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Press release
Touch Me
Tecno and Interaction Ivrea

Versione Italiana

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  Davide Agnelli
  Hernando Barragán
  Dario Buzzini
  Gaurav Chadha
  Mathias Dahlström
  Tal Drori
  Karmen Franinovic
  Eyal Fried
  Ivar Martin Lyngve
  Daniele Mancini
  Belmer Negrillo
  Valentina Novello
  Giorgio Olivero
  Søren Pors
  Aparna Rao
  Tarun Jung Rawat
  Michal Rinott
  David Slocombe
  Luther Thie
  Peggy Thoeny
  Helma Töpper

  Dario Buzzini (Italy)
Expertise   Product and interaction design
Education   Masters in Interaction Design, Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, Ivrea, Italy (2004)
Degree in Industrial Design at the Politecnico di Milano, Milan, Italy (2001)
Bio   Dario was active in the design field both in Italy and abroad. In Italy he worked for the Turin-based studio Nucleo and for Benetton's Fabrica. He studied product design for one year in Lisbon (Portugal) and also did research and developed his thesis work at Philips Design in Eindhoven, the Netherlands.
Focus   At Interaction-Ivrea, Dario wants to cultivate people's design awareness and explore the socio-anthropological dimensions of personal technologies and connected communities.

27 May 2004
  What questions are at the origin of your work?
My background is in product design. I have always been interested in the act of crafting and in the physicality of the design process as a way to materialise my experiences, thoughts and ideas. In my previous work, I dealt a lot with furniture - for the home environment, but also for installations or in public spaces. I always tried to create a visual language or grammar that somehow represents my thoughts and the way I approach design. I have worked with all kinds of materials, with different tactile qualities. It was therefore obvious for me to continue this exploration also here at Ivrea but to mix it with the technological side, which was extremely new to me, but also extremely fascinating. Although until December I had no precise idea what my final thesis would be about, I kept focusing on products and objects and gave a lot of importance to the tangible side of things, to a very tangible interaction, more than to screen or human-computer interactions. In December I developed this idea for a new, sensual and engaging interaction inside the home environment, building on people's emergent needs or interests to explore new ways of interacting with their houses or the places they live in. With Daniele Mancini we did some interesting experiments inside an inflatable and these confirmed my feelings, even though they were limited and confined to a more artistic result.

Your interest is more practical and not just artistic.
Interaction design field is pretty new and is more understandable in a broader context that also includes the artistic field. I always try to take it down a bit to a more popular level, on a more understandable level, and to add some kind of gimmick, some kind of funny way for people to easily get in touch with this approach. This inspired me to use wallpaper, a well understood but also obsolete medium that could empower some kind of interactions without putting too much effort on the users, on the people, to understand what is all about. So the wallpaper is an excuse because I could have used another surface. Yet it was extremely fascinating from a historical and design point of view. The field is very broad and large and there is lots of literature on how mankind tried to represent daily experiences, historical happenings and so on, in their own private houses and in public spaces. They did that with paintings, with wall hangings, with mosaics, and so on. And there is also the aspect of identity: trying to personalise the environment or the spaces we live in. Wallpaper was to me extremely direct, clear and immediate, and would leave freedom for people to interpret and reinterpret how they interact with the house. So I started working on both the decoration side - rethinking, reinventing the visual language - and the interaction side - empowering this two-dimensional surface with daily actions and the possibility to affect the things that happen every day in our lives.

Home design companies are now focusing a lot on smart technologies. Is there anything happening in the wallpaper industry?
The attempts to introduce technology in the home environment is often called domotics or domotica. But what is really important for me is not the medium, not the complexity of the interface, not the possibilities of a technical system applied to different automated processes in a house. I tried instead, perhaps a little provocatively, to show how some kind of presence can do this job, rather than having a touch screen display that empowers you to control all these elements. Maybe it was a naive choice because I do not want to say that my Interactive Wallpaper solutions can replace all the automation systems. But my design definitely made people understand how sometimes it is not really necessary to have an overload of information when all that do is control a number of electro domestics, turn on and off the light or the heating system, or control the sprinklers in your garden. To me it is all rather straightforward use of a home or public environment. In the end I built four, five, six different prototypes. Some worked better than others. Some were more functional, others were more gimmicky, exploiting the medium as an alternative control solution. At the beginning I focused more on the home environment. Then I realised that an easier way to introduce some of these approaches, is to put these prototypes in a public space, such as the Salone del Mobile exhibition. The key issue was not to show the functionality itself, but to show the appeal of the object to people. People's reaction was fascinating.

Different from what you expected?
Yes definitely, because I started with a very focused and functional approach: "let's explore control, communication and function in the home environment". Then it turned out that people did not have the need to control all these factors in their home. The home is a self-controlled system, a microcosm that is controlled, not by appliances and technologies, but by the flows and paths happening in that space. Introducing technology in that space is extremely risky, but also extremely fascinating, because you need to deal with people's reaction, rather than work from your own expectations or from your own research of how many people have already automated systems in their homes, and how many people have mobile phones. This was on the one hand a surprise but also a confirmation. Going through a very linear process always sounded a little strange to me. In my project there were lots of iterations and a huge amount of external factors. I contacted producers, explored the actual production process of wallpaper manufacturers, and tried to understand the relationship between the customer and the seller. All this made me understand that there is not a proper point of view that you can use to suggest what to buy or to decide what it is more appealing. So I reached a point were a number of prototypes were ready and I tried them out. I am happy that some of these prototypes turned out to be very interesting for the real world, for the manufacturing world. I am now trying to understand if there is more than just an interest from one of these producers. But I am not expecting to produce them tomorrow.

Since wallpaper is so outmoded, the wallpaper industry must be in crisis. Is there innovation in the industry? Are they open to your ideas?
I would say yes. The wallpaper industry has a static market that is not extremely flexible or rich, but I got a lot of interest. If you look at the entire business of wall coverings that includes for example tiling and other types of wall covering, you will find that there is a interesting research going on, focusing on materials, embedding technologies or making the system even more flexible. The appealing thing of wallpaper is that you have a surface that you can remove, replace and modify. Since it is not extremely easy and you can also do this with paint or with tiles, the direction of this industry to move towards flexibility. Maybe I do not need to have all my house or an entire room covered in wallpaper, maybe I just need a portion of a wall or a surface or an area. It becomes a very simple visual solution that changes the perception of your room. The market is looking for this easy interchangeability and for quick solutions, which are not as radical as building a new wall. In the future, this will becomes even more interesting because by adding a very simple and thin layer, you could enhance and empower, and provide for certain types of behaviour.

Is your project a commentary or criticism on our tendency to go overboard with technology, on the domotics industry?
I see the domotic business as an extremely nice and sharp front for the real estate business. It allows you to give added value to houses that nowadays basically have everything. If you buy a new house, the two added values are location and embedded technologies. From my research I can say that domotic systems are often extremely rough and complex. Domotic systems do not solve problems, they just allow you to add variables, but do not show how to cope better. So, yes my project is a criticism. When I started with the wallpaper project and added intelligence to a simple wall, I realised that you could use this solution to turn on and off lights or white appliances, or control your heating system, or even map more complex behaviours onto this area that it is still a decorative one. It would sound pretentious to say that a surface of paper is better than a touch screen display and I am not going to say that. Still I am pretty sure than 80 percent of the functions embedded in a touch screen display are not used at all by people nowadays. I want to make people aware that in a lot of cases the complexity of technological tools, is often not unnecessary in view of the functions you want to control.

What has had the biggest impact on you here in Ivrea?
One of the strongest things I had to face is to deal with a lot of different cultures. Even if we are here to create a community, to build on top of each other's knowledge and to have strong knowledge sharing, there are still very strong cultural aspects, that pushed us into subgroups or micro-realities, not because of communication difficulties but because of cultural approaches - extremely direct and subtle approaches in how we share knowledge. This was not always good. Teamwork can suffer. It is not enough to put five different cultures in a room to make a good project. This was an extremely strong element to face. It sometimes turned out to be successful and some other times less. Another aspect that I liked a lot is that with a lot of interesting and extremely talented people, and with a lot of effort and energy, you can do very, very interesting things. But you really have to accept extreme situations - no weekends, no private or personal lives, no quality time - which I and most of people here were willing to do. Something good will come out of this strong collaboration. I cannot foresee the future but these collaborations will create other occasions and opportunities. I appreciate and enjoyed it a lot.

What are your plans now?
I am not sure yet. I want to push this project a little more and try to find a direction for it on the market or through research. Perhaps there is interest from the Institute to develop it further. I enjoyed the environment in Ivrea a lot, so I wouldn't mind to stick around a little more.

(Interview by Mark Vanderbeeken)

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