A common description of an Industrial Designer is someone with a multidisciplinary and user centered background, enabling him to work as a medium between professionals with different backgrounds. Since I intend to continue project-based working in multidisciplinary teams after my studies, specifically in the field of product development, main goals for my master’s program included becoming familiar with all phases and elements of such projects. Within these elements, I have mainly focused on the Technology and Realization, and User and Society aspects.
I believe that these competency areas are closely connected in different project stages. In early phases, missing knowledge regarding target groups can be generated through research and user testing.
Throughout my learning activities I have experienced the value of interactive prototypes for such tests. Although interviews and questionnaires can provide valuable insights in many cases, this visualization, embodiment and preferably interaction in my experience provoke different and often times more profound reactions. In later stages, working prototypes allow for a more complete overview of how a product or system would work in a daily context. In combination with proper test setups, these prototypes can result in valuable improvements in future iterations.
Although focus lay on these two competency areas, the remaining competency areas were applied in various activities as well. In various digital elements of my technological prototypes, an overlap with Math Data Computing was present, while the physical elements of the realization process were closely connected to the aesthetics part of my projects. Furthermore, feasibility regarding implementation was considered in various projects, addressing the business elements.
Electronics and programming have been part of nearly all learning activities in my studies and is a subject where other students often come to me for help. Throughout these activities, I have applied numerous types of technologies, sensors and actuators, providing me with an elaborate overview of options for any application. Regarding wireless communication for example, I have worked with radiofrequency, bluetooth and wifi, both local and online. I have learned about mechanical actuators such as stepper, dc and servo motors, solenoids and electromagnets. For each of these options, I am aware of qualities and disadvantages, requirements and costs, enabling me to create functional prototypes and providing me with the knowledge to communicate with professionals from different disciplines.
Furthermore, I have developed my knowledge regarding professional implementation of products. 3D modeling and printing are techniques I have developed to a great extent during various activities. I have for example worked on 3D models for molds, a common production method for various products. Regarding electronics, I have learned how to design PCBs, mainly in my longboard project.
In its final version, we optimized for size and discarded the Arduino itself. Instead, I learned how the chip that forms the basis of every microcontroller board can be used for a more robust PCB, which adds durability and reduces cost.
These elements are closely connected to the aesthetic aspects of product development. Although aesthetics are most relevant in final prototypes and actual products, I believe that professional prototypes are valuable in earlier phases as well. While low fidelity prototypes can provide valuable insights, limitations are clearly present. In many cases, concepts include functionalities that are not implemented in prototypes due to complexity. Furthermore, poorly executed prototypes that do include these functionalities could provide inaccurate insights, due to malfunctions or unexpected behavior.
In conclusion, I believe that my current level of knowledge and skills, in combination with my interest to stay up-to-date on the state of the art, is sufficient for the type of activities I intend to perform in the future. Depending on the type of project, I am able to create prototypes to generate knowledge I need throughout design processes, and collaborate with professionals to create functional and final products.
Closely related to my vision on design, most of my projects revolved around a specific target group. These target groups were chosen based on their daily living conditions and the potential for improvement regarding quality of life using products and services. Whereas during my bachelor studies I mainly focused on theory of user aspects through courses, my past projects aimed to deploy resulting prototypes for extended periods time in order to see these actual improvements.
Retrieving user insights differed per target group. In my dementia project for example, interviews, observations and user tests, mainly occurred with the person with dementia and his or her partner. This way, the person with dementia was able to provide answers to questions, which could be supplemented by their partners. For low-functioning autism instead, nearly all insights were derived from the caregivers due to the complexity of the target group and their inability to provide comments themselves.
Both the approach to such setups as well as the analysis methods should be reviewed individually per target group. The resulting approaches often consist of a combination of existing and custom methods, optimized for the target group and scenario. One of my most valuable insights regarding this competency area is the relevance of examining and utilizing the full context of such target groups. Mainly in the dementia project, which is an extensively researched condition, information and feedback could be found in many places. However, when applying a broader perspective, such information can be found for different target groups as well. Although low-functioning autism affects a smaller group of people, certain symptoms of the condition as rather similar to other conditions, which resulted in valuable insights from for example a company working with intellectual disabilities and a researcher working with high-functioning autism. Furthermore, I noticed that these insights could be applied in different learning activities concerning the same target group. Even in a different context, such as the Interactive Materiality course, this previous experience provided a head start.
Working with these target groups has been rewarding work. Both for dementia and autism, people from both the target group itself, as well as their caregivers and family showed appreciation and recognized value in the proposed solution. These reactions result in motivation which makes work enjoyable and rewarding, I therefore intend to address similar projects in the future as much as possible.
Throughout my education, I have work on numerous projects, both individually and in team setting. Although most teams consisted of fellow Industrial Design students, I have experience in working with students from different faculties and schools as well. I believe that as I grew professionally and personally, became aware of my strengths and weaknesses, these collaborations always generated positive results. With proper communication and knowledge regarding each other’s skills and planning, even one day can be sufficient to create an interesting concept.
Especially in my earlier years as a designer, planning has been a difficult aspect throughout my design process. Even in my final project, unforeseen circumstances led to relatively large unplanned changes in the process. I believe that the amount of unknown elements in any design process cause difficulty in planning, and unforeseen changes can occur at any moment. Although learning through experience will help prevent this, I believe that being able to adapt rapidly will remain a valuable skill. Through my experience in rapid adaptation, in certain cases with high time pressure, I feel capable of being able to handle any unknown future project.
Over the past years, I have applied various idea generation methods during my courses and projects. I do notice differences between individual and group projects, but find clear common ground in early use of visualization, be it sketches or low fidelity prototypes. Whereas visualizing in my dementia project mainly helped in communicating ideas between me and my team members, in my final project, I believe it helped greatly in discussions with experts. Furthermore, I have learned to visualize for my own creative processes. This approach has aided in my quick decision making and avoiding overthinking.
Although aesthetic qualities have never been the biggest priority in my design activities, my skills in the subject have naturally evolved with my prototyping skills. In my final project, for example, early prototypes were not that aesthetically pleasing, but more importantly, were structurally weak. In addition, early cubic shapes did not effectively portray it as a timer.
The final prototype addressed both issues, and while material choice definitely thoughtfully calculated, a clean prototype was mostly an automatic result of more professional prototyping. I believe similar evidence can be found in my programming course.
Furthermore, mainly in my Interactive Materiality course, aesthetics were an essential element in the functionality of the product, and attracting its user for interaction. These functionalities were highly relevant in my IoT course as well. Based on shapes, colors, and textures, users of our final prototype were informed about functionality of different parts of the prototype. Although my final project already featured many complex elements, these insights were applied to a certain extent in the knob on the timer, using its texture to allow for more grip when rotating it.
My interest in technology often applies to more mathematical concepts as well. During my Intelligence in Interaction and Embodied Intelligence courses, for example, I was introduced to learning systems. While intelligent systems are mentioned in Industrial Design descriptions, these were the only learning activities where I encountered system behavior that was not a relatively simple response based on input. While the resulting prototypes of these courses possessed a certain level of intelligence, I learned enough to know that these courses only scratched the surface of true intelligence. I believe these courses were significant to my professional development, since it made me aware of possibilities related to intelligence in systems, its limitations and possible applications. In my final project, I intended to incorporate these newly acquired skills. However, when further discussing this approach with experts in the subject, I concluded that creating complete and reliable learning systems is extremely complex and would require substantially more training. In collaboration with more experienced software developers, I believe this could result in products with great potential.
Throughout my studies, I have used 3D modeling and printing extensively various projects. Most of these models were made using Solidworks or similar CAD software. During my programming course however, my project used mathematical formulas to generate 3D printable models. Although creating completely new modeling software would not be viable and is not where my interests lie, I believe that being aware of the basics behind these models can be valuable. This could for example be applied in systems that allow users simple customization on products, enabling personalization. The course caused a huge leap forward in my programming skills, allowing me to create more complex projects in the future.
Regarding data analysis, my activities during my research course and project introduced me to software and methods for quantitative data analysis. I learned how data can be organized and structured using Excel, in order to be analyzed in SPSS. While finding the appropriate data analyzing methods for these activities, I became aware of the various options, and scenarios where those are applicable.
Although the entrepreneurial aspect of projects has personally not interested me as much compared to the actual development, feasibility was consistently taken into account. In nearly all of my activities, the end goal consisted of functional products and systems, which require an understanding of the target group and its context. In my dementia project, as well as during my final project, I analyzed existing solutions, their costs and the initial customer of the product. A clear trend I noticed, mostly in healthcare related solutions, is a subscription based business model for more expensive types of products and systems. While more extensive financial models would be required before actual sales, similar concepts were already presented in stakeholder meetings during my dementia project for example, and received with positive reactions.
My dementia project so far is the only concept where me and my team have seriously considered taking an entrepreneurial next step. While in the end we decided to focus on our studies, I learned about essential activities for such next steps. While searching for funding and partners, I came in touch with various types of organizations, identified how our collaboration could benefit both, and how our project should be convincingly presented.
Having worked with various target groups, I can conclude that a user-centered design process depends heavily on the type of user it addresses. During my dementia project, I realized the relevancy in including the people around the target group throughout a design process. My final project taught me that cognitive abilities of the target group can have a tremendous influence on how user testing should be approached. An accurate project planning cannot be achieved without knowledge of such elements. While I am now aware of requirements and constraints for these target groups regarding the design process, different target groups in future projects could bring new challenges. I will however be able to expect such challenges, and am now experienced in finding solutions for associated issues. Through my research related learning activities, I became familiar with defining a scope for research, framing my work and choosing methodologies. Through applications in my projects, however, I realized that there is not always a readily available method matching every context. Due to constraints in my final project for example, I could not observe user tests. For this specific case, I determined the type of information I would need and created my own method, utilizing the caregivers to gather insights.