Florent Michel, BDes UI/UX Design program Course Leader explains how L’École de design Nantes Atlantique trains responsible digital designers.
Can you introduce yourself in a few words?
I’m Florent Michel, head of the digital design Bachelor’s program at L’École de design Nantes Atlantique, which has been renamed this year UI/UX Design (User Interface/User Experience). This course is celebrating its 20th anniversary. I joined the school 10 years ago and my role is to develop this training program, to adapt it to the needs of companies, and to our changing society and environment. It is important to understand that, when they leave L’École de design Nantes Atlantique, our students have to be operational right away but also in 15 years’ time. We offer them these credentials through our modules, workshops, conferences, etc. In addition to this leadership position, I am also a professor of digital design.
What do we mean exactly when we talk about digital design?
Digital design consists of creating digital services and creating interfaces to access them through screens or connected objects. We train our students in both design methods and technologies. They must be able to create the solutions and interfaces!
We talk increasingly about responsible digital design - what are the main issues today?
A good designer must embrace digital responsibility. To do this, he must be aware of two things: first, the energy consumption of digital infrastructures, which is significant and often unknown to the user, and second, the obsolescence of products. Design choices can include greener technologies and encourage more responsible uses. So, when the designer creates services, sites or systems, he must ensure that the balance between the benefit brought by the technology and the environmental impact is balanced.
When and how did L’École de design Nantes Atlantique introduce this concept into its teaching?
When we talk about design, human and societal values are implicit. These are issues that have always existed at L’École de design Nantes Atlantique. But to better formalize the issues of sustainability and ethics five years ago, we introduced specific evaluation criteria for all projects so that for each creation, students have to ask themselves all the relevant questions from resource consumption to the project’s life cycle. Similarly, we have created specialized modules, such as the watch magazine, where students question and debate the latest technology. As another example, in third year, they have an ethics and techno-criticism course to learn how to make reasoned choices in response to a moral dilemma.
Does it take other forms in the school?
Yes, of course. Our students are used to participating in international competitions on Green IT and the circular economy, which raise questions about the challenges of responsible digital design. In addition, we regularly organize conferences on ethics in order to broaden their field of vision and their outlook on these issues. Internships can also be an opportunity for our students to see that this sustainable digital thinking is a positioning of some digital design agencies, and that it is becoming more widespread in companies.
How do you make your students aware of their responsibility as future designers to change the world of tomorrow?
The school encourages extensive critical analysis on energy consumption, data ethics, etc. We get students to question emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, robotics and big data. To achieve this, we regularly organize debates, teach them and show them that the same idea can be perceived from different angles.
Students are also required to submit a project about their own practices. When they’re creating, they make choices about the system to put in place, data management, the sustainability of the objects, energy consumption, etc. We accompany them, guide them and question them on their societal project and assess them at the end.