I come from Romania, a country which has risen from the ashes of communism not too long ago. My life there has shaped my way of thinking and seeing the world. Growing up in a culture which is sometimes materialistic, superficial and corrupt, I never felt fully empowered or fully confident in my social self, or the way I look and I have always felt the need to "preech" or share good, empowering messages any way I could. Now, as a designer, this is what I would like to convey through my work - enable the underdog to rise above all the doubts, help tear down prejudices that minorities (ethnic but also gender) face and bring transparency and awareness where there is not. This is why Brainport Connects has focused on giving people the opportunity to open up to each other and let room for understanding and sharing. Another important thing it is doing is it enables expats to enlarge their social circle and feel more empowered by gaining social capital. I believe that human connection and sharing human emotion is the key to many social problems. POZE is also one of the projects I worked on which aims at bringing people on the same emotional state and connecting strangers by giving them a memory to share for a better festival experience. Coming back to superficiality versus awareness and learning, I do have an affinity towards making people feel/think/learn through my designing by sparking debates on different topics and challenging the users to speak out their minds and have contradictory opinions - Eden leads a discussion on religion, while Black textures challenges participants to describe the simple non-color black.
I have a user-centered design approach since I am very empathetic to the user. I never want to step over any cultural boundaries, therefore, my designs always respect the target audience and their values. I like to use first, second or third person perspectives and open interviews iteratively until I reach a satisfying result. I like all my designs to be inspired by my own experiences or the experiences of the world around me that I can truly understand and empathize with. I believe that only then can I deliver a truly useful product. RowBot and ChoreoAssist are projects inspired from problems me or the people in my close environment face, while Brainport Connects is deeply rooted in an issue I have observed from different angles from a longer time ago.
I come from a Computer Science background, therefore, I like to include technology in all my designs, or at least think about how the designs I produce fit into a world where technology is omnipresent. I mostly use technology as a means to communicating my ideas, and I like to weave it into my designs even though some of them are not digital. My work is very interactive and engaging and is mostly in the foreground. Most of my designs are digital products which work with sensors (POZE, ChoreoAssist, RowBot). I do not, however, have a preference for digital since I am also passionate about aesthetics of form and interaction (Dumbo, Obi Uke, UClean). I like challenging myself to think about new, different ways of interacting with physical interfaces, ones that not only regard the human's cognitive skills but also perceptual- motor and emotional skills. User experience is detrimental to a products' whole appeal: even if the concept is ground-breaking, if the feed-forward is not clear and the user cannot find the right button, the scope of the design will never be fully achieved and understood.
I believe that industrial designers have a higher responsibility than any other engineer involved in the creation of a product/service. To me, designers have the “duty“ of making sure that the outcome of their work is respectful to the user.
What I mean by “respectful” is that a designed piece serves a clear purpose, one that adds value to the life of the user: either it provokes thought, teaches something, solves a problem or elicits a reaction which benefits the user. There are plenty of designs out there that are purely useless and intrusive, designs which were clearly put out there for higher profits or to feed certain trends that are “cool“ but temporary. Social design is mindful to the designer's role in society and her responsibility to bring about social change by challenging the purely market-oriented areas of design.
There is an ongoing debate anywhere we turn: we care less for each other, due to both the disappearance of cohesive tissue in society such as churches and associations but also because of social technology; we lose basic human skills because of the emergence of technology. Sherry Turkle states a painful truth in her TED talk, ‘Connected, but alone?’: "We’re getting used to a new way of being alone together".
Therefore, should designers just stop making technological products? Well, we can all agree that is just a foolish question. But should designers be more mindful to the long-term repercussions of their technological designs by initiating more offline human connections and by respecting human's cognitive, perceptual-motor and emotional skills more? Now that is a good question with a positive answer, in my view, at least.
Victor Margoling writes about the "designer's ability to envision and give form on material and immaterial products that can address human problems on broad scale and contribute to social well-being." in Politics of the Artificial. Therefore, the answer is there: we, designers, have the power of crafting the functionalities of products and use technology in such a way that it brings about long-term solutions and cohesion. Instead of creating an online technology which allows humans to communicate with no need of meeting, focus more on offline technological experiences which can create those associations that have disappeared - such as MeetUp. Another way to bring about cohesion and encourage people to go offline by using learning and awareness that has been on the rise lately are immersive digital experiences - used very often in museums to boost the audience and enrich the learning journey.
Another problem which needs to be addressed by designers is creating products which make the user more aware of the usage instead of "losing" themselves in the device - from Amazon to Alibaba, a growing number of primarily digital brands are now placing greater emphasis on physical presence while making the most of digital and data to improve experience. Carnival Corporation, for example, has developed the Medallion–a wearable smart coin that connects customers to a cruise ship through a digitally enabled service called the Compass. Another trends is moving on from flat design, to dimensional design - if everything is flat, then nothing is differentiated. Fore example, Google's Material Design adds the intuitive feeling of physical objects in a purely digital environment by simulating a 3D space on every element on the screen. These trends go beyond the norms of "one UI fits all technologies", and stimulate the user by giving them function in a different form and bringing their interaction with the technology forward, rather then letting it fade in the back of their minds.
We’re getting used to a new way of being alone together
Sherry Turkle - Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology @ MIT