Category Archives: Projects

Vertigo on paper

One of the most interesting projects on which I have been working over the last few months is finally on paper — at least part of it (download available from the publications list). For once, there is even a better name than the usual acronym: it is “Vertigo”, from the Hitchcock 1958 movie. But the proper meaning of “the sensation of spinning or having one’s surroundings spin about them” (Wikipedia) is not irrelevant: the only difference is that the surroundings investigated by the project are the media surroundings, or a mix of media and “real world” surroundings. The main goal here is making possible a more enjoyable and interactive exploration of movies, videos, music (linear media in general) by shaping, following and sharing “media trails” or traces. As reported in the paper, this is an idea well rooted in the early history of hypertext. The work has been done in very close cooperation with Jukka Huhtamaki, researcher at the Hypermedia Lab of Tampere University of Technology, and Renata Guarneri, a former project colleague in MobiLife (with Siemens, one of the main industrial partners in the consortium led by Nokia) now Principal Technologist at CREATE-NET (I am consulting them on different initiatives), plus several people at various research organizations in Europe.Renata has just presented the paper at Digibiz 2009,

I am very grateful to Jukka, Renata, CREATE-NET and all the others for the opportunity to delve once again in the intriguing subject of bringing interactivity to screen based media and music, to the living room context in general.

Vertigo movie poster
Vertigo movie poster (from Wikipedia)

It is now about ten years since the first time I tried some serious effort on the topic by contributing to an essay on TV and interactivity (in a book edited by Laura Tettamanzi and published with the sponsorship of Italian public broadcaster RAI). Ten years is a long span of time: we have seen the dotcom boom and bust, the social media explosion, the 3G come of age etc. Yet TV and movie watching haven’t changed that much — compared to music say. It is no chance that this work started with very inspiring discussions about

Italian translation of “40 years of Design Research” by Nigel Cross”

“40 years of Design Research” is a short but very informative piece by Nigel Cross (currently president of the DRS-Design Research Society, professor at the Open University, author of many books and articles). Originally written as a 2006 conference address, it has been then published in the Design Research Quarterly (the DRS official publication), where I found it some months ago. I thought that this was very well suited for my Design Methodology module on “Philosophy of Design” at NABA Media Design, and I completed the Italian translation before Christmas. Nigel has kindly given his permission for using it in teaching; he also made me smile as he replied to my final thanks commenting “how much more elegant it seems in Italian!” 😉

NABA multidisciplinary team wins Nokia NUP-Nokia University program recognition

Fabio Mattia, Rossella Scicolone and Lara Gianotti, students respectively in the Media, Fashion and Graphic Design program at NABA, have won the 3rd placement in the 2008 edition of NUP-Nokia University Program, an annual challenge sponsored by Nokia Italy and addressed usually to Economics and Engineering faculties. Thanks to Alberto D’Ottavi, the NABA Media Design school was invited to join this edition, which in itself has been an achievement, since it has been the first and only design school selected.

Fabio (Media Design) put together a multidisciplinary team inviting two other students from different domains (Rossella from Fashion and Lara from Graphic Design). Alberto and myself have supervised the work. To me it has been especially interesting for the double reason that Fabio was in my Design Methodology / Philosophy of Design class and that the topic of the challenge (“How the Internet device of the future will look like?”) was very much in line with the work done over the last few years on beyond 3G / ubicomp application and services (the service side was also stressed by the reference to OVI in the brief).

The main objective was to develop a concept and articulate it with service ideas and an early business perspective. As obvious, the differences among the various participants were quite evident. Most of the presentations from Economics and Engineering programs were pretty much centred about one or another technology idea, expanded into a bigger marketing picture (some provided even TV spot snippets and campaign budgets), even though others put a considerable effort also in physical mock-ups and benefit analysis. NABA students were drawn instead on a design perspective in which service scenarios and device sketches were perhaps more tied together.

From the educational point of view, I really enjoyed having a chance to practice with the students some of the key issues that I try to teach in my class: design as a team-based, distributed, multidisciplinary work in which intangible, service aspects are related in many ways to physical ones, from the functional, social and esthetical point of views. Furthermore, as the final day was hosted in Roma at Roma Tre University (namely by professor Carlo Alberto Pratesi), Nokia kindly invited the team to bring there some classmates. At the end we were almost 25 people, travelling from Milano to Roma and back to Milano in one day; 9 hours on the high speed train, but it looks like that everyone had a good time… (Friends might wish to check the Facebook photo album).

Sketching mobile applications

Working with Neos on a mobc3 solution developed for a major retailer (details are confidential). As in other cases, manual sketching on a very basic mobile phone interface template proved to be really useful to translate or better shape high level requirements into more concrete anticipations of the application behaviour, to be elaborated then as detailed interface and navigation specifications.

Sketches are seeminlgy quite much appreciated by the developer guys to quickly get an idea of what the work is going to be (perhaps yet another sign of Powerpoint fatigue…)

Paper on Design Methodology course & panel discussion at HCIed 2008 in Roma

HCIEd 2008 logo
HCIEd 2008 logo – slightly scary isn’t it? 😉

Presented a short paper at HCIed 2008 about my undergraduate course on Design Methodology and Philosophy of Design, now running for the fourth year at NABA. HCIed is the annual international conference of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) educators.

The paper title is “Unfreezing thoughts. Philosophy, design studies and role playing games in a foundational undergraduate course” (download from publications page). Then, the conference organizers invited me to join a panel called to discuss the paper contributed by Russell Beale (University of Birmingham, BCS), “Architects or builders; scaffholding or duck tape?”, regarding the role of HCI education in University level courses (I proposed to educate “builders with a conscience” — download). Since Russell could not make it to Roma, the panel was chaired by the conference keynote speaker, Harold Timbleby (Swansea University; his fifth book, “Press on”, has received an important award); panelists included Tatjana Leblanc (University of Montreal) and Lars Oestreicher (Uppsala University); both of them presented at the conference interesting contributions on HCI, design, complexity and education implications.

Among others, I had very nice talks with Carlo Giovannella (Università di Roma Tor Vergata-Scuola IaD, event hoster), Tatjana Leblanc, William Wong (organizing committee) and Toni Granollers (Universitat de Lleida).
HCIed 2008 has been held at the central premises of CNR in Roma (the building facade is quite an example of the 30s Italy official architectural taste, to say so… The building has been inaugurated in 1937).

CNR premises in Rome
CNR premises in Rome – it looks like Italian 20s-30s architecture…

Focus groups study, Italian coverage of international research

Successfully completed a focus groups study in the Milano area as the Italian partner of Idean (Finland), involving end-users, employees and customers of a global manufacturer with a local site; the study was about a new product key feature at the prototype stage and was part of a bigger international research plan. All the details are strictly confidential.

Performed activities included:

  • recruiting of two end-user groups according to specified criteria;
  • conduction of four focus groups;
  • video-recording of all the sessions;
  • raw material analysis and results reporting.

The study has been successfully completed in an extremely short timeframe, taking advantage of recruiting quality and parallel streams of work. Adriano Solidoro of Università Bicocca cooperated with me on the assignment.

Socio-economic analysis of technology

SPICE project logo
SPICE project logo – not so spicy I am afraid…

As part of the SPICE project, successfully completed an initial socio-economic analysis on the potential impact of the technologies reseearched and developed in that same project (in short, a mobile service creation and execution platform, with a set of context-awareness, service roaming and content delivery distinctive capabilities).

I conducted the study combining the results of a project internal workshop (held in Budapest with participants from Telenor and NTNU) and an external online video and email-based questionnaire addressed to experts in the field.

I managed the workshop as a structured brainstorming, eliciting feedback in discussion rounds based on a review of the key usage scenarios; then I analyzed the results extracting pros, cons and mixed reactions.

The questionnaire consisted in a simple set of open questions related to four short videos made available online; I selected a number of academics and research manager with relevant expertise from various locations (Germany, The Netherlands, Finland, Israel, among others) and got them to provide their comments.

The task was part of the revised business modelling analysis, coordinated by NTNU and conducted in cooperation with VUB (Brussels), Telenor, Telefonica and Telecom Italia; it has been also my last major effort in Spice, in which I have been working right since the kick-off in Paris, in January 2006 (and before that a bit at the proposal stage too).

Design Methodoology / Philosophy of Design course, 4th year

Started the course on Design Methodology / Philosophy of Design for the undergraduate Media Design program at NABA, fine arts academy in Milano. This is the fourth time; it began back in 2003, when the issue of methodology in design to me was the point where some very practical professional concerns (I was a middle manager in a then 300 people Web design and digital marketing agency) met the discovery of J.C. Jones seminal books.

This is also the year in which I managed to write a short paper about the course and get it through in a scientific conference (HCIed 2008; see the publications page for download).

I copied below some text from an early version of my contribution, dropped out in the revision process. The studies director mentioned at the beginning is Francesco Monico.

“Four years ago the studies director of the undergraduate media design program at NABA-Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti, a design school and fine arts academy in Milano, Italy, questioned around the possible shape of a foundational course on design methodology. The need was to propose something different and beyond the specific methodologies already covered by other foundational courses in various design disciplines. As the media have largely overcome their traditional boundaries to spread over a vast range of contexts and industries, with design challenges that cut across the domains of creative production, science and technology, it seemed sensible trying to nurture the ability to think about the possible ways to structure the act and process of designing, in broad and radical terms.

The immediate and slightly provocative reaction of the author was to urge whoever was put in charge to go straight back to the very heart of the word and the concept of method, starting perhaps with some pages of a classic like Descartes Discourse on Method, and ending maybe with the harsh but sophisticate criticism of any methodology in often cited (but lesser known) Paul K. Feyerabend Against Method. To the author initial surprise, the provocation was not turned over; for three years on (and with the fourth coming soon), students have been engaged in a detour from early modern philosophy to contemporary epistemology, to be followed then by a proper investigation of the design process along the lines of a standard book on design methodology, John C. Jones Design Methods. The insisted questioning on the meaning and nature of method is also played out in two practical ways: one is role playing and collaborative dynamics in group games, the other is nonfictional writing”