I have been in Copenhagen for two months and I haven’t seen anything yet: no museums nor exhibitions. It’s not that Copenhagen is that big, nor that public transport is inefficient, we are talking about the extremely well-run capital of Denmark; the reason why is that I spend all my time at school.
The Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design (CIID) is a project recently set up by Simona Maschi and Heather Martin. In collaboration with the Danish Design school (DKDS), the CIID offers a year long, intensive master in Interaction Design to a very limited number of students. The educational activity is now in its second year and it is supported by a research laboratory and a consultancy which has contacts with private companies. The program has links with various companies which cooperate with the students and provide research briefs based on the reality of the market.
The educational program is something which simply sucks you in. I spend an average of 10 hours a day at school, like my colleagues. CIID is exactly where I want to be. What I study is exactly what I really am interested in. And the passion is tangible, enthusiasm is self-evident for me, for the other students and for the staff as well.
What CIID offers can’t be defined as academic education. The three core elements of this school, research, consultancy and the Master program, converge into the creation of a unique philosophy and approach. We live in a world which is a complex system. Different and far-away economies and societies co-exist in relationships made up of inter-dependence. Design evolves acquiring new perspectives, the ones which are needed in order to understand this new complexity: the ones which move from macro to micro, from economic systems to nanotechnologies. Different kinds of knowledge in various fields are fundamental to the creation of new products, new services and adequate software.
Technology has penetrated very deeply not only into everyday life but also into the social relationships of objects and systems. Objects are connected to one-another: integrated hardware and software, mobile devices and fast connections allow the internet of things to emerge.
What kind of approach should a designer take in this new scenario? How should the educational offer be drawn up as a result? Our aim, says Simona Maschi, is to give life to a multi-cultural and multi-disciplinary environment where students, teachers and the staff in general can work together in order to co-operate in the creation of a new kind of education which is relevant to both the academic world and the industrial one. Being able to work and study side by side with people from different backgrounds and coming from different places is a great opportunity and, moreover, is becoming a necessity.
Let’s make a practical example: take your new washing machine. It is eco-friendly, it has some sensors and some integrated chips connected to a remote server. This server collects data organising them so that your mobile phone can visualise the amount of energy consumption thanks to an application installed in it. Suppose this application could also give you some suggestions on how it is possible to save energy and so money. And suppose you live in India. In order to design such a product a wide range of knowledge is required. It is certainly necessary to understand what kind of technologies you need to use and/or implement for the washing machine (mechanical and electronic), for the sensors (electronic), for the software (computer science); it is fundamental to design the washing machine (industrial design) as well as to develop an interface which allows an intuitive interaction for both the application and the washing machine. (interface design, usability and psychology). It is fundamental to understand how to save energy and so money, how to link the different elements of the system. Briefly, it is fundamental to understand the elements which are connected to one-another from an economic point of view and in terms of the environment. It’s not just the design of a washing machine but also a complete analysis of the underlying system from an economic point of view and in terms of the environment and marketing: it means designing something more like a service.
In order to do this, cooperation is necessary. It is impossible to think you can know everything about the entire system; the advice of experts from various fields involved will probably be needed. Once again, it is necessary to move from micro to macro, the psychology of the environment has to be investigated analysing technologies and then to project ourselves into future scenarios. Everything is based on innovation, intended as the product of the analysis of the unsatisfied needs of users. It is the user who is the main character in this process. The user has to be involved in the design process (user-centred design).
Francoise Jegou is a French designer who has been working in the field of innovation for 20 years. He has cooperated with the European Union on several projects related to sustainability. He is a teacher in various Universities, among which the Politecnico in Milan. He gave one of the lectures organised weekly by the CIID. In Jegou’s mind, the designer is somebody who makes processes already in progress easier. It is the users who, through the exhaustive expression of their needs, help the designer to understand the right way to proceed when designing a product or a service, People are wiser than you expect. They often solve problems in their everyday life in a really creative way, making up their own solutions. This is where the work of a designer can start from, recognising the interesting hints and using them in order to create ideas which are deep-rooted in reality and really useful in the wider sense of the term.
The approach of a designer has to be quite open-minded in order to be able to recognise the suitable hints and quite experienced so that he can transform them into products and services. The CIID takes these assumptions as a basis and teaches students how to apply technology to everyday life: “We do believe in a practical and user-centred approach”
The Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design (CIID) promotes this kind of approach through the cooperation of experts in different fields. The teachers involved are renowned experts. Bill Moggridge, Bill Verplank, Ezio Manzini, Massimo Banzi, Dennis Paul and Patrickk Kochlik from The Product
(http://www.the-product.org/) are only some of them. Besides using a “vertical” teaching method, peer-to-peer learning, in which every single student shares his own knowledge with the group, is also strongly fostered.
Classes are very fast and require a constant commitment from us. Every week there is a new project to be developed, new ideas, a new piece of work. Every week a professor or a visiting expert passing through windy Copenhagen gives a lecture.
The year’s programme is divided into three sections: Computational Design, prototyping and physical computing are studied during the first period in workshops lasting one or two weeks. Programming with Processing, Flash and Arduino, as video, are investigated as sketching tools: the main factor is to be able to generate partially working prototypes which allow us to make a comparison with the ideas generated, to acquire feedback from the users and to present the designs.
The second section is dedicated to more complex investigation: Graphic User Interface, Tangible User Interface and Service Design are the subjects studied. The last period of the year, the one which includes the summer, is dedicated to the thesis, designs which will afterwards be exhibited at the Danish Design Museum. During this period which is dedicated to the thesis, some weeks are spent working on projects developed together with companies like Nokia and Intel. Work is organised on a weekly basis and exhibitions of the designs realised by students are held all year round.
All the above-mentioned, the working environment, the structure and the organisation of the Masters converge in the generation of creative energy. We are 21 students coming from 10 different countries: our different points of view come together to produce ideas. What we can learn from each other is so much, what we can create and design together has no limit. I am and shall stay here happily confined and decidedly over-excited.