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Milan, 2–3 February 2020

UXD Beyond the Screen: A UX approach to Industrial Design Teaching

Matt Sinclair, Programme Director for BA Industrial Design, Loughborough School of Design & Creative Arts, U.K.

Val Mitchell, Programme Director for MA User Experience Design, Loughborough School of Design & Creative Arts, U.K.

Garrath Wilson, Lecturer, Loughborough School of Design & Creative Arts, U.K.

Stuart Cockbill, Lecturer, Loughborough School of Design & Creative Arts, U.K.

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Digital Touch concept for couples in long distance relationships, by Aakif Imthiyaz, Abbie Langley, Alice McCutcheon, Eliot Greenwood and Tobi Cahill, 2019.

Touching Things

If none of this sounds particularly contentious, then the question of who should design these future interactions may do. In the digital domain, on-line and off-line, it is HCI and UXD specialists who can claim ‘ownership’ of expertise. But in the design of tangible objects, from medical devices to earth-moving vehicles, from power tools to luxury watches, it is industrial designers that have a tradition that is both longer and broader than that of digital designers. And in our view it is industrial designers, if trained to be familiar with contextual enquiry, empathic insight generation, persona and scenario creation, experience mapping and prototype testing, that will be best placed to design these future interfaces.

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Domestic insect cultivation, a Final Year Design project by Tom Constant, 2018
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Short-throw projector, a Final Year Design Project by Raymond Ng, 2016

It is important to state here that this contention does not come from a group of industrial designers trying to ‘reclaim’ or appropriate interaction design or UX design. Of the four authors, two are from ID backgrounds, one from HCI and one from service design (but having originally trained as an industrial designer). We have come to the teaching and expounding of UXD through different routes, and continue to have different perspectives and areas of emphasis. What we share in common is the belief that the teaching of ID through a UXD lens leads to designers capable of imagining user-centric interactions beyond the screen.

UXD at Loughborough Design School

At Loughborough Design School, undergraduate ID students have been offered an elective module in UXD since 2007. LDS has always had a strong focus on both user-centred design and project-based learning, putting the human experience at the centre of a design process which encourages making and user engagement. Within this context, our UX teaching initially developed from a mindset that viewed UX as an additional skill for ID students. Nonetheless, despite accounting for less than 10% of the total credits for an undergraduate degree, this approach to teaching has led to a situation where approximately one third of graduates (35–40 students per year) from the programme currently enter industry as UX designers. Graduates from LDS’s ID programme now occupy senior UX positions at companies such as IBM, Google, BBC, Fjord, Foolproof and Goldman Sachs.

Gradually, this notion of the place of UXD as an addition and a development of our ID programme, has changed. As our UX teaching became more established in the curriculum, we initially encountered students who wanted to change focus, who wanted to study to become UX rather than Industrial designers. But in recent years, we have increasingly observed students who, rather than seeing UXD as additional to ID, or even as a distinct discipline, instead see little division between the two. As educators we might describe this as multidisciplinary, but from a student perspective this could more accurately be described as uni-disciplinary: “it’s all design, it’s just related to different aspects of a product.” In response to this, the teaching of ID at LDS has increasingly evolved to consolidate the use of UX methods and processes.

Prototyping Experiences

In Semester 1, students spend two hours per week learning Arduino breadboarding and coding. Working in groups of two they are firstly required to complete weekly tasks such as designing a repeating lightshow or controlling a servo motor. Students submit a circuit diagram in Fritzing and a 30 second video to a personal blog (see, for example: https://lewisteasdale44.wordpress.com/author/teasdale44/). Having established a basic understanding of physical computing, students then work in groups of four or five to design a response to a brief broadly related to ‘personal well-being’, and are required to submit an Arduino prototype as part of a concept that is integrated with elements below.

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3D Printer prototype by Anna Mitchell, Livi Ablett, Ollie Butt and Teddy Dickson, 2018

UX Approaches in Industrial Design Teaching

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‘George’s Marvelous Medicine’ chocolate experience, 2019. Every time a child reads a chapter they are allowed to eat one of the chocolates.
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‘Dignitas’ chocolate experience, 2019. Voluntary euthanasia by eating the best Swiss chocolate you’ve ever tasted.

In Semester 2 the ethos of the module continues to be one where prototyping is ‘a way to arrive at better solutions’, with students introduced to the use of Bodystorming to roleplay scenarios, Marvel and Sketch to create wireframes of increasing fidelity, and video prototyping as a way to construct compelling narratives. Hunt statements and How Might We questions are introduced as ways to frame research strategies and innovation opportunities. This is done within the confines of a project brief that asks students to develop a future-facing ‘Digital Touch’ product that enhances communication through touch. This brief was first developed as part of a collaboration between HCI, ID, and Social Science academics from LDS and University College London’s Knowledge Lab, and was delivered to students on the elective User Experience Design module [5]. This was further developed to fit the IDS2 module, such that students are required to think about how sensations of touch can be used to communicate information, feelings, sensations, skills, thoughts or ideas between humans, humans and machines, or humans and other objects.

Working in groups, students create a research plan that involves conducting user research (typically observation and interview). They are instructed that their work must adhere to an ethical framework to ensure participants’ safety and wellbeing, which includes reflecting on what might be appropriate contexts and boundaries of touch. Students taking the module will already be familiar with concepts of responsibility and consent in research, having previously taken two compulsory modules in Design Research, and at Loughborough this is seen as a necessary pre-requisite for serious engagement with a project of this type.

Contextual user research forms the basis of a persona that a group creates, listing motivations, pain points and the brands that the persona associates with the experience. These then feed into the video prototyping submission, where emphasis is on the use of video as a way of both creatively exploring design opportunities, and communicating these through compelling stories. Continuing to work in groups, students spend four weeks creating a user journey story of their developing concept, through video. In the initial stages, scenarios are roleplayed while being filmed in a deliberately ‘rough and ready’ manner (usually on a handheld mobile phone). To do this there will need to be a rudimentary script and storyboard, but inevitably, as the scenario is acted out, issues with the proposed concept will become apparent. Either during filming or when watching afterwards, students are told to stop the narrative, and clearly verbalise the issues, or painpoints, that the user within their scenario has encountered; these stop points then become the focus of improvements to the design. As the project progresses, the video prototypes become more sophisticated — filming is carried out in context, physical prototypes are built to better illustrate the scenario, filming and editing are more considered, and post-production effects are added — but the emphasis continues to be on the way that prototyping leads to improved outcomes.

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‘Unfriendly Electrics’ by Campbell Castagna, James Bayliss, Oliver Butt, Teddy Dickson and Thea Willmot, 2019. When the system detects too much energy is being used it ejects the plug of the electricity-wasting device.
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Pollution detecting handlebars by Christian Abbott, Henry Smallbone, Jacob Gavaghan, Jamie Ross-Evans and Luca Griffiths, 2019. The bars analyse pollution levels, traffic density and road surface conditions, and direct the rider on the best route.

The final part of the module (the only part carried out individually), is the most readily recognised as a typical ID project. Students are instructed to build on the video (after all, it is a prototype rather than a final design) and develop it to a proposal for a future ‘Digital Touch’ product. In doing this, they must select a brand and analyse its design language (their submission must look as if it belongs to the brand’s portfolio), conduct further user research aligned specifically to their own concept, develop a new persona based on this research, and storyboard the user’s experience. Although students are told that their concepts should have a basis in technological reality, this is not the focus of the project — as long as they are able to show evidence of feasibility the project will satisfy the brief. Rather, we are aiming to encourage an understanding of the way that prototyping can lead to unexpected and original outcomes.

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Smart storage containers by Rosie Roberts, 2019. The container expands as it detects food is nearing its use-by date, taking up space in the refrigerator and encouraging users to eat the food.

Expertise

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Cooking for the blind, by Lloyd Potter, 2019. Heat is controlled by raising, lowering and turning the controller which hovers above the cooking hob.

In this project, the giving of permission to take a concept in a direction that hasn’t previously been judged as ‘good design’ is difficult, sometimes even traumatic, for students. For most it is the first time they have been expected to be comfortable with ambiguity and speculation, where imitation of existing examples is not possible. Our feeling is that introducing UX methods helps here — they are new, which reinforces the notion that the design a student is doing is different to what they have done before, but they are also prescribed, giving structure to the progress of the project. Similarly the focus on an existing brand provides boundaries for experimentation, and is one aspect where students are within their comfort zone. Encouragingly, we find that many students become confident enough to challenge their original notions both of what communication is, and of what is worth communicating.

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Pedestrian crossing by Hannah Le Gassick, 2019. Reassures pedestrians that autonomous and driverless vehicles will stop to allow them to cross safely.

Reflection

In the past these have been the students that have gone on to employment as UX and Service designers, but who are increasingly sought after in conventional ID roles. They tend to be the students who understand research is a part of the iterative work that designers engage in, rather than something that occurs prior to designing. Similarly they understand prototyping as part of a creative process of improvement (Question — Plan — Test — Reflect — Repeat) rather than a stage gate to pass through (Test — Prove). At the end of the module their work might be less polished than that of their peers, but it has the potential to go forward in many different directions. This, then, is the first iteration of a model that we propose as the future for ID teaching. It will form the basis of a new programme soon to be announced at Loughborough, that will replace the existing Industrial Design programme. And we hope, and expect, that its graduates will continue to be at the forefront of experience design practice.

[1] Victor (2011), A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design [online], available from: http://worrydream.com/ABriefRantOnTheFutureOfInteractionDesign/

[2] Bill Moggridge (2007), Designing Interactions, The MIT Press: Cambridge MA.

[3] Marc Hassenzahl (2018), A Personal Journey Through User Experience, Journal of Usability Studies 13(4), pp. 168–176.

[4] Steve Harrison, Phoebe Sengers, and Deborah Tatar (2011), Making epistemological trouble: Third-paradigm HCI as successor science, Interacting with Computers, 23(5), pp. 385–392.

[5] Val Mitchell, Garrath T. Wilson, Kerstin Leder Mackley, Carey Jewitt, Lili Golmohammadi, Douglas Atkinson and Sara Price (in press), Digital Touch: Towards a Novel User-Experience Design Pedagogy, Design and Technology Education.

[6] Nigel Cross (2004), Expertise in design: an overview, Design Studies, 25(5), pp. 427–441

[7] Kees Dorst and Isabelle Reymen (2004), Levels of expertise in design education. In DS 33: Proceedings of E&PDE 2004, the 7th International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education, Delft, 02–03 September.

About the Authors

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Matt Sinclair

Val Mitchell

Garrath Wilson

Stuart Cockbill

IxDA

The Interaction Design Association (IxDA) is a…

Interaction Design Education Summit

Written by

IxDA’s Interaction Design Education Summit is a gathering point for those interested in how we educate ourselves as practitioners and researchers.

IxDA

IxDA

The Interaction Design Association (IxDA) is a member-supported organization, focusing on interaction design issues for the practitioner, no matter their level of experience.

Interaction Design Education Summit

Written by

IxDA’s Interaction Design Education Summit is a gathering point for those interested in how we educate ourselves as practitioners and researchers.

IxDA

IxDA

The Interaction Design Association (IxDA) is a member-supported organization, focusing on interaction design issues for the practitioner, no matter their level of experience.

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