The Inventor, the Designer and the Maker: 3 different ways of getting things done.

I’m giving a talk at the Centre of Fine Arts in Sydney today and last night worked on 3 ways of visualising the evolution of making in the past 10 years with the emmergence of Arduino and crowd funding particularly. I’m trying to work this into a small publication on the subject so really work in progress but thought I’d share it.

The Inventor Model

The Designer Model

The Maker Model

Pour boxer, il faut avoir faim: my thoughts on design for design students

Written for an exhibition put on by Middlesex University as part of London Design Festival.

I graduated from a McSc in Industrial Design 2004 and here’s what I wish they’d told me.

You won’t design this way ever again.
If you work for someone else, you will spend 100% of your time designing 10% of a product. In famous design studios, you will only get involved in a fraction of the whole process, either the artistic direction, or the CAD drawings, or the user interface or tiny snippets of each. You’ll spend half your days in meetings and wonder “wow, I used to be so productive before”.

But working for yourself doesn’t make it easier.
If you work for yourself you’ll spend 10% of your time designing 100% of the product and 90% of your time selling it, begging for money or filling in paperwork. You’re probably never going to pay off your student loans this way, but you might be happier. I am.

Keep Learning.
In the digital age, to be a product designer is something you have to justify to yourself and others. It’s not a popular field of practice anymore as we live in more and more digital worlds and we’re moving towards a society of access & rental models rather than ownership. I learnt how to code in my MA because I hung out with programmers and I can safely say it saved me. It gave me an edge and an understanding of a field I would always have to interact with. I work in the fuzzy world between products & the internet (called the internet of things) and I can safely say what I learnt between 2000-2004 is obsolete, but that’s ok because I continued to learn and develop my skills.

Fame is never fortune.
The greatest disappointment of your early years in design is to realise that when you make the pages of a magazine, blog, newspaper, or show your work in a museum your life doesn’t change. You are fodder for some poor journalist/curator who has a 4 o’clock deadline. That’s it. Never pays the bills, never increases sales. Never.

Just do.
The Internet has created a society where we’re constantly fixating on what other people are doing. Back in the days, you might meet your peers once a week or a month, not every second of the day, which left plenty of time for the doing bit of design. It can be easy to stay stuck in a mode where you’re just spending your time in research and not actually designing. Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook, the distractions are enormous, but nothing trumps just doing, designing, working.

Meet non-designers.
Spending time with people who aren’t designers is really important. There’s nothing worse for your career of developing a closed sense of what you’re interested in and what you’re not. You don’t know what you might be interested in…that’s the point of life in design. Inspiration can come from anywhere, so you literally have to go to random events, meet scientists, talk to politicians, because you might find you have something to contribute in their field too.

We have enough chairs, but not enough wheelchairs.
Design should be about empathising with a foreign problem and trying to solve it, not doing the same thing over and over again. I go around the Milan Furniture Fair and I despair at the number of pointless additions to the built environment young designers are producing when our grandmothers are being sold ugly products that are hard to use. Dare to work on un-popular topics because you’ll find you become an expert and you’ll make a great career out of it. It takes courage and if design isn’t about courage, then we should all have become accountants.

Thoughts for an Internet of Things education

I went to see New Designers last week in London, a yearly pilgrimage. I went to product design school at the beginning of the century and I was really hoping that in a digital age, things would feel, well, modern. They didn’t really. If you’ve never been, ND is a fair for product design graduates in the Design Business Centre in Islington. A real meat market for design talent, they are represented by their schools, still hang posters, and show non-functional prototypes. Furthermore, they are mostly just excited to be in London and so bored with their thesis work they don’t hang out next to their projects. A strange environment to visit to say the least when I’ve been hanging out and working in industry for a while and was actually interested in hiring young talent for Good Night Lamp. I couldn’t help but wonder where these graduates will end up after they’ve taken their summer holiday and realise there’s not a lot of work out there.

If we could imagine a product design undergraduate program that was concerned about giving graduates a fighting chance out there in 2012 and involving them in the growing field of #iot , this is what it might look like:

An introduction to Social Media / WordPress / portfolio design in Year 1. ND was full of graduates with last minute business cards with Facebook links and phone numbers but no digital portfolios. This isn’t the 90s.

An introduction to electronics / Arduino / hacking in Year 2 so that functional prototypes become part of the language of presenting ideas.

An introduction to video prototyping in Year 1. Video is the medium of choice for complex interactions between products and people. Just look at BERG‘s work.

A constant interaction with industry through workshops / lectures / etc. in small groups. Making sure the time spent together always starts with students presenting their latest project (1mn each) or thinking so the guest lecturer can understand what they are interested in. Don’t make it compulsory but reward engagement. There’s nothing worse than being forced to meet people you’re not interested in as a student but it’s good to be reminded that there is a world beyond the school walls. Something someone told me is “the best time to look for a job is when you have one” and students need to get that.

Get students to put their thesis work on Kickstarter and grade them on how well they do. This is a brilliant test of whether an idea has legs and on graduation, they will get the money to make it happen. That’s how you’ll get more entrepreneurs out there.

Give them strong business support so they leave with a Linkedin profile, a good idea of the studios they want to work with, or organise meetings with future mentors who can help them after they leave.

Make it a group of 15. None of this 100 students a year thing. There isn’t enough work. If you want it, you have to fight for it. And your peers become the first people you work with, help, collaborate with. I graduated with 72 other people and only keep in touch with about 3, 2 of whom have retrained away from design because there was no work.

Get them to work on a project with computer science or engineering students. Cross-departmental projects hardly happen but they should. That’s how industry works.

Happy Friday everyone.

The problem with advertising

…is that, sometimes, the best projects have no budget & the people with a budget and the best intentions fall in the hands of agencies with no ability to think outside the box. 2 days, and 2 videos to illustrate this point.

The first a video attempting, I suppose, to get young women interested in science. It’s best to think about it as the opening credits to a Sex & the City Science Special. Grotesque. Commissioned by the EU, it’s received a healthy amount of criticism. A representative, when asked if it was a joke, said that “the EU doesn’t really do irony”. Maybe they should.

The other, I saw in the cinema and was for Code Club a project started by 2 brilliant women to teach kids how to code after school. The whole thing looked a bit DIY-Youtube-just-shot-this with-my-iPhone and not in a good way. It looked like it might have been organised at the last minute backstage at Davos. And to end with Prince Andrew getting hired is also, well cheesy.

These 2 groups are clearly trying to do good things, but the budget and tools they had at their disposal clearly don’t make up for the lack of leadership from the agencies they worked with. Work like you care people, the women and kids you know will thank you.

On graduating

So for the first time in years, I went to have a proper look at design graduate work (CSM & RCA) as this is the perfect opportunity to take a snapshot of design education before the scary rise in fees when most UK students might apply outside of the UK and schools start to panic.

What I saw was alright mostly, with some flashes of brilliant and brave work. My favorites were the ones that clearly owned their experience and turned it into opportunities for themselves. Students who took the attitude of “the best time to look for a job is when you have one” and created businesses or support opportunities within the framework of education.

Alexander Groves (Design Products) made some fantastic Hair Glasses but also and mostly created a project called Sea Chair where he proposes to turn a retired fishing trawler into a plastic chair factory, fishing the plastic from the polluted seas around the South West coast of the UK.

Mohammed Daud (Design Products) developed a solution to help urban farming less painful physically with a redesigned hoe design. He is also looking for funding to implement the idea at scale in Pakistan where he went to do user-research. This is ideal for Kickstarter.

I also looked at work which clearly made a huge step in making new techniques feel familiar with the language of design. Studio Koya‘s beautiful and delicate fashion and textile work doesn’t even seem futuristic because of our now common acceptance of Lady Gaga-generated dada fashion.

It’s hard in design at the moment, but these kids will make it.

Should we stop using the term "Interaction Design"?

I got this last month from Michel, a lovely student from Eindhoven:

“I am currently looking for an internship in HCI/ID, but I am suffering from a “typecasting”-effect. Many companies ask for “interaction designers” when they really mean “graphics designers” or “css monkeys”. The fact that I have a background in computer science just makes things worse by adding “programmer” to the list of stigmas. My interests lie in the more physical kinds of interaction, but it’s really hard to find the right positions for that. Do you have any advice as to how I might better find the right places? Any help would be greatly appreciated!”

This felt deeply familiar of course as when I graduated in 2006 and it was a problem even then (I ended up working as a visual designer / information architect for a year even if my portfolio of work was much more product-based).

I try to explain to people what an interaction designer is in the way that I understand it, and in the context of the business I built, it makes sense. But in isolation, it no longer means anything on the market. Physical computing is too embedded in academia and is starting to feel old. Bill Verplank had suggested Physical Interaction Design, but it sounds a little clunky. So should we be concerned by this? As per Michel’s email, i think so. Graduates become senior designers, strategists, creative directors, etc. rarely interaction designers.

Lack of terminology ultimately leads to lack of identity and the dilution of a field into the market, unnoticed. Something to think about for the start of the week :)

Managing a portfolio & online presence for design students

Last month, Carole invited me to come in, lecture and help her graduating MA Textile Futures students understand the value of building an online presence of their own. I ended up putting together a few presentations to explain the value of what the internet was about, how it could help them in their career, etc. I learnt a lot and observed a lot along the way. Some of it shocked me, some of it are service ideas that are just screaming to happen and I thought I’d share. Feel free to reap the benefits :)

It’s 2010. The golden age of technology right? Well, managing an online presence, understanding what it’s all for when you’re not a web designer or involved in web design or “social media”, turns out to be more obscure than in 2005. Let me explain.

In 2003, I took a Flash class in my product design course. Horrible, obscure stuff where the end result was a Flash website. Need I say more? In 2005, half way through my master’s in IDII, I learnt how to code my own website (thanks to the many hours I spent with Didier who had the patience to teach me HTML & CSS). The year after that Yaniv made it compulsory to use WordPress to communicate our progress in our thesis work. I still find PHP a horrible thing to understand, but the hours spent paid off eventually. I moved on to being Karola’s sysadmin and web designer (I get jewellery in return you see) which keeps me coding once in a while. So all in all, that’s 5 years worth of investment that unless you’re in a “media” course of some sort, you’ll never encounter. This is a problem.

1. The internet’s ultimate designer package.
Most students will access the internet to have access to particular social communities (FB, Twitter, etc), do google searches for images and check email. They have no real understanding about the value of having their own URL (nevermind that they don’t know what URL means) until you ask them to Google themselves. Then they get it. If there’s a business idea here, its a packaged “registration, hosting and wordpress/tumblr/whatever installation” package. Having that will compete and just eat up horrible sites like indexhibit.org (i don’t even want to link to them) to stop taking advantage of creative people who just want a “box” to put images and captions in. Designers want to worry about the right things, want some degree of personalisation and want to get on with the business of designing quickly.

2. Ignorance is not bliss.
Reliance on “IT support” is strong in the creative industries. This means the IT sector takes the piss and doesn’t educate designers. There is no knowledge exchange, there are only service providers who make designers totally dependant. Explaining to a designer what FTP is, getting them to write their first index.html page and upload it and see it there, means they can then understand what happens behind the curtain and can have a creative discussion about it. Again, not talking about anyone involved in the “new media” sector but everyone else, photographers, textile designers, product designers, etc. Some of the women I spoke to about this (was an all-women course) were amazed and happy to build a vocabulary that made that world of acronyms make more sense.

3. Portfolio communities are horrible.
One of the missconceptions of design graduates, is that shoving their work into online communities for other designers will help them build a voice online. Looking at my own experience, when I graduated from product design school, core77 and if you were a bit cool, Computer Love or if you were really cool K10K were the places to go. What changed soon after that, was that your best friend online became Google and the blogs that linked to the work ( think WMMNA, Cool Hunting, Swissmiss or Mocoloco). In 2010, well it’s partially about Twitter love, but still very much about Google, not about walled gardens but about rich networks of relationships.

4. Flickr’s golden opportunity.
I just spent the day with Karola rethinking her website, and in the end, we found that it was easier to ask her to update Flickr and for her website to just link to slideshows of work. She understands HTML because I bullied her into it ;) , but she’s obviously now much more active and at ease thinking about Flickr, managing an image around her work, and thinking about the power of imagery. So we redesigned her website to basically end up being a “wrapper” around Flickr sets. It’s not Flickr, so she feels its her own space. If you Google her, you’ll get her website first, which is what she wants, but all the assets end up living elsewhere, in a space she’s happy to manage and where customer support is easy to handle through commenting. If Flickr was interested in monetizing at all, this I think would be a nice way to do it.

5. Education
In the end, I was happy to come and talk to the students about this, because noone had really bothered to give me such an introduction when I was a student. I’m not sure to what extent this shouldn’t become a compulsory module for design course “Online identity management” as so much of our work as professionals relies on promoting our work as much as possible, and this isn’t only through publications in magazines anymore. With the recent cuts in education, I doubt this idea will have any traction, but hey, that’s my 10 cents.

A manifesto (2004)

Wrote this as an exercise for JC back in Ivrea. Re-read it today and didn’t dissagree with it as much as I thought I would. Strange how we set a path for ourselves and naturally try to follow it. I was young enough I suppose to be able to see beyond myself. In the day to day these days, it’s hard to take that step back.

“A person who creates ideas worthy of note is a person who has learned much from others.”-Konosuke Matsushita

With this statement in a way I seal my faith and set a path. Choose among my many interests and direct my attention. It’s a very hard exercise and I get the feeling I might be inclined to rewrite this every couple of years but I feel I musn’t.

I should have the strength to make this decision. To put forth all my thoughts on myself, my work, my professions, my faith and write it out loud. I still fear as I digest this task, that I do not know, nor do I possess the tools to make such a bold move, but looking back, I’ve been braver. This statement should reflect what I feel of the former suit I wore that is that of industrial designer as well as the new one that doesn’t quite fit right now of interaction designer.

I should be able to tell you of my hope of a society where the industrial designer no longer has the right to produce unconsciously anything that is asked of him. Where responsible design is compulsory and services guide manufacturing and not the other way around.

I should be able to tell you of my fears that this will not happen in my lifetime, that people and societies are stupid, greedy and forgetful, that what has been, will be again and that I feel small in front of that fact but my heart tells me I must be part of the solution and not the problem.

I should be able to recall all the times I was inspired, loved and hated things around me, objects, technology, experiences, people and use that to my advantage.

I should be able to talk to you of my wonder in front of so many things that I still need to learn, all along this road of my life, so many books to read, people to meet and conversations to be had.

I should be able to tell you I only work emotionally, when a project plays with my emotions, that I see beauty I wish to communicate to others or horror which I want to point out.

I should be able to tell you of my love of poetry in a temporary installation, the beauty of something that transcends its physical nature, when an object is more than its shell, that the idea shines through.

I should be able to let you see the possibilities to express that poetry which I seek in technology around me and scarcely find. I wish I could see myself working to better some things, not all, that I know I cannot achieve sadly.

I would tell you of my absolute love of the expression “delicious experience” and my loath of the word “user”. I am not a user, I do not use, I enjoy or detest, I am emotions and intellect, not use.

I should be able to hope that interaction design is not just a screen, hiding the truth, faking experiences for people who have forgotten to appreciate hard work or a sunset. Enhancing is beautiful, faking is a crime.

I should be able to concentrate on this light at the end of the tunnel that are these 2 years in a small Italian village away from reality.

I should be able to see the beauty in befriending and working with 20 other unique, funny, sarcastic, egostistic, ambitious, depressed and talented people who one after the other have made me change a little more everyday as a designer, a student and a person.

I should be able to tell you that I think anything worthy of mention is a combination of different points of view and has a natural richness because of this.

I should be able to say and do these things but I fear, and maybe I should just be silent, take a deep breath and listen for the sound of a future I can’t quite fathom.

To those young blessed souls

I’ve been invited to lead a sort of online discussion for the near-graduation 4th year students of the BA in Industrial design in Montreal. I was in their position in 2004 which seems like so ages ago and I remember the feeling. I felt like I was sortof on the brink of an abyss, the maternal warm womb of school finally letting go of me on the cold asphalt of reality, bills, student loans, rent to pay and generally not much hope for an industry that barely exists in Québec.

When I graduated in 2004, our class was 72 students. Most of them never got a job in design, only 2-3 of us went on to graduate school.
This year, the same course will have 12 graduates. I wonder who has adapted?

So I figured I’d post up some topics of discussions here since I’ve been asked to talk about “design and business”.

– We were told in 2004 that only 10% of us will go into design as a career. What do you think your chances are now?
– If you want to start a business, what will it be? What will be your USP?
– How important do you think the internet is to your future career?
– What do you think makes a good business person? Guts or reason?
– How many jobs do you think you’ll have in your career?
– Being your own boss? What do you think are the advantages/disadvantages?
– Working abroad: do you think its essential? what do you think about Québec as a market for your skills?

I look forward to the conversations very much, maybe I’ll get to see a mirror image of myself when I was young and innocent as Massimo says. :)

Map of interaction design education in Europe

So I thought I’d map out the interesting academic environments where one might find a course that relates in some way shape or form to interaction design in the broadest sense possible (notice there aren’t any web courses here). I’m interested in how these schools form the professionals of tomorrow and how the field will find it’s way on the overall market. I’ll evenutally try to do the same with the interaction design businesses.

Note that this map is publicly editable so if I’m missing something, do add to it!


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