychological research developed at BBN Technologies and funded by AFRL. SABRE provides a fully-instrumented environment built on top of Bioware's Neverwinter Nights.

The Dyad puzzles are a collection of two-person collaborative puzzles. Participants must traverse mazes, solve riddles in the puzzle house, negotiate with each other, and balance the weight of a ship.

Adaptability Training

Adaptability Training was also based on SABRE. I worked with a team to develop a humanitarian scenario in which participants had to solve problems with food distribution in a small town.

Oz: off the yellow brick road

In January of 2005, I participated in Storytelling and Games in the Digital Age, a week-long class sponsored by Sony Pictures Imageworks and MIT's Comparative Media Studies. My team developed a pitch for a family adventure game based on three books in Frank Baum's Oz series.

Oz: Off the Yellow Brick Road brings the wonderful world of Oz into your home in a game for the young at heart. Play alone, play with your child, or enter the game with your child to see her exploits written up in Glinda's Magic Book. Oz allows for single-player, multi-player, and networked exploration for children and their families, as Dorothy and her cohort, or as a host of other characters from Jack Pumpkinhead to a winged monkey.

Software and User Interface Architecture and Design

Permanent Design

I was at the Media Lab Europe from 2003 to 2004. While there, I worked on a project called Permanent Design.

As we move toward truly adaptive multimodal designs, the complexity of the systems we build is increasing exponentially. We need a way to codify design criteria so that even as a system adapts it remains usable, and, in some sense, designed. In Permanent Design, I am creating an architecture for the generation of multimodal systems, taking into account the preferences and needs of a given user or situation.

This architecture allows for the building of evolving content that both adapts to the reader and dynamically incorporates changes, revisions, and additions by the author or authors, without requiring them to recreate each presentation with every change.


A travel guide can have many different meanings, from strict text listings of places with their opening hours and costs in the Rough Guide to the writings of authors like Paul Theroux, which give the feel of a place, but no idea what the train schedule will be.

In different situations, we want different versions of the information. In the afternoon, we want to know what time the Louvre will close. Just before bed, though, we might want to read descriptions of the history, the art, and the people who have been here before.

Travelogue is a part of Permanent Design, and uses generous generation of variants to create a variety of display options that are close to what the user wants, and then a rigorous scoring metric to choose the best one. The input is in the form of xml files containing the descriptive content and the user configuration.

[more information on Permanent Design]

UI on the Fly

In UI on the Fly, we are developing a technique that allows a computer to automatically generate multimodal user interfaces, in particular for small computers such as cell phones or iPAQs. We enable these devices to engage in natural language conversation, using screen and voice output, and touch-screen and voice input at the same time.

The output is tailored to the particular usage situation (in a restaurant, in the car, at home), as well as to the device and to the preferences of the user. The central system can thus remain blissfully agnostic as the user switches from using a phone, to a PDA, to a computer, and back.

FASiL is an EU consortium project. The UI on the Fly project was created as a part of FASiL at the Media Lab Europe by David Reitter, Erin Panttaja, and Fred Cummins.

[more information on UI on the Fly and the FASiL project]


From 1998 to 2003 I worked at InTouch Systems (which was bought by Comverse Network Systems during my tenure as a software engineer). I was part of the design and implementation team for InFlection (later rebranded as Tel@Go), a voice-based personal assistant for managing messaging, todo lists, calendars, and contact lists over the phone.

I then headed the team that created a localization and internationalization paradigm for maintaining a code base in multiple languages, including French, German, and Portuguese. This included managing the team that created a German version of Tel@Go for CeBIT in 2000.

Later, as a consultant, I worked as a liaison between engineers and patent lawyers and aided in the filing of several patents.


At the MIT Media Lab, in 1997, we created CrossTalk as part of the Literary Salon, an attempt to use technology to encourage people to engage with language and with strangers.

CrossTalk playfully mediates language and communication for two or more simultaneous users and their audience. Its two interlaced, oversized keyboards, one made of mahogany keys, and one of maple, force users to negotiate shared space. As they type, the keys whisper words that appear to cascade onto a shared screen.

[more information on CrossTalk]

Theatre Projects


Conflict: I heard her get up; Make it didn't happen is a play for two spaces. It is intended to be performed simultaneously in two different performance spaces by different casts. Each will include a window, video and audio, into the other to be used generally and at particular noted points in the scripts. In each space, the audience will experience a complete story; they may choose to view the other side at another time, but it will be a different experience.

The eventual goal of this project is to explore the storytelling possibilities of allowing actors to interact, live, with performers in other locations, and to allow playwrights to explore new ways to show multiple sides of a story.

Conflict received a workshop production at the Dublin Fringe Festival's Thread Workshop with Oonagh Kearney, Thomas Conway, Ailís Ní Ríain, and John Breen. It was directed by Vallejo Gantner and Jeffrey Gormley with videography by Erin Panttaja and Caroline McSweeney. Technical setup and video and audio editing was done by Erin Panttaja.

Make it didn't happen was performed as part of the Mendocino College Theatre Arts Department's Third Annual Festival of New Plays.

[more information on Conflict]

Thread Workshop

From April 17 to May 2, 2004, I was an invited participant in the Dublin Fringe Festival's Thread Workshop in Annaghmakerrig, Ireland. The workshop was a setting for the exploration of new uses of text in the theatre. While there, I created Simultaneous Theatre and participated in Cosán Dearg (below), as well as creating, performing, doing technical support, and mentoring several other pieces. Afterward, I worked on the final presentation DVD (video editing, technical production, and reproduction) for the workshop.

Cosán Dearg

I did live hand-held camera work, technical crew work, and video editing for a workshop production of Ó Conchúir, Byrne, and Feeney's Cosán Dearg.


I was one of the builders of the Soul Gun Warriors' Imaaginaarium at the Mór Festival, a music festival at the Charleville Castle in Tullamore, Ireland, in August of 2004. Inside the Imaaginaaruim, we performed "3some," a participatory theatre piece by Jeff Gormly.


I provided general assistance for h, Loose Canon Theatre Company's interpretation of Hamlet at the Dublin Fringe Festival in October of 2004. This included brainstorming work, photography, and audio and visual special effects.

Selected Writings

The Krampus

The Krampus was selected for Twisted Christmas Stories 3! in December of 2005. It was later broadcast on KRCB 91.1 FM in California's North Bay.

Katya's Opuscule

Katya's Opuscule tells the story of a strong, mature woman trying to find her place in the world. Katya's story is told as a combination of present action, flashbacks to her past, and stories (the opuscules of the title) told by her future self. The stories step outside of the narrative of the piece and use puppetry as spectacle to show glimpses of her past and future. Use of three actors to play the lead and one actor to play the significant men in her life emphasize the parallels she is trying to escape from. Katya's Opuscule was written for 6-8 actors with some double casting, and has not been produced.

Clockwork Bird

Clockwork Bird describes Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer and the daughter of Lord Byron raised by her mother as a scientist in the vain hope that she would not inherit her father's creative passion.

This story shows a collision between creativity and diligent reason, between sexuality and arithmetic, between Ada's identity as a woman and ambitions as a mathematician. Her mother tries to shoehorn her into a role, and the conflict between Ada's nature and that role lead both to advances in mathematics and to tragedy.

Clockwork Bird made it to the second round selection of the Sundance Sloan Felowship.

American Dragons

Emily Atkinson is a student of dragon lore. She hasn't ever actually seen a dragon, but when she grows up she plans to be a famous explorer and the world expert on them. Unfortunately, nothing in her research has told her anything about American dragons.

American Dragons is a 29,000-word contemporary middle-grade novel describing eight-year-old Emily's search for dragons.

Getaway Gloria

Seven-year-old Gloria's constant escaping worries her parents. They find her on the porch each morning, because she escapes from the house, but can't get back in. In an attempt to keep her at home, they tell her that she once had a brother. Getaway Gloria tells her story as a 1,200-word picture book manuscript in rhyme.

Londa went to Africa

Londa is an African-American girl on a trip to Namibia. Londa went to Africa is a 600-word picture book manuscript in rhyme describing her trip and all of the people, sights, and animals she sees there.

I wrote it during and after a trip I took to Namibia, about myself, the woman I traveled with, and a pair of shoes that should have existed.

Images copyright Media Lab Europe, MIT Media Lab, Dublin Fringe Festival, BBN Technologies, Bioware, and Erin Panttaja.