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VIII.2 March 2001
Page: 93
Digital Citation

University briefs: IIT

Keiichi Sato, Patrick Whitney

back to top  Philosophy of Education and Design

How we live, work and learn is being blurred by an exponential advancement in technology, confronting us with an environment of overwhelming complexity. While today's technology-focused companies know how to make just about anything, they lack a framework for determining what should be made. Traditional marketing also falls short, resulting in incremental change rather than innovation that can transform an organization's output and the value it adds to people's lives. Despite this reality most companies continue to adhere to traditional technology and marketing-driven strategies. A human-centered alternative is being developed at the Institute of Design. At ID, faculty and students investigate ways to humanize technology and meet users' unspoken needs. ID accomplishes this by three programs.

  1. Building Design Methods for Innovation: With the nation's first Ph.D. program in design, ID develops tools, methods and theories that can help organizations reliably produce breakthrough products, messages, and services.
  2. Preparing Human-Centered Professionals: ID prepares new types of design professionals in communication design, product design, and strategic design planning with the ability to link the creation of value for users in their daily lives to the creation of strategic value for organizations.
  3. Sharing Design Knowledge: In order to humanize technology on a massive scale, ID is working to extend itself beyond its labs and white-boards. We transfer our methods through sponsored research consortia, executive programs, placement of graduates in the work force, and ongoing communication with business leaders, both inside and beyond the design field.

back to top  Preparing Students for User Interface Careers

The program intentionally approaches interaction design from the position of bridging human needs and artifacts including information, physical systems and services. Our students find positions in a wide range of industries and functions. They are often hired because of their competence in user studies, methodological approaches, and strategic planning as well as their general knowledge and skills in interaction design. Examples of placements include e-business, management consulting, design consulting, and manufacturing industries that attempt to enhance user-centered design and planning approaches.

Core education in interaction design at ID spans all tracks and is required for all students. It includes: Physical, Cognitive, Social, and Cultural Human Factors, Behavioral Observation and Analysis, and Computing as Design Medium. These form conceptual and technical foundations of the ID program while individual track-required courses provide specific strength of knowledge and skills that build core competence in specific disciplines.

Three tracks in the professional masters program all engage in interactive systems design with different perspectives representing their disciplinary roles and focuses, but the fundamental concept and methodologies of human-centered design are shared across all programs. The following describes how individual track programs deal with issues and practices related to interaction design in the context of their specialization.

Communication Design: The Communication Design program is concerned with structuring messages in ways that better meet the special needs of audiences and individuals. Communication issues arise in the interaction among humans, communities, institutions, artifacts, and environments. Interaction-related courses required in this track include Interface Design, Theories of Information and Communication, Interactive Media, and Digital Media.

Product Design: In product design, focus is directed to interactive experiences with physical artifacts and environments. The program particularly attempts to focus on the physical interactivity of the human environment. Interaction design related courses offered in product design include: Interactive Systems Design, Interactive Products, Product Design Workshop in Interactive Systems Design.

Design Planning: The primary objectives of design planning are to identify human or organizational needs and propose human-centered solutions with economic and technological validity. The students in this track work very closely with the communication and product design students. Most design plans produced in the courses such as Design Planning take advantage of the tailoring of user experiences which is enabled by interactive systems.

Curriculum Development: In the last few years we have had a curriculum development project to study possibilities and positioning of computing and interaction design in our curriculum. This was sponsored by Interval Research Corporation, Ernst & Young and Meta Design. It resulted in two forums and the development of new courses to enhance the preparation of our students for future careers related to interaction design. Interactive Systems Design deals with conceptual modeling, specification, prototyping and evaluation of interactive systems. Interface Design covers areas of information architecture, navigation, and media interface. A Product Design Workshop in Interactive Systems Design is meant to give product design students experience developing functional prototype models of interactive systems to particularly emphasize the concept of physical interaction. Computing as Design Media is a common course for all tracks to develop general perspectives of fast-developing computing technologies, information infrastructure, and related issues.

Ph.D. Program and Dissertation Research: The Ph.D. program is positioned as a research program that culminates with a dissertation that extends the body of knowledge in design. The program identifies five areas of research-focus around the concept of human-centered design that reflect faculty members' current research: 1) users and contexts; 2) media and language of communication; 3) interactive systems; 4) strategic design planning; and 5) design systems. Dissertation topics are chosen from these areas on which to build theoretical frameworks of design and methods for supporting design practice. Some dissertation research projects are fully or partially funded by research grants including the Research Consortium on Tangible Knowledge. Examples of undergoing dissertation research topics directly involved in interaction design are:

  1. A design knowledge framework for interactive systems development: An attempt to establish a comprehensive system of knowledge as the foundation of interactive systems development.
  2. Knowledge of use and design in product lifecycle: Introduction of user knowledge elicitation methods and concept development of product architecture to form a knowledge lifecycle.
  3. Motion language in interactive media: Experimental/empirical research investigating the cognitive dimension of motion presented as a system of meaning.
  4. Interactions between user reading purpose and textual presentation: Experimental/empirical research investigating alternative strategies.

back to top  Examples of Student Projects

Product Design Workshop: This workshop attempts to explore ideas of interactions with functional hardware prototype models and software simulation models. We use Basicstamp chip sets for building hardware control logic and Toolbook on the PC for software prototyping. The project theme was to explore new design paradigms for home appliances that "integrate floor cleaning and child learning functions with physical interaction methods," an unusual combination of functions to stimulate innovative thinking. Youn-Kyung Lim and Min-Jung Kim chose music as the interfacing media for children to enhance their sensitivity to and concept of space, motion and sound, and to learn mapping mechanisms among these dimensions. The MusicCleaner operates in one of two modes. In the random walk mode, it sweeps the floor by turning randomly at obstacles, reproducing a sound pattern that is mapped from the memorized pattern of the movement. In the programmed mode, the user enters music notes on the keyboard of the Musicleaner, then it sweeps the space following the entered music pattern. As shown in the figure, all functions were demonstrated by software and hardware prototypes. (See Figures 1a-c.)

Communication Design: Through observation of students in schools and interviews with educators, Tania Schlatter with a project partner in product design, Bill Kerr, identified that middle school students often have difficulty learning abstract mathematical concepts. Students cannot connect these ideas to their everyday lives. The proposed concept, "Knowledge Pods," is a small pocket-sized device that tailors problems to students' individual interests and knowledge. Promoting reasoning rather than memorization, one feature of the interface was based on the observation that students often did not recall what they had already learned. With "Knowledge Pods," solved problems would be saved as "seeds" identified by icons that students create to describe the personal way in which they used a mathematical principle (i.e., "How much food does my dog George eat in a year?"). Students "squish" the seeds to review these problems along with relevant teachers' notes and content links. In this project they successfully applied a method of formally describing problems and specifications to clarify rationales behind concept development. (See Figures 2a-c.)

Design Planning Project: The Interactive Home project was sponsored by Hong Kong Telecom, Motorola's Consumer Systems Group, and Gold Peak Industries to see how ID's methods would work in Hong Kong. Through ethnographic observation, we discovered that in addition to three arenas—home security, entertainment, and control—previously identified by the sponsors, there were six others including "shopping for fresh food," "families staying in touch," and "helping kids learn at home." The 24-page design plan and accompanying presentations demonstrated unconventional human-centered innovations in daily life that simultaneously pointed the way to new business opportunities. (See Figures 3a-c.)

back to top  Authors

Keiichi Sato
Associate professor of Design

Patrick Whitney
Steelcase/Robert C. Pew Professor,
Director, Institute of Design, IIT
Tel: 312-595-4900

back to top  Figures

F1Figure 1.(a-c) Musicleaner: A working interactive prototype model and a software prototype modelby Youn-kyung Lim and Min-jung Kim (1999).

F2Figure 2.(a-c) Knowledge Pod by Tania Schlatter and Bill Kerr (1999)
(a) Paper behavioral prototypes provided insights into the organization and scale of interface elements as well as the sequence of user interactions.
(b) This diagram presents the components of the Knowledge Pod system and describes the interactions between them.
(c) Students review a problem by "squishing" a solved problem "seed". "Seeds" are personalized with icons that the children design.

F3Figure 3.(a-c) Interactive Home—Hong Kong Project by Martin Ebert, Ted Booth and Sheila Foley (1998). The images are from the plan, showing current social and cultural patterns of buying fresh food, a diagram of the interactive shopping system, a map indicating possible extensions of the business.

UF1Figure. Keiichi Sato and Patrick Whitney

back to top  Sidebar

Names of Departments/Programs Offering Degrees/Certificates:
Institute of design
Illinois Institute of Technology

Course Titles Normally Used for Design and Usability Instruction, and Prerequisites or Interdependencies for Specific User Interface:
Master of Design (two-year professional degree)
Master of Science in Design
Doctor of Philosophy in Design

Number of Students Enrolled in the Program:
90 students in MDes program
15 students in Ph.D. Program
Total 105 full-time students (no part-time students by policy)

A Sample of Career Paths and Career Goals:
Students find opportunities to combine their competence in user research, design planning, concept development in developing interactive systems, media, and services. Their employers range from design firms, management consultants, R&D in corporations, and universities. They tend to identify themselves as entrepreneurs and establish positions that bridge human-centered design and systems planning.

History of the Program:
The history of the department goes back 60 years to the origin of the Institute as the New Bauhaus. The program has a strong tradition of research activities and systematic design methodologies. The organization of the professional master program and the research program around the concept of human-centered design was established in 1990, while the undergraduate program in design was terminated a few years ago to give more focus on advanced education and research.

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