Students from the 2014-2015 graduating class of D.U. DESSiiN (Design of Innovative Interactive Services: Communicating Objects & Tangible Interfaces) presented their work to the public on 26 February. Joint interview with one of the work-pairs from this class: Floriane Aubrit (student at L’École de design) and Quentin Gillardin (student at Télécom Bretagne).
What made you decide to take the D.U. DESSiiN course?
FA: This double degree helped me to plan my final degree project in as complete a way as possible, both in terms of technique and design as well as financial viability. It is even more interesting since connected objects are growing in popularity and will soon be unavoidable. The D.U. DESSiiN program was also the opportunity to prototype my final degree project. Also, the co-construction of the project with engineers allowed me to enhance the concept and to increase the chances of making it truly innovative. I got a much better understanding of the interactions between designers and engineers.
QG: I wanted to broaden my knowledge, improve my way of working and I was also interested in setting up my own company. This university degree struck me as being a good way of meeting like-minded people who were also passionate about entrepreneurship. I also chose this course because I was developing a lot of things in FabLabs and I needed to work on the esthetics of these creations. I wanted to address the job of designer through the D.U. I also had a personal inclination to learn more about the design process of these objects which influence our emotions, and how we think about their uses.
In practical terms, how does the D.U. DESSiiN course function (duration, organization around your respective lessons, etc.)?
FA: Most of the lessons are concentrated at the beginning of the year to avoid an important overload of work after the first phase of the project. These theoretical lessons cover sociology, anthropology, technology, the development of man-machine interfaces, etc. The lesson on design methods and the business model also provide us with tools to help us improve the way we structure our projects. As well as the lessons, there are also workshops on offer.
QG: In my case, I followed lessons by video-conference from Brest. If ever I was unable to attend, I could use the common platform to catch up on lessons. I was lucky enough to have a great work partner and classmates who sent me their notes or recorded the lessons. It was sometimes difficult to follow two courses simultaneously (especially during the last 3 months). The deadlines and exams build up, the nights get shorter…
The project is called Luka. How did you work on its development?
FA: I knew that I wanted to work on open design but I hadn’t yet decided on the exact domain. Since Quentin was really familiar with the FabLabs, we decided to focus our research on these production workshops. After our field surveys, we had to learn a lot about digital production and the development of the FabLab market. My background in product design and Quentin’s in-depth knowledge of embedded systems influenced our decision to create a communicating object.
QG: I’m more of a self-taught type and I’ve spent a lot of time in FabLabs. I’ve also developed and experimented on Arduino, with 3D printers and other open source tools. We used our knowledge of these tools and structures to create something which will hopefully make people want to use it. I also wanted Luka to be able to be used as a platform for developing applications in the fields of connected objects and quantified self.
Can you explain the project that you have developed?
FA: Luka is a pocket-sized communicating object. It enables you to control the interface with machines and to make rapid prototypes, without the need for in-depth knowledge of electronics. But it really comes into its own in the Fablab working environment. It is also a tool for active learning since users are invited to build the device themselves. Thanks to a combined web platform, users can get help and advice on how to build extensions for their LUKA via on-line tutorials. This helps unite the community around the project and provide participatory documentation.
QG: It enables users to learn about on-board technology in everyday products (Bluetooth, NFC, microcontrollers, screens, etc). It also makes them aware of production methods by giving them the chance to assemble their own object. A training service in partnership with the FabLabs supports these aspects by providing teaching aids and technical guidance. Through this partnership, the FabLabs find a new vector of financing, growth and democratization.
How did you divide up the work between you?
FA: Our starting point was analyzing the uses and context in which FabLabs were operating. We worked together on formulating the project question, the field surveys, identification of problems and creating the service. My specific responsibilities included defining the service’s image, creating a product incorporating our use and technical constraints, and project communication. For his part, Quentin worked particularly on product function, identification of technical constraints and logistics.
QG: The difference in work culture made managing the project a little tricky. We had to organize the division of labor to prevent any conflicting interpretations of the work to be carried out between two meetings. The general design tasks were carried out bit by bit via successive transfers between engineer and designer. Otherwise, for specific jobs, the task was assigned to whoever had the necessary skills.
How did you manage the organization of this project?
FA: Because of the distance and our respective lessons, we had to set up weekly meetings via Skype and Hangouts.
QG: We also chose a task scheduling tool called “Clocking it” which enabled us to draw up a list of tasks for each of us, share our files and monitor the other’s work in real time.
What kind of difficulties did you encounter?
FA: Phases 2 and 3 were the most complex to manage as the technique and product use were closely linked and the distance meant it was difficult to have quick and clear exchanges when we needed to take decisions.
QG: We realized a bit late that there are some major language differences between designers and engineers, which led to a few misunderstandings! We also had some problems financing the demonstrator. We were overambitious in terms of production and had to scale it down. These changes were also due to a lack of time. On the whole, we were able to overcome the difficulties.
You won a special prize at the graduation ceremony – do you intend to continue your project in the future?
FA: We’d like to make the project a reality and find investors or partners to develop a full prototype. For me, most of the work involves testing the product and the interface on users.
QG: The project has progressed but it still needs further work. We still have a lot of solutions to study from a technical, use and commercial point of view. There are also a lot of people who are already interested and who are waiting to see the final prototype. At the present time we are refining our business plan and looking for financing to produce the prototype.
What has the D.U. DESSiiN course done for you? What have you taken away from it? What would you say to a student who was considering this course?
FA: Even though the workload is heavy because of the limited time, I don’t regret my choice. A background in “connected objects” is extremely well looked upon by potential employers. It is really interesting for them since D.U. DESSIIN projects go a long way in their business model and in their technical implementation.
QG: This course has given me additional tools for design. It has brought me a lot of useful information for setting up a company and for working in multidisciplinary environments and in a process of innovation. When creativity and technique coincide it can sometimes resemble science fiction, but it produces some really interesting results. The course pushes the limits of our comfort zone to drive innovation.