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!

View Larger Map

Onwards and forward

So I find myself in the unlikely position of having bitched about an event I got invited to this year.

Since that post, I can say that the state of interaction design conferences and education has dramatically improved with This happened in London and IxDA in the US. Hopefully this is a “future trend” :) as the schools on the subject are also starting to mushroom:

– The Institute for Information Technology at Thames Valley University is opening a MSc in Computing Interaction Design in the UK in January 2009.

– Former Ivreans are starting Copenhagen Insitute for Interaction design as well as Interaction design program in Venice

– Even Carnegie Mellon is getting on board keeping up the good work with a Masters in Tangible Interaction design.

Le roi est mort, vive le roi!

Thoughts on everyday and far-away technologies

I’ve finally found some time to have a proper read through Baudrillard’s System of objects to find it really is shaping my thinking around material culture and technology. Some quick thoughts based on quotes from the book:

“No sooner does an object lose its concrete practical aspects than it is transferred to the realm of mental practices”.

This made me think today about my first mentor if I can call him so. Hywel Jeffcott was my DTC teacher when I was 14-16 and the first one to truly encourage me to go into design. He gave me, on graduating from Year 11, a fabulous book I ended up endlessly flipping through called The Way things work by David Macauley. I think in a way the work I am doing with Tinker tries to somehow get back to the idea that innovation and technology are also palpable things that can be understood down to simple components. Simple components, simple actions that exist within the real of direct application are part of an art and a craft that in design is left to “fabricators”.
“Man has to be reassured by some sense of participation, albeit a merely formal one”

I think there’s much to be said about the fear that technology will take over. Baudrillard highlights an inconsistency in our thinking where we want technology to be as human as possible but if a sense of agency is too present (such as in articifial intelligence) then a line has been crossed which fills us with apocalyptic fears. We want so much for this technology to know about us and our needs, but not _that_ much. Where this line lies depends almost entirely on context of application, which means it isn’t policed and all sorts of privacy issues and concerns arise. It’s what he calls the “new anthropomorphism”.
“No man’s land between workplace and family home” is a metaphor that Baudrillard applies to the automobile. I think it can almost potentially extend to the cell phone. A personal object that is used so publicly and bridges space and time.

In any case, I truly recommend it as compulsory reading for designers. It is full of insights and questions about the great illusion we are creating and the mechanisms  and motivations that work just under the surface of  our everyday life.

Bacon sunglasses or how far should we future cast?

I went to see the impossibly crowded opening of the Work-in-progress show at the RCA yesterday and although I really should try to go back, the feeling I got coming out of it was one of being puzzled by what it all meant.

Fact is, I’m not sure of RCA’s overall design rhetoric anymore. Durrel Bishop who once headed taught Design Interactions is now teaching at Design Products and the product design projects start to look like the works for Design Interactions a few years ago (especially the radio project, a late cousin of the IDII’s Strangely Familiar project when I was there in 2005). The Design Interactions projects are conceptually mostly based on either statistics, exploitation of the edges of society and in general not very self-explanatory. Maybe that’s what that course aims to do, to make us aware of problems to come and simply attempt to illustrate solutions or consequences. But then is that even design anymore or simply creative naysaying?

Few projects were really self-explanatory, and well isn’t that what art is about? You read the description to give you a contextual framework in which to understand what you’re seeing. Devoid of those explanations, I would challenge anyone to understand what was happening. Again, not a good or a bad thing, just a trend it seems.

Bless their hearts the IDE course presented loads of great work, themed on the next generation of mobiles (with the network 3) and global warming solutions for the household.

In strange way, the whole show could have been presented along an axis of time, answering the question: For who is it you are designing?
IDE would have answered: “someone from 2009”,
Design Products: “someone from 2011” and
Design Interactions: “someone from 2025”.

Perhaps then for me would the show have made sense and so would the activity of designing and future-casting associated with it.

Quote of the day

“The more I read interviews with these rock star designers, the more I realize how out of touch with real design problems these people are. Approaching design solely as style and brand simply perpetuates the notion of Design as transparent and shallow, and if these people continue to serve as the mouthpieces for our industry, our industry will continue to simultaneously lose the business-centered respect and credibility it so urgently needs, and to ignore the social and cultural problems it so direly needs to solve.”

Via nice article in Core77.

Trends in industrial design education – it's all about the textiles!


I went to the Work-in-progress show at Central St Martins tonight to see the MA in Industrial Design and Textile Futures course. I’d been invited last December to attend a crit of half of those student’s works and was curious to see what they’d achieved. One of the many reasons I enjoy keeping in touch with students and people still in school, is that more often than not, they point to possible industry futures and this was definitely a surprising experience.

Firstly it seemed that more than ever industrial design drove into the same dead end as its colleagues in the fine arts, design noir and critical design and sometimes interaction design. A lot of ideas, a lot of statements and one-liners but not many projects that addressed modern issues.
One exception was the work of Sara Bellini (terrible picture of her project above) who is trying to cater to bed-ridden children in hospitals. Health is a subject that in my experience, design academics shy away from, partly because the unknown are numerous, it’s hard to relate to the needs of the target audience and also because it’s hard to be poetic in that environment. I think her work might change their minds. Do go check it out in the final exhibition in June.

Industrial design is losing it’s place as the more “technical” but still easthetic cousin of engineering to become the art-wannabe. The future of industrial design it seems, could be found on the 10th floor where the second year of Textiles Futures were exhibiting their own work.

There was really a broad range of applications, of a extremely high standard and with applications that went far beyond your usual motif explorations or weaving techniques: from wallpapers that would visualise your energy use, to furniture made from post-it-like layers of materials, shower curtains that visualise and conserve the water being used, fabrics that trap light, cartoon-like companions for everyday life, and interactive corridors in airports that reflect people’s cultural backgrounds, architectural structures that bring variable amounts of shade to public spaces.

Eager to explore areas they had never touched in their lives, and to learn about the technologies that would help them, I had met some of these women (no men to be found here) for the first time at an Arduino workshop I organised with Not 1 but about 8 of them had showed up.

I was impressed (and you all know that rarely happens) and I look forward to seeing if this is “la nouvelle vague” of design.

Sustainability through education?

I like to think that design schools don’t just teach good creative thinking but also good habits that shape you as a professional later on and skills that can influence the profession in general.

I’ve been co-teaching one day a week at the University for the Creative Arts and in a way it’s been quite an education (couldn’t help it ;) ).

These 19-20 year olds spend 6 weeks trying out a different program every week and the practice of design is actually called “3DD” or 3D design. 3DD competes with illustration, animation, fine arts, photography and other such courses for student’s attention and at the end of the 6 weeks they will choose a “pathway” for the next 3-4 years.

All the different professions and opportunities in design such as architecture, product design, interior design, urban design, etc are all dumped into this one unappealing label.
Not only that, but the issue of sustainability doesn’t get mentioned anywhere, making this choice of a course completely removed from the realities of society and the professional environment.

This becomes quite obvious in the totally wasteful ways in which students treat the materials they are provided with. Card, paper, foam, toxic glues and the likes are thrown around. Shapes are cut right in the middle of a piece of paper or card and huge leftovers are simply discarded. Being sensitive to the environmental doesn’t grow on you, it’s taught or even imposed as just another set of constraints that come with being a designer.

If we are to make any kind of change in designer’s expectations of the world, their work and their clients, that’s where it starts: among the doubts and questions of students still working out where they stand in a world they don’t quite know how to master.