28 May 2004
What kind of questions did you try to address in your thesis project? Were did your thesis project come from and what bigger picture does it fit into?
Working on this project enabled me to address areas I have been interested in before coming here, especially fashion. As a graphic designer I always wanted to explore fashion morebut I was also curious about the theme of social aspects of mobile communication, especially the consequences on how people behave, how people perceive various notions, such as their presence, what their priorities are, and how they change when they use these technologies. All these interests came together last year in the wearable class. Dario Buzzini, Davide Agnelli and I started working on what became the ‘Fashion Victims’ project, which aimed on creating awareness to the social aspect of mobile phone use, and of the values of the medium.
You then took the project forward with Davide [see interview]. Was there a difference in approach between the two of you?
‘Fashion Victims’ itself was very much a project of us three (Dario, Davide and myself). Conceptually it hasn’t developed much since the three of us stopped working on it. We were very much together on this project. Then Davide and I continued working on it and took it forward also this year.
You also worked with Davide on a second thesis project, ‘Mass Distraction’.
At the end of these two years I have realised that in interaction design you can almost never work alone. In the school you are very much encouraged to work together. It is hard to separate and to say which person provided what input. Obviously I come from a design background and Davide from computer science. But it didn’t work like that in the design process. Very seldom I felt that Davide was taking the part of the technological person or me the one of the designer. Each one of us is qualified to do different stuff, but the process itself was balanced.
Could you say that the main thesis project was Mass Distraction?
Not really. We also developed ‘Fashion Victims’ further, together with Dario. We worked on a prototype, crafted the interaction, and exhibited it. Meanwhile Davide and I were organising our thoughts on the thesis, and the continued work on ‘Fashion Victims’ actually helped us later with the ‘Mass Distraction’ project. While thinking and researching on the subject of our thesis, we returned to a lot of the basic ideas that are behind ‘Fashion Victims’, and rephrased themin order to understand them better.
They are quite complementary projects.
One is about making the existence of mobile communications evident. The other one goes deeper and manifests how mobile communication it is used and how that use can have a social impact, a “distracting” impact on people’s minds. Both use clothing as a medium and both are working prototypes. ‘Fashion Victims’ has been going around for a while. It was exhibited in Amsterdam at the end of last year, then we presented it in Turkey, in India and Tokyo. ‘Mass Distraction’ is younger. We only started designing and making the actual garment in January.
Was this just an experiment to open up new ways of thinking that you will close now? Or would you want to develop this further?
I wouldn’t say that it is closed. I would very much like to learn more or conclude more on the project by exposing it to more people, letting more people use it. It is a very important pilot project and personally I would be interested to continue working on it. We had a great opportunity to show it at the Salone del Mobile exhibition in Milan, where it was exposed to so many people, much more than we had ever imagined. Our prototypes turned out to be pretty robust even though people were very curious and not always so gentle in dealing with them. Of course we are interested and hopeful that we can communicate and exhibit it more. After all, these prototypes were designed not as a product, but as critical design pieces that you would want to exhibit, have people try out, and collect their reactions.
What kind of reactions did you get? Did they influence your thinking about the project or lead you to conceive the project differently?
We had many different reactions. In the beginning, when we presented the concept, people asked us whether we thought it was really important for us to actually make the prototypes. Showing the prototypes proved to us that indeed trying the interaction was very much part of the project. The people who tried it responded to it. But also the people who only saw it got the story. I’m not saying that you really need to try the actual jacket and experience the interaction to get the idea, but the reactions were stronger by people who tried it. And then there were the reactions to the specific pieces. The pieces were different from each other and it was easier to be attached to one jacket rather than another. For example, the hood turned out to be very successful at the Salone, perhaps because it was so crowded and it allowed people to experience it alone, to be isolated inside. Those crowded conditions were really in favour of the story.
When you tried a jacket and followed the instructions, you were rewarded by hearing the story of the jacket through the mobile phone. People who put on the hood, followed the instructions, and closed the hood, were relatively isolated from everything and could hear a related story about the need for isolation. It made people really involved. The prototype that worked with a coin was perhaps the most frustrating one for people to try because the interaction was a bit too complicated, and it misled people somewhat. Most of the people who tried it got a completely different idea. Which is OK. After all, in critical design, you expose yourself to the possibility that people would make their own interpretations. So we are not unhappy with it, just surprised.
What has impacted you most here in Ivrea?
The biggest impact was experiencing group work, which I had never really experienced before. Then there was the cultural impact of living in Italy, even though the community of students was so diverse that sometimes you could not recognise where you were, you felt that you could be anywhere else in the world. This intercultural mix of students was also interesting, although it was not so difficult or challenging for me. And finally, there was the exposure to everything that has to do with interaction design, which was completely new for me. Interaction design was really a new field for me. I had a vague idea of what it is and of what it could offer. Naturally here I was exposed to it but not directly by studying it, but very much by the people you are studying with, by the people at the institute, by the people you meet, speak with, communicate with and interact with.
What are your plans now?
I don’t know. I will be staying in Italy next year, and will be closely connected to the Ivrea community. So I could see myself continue being involved. The Institute has great resources, wonderful people and a lot of potential for me to explore my field of interest. We will see…
(Interview by Mark Vanderbeeken)