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Lookback: Humanised Interfaces | Design Academy Showcase

Interview with Roey Tsemah

Humanizing Technology at WORM in 2020

30 students from Eindhoven’s Design Academy were recently given a challenge to “rethink the synthesizer”. And on February 29th 2020 all these sound-bending objects and installations were available to explore at WORM Rotterdam for the first time. WORM asked one of the event’s coordinators and course leaders, Roey Tsemah, how it went. (PS: There’s a great film to watch too.)

“If you think about it, technology, at its core, is not human at all. If anything, it’s actually synthetic. So, how do you teach to use technology in a more human-centred way? If you are familiar with students from the Design Academy, you know they are not your typical product designers. They are artists expressing themselves through design. When writing this course, we wanted to create the full experience in which the students could test their products with real users.

Besides teaching students about concept development, time management and how to communicate their ideas to the world, we wanted their final grade to be given by the people using their products. Typically, 2nd-year students at the Design Academy, build products, display them to their teachers, get assessed and that’s where the learning process ends. For this year’s course, we wanted to try something new and allow real people to assess the products.

Every product designer has to deal with questions like: how do I make my product stand out in a room full of other amazing products? If someone is interested in what I’ve built, would he know how to use it? All these real-life challenges are part of every product designer’s path, but this time you are not going through this alone – you have a coach guiding you through this journey.

Building a synth, whose main purpose is to be played by someone, is perhaps the best way to learn about interface. It’s fairly easy, technically speaking, to build a sound-bending object. If you have all the freedom and unlimited creativity, what would you build? A futuristic insect who’s digestive system you can listen to and manipulate? An everyday object such as a microwave or a door? In this exhibition, our students displayed 30 amazing objects you could play around with and really experience for yourself.

When thinking about exhibition spaces, I immediately thought of WORM. I’ve been a fan for years as it’s not your usual gallery. They manage to attract pretty unusual young talent and visitors who can appreciate this type of art. The exhibitions I’ve visited in the past, all had a strong connection between art and technology and that was exactly what we wanted our students to experience.

The event was complemented by a website where all instruments had their own page with photographs, videos and descriptions. All the projects are available here:

As for the experience during the day, it was quite unique for us. It was great seeing all the instruments in such a setting. It felt like a technology fair, where creators and enthusiasts came together to share ideas and thoughts. Students were very excited to take part in such an event, where the room setting, light and sound system were used to highlight their products. Although it was pouring with rain outside, the room was quite packed. WORM attracts quite a specific kind of audience and that’s the kind of audience we all wanted to share our works with. Our students had a great chance to meet with other professional synth creators and technologists, and to start building their own name in the industry.

WORM’s audience – well the way I see it, anyway – looks for new perspectives on art, film and design. When I come to WORM I look for things I won’t see anywhere else. If it’s an electronic music evening, it’ll be the sort of modular or DIY synths. If it’s a film night it’ll be some exotic analogue screening. It’s a place to explore what other likeminded creators are making, and meet them in person.

This course was a great experience for the students and for us the facilitators, (that’s me, Roey Tsemah, and my colleague Arthur van Schravendijk). We couldn’t have done this without WORM, who saw the potential of this evening right away and gave us the opportunity to use their space to exhibit and perform. Thank you for letting your audience check out this exceptional young talent and for letting me close the night with a musical set.”

If you missed it, check out the exhibition video here where you see the interaction between the audience and the students.:

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