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TU/e Industrial Design Graduates talks to the best of TU/e's industrial design graduates to discover projects that are focussed on social design and creating a more personable relationship with machines.  Whether for the home or for young children, these ideas seem more people-centric than the graduation projects of previous years.

By Gabrielle Kennedy /asdf 22-10-2009

At the TU/e (University of Technology Eindhoven) department of Industrial Design a lot of students showed innovative ideas beyond the music theme, a stalwart student favourite.

Guus Baggermans’ “Friendly Vending Machine” was an idea bred out of his reading of Donald Normal’s new book on social design.  “He talks a lot about social machines so I went out and tried to look for the most social machines I could,” says Baggermans.  “Then I looked for most asocial machine I could which to me was a typical soda machine so my goal was to make it more social by adding friendliness.”

Baggermans has achieved this by adding more movement to the transaction, which helps the products to feel more alive.  “It makes it more honest,” he says.  “The products end up selling themselves instead of advertising selling products that can not even be seen.”

The friendly vending machine responds to touch.  It allows the cans to move, to reveal their cost and in so doing attracts the consumer with the message that they (i.e the cans) know someone is there and can be seen.   Then, instead of throwing a purchase into a dark bin, the machine opens up, inviting the consumer in to collect a product.

Floor Mattheijssen designed a pregnancy belt that incorporates improved technology for measuring fetal heart rates.  “I started by interviewing a lot of mothers and discovered that they were uncomfortable with the current set up,” says Mattheijssen.  “I talked to them about the information they needed and what was most important to them.”

Eventually Mattheijssen decided against traditional interviews in the second phase of her research because she felt they only lead to surface information.  Instead, she opted for a probe study and asked women to describe their daily activities in a diary.  “That way you really get to know how they feel,” she says.

Mattheijssen discovered that looking at the first ultra sound was the most important moment of pregnancy for a woman.  With this in mind, she used measurements taken from electrodes on the belly to make a visual image with lights on a belly belt that let the mother know both the heart rate as well as the location of the baby’s heart.

“The mother and father can each touch the belly and know where the heart is, which stimulates bonding and is also good for lactation,” Mattheijssen says.

Saskia Bakker’s “Move|Learn|Explore” project is about teaching children aged 7 to 9 about the difference between high and low, soft and loud and slow and fast in music.  “I’m personally very interested in education,” says Bakker.  “I went looking for someone else who was researching that area with a psychological and cognitive base and found a researcher in Canada who helped me to set up the idea.”

Using the natural abilities of children, and taking into account that they are experienced in physical activity and movement, Bakker set up a system that helped them to link this to more abstract concepts, which they find more difficult to grasp.

The “instruments” are made from wood and contain a wireless antenna that gets picked up by a remote computer.  The computer then plays back musical sounds depending on what action the child is doing.  “It reads how fast it is being shaken or rotated,” Bakker explains.  “And knows whether it is being held high or low.”

“Move|Learn|Explore” has been nominated for Dutch human computer interaction prize.

And lastly, Jorien Kemerink made a moveable wall, which can be used to constantly redefine space and atmosphere.  “It’s very subtle,” she says.  “With every different activity you want to use a space for, you can change the wall.  What I wanted was a real physical transformation.”

These days we need space that is changeable depending on situations.  Space needs to be able to grow and change with a mood.  When it is touched, the senses in the material respond by bending to the push or pull of the movement.  “It’s almost organic,” Kemerink says.  “You touch it and it reacts to you.”

Images: large Jorien Kemerink, small from top Guus Baggermans, Floor Mattheijssen, Saskia Bakker

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