A fast trip to New York at the end of the semester makes the perfect trip to refresh and revisit good people. A visit to SVA's second year of MFA IXD graduates (and the wonderful Liz Danzico) was a delight - and after going to see the show at Tisch ITP, an interesting triad of masters programs and along with our 3 thesis students work gives us an interesting snapshot of where interaction design is right now on the east cost at the Masters level. What the students explore and how they are encouraged to develop the work, and indeed just how far they take it are slightly different in all 3.
But the question that comes up for me is how far should a masters thesis work go in creating something new, and demonstrating its viability? How much can they do with it? Is it a mini design project? So in that way - desk and user research, design, test, present? Or is it a proposal for an idea, prototyped as a demonstrating piece? Or is it made, and live in the world and its impact reflected upon?
Tisch ITP had some great stars, including Jeremy Scott Diamond's content exploration and visualisation tool Inarticle Mimi Yin's beautiful poetry being produced as a continuous chain of word association spills across the screen. Under the hood controls change the form, from alliteration to rhyming, to stuttering, all in an exquisite way. I loved and will use Rehuddle - a group contacting service. Matt Richardson's descriptive camera…which has been all over the press, and still very delightful, the camera that uses Mechanical Turk to create a rich description of what it shoots.
At SVA, Erin Moore's Frank was a perfect idea, helping people to work together easily combining their modest financial resources to help each other and was really, really well done. Spoked game on bikes across the city was brilliant http://iamspoked.com. I love it when someone is engaged with bringing back lost(or potentially lose-able skills) and Allison Shaw's scritscrit a social network for sharing doodles and idea sketches. The work that really stuck out was David Bellona's Weighing the Cloud, and Canary - a chain of small interventions exploring the impact of our social media use, visualized through physical cloud carrying, visualizations and finally a very brilliantly designed app. His persistence in trying many different things, and recovering from dead ends, and how this is documented in his book is one of the best projects I have seen for a long time.
There are a lot of women this year looking at the fundamental gap in innovation in products and services around womens health and wellbeing. Sera Koo's Ipsis service is for the rite of passage that is the first period, and Jojo Glick's Lonely Porcupine is a way of supporting women going through the challenge of getting IVF. Back at CMU we had similar ideas being developed with Jessamyn Miller's packages of lady care in her vending machine LadyBusiness and Rebecca Pinn's online care package service.
Having guided thesis work at Brunel on MADSI, and Externally Examined the MDes in Dundee, I really love thesis work, and get to be invited to crits with Despina Papadopoulos and her thesis group at Tisch ITP, and also a small group at CMU School of Design.
This year Nick and I guided 4 thesis students through very different subjects and processes. Eric Spaulding on new forms of transmedia storytelling, Louisa Butler on catalytic projects in communities, Roy Shin on a new metaphor for the desktop and Gabriella Uribe on lightweight gaming for neighbors. I can't feel comfortable with a single designing made and shown - at this level if it does not have some serious reflection on what has happened and how people reacted to it, and then what that meant, I can't see it as a masters piece.
Externally examining at Dundee made me realise the value of the transformation that people go through when they do a Masters programme, and the thesis is the esscence of that.As well as the *mastery* of the subject, the thesis is the device that takes them from the before version of themselves as professionals to the new, after state, will all of the potential to do things differently and work in new spheres.
Sharing the work with others is so important, and at CMU there are poster sessions and final crits to do that, and it would be good to do more. Web streaming crits and holding end of year shows are a great way to go. At ITP the diverse range of projects was dazzling, but also made it a little puzzling about what we were looking at, and all the more enjoyable for finding out. At SVA, the exhibition was easy to digest and understand, and by creating simple descriptive cards to signpost each project and have ready to give away in the show it worked well.
So, to answer the questions I had at the beginging, what seems to be really knockout is where students take the thesis project out there and engage with people and then really watch or listen to what is heappening, not just to design and test it. Our students (when they got hard lessons from the world) learnt so much more about who they were and what they were doing than those who simply made something.
This coming year we have 3 new thesis students, and even higher hopes for what they can do!