School’s in

Pure interactive design courses may be rare, but there
are plenty that integrate digital and interactive elements with conventional design disciplines.

Pure interactive design courses may be rare, but there are plenty that integrate digital and interactive elements with conventional design disciplines. This design ‘mash-up’, as Neil Churcher puts it, is a good thing, as it means the core skills required for design in technology are dispersed into other skill sets

WHAT’S UP with interactive design courses? Well, it seems pure interaction courses are rare, even in London, where its study is wellestablished. There is, however, a mixed bag of digital media and communications courses that offer interaction design to varying degrees. There is a huge demand for designers with interaction skills in the UK, especially those focused on commercial design for the Web and mobile. The scarcity of pure interaction courses means these are the domain of students who wish to push the boundaries of innovation beyond the commercial. Students wishing to pursue interactive careers have to look hard at the rest to find the course that suits them.

Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication offers BA Design for Interaction and an MA in Digital Media. The University of Westminster offers interaction skills within the BA Graphic Information Design and a part-time MSc in Interactive Multimedia. The London College of Communication has a BA Honours Graphic and Media Design – Design for Interaction and Moving Image, and an MA Postgraduate Diploma Interactive Media. All these offer a good grounding in design and are a good bet. However, it is the Royal College of Art that offers the best in interaction design, with its Design Interactions MA.

Course leader Tony Dunn is starting to build a stronger course as his inventive outlook on technological futures bears fruit. This year, Alice Wang’s Tyrant Alarm Clock that steals your mobile phone, shuffles through your contact list and calls someone randomly at wakeup time was a highlight. More perceptual and informational work was also being produced – Susanna Her’s Risk Perception project establishes the facts behind our misguided fears of terrorist attacks, and points out our nonchalant attitude to car accidents.

You do not have to venture far along the corridors of the RCA to find other interactive opportunities. The Design Products course has plenty of interactive, innovative play, not surprising with the continued sponsorship of the discipline by Ron Arad and Durrell Bishop working on the team. Last year, Industrial Design Engineering at the RCA had a fair amount of interaction design inside the course – graduate Mathew Holloway, through his Byte Sized Memory project, explored memory and the documentation of our lives. His use of interactive visualisation pushed the boundaries of the course into an area that would make any interaction designer feel at home.

The MA Communication Design at Central St Martins College of Art and Design has an interesting slant on digital media that has focused on exploring technology as useful communication. Graduate Min-Chan Ko’s The Way Out project was typical, mapping London Tube station exits. Travellers can use their Way Out application on their iPod to calculate which carriage to take that is closest to the exit at any destination. Xiaoman Wang’s Variable Map of Central London stretched the geography of London interactively, so travellers can compare distances on any public transport system. It seems that Central St Martins is nurturing a strong streak of information design, from a traditional print-based thinking, but with an interactive twist.

And this seems to be the story for 2008. Pure interaction design courses are sparse, but with so many other disciplines offering interaction with a clear interest in design discipline ‘mash-ups’, students can look at other types of course. Be it product, architecture, information design or furniture courses, students are offered plenty of opportunity to create pure digital and interactive experiences within them. This seems to be a healthy position because the core skills required for design in technology are constantly being dispersed in to other skill sets.

On the international front, Fabrica is still going strong in Italy, but the European scene is shifting towards northern Europe and Scandinavia. It is good to see the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design running its pilot year intensive course, starting this September. Directed by former Interaction Design Institute Ivrea professor Simona Maschi, CIID is running an experimental course which will shape the coming full Masters degree. CIID has a strong legacy from the Ivrea experience to guide it, so expect to see work of the same quality. Credit should go to the sponsors, including the Danish culture ministry, for supporting the discipline. Another course of note is the Masters programme in interaction design at the Umeå Institute of Design, which is part of Umeå University in Sweden. Again, pure interaction and prototyping is offered here and it is building a reputation for producing employable graduates.

As a last note, Microsoft has run a design competition called the Imagine Cup since 2002. It is a global student event that focuses on solving real-world problems. Check out the 2009 competition, with the final taking place in Egypt.

Neil Churcher is head of design at the global design and usability group at Orange, and is a former academic director of Interaction Design Institute Ivrea

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