When design depends on continuous education.

In a learning by doing process, with a design thinking inspired approach, continuous education plays a strategic role.

Dotdotdot studio in Milan

We are a multidisciplinary design firm founded in Milan in 2004. We have dealt with digital technologies since the industry was still in its infancy. Throughout the years we were able to develop a methodology based upon empirical practice, that is fueled by the direct two way relationship with the clients, which more and more often, they themselves turn out to be the solution to their problems and requests.

We believe in a cross-cutting approach that mobilizes and allows our internal and customer resources to contribute to solutions. We don’t apply abstract models of design thinking, but rather, we believe in “learning by doing”: in a theoretical study that always has a practical feedback, technical and design progress that uses direct experience in the production of knowledge.

At the core and every phase of the process there is education: a sort of toolkit that is never predetermined, that allows us to understand and comprehend the client, as well as to build a common language, to help move planning along and appropriate the right tools for the realization of the project.

The creative process

Our planning methodology begins from the “Sharing and Engaging” phase, that is from the preliminary study of the client, starting from the planning question that was posed to us. To establish a common starting point, a common language is defined in order to communicate with the client and take advantage of their resources. It is a study that allows us to also understand and scout the client’s values and strengths.

In a spiraling process of improvement between the “Proof of Concept” and “Prototyping & Testing” phases, we are looking at the brief, starting to test ideas in development scenarios and proceeding with the production of prototypes and tests in real situations. The spiral process sees the continuous prototyping of ideas, the division of work into mixed design teams between the client and our internal resources, and the progressive integration of skills, even with partners external to our structure.

The progressive implementation of prototypes leads to the “Engineering & Delivery” phase, in which the feasibility studies are carried out, the selection of production technologies, the verification of the business plan and the actual engineering of the product.

Our planning methodology can in part be traced back to the Double Diamond scheme, with its phases — Discover, Define, Develop, Deliver — and its creative iterative process of development, testing and refinement of ideas. However, education for us plays a very strategic role, and it is for this reason that it comes before any other phase.

Education, a strategic tool and instrument

In the “Sharing & Engineering” phase, education connects us with our client. Through workshops, introductory seminars to innovation or issues that distinguish us, among them digitalisation, interaction design, User Experience design or the open source approach, we implement a process of supporting and sharing design insights.

In the “Proof of concept” phase we organise interdisciplinary roundtables of co-design or vertical workshops on topics such as IoT, informed production, reverse engineering, data visualization and data analysis to test the effectiveness and feasibility of the concept. From that, we move on to the “Prototyping & Testing” phase, where we often look for specialised and targeted educational moments. The continuous and specific training on the current project allows in fact to bypass those more complex project issues.

An example would be the interactive experience for chocolate tasting, designed in collaboration with the Carlo Ratti Associati firm for the historic Piedmontese company Venchi. For the first time we utilized Affective Computing in an exhibition design project to measure the emotional effects of chocolate on people. We trained an algorithm based on Machine Learning techniques to collect data and catalog it in five different sensations.These skills were acquired and finalized on the project thanks to the Machine Learning workshop with Gene Kogan during the prototype development phases.

Education therefore becomes a toolkit from which to extract tools for design paths along with the client and by which to implement a process of mutual knowledge to trigger a booming growth on both sides. With this objective, the relationship with the client becomes more smooth, making it easier to identify the real needs compared to the self-perceived ones.

Educating ourselves along with the client is a way to question sedimented processes. For us it is a way to enter the project dimension without preconceived answers or notions. The objective is to build a common language, to be identified from time to time, with which to translate complexity.

Venchi Chocolate Experience, a project by Carlo Ratti Associati and Dotdotdot

Learning by doing, part of our DNA

This attitude comes from our own history. We have always been self-taught, we have learned the profession of interaction designer by doing it, in a moment in time where the relationship with the user of the interactive space, such as the access to content through digital media, where still in their infancy. In those first few years we experimented with the relationship that was being created between man and technology, as well as how the latter could simplify the access and relation with information.

“The experimentation that has always distinguishes our creative research thus outlines a methodology that, although established in theory, is always variable in practice, as it is confronted with the specific design question.”

It is for this reason that education holds such a strategic role. It is relative to making and delineating the project itself. It is part of the process.

Dotdotdot & OpenDot

Continuous education is also one of the reasons for which our Fab Lab OpenDot exists. It is of a double nature: on one hand, to bring people closer to new technologies and engage a community around the topic of open innovation; while on the other hand, providing professional educational moments through talks and design workshops that allow to carry on continuous research, to disclose and account for new potential clients.

Examples of collaboration with OpenDot are the installation for Edison, created for the “999. A collection of questions on contemporary living” exhibition.” at the Triennale di Milano design museum and the installation Gea for Alce Nero. In the first, the 128 mini-monitors suspended in complete darkness were attached to 64 steel cables that acted as a support system for the hardware, for monitor power and data communication. The monitors were assembled at the Fab Lab, that developed the entire system.

A project by Pierluigi Anselmi, Dotdotdot and Stefano Mirti / Video by Propp / Sound Design by Painè Cuadrelli

For Alce Nero, instead, a Marble Machine was designed, a machine with different narrative paths where mechanisms and content are activated when the marbles pass through certain spots. The creation was possible thanks to the use of digital and numerical control manufacturing technologies present in OpenDot. The relationship between Dotdotdot and OpenDot, that is fueled through education, is what allows these two complementary worlds to each other — that of design and digital, combined with the knowledge of programming languages, and that of the makers and digital fabrication — to develop more radical and experimental projects, for which no languages, rules and common parameters have been created.

Alce Nero GEA Marble Machine

by Alessandro Masserdotti, co-founder and CTO of Dotdotdot and Opendot.