LOOP: AIGA Journal of Interaction Design Education
June 2003 Number 7
The Institute of Design
|Mike Stott |
Only 300 km south of the Arctic circle, The Institute of Design was founded in 1989 as part of Umeň University in Sweden. The Interaction Design Program integrates software and hardware into pleasurable, useful and practical products, services and environments.
he Institute of Design was founded in 1989 and is part of Umeå University
where some 25,000 students are currently enrolled in full-time studies.
The University is one of the five major Universities in Sweden and is
situated about 600 km north of Stockholm and 300 km south of the Arctic
The Institute of Design provides four educational
programs. One BA program is offered in Industrial Design and accepts Swedish
speaking students only. Three two-year Masters programs were started in
1996 in Transportation Design, Advanced Product Design and Interaction
Design and accept international students. We currently have students from
16 different countries enrolled in our MA programs creating an exciting
blend of creative energy and cross-cultural enrichment. The Interaction
Design program accepts eight to ten students each year.
Interaction Design Philosophy
The Institute of Design,
Our interaction design philosophy has emerged because industrial designers
need to extend their professional activities to address the impact of
information technology. Industrial design education and practice traditionally
focuses on the qualities of the three-dimensional object. The emphasis
has been on object-oriented design and creating improved versions
of existing products. Information technology demands a shift from the
traditional idea of product-as-object to the notion of product-as-event, in
which the dynamic and behavioral qualities of products, services and environments
are becoming increasingly important. This shift of focus demands that
industrial designers are taught additional elements and forces radical
changes in the structure and content of courses.
The interaction design program integrates
software and hardware into pleasurable, useful and practical products,
services and environments. Much of current digital technology can be described
as solutions looking for problems, which shifts the creative
challenge toward a better understanding of peoples needs as well
as a greater ability to generate new product concepts and applications.
A major challenge for interaction design students is not just to understand
the convergence among the areas of communications, data technologies and
entertainment, but to visualize the consequences as new products and services
and to place them in their usable context.
The Institute of Design is based on artistic
training but is also part of a traditional university and is therefore
closely aligned with other disciplines and programs. We cooperate with
university departments such as Informatics, Cognitive Science, Computing
Science and Applied Physics and Electronics.
Students admitted to the interaction design program are expected to have
experience in traditional design skills that include sketching techniques,
3D form studies, design methodology and ergonomics, which allow the interaction
design program to focus on skills and theoretical knowledge specific for
interaction design. The program is open to students from other disciplines
such as cognitive science, applied electronics or graphic design.
The curriculum introduces theory and skills at a point when they are most
relevant to practical project work. The program strongly emphasizes actively
involving users in the design process. Each term includes a major ten
week project based on a specific user group rather than a product category.
The first major project focuses on the specialist user. Specialist
users have expert knowledge and experience in using a product or system.
Understanding and designing for specialist users often involves specific
circumstances. First, the designer often lacks first-hand user knowledge
and experience and must take time to understand what the specialist user
is doing. Failure to do this can result in incorrectly defined problems
or oversimplified user behavior. The designer needs to employ specific
methods to obtain information rapidly and understand what users are doing.
Subsequent term projects follow a similar pattern but focus on other user
Courses cover a range of subjects including
HCI, Graphic Design, Contextual Enquiry and Experience Prototyping. These
are either integrated into a ten week project or run as separate five
week courses. Software programs such as Macromedia Director, Macromedia
Flash, Rhino (a 3D modeling program from McNeel) and Alias Wavefronts
Maya are used. Student participation in the annual CHI conference combined
with study visits to local companies and research institutions are important
features of the interaction design program.
Cooperation with Industry
||Information technology demands a shift from the traditional idea of product-as-object to the
notion of product-as-event...
Mobile communicator for students. Design student:
Anne-Mari Tornberg, 2001
Cooperating company: Nokia Ventures, Finland. This hand-held mobile
aimed at the student traveller market includes e-mail, notebook and
mp3 player. The physical form and roll-up screen allow rapid two-hand
All project work is carried out in collaboration with industrial partners
or research institutions including major Scandinavian companies such as
Ericsson, Nokia, Telia Research, Electrolux, Volvo and IKEA. The Institute
of Design cooperates with the relevant company to form project proposals.
A three to five year technological perspective is usually adopted. This
allows students to explore converging technologies and new market scenarios
which can be both inspiring for the students and provocative for the company.
The Interaction Design program prepares
students to work in either industry or research. Students are frequently
employed in major corporations as well as design consultancies. A newly
formed PhD program in the Institute will coordinate research topics with
other departments at Umeå University.
Scandinavia has a long tradition of user-centered research focusing on
the relationship between people and technical systems. Actively involving
users in design projects is a central feature of the interaction design
program. The program emphasizes user involvement in the design process
and iterative prototype evaluation. Our approach to interaction design
is more about people than technology.
On-going research is funded through general research grants as well as
collaborations with companies such as Volvo Trucks and ABB.
A research group named Interaction Design
Lab was started in 2000 and now has a staff of 13 researchers plus several
PhD and masters students from the disciplines of Interaction Design, Informatics,
Digital Media, Applied Physics and Electronics and Ethnography.
Some New Directions in Our Courses
The discipline of Interaction Design is constantly evolving, which requires
us to evaluate the direction of several existing courses as well as consider
the introduction of new topics and methods. The following areas are currently
Form is no longer being seen as an exclusively visual quality of three
dimensional objects. Studies in three-dimensional form have
evolved toward the three dimensions of form which encompass
sensorial (visual, tactile, auditory), contextual and temporal
qualities. We have introduced new courses and research projects to examine
the relationships between form, tactility, sound and movement. The aesthetics
of form include not only shape but also sound, gesture, interaction and
context. Product appearance has given way to the idea of product experience.
Cognition & Perception
Information technology is characterized by the demands it makes on our
cognitive and perceptual abilities. The real challenge for designers
is to understand human perception and cognition rather than technological
capability and performance. Designers need to improve their understanding
of how people think, understand and make decisions. We are planning
to refine our existing courses in HCI to include new course configurations
which will merge subjects like ergonomics, cognition, ethnographic methods
and inclusive design under the broader heading of human needs.
With the exception of web design, the language of graphic design for
interfaces is still largely dominated by conventions of HCI and the
WIMP interface which uses overlapping windows, scrolling menus, icons
and desk-top metaphors. Other graphic design traditions such as poster
design and colloquial graphics have been largely ignored. But these
traditions can offer novel approaches to interface design. We are experimenting
with design principles like layering, transparency, blurring, shape
diversity, color and movement to support visual selection and direct
the users attention.
Interaction design requires skill in visualizing contexts and problems
as much as solutions and ideas. This has often been neglected in mainstream
industrial design education because visualization skills have mostly
concentrated on sketching and 3D modeling. We are focusing more and
more on problem vizualisation techniques such as role-playing and scenarios
to better understand behavior and context of use.
Techniques for visualizing solutions
are central to all design disciplines but are often restricted to static
presentation media such as sketches and hardware models. These static
models cannot capture and illustrate the dynamic interaction between
people and products. We have begun to investigate stable and reliable
methods of experience prototyping which combine interface demos with
hardware models so that concepts can be demonstrated and tested in real
contexts. This is one of several examples of how our research and development
is adopting the theory of our educational models.
Advising the Design Profession
The Scandinavian industrial design profession has been rather slow to
incorporate interaction design into their services. Design educationalists
must inform and advise professional designers on alternative strategies
and new methods for entering this rapidly developing area. Design practitioners
can include interaction design at several different levels. One level
offers graphical user interface design as a complement to traditional
product design. Another more extensive commitment combines computer
programming, cognitive science and applied electronic facilities to
build and evaluate fully-interactive behavioral prototypes. Many design
companies are still uncertain which path to take or where it might lead.
design exercise in using multi-layering techniques in interface design
by Design student Sungho Yang, 2002.
Mike Stott trained as an industrial designer at the Royal College of Art, London graduating in 1968. Strongly influenced by Bruce Archers research work at the RCA he moved to Stockholm in 1970 to work for the design consultancy Ergonomic Design on human factors research in hospital operating rooms. He subsequently became a partner and continued to work with interface design and participatory design methods both in the medical field and graphics industry sector. After 25 years of experience as a designer he was appointed professor and course leader for the Interaction Design program at Umeň Universitys Institute of Design in 1996. He also teaches and lectures at other Scandinavian design schools.