It was something of relief to those involved when Tony Dunne was named as head of interaction design at the Royal College of Art. He is deemed a good choice for a course that could change the focus of the RCA as the potential of interactive design becomes more widely acknowledged by designers and clients.
Dunne’s appointment ends a difficult period for the RCA interaction department. It’s a while since Irene McAra-McWilliam stepped down as professor and there has been concern among interested parties about the direction of the course. Dunne appears clear about what the course should encompass and plans to play down the ‘computer’ aspect of what started life as computer-aided design.
Though technology will inevitably stay part of the mix, this shift in stance should start to broaden out the work of the students – all postgraduates – and could bring greater social relevance to their projects.
Examples of how this can operate can be seen in projects from first-year students at the Interaction Design Institute at Ivrea in northern Italy, set up by McAra-McWilliam’s predecessor and Dunne’s former tutor at the RCA, Gillian Crampton-Smith. Students at Ivrea have taken interaction to a level that solves social problems through interaction: the local postal network is employed to distribute rarely used goods such as skis rented from one household to another, or people living alone share cooking experiences over the phone, with each of two people having half a recipe to communicate to each other.
This kind of approach is being adopted by the likes of the Design Council’s troubleshooting team led by Hilary Cottam – a candidate for the Design Museum’s Designer of the Year prize announced tomorrow (Thursday). Their vision is to effect change in health and education that centres on people rather than systems.
If this is the direction Dunne plans to take then it’s good news indeed. There is a great need for this kind of activity and it can only enhance the reputation of design.