Interaction – Ann Poochareon and Mark Argo

‘Making interesting stuff with technology’ is what Ann Poochareon and Mark Argo do nowadays. The husband-and-wife duo find it difficult to convey their exact metier. ‘Most people can’t usually wrap their heads around it’, says Poochareon – so they let their projects do the talking. Those range from mobile applications or custom electronics to museum installations.

Their paths met at the Interactive Telecommunications program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, a two-year graduate course focusing on interactive media and the creative use of communication technologies. ‘We share a certain geeky passion, but have skills that complement each other,’ says Poochareon. Both had been involved in the early dot-com boom, Argo in Flash work in San Francisco, and Poochareon as Web developer of back-end and software programming in Chicago.

Following their studies, an artist residency and installation project, Nicebots, in Nice, France, they caught the eye of Fabrica head of interactive Andy Cameron, who invited them to join the research centre. After their stint there they spent over a year in Thailand, working on the National Discovery Museum in Bangkok.
In all their work, Poochareon and Argo, whose studio name is Aesthetec, aim for a simple formula: their designs should work well, but also be beautiful and easy to use. ‘Achieving all three together is not as simple as it sounds,’ says Poochareon. ‘Technology and beauty are complex in their own ways and sometimes they don’t meet. Human interaction is another factor altogether.’

Their main inspiration comes from seeing people struggle with technology, or technology that doesn’t work. ‘The error message on a public screen inspired us to make a display software that doesn’t show the error, crash gracefully and restart automatically,’ says Poochareon. ‘There’s a way to get around everything.’
Technology supporting interaction design has grown in leaps and bounds. Computers are more powerful, media have higher definition, and technology platforms to support interactive work are much more available, notes Poochareon, who admits that Aesthetec spends a lot of time on sourcing new technologies.

But it’s the balance between ideas and technology that is vital. ‘Ideas and technology push each other, but pushing the idea is more important than just going after the technology,’ says Poochareon. ‘With technology you can learn to do a lot of things in a lot of ways, but it’s the idea that matters. Having said that, knowing and understanding technology’s capabilities certainly helps to make the ideas come alive.’

She and Argo see projects they haven’t done before as a challenge, and recognise that it’s not up to them to ‘convert the clients’. ‘The best we can do is let people know that we’re here and can do the things we do,’ says Poochareon. ‘There are more audiences for interactive work, but it doesn’t mean everyone “gets it”. Those who do have been able to take advantage of our service.’

With a relationship as productive as this, the question as to how the twosome can spend so much time together crops up regularly, admits Poochareon. But she remains nonplussed. ‘We don’t really know how, it just works.’

CV Highlights
2000 BS Computer Science
De Paul University, Chicago
2004 MPS Interactive Telecommunications Tisch School of the Arts, New York University
2005-2006 Artist in residence Fabrica
2007 Headline cover editor
2006 to present Media artist and interaction design consultant Aesthetec

CV Highlights
2000 BA Mass Communication and English Literature
York University, Toronto
2004 MPS Interactive Telecommunications Tisch School of the Arts, New York University
2003-2005 Developer Audio, Visual and Controls, New York
2005-2006 Artist in residence Fabrica
2006 to present Media artist, researcher and consultant Aesthetec

‘Ann Poochareon and Mark Argo do amazing things in museum and galleries interaction design. Both have such different skills and approaches.

Mark is a really talented engineer and likes to tinker. He has almost an artisan approach to making devices that are digital, but outside the computer confines, such as a series of handmade wooden digital clocks he made at Fabrica.

Ann, on the other hand, is somebody who is very good at information design and clued in to what’s going on on the Internet.

They bring very different perspectives and interests to the mix, which is very powerful, but they both have the same values about what matters and what’s creative.

Interaction design comes in different flavours in different parts of the world, so this is a very unusual creative partnership that works in the Far East and also in the West.’
Andy Cameron Creative director of interaction design Fabrica

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