Day in the Lab

XIX.3 May + June 2012
Page: 90
Digital Citation

ID-StudioLab Delft University of Technology

Thomas Visser, Pieter Stappers

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How do you describe your lab to visitors?

ID-StudioLab is part of the Industrial Design Engineering department at Delft University of Technology, arguably the largest academic design institute in the world, with about 2,000 students and 200 staff. As the name suggests, ID-StudioLab combines research with a studio atmosphere. About 20 design researchers work on projects in the studios; the same number work elsewhere in the department and join in on informal meetings and weekly lab talks. We share a passion for user-centered product and service design, and aim to better understand how to design artifacts that support individual and societal well-being. The projects in the lab range from interactive prototypes, evaluation of user experience and emotions, development of user research methods, and design conceptualization tools and techniques.

Along with research, the lab is strongly involved in design education. We provide courses on interactive technology design, user-experience design, research methodology, user research, and design conceptualization.

In the near future the studios will double in size and population, as more researchers prefer studios over separate offices. We will primarily be expanding our user-experience research and service-design projects. The expansion will allow researchers to further vary the look and feel of studios, enabling them to work in an open lab, in a focus-on-your-writing space, or in meeting rooms, all supporting ID-StudioLab's focus on creative design-research collaborations.

What is a unique feature of your lab?

The most important feature is the integration of making, thinking, and doing. Prototypes of interactive products are built in the StudioLab and receive critique and help from lab members working on other projects. The short links between designers, technology wizards, and computer scientists make design iterations quick and relatively easy. The ability to iterate quickly is very important for the quality of our designs and research.

The interior design combines a visual design sensibility with a hands-on lab and includes a small workshop, lots of prototyping materials, and space to support your discussions with full-wall metal whiteboards, magnets, and markers, all of which fosters an explorative and iterative way of working.

How many people are in the lab, and what is the mix of backgrounds and roles?

Currently, we house some 20 people—Ph.D. students, postdocs, assistant professors, research assistants, and students working on their master's theses—in a single space. This mixed bunch includes computer scientists, psychologists, designers, and even a neuroscientist, all working side by side. Sometimes we are joined by visiting researchers from outside Delft.

Ironically, occasionally people who have their own offices (such as full professors) drop in to work quietly in the open ID-StudioLab space and escape office distractions.


Briefly describe a day in the life of your lab.

Each day is different. Half of the people have parttime jobs, splitting their time between the lab and a design practice or their own companies. Some of the full-time staff sit at fixed locations; others share the flexible workplaces.

Activities are probably similar to those of many other research labs. The open-studio environment and the mix of disciplines stimulate open discussions and cross-fertilization on the ongoing projects from different perspectives. We have designed some dedicated spaces, called StudioTalk and StudioSay, for whenever these discussions get too noisy or energetic for the other lab members to work.

What is one feature of your lab you could not do without?

That would be the technology magic that Walter Aprile, Rob Luxen, and Aadjan van der Helm can do. These wizards can realize most of the crazy ideas our students and researchers come up with. Their background and years of experience in the product and interaction design fields also make them great people to discuss prototype ideas with.

What is one feature of your lab that you want and don't have?

The department that the ID-StudioLab is part of has traditionally, since the 1960s, focused on the design and ergonomics of physical products. In the past two decades, the lab has increasingly worked on the design of interactive products, and in recent years, our research has expanded to include designing services. Therefore, we are becoming more and more interested in designing mobile and online applications. We are slowly growing some experience in that area, but we definitely need to have more in-house expertise in the coming years.

How would you describe how people interact in your lab?

There is an informal atmosphere, with no particular hierarchy, and nobody is secretive about their work. Communication continues in shared coffee or lunch breaks, or when someone is working on a weird prototype whose purpose is unclear. Our website ( is used mainly for external communication. It has profile pages of all the researchers, including related courses, publications, and design projects. The only two formal weekly events are a weekly opening and a StudioLabTalk. Every Monday morning, lab members gather and share any upcoming events or events of the past week. These range from conference visits to museum exhibitions or documentary films, as long as they somehow relate to ID-StudioLab work. On Wednesday afternoons, one lab member gives a talk about his or her work for an audience of about 20 to 30 colleagues. This may be a proposal for a study, an overview of recent work, or, for example, a practice round for a conference presentation. Occasionally, guests of the school and visiting researchers are invited to share their ideas and work with the lab.

What is the one thing you see as most important about what you do here?

Promoting design as part of scientific research, and vice versa.

back to top  Figures

UF1Figure. Most photographs taken by StudioLab member Juan Jimenez.

UF2Figure. The LINKX prototype.

UF3Figure. The SnowGlobe prototype

back to top  Sidebar: Example Projects

LINKX for children with autism disorder.

Children with autism are often behind in language development. LINKX is an interactive toy that supports children with autism in learning their first 100 words. Children play with blocks that emit the words of everyday objects as audio samples. For example, by connecting a block to a toy truck, the block will say, "Toy truck."

Helma van Rijn | [email protected]

Exploring crowdsourcing as a formative user research tool.

The research is revealing advantages of quickly and easily gaining a lot of input from a large and diverse population, as well as uncertainty in accepting user information from people who are not explicitly selected from the target population. This knowledge has been used to develop a framework and guidelines for practical applications.

Brian Tidball | [email protected]

SnowGlobe is a presence lamp that supports social connectedness between two people. Two globes are connected over the Internet; when one detects motion, the other will shine brighter. We studied how such presence systems are used in daily life and how the key design decisions affected the user experience of social well-being. The prototype was used in field studies that lasted over six months.

Thomas Visser | [email protected]

Designing rich user-product experiences through negative emotions.

Negative emotions play a crucial role in the enjoyment of entertainment forms like film, music, and video games: Thriller movies frighten us, poignant music saddens us, and video games frustrate us. This project investigates how negative emotions can be deliberately applied in design to create richer user-product experiences.

Steven Fokkinga | [email protected]

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