April 15, 2014

Overhauling Twitter Profiles


Alumni, David Bellona has been busy leading the redesign of Twitter’s layout. Over the next few weeks users will be moved to new profiles. Wired reviewed the design thinking behind the new look.   

What to expect: 

Visually, the biggest change is the introduction of a full-width header image, a la Facebook’s cover photo. Gone are quirkily charming tiled backgrounds of the old profile page.

Tweets appear a bit differently too. Users can opt to put a “pinned tweet” at the top of their column, plucking one from the chronological stack as a sort of 140-character slogan. In the list of tweets itself, popular tweets will appear in slightly larger text, making them easier to find in a quick scan. 

Why the fresh look:

 “We asked, ‘how can we make this more like a magazine cover–almost like a summary of its contents,’” Bellona says. If Twitter hitherto has been about aggregating a digest from all sorts of sources, the new profile offers a polished entry point for those who just want to catch up with a single subject.

Other small touches emphasize the profile’s new status as a useful place to park yourself. The new design pings Twitter’s servers for updates every 30 seconds and automatically threads new Tweets into the stream, instead of forcing users to click a notification to reveal new tweets. The team conceived of it as a sort of “ticker tape” effect, especially useful in the case of someone live-tweeting an event.

Twitter will undoubtedly continue trying to push their newsfeed into more mainstream territory. The new profile design, though, is a slightly different play. It does make Twitter easier for newcomers to understand, offering a shinier, more product-like public face to people who arrive directly at a user page.

But it also positions the Twitter profile as a destination unto itself, apart from the newsfeed entirely. It’s a concession to an entirely different use case than the one Twitter was built upon. “For some people, it’s all about that real-time newsfeed,” Bellona says. “For some, it’s just like, ‘I want to see what a celebrity is up to.’ Both should be really great. And that’s where we took a big step forward.”

This is just an excerpt, read the full article at Wired.

April 4, 2014

An End to Parking Woes?

Like many of us, alumni Nikki Sylianteng has misinterpreted parking signs and gotten one-too-many tickets, as a result. 

Sick of the overly verbose signage, Nikki took things into her own hands, creating user-centered signs that remove the guesswork. She has been testing them out guerrilla-style starting with the parking sign under her own apartment window. This participatory design project was recently profiled in Atlantic magazine’s ”By Design” section. 

Atlantic magazine details Nikki’s design:

Sylianteng’s approach uses blocks of red and green, similar to a Google calendar’s, to indicate when parking is allowed; all drivers need to do is match the day of the week to the time of day. As critics soon noted, her design leaves out some crucial information: different rules for commercial vehicles, for example, and for the segments of curb on either side of the signs. She is working on incorporating these elements, as well as symbols for color-blind drivers, into a new model.

Read the full article and follow To Park or Not to Park to see the signs develop. 

March 31, 2014

2014 Summer Intensive in Interaction Design


The 2014 Summer Intensive in Interaction Design program is now open for registration.  The popular four-week program features an à la carte offering of courses in interaction design and user experience that allow you to explore design fundamentals through guided and group-based work.  Stop wondering about your future, and start making it. Discover the course(s) that are right for you, and register today.

To learn more, read the full program details.


Practice of Interaction Design
Instructor: Carla Diana
Mondays, June 9-30
6-8:50 p.m.

This course will explore the relationship among people, products, and information through the field of Interaction Design. In a series of hands-on, studio-based exercises, students will gain exposure to critical parts of the design process while learning specific methods for human-centered concept exploration and the development of product behaviors. The course will culminate in a final project that incorporates major principles of Interaction Design and fits within the context of a larger, track-independent theme.

Visualizing Information
Instructor: Hilla Katki
Tuesdays, June 10-July 1
6:00-8:50 p.m.
Data visualization can be informative, evocative, and interrogatory. In this course, students will start from a foundation of discrete data and explore new narrative and non-narrative possibilities that thoughtfully consider the relationship between form and content. Students will create a visually compelling final project that tells a more deep and meaningful story, drawing from data sources of their own chosen interest and those discovered in the process.

Code Literacy - An Introduction to Interactive Programming
Instructor: Noa Younse
Saturday, June 14, 3:00-5:50 p.m.
Wednesdays, June 18-July 2
6:00–8:50 p.m.

Serving as a gentle introduction to creative coding, this course is geared toward individuals from the fields of art and design, and takes a slow-paced approach in building code literacy. We’ll use open source Javascript tools (such as the Processing library) to understand the building blocks of code, computational logic and object-oriented programming. From here, students will be able to approach a variety of programming languages in pursuit of data visualization and the creation of interactive systems. No prior experience with programming is necessary.

Research Methods in Interaction Design
Instructor: Jodi Leo
Thursdays, June 12-July 3
6-8:50 p.m.

The course starts from the premise that research brings fresh thinking and accelerates iteration, and is a key to great product and service design. Over four weeks, students will be introduced to the fundamentals of user research techniques for interaction designers and will prepare to practice research with ease and confidence. Working in teams, students will gain experience in creating facilitator guides and screeners as part of a conducted final research project that entails live-site recruiting and moderation.

Mobile UX Design
Instructor: Drew Cogbill
Saturdays, June 7-28
10 a.m.–12:50 p.m.

The explosive market of mobile applications and services presents new challenges and considerations for interaction designers. In this course students expand their UX thinking to portable devices, while working on a mobile app design. Through exercises in wireframing, screen design, and light-weight digital prototyping, students walk away with a portfolio-quality project that exhibits their understanding of mobile UX/UI best practices with an emphasis on designing for the user.

March 25, 2014

Making Sense of Syria

This past weekend, the MFA Interaction Design department hosted Making Sense of Syria an interdisciplinary design workshop series focused on exploring new ways for making sense of complex data in the Syrian Conflict.

Participant Alex Todaro discusses this years focus and data sets:

It’s been more than a year since the original “Making Sense of Syria” workshop. In that time the conflict has only become more complex and I feel there’s no better time to bring the group back together and re-contextualize the use of data and it’s implications on conflict mediation. Richard Tyson and the now official Special Projects Office, organized this event and they’ve done an incredible job of gathering a large group of thoughtful and talented participants. It’s only been one day and I am amazed at the diversity of perspective, the quality of challenging ethical considerations, and the imagination with the potential usages for the data we’ve gathered. 

This year the workshop will focus mainly on the town of Aleppo. For a large part of the conflict Aleppo was not involved in the fighting. Aleppo’s disinterest in the revolution was rooted largely in the presence of growing business and investments in the town, as well as it’s diversity in inhabitants (In 2011 Aleppo had the largest Christian population in the middle east). Currently it is in a stalemate, after already struggling through takeovers from the Islamic State of Iraq Syria (ISIS), Aleppo is now divided down the middle between the regime and the opposition. Checkpoints across the region prevent access and possibilities for travel, and there is only a single supply route through the city which dramatically affects the economics depending on who’s controlling it. 

This year we have the opportunity to work with four different data sets. Each offers insight into different levels of specification ranging from global rhetoric about Aleppo, all the way down to day-to-day utilities and perceptions on the streets. Although each of these data sets are rich in information, the conversation today revolved around some key questions that speculate on the function of the data. The high level question of course is how do we use the data? How do we understand the data? and to whom is it most valuable?

Accomplishments for the first day:

We ended today on a framework for processing this data, at least for our own purposes. Data doesn’t necessarily tell us what we don’t know but rather helps us hold more confidently what we do know and then allows us to see the gaps in our thinking. It became an important criteria to really check the validity of the data we’re picking apart. Why is it here in the first place? What was it’s intended use? Is it from a credible source? By creating a methodology of checking premises, we are bringing an ethical ideology into every step of the process. It’s this foundation that then allows us to confidently begin to ask the right questions of how it can be used. 

 Problems surrounding data systems:

In each system these are the actions: Framing, Configuring, Aggregating, Analyzing, and Publishing. Within these factors there are a lot of questions and holes that need to be confronted in order to make sure the intended framing and configuring are setup for the proper analyzing and publishing. Additionally in the aggregation process, especially in conflicts zones, how do you rely on a full and fair representation of the scenario through data? There are more-often than not political intentions with social videos, and even if there is a wealth of them they are only indicative of one side of the conflict. Also in this aggregation how do you set up the proper system that can quickly absorb and visualize new data when the barriers are low connectivity and individual risk for the purveyors of this information? 

 Read more about Making Sense of Syria. 

March 24, 2014

IXD students in PHA Hackathon

First year students Amy Wu, Effy Zhang, and Michie Cao recently  took part in the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) Hackathon where they prototyped and built working solutions focus on childhood obesity. 

The graduate students summarize the event: 

Childhood obesity is a preventable epidemic that is currently affecting more than a third of today’s children in the United States, regardless of race, ethnicity, family income or locale. Driven largely by unhealthy diets and eating patterns and lack of physical activity, it puts children at risk of serious, life-threatening health conditions in the future and negatively affects their performance in school.

Fortunately, there are many things that can be done to reverse this trend and for the last three years, thePartnership for a Healthier America (PHA) has been devoted to working with the private sector to help address this crisis. This past month, they hosted a Hackathon in Washington, DC in collaboration withThe Feast, inviting designers, developers, strategists and high school students from the Academy For Software Engineering in New York City to help find tangible, creative solutions to end childhood obesity.

The two challenges at hand were (1) Helping teachers empower students to make healthy choices about the food they consume, whether at home or at school (2) Creating an information avenue that shows families the healthy food options and physical activity opportunities available to them locally.

Over the course of two days, on March 8 & 9, we hacked away at childhood obesity. We  took on the task of how to make healthy choices the easy choice for families and children at school. There were two teams, schools and home, which each had 3 groups of 4 to 6 people. There were speakers and mentors coming around to the individual groups during the weekend Hackathon. Judging was based on 4 criteria: accessibility, innovation, impact value and user.

The IxDers that went down to DC consisted of Michie Cao, Effy Zhang, and Amy Wu. We were placed on three separate groups. Independently, each of our teams came up with a website as the platform of choice because the key insights were a) students are not allowed to bring their cell phone to school b) not everyone has a smartphone and c) some people have limited access to a computer.

Teams had 24-hours to prototype their ideas and presented to a board of nutritionists, teachers, PHA stakeholders and White House officials. The two winning teams presented their idea a week later at The Building a Healthier Future Summit, during which businesses, industry leaders, non-profits, academic and government counterparts, and First Lady Michelle Obama attended to discuss their achievements thus far and further solutions for the paramount issue.  

Amy’s focus was a family orientated responsive website that helps manage SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) food budgets: 

 A user would create a family profile, which includes the members within the family, and their food preferences, known allergies, and based upon these preferences recipes are generated. The recipes list could be further paired down through a filtering system, for example, depending on what type of cuisine they wished to cook for a particular meal. After selecting a recipe or recipes, a shopping list is populated for easy on the go use. All items on the shopping list are SNAP approved items.

Effy’s team turned nutrition into a mobile-friendly game:

 Classes form teams within a school and compete to have the highest number of points, points were gained by making healthy food choices.  It also works for schools competing against other schools. Winners can win prizes, such as non-food rewards, like movie tickets.

Audience: Grade 6~8

Background: School Day = ⅔ of a middle schooler’s nutrition, middle school is also when kids are starting to make independent choices about food and when kids are the most susceptible to behavior change.

Key insights: 1. School children want to collect Pokemon Cards.

2. Have a great pride in their class.


Students play this game as a team. They win point through making healthy food choices or lose points by eating rubbish food. More point they got, higher level character they have the class. They can check the class or personal performance online by week or month. Students can chat with other team members, share advice, “brag” and motivate others. They can also rate meals and provide feedback to cafeteria support staff; the website can make a recommendation to students based on other team members’ ratings of school meals or food choices. All the data been collected directly from school’s cafeteria when students check out.

 Empowering teachers to help students make healthier food choices was the goal of Michie’s group:

Inspired by an elementary school teacher, who started an Iron Chef-like challenge within her school to teach her students about cooking skills and healthy eating, we decided to make an online video platform called Applesauce that could facilitate such collaborative video making in schools for students and also allow parents, local vendors and the greater community get involved either by donating the cooking ingredients or commenting and voting on their favorite videos.   This idea came from insights we had gained through interviews with teachers, community organizers and students including:

-Kids like to learn by doing

-Kids appreciate validation from their peers

-Schools preferred working with local food vendors (even if they were unable to, for reasons of limited resource or time)

Our hope was that this platform would not only be a fun way for students to learn about cooking and healthy eating, but also serve as a piece of curriculum for teachers and a food resource for parents.   Provided with a Resource Starter Pack that outlines a sample program for teachers to follow, teachers would be able to incorporate these video activities into their curriculum and better engage their students.   Driven by the ability to get new “badges” and elevate to new chef “levels”, students would be encouraged to both be their own content creators and learn important life skills like cooking.  Lastly, parents would be able to refer to this website for new cooking recipes that their kids are sure to like.  

Read about their experiences in detail. Follow Amy, Effy and Michie

March 21, 2014

Alumni brings exercises to FourSquare’s “Wacky Fridays”

Alumni Cooper Smith uses skills learned during his time in the MFA Interaction Design department during Foursquare’s afternoon art hour. 

In 2011 Cooper participated in the "Hopeful Monsters" workshop. There BERG taught participants a technique called the “Matt Ward Maneuver”. These great sketching exercises are often referenced when Cooper hosts Foursquare’s meetings which were recently profiled by Fast Company

Fast Company details these weekly events:

Every Friday at 5 p.m., 15 or so Foursquare engineers, designers, and researchers step away from their computers for mandatory art time. Each week, a different person proposes a creative exercise: Create an object that helps people deal with sorrow, or design the elevator control panel for a 1,000-story building, for example. The next few minutes are spent executing, and then the group shares their creations.

It might not look like it, but that hour-long session serves as the weekly meeting for the Product Experience team. Instead of discussing upcoming projects or administrative items, Jon Steinback, who heads up Product Design at Foursquare, finds it more useful to spend the hour imagining. “They all think about very narrow problems within the scope of Foursquare’s larger questions,” he told Fast Company. This, he hopes, gets people to think beyond their individual tasks and learn how to focus on problem solving in a different way.

And the advantage of the doodle sessions: 
It’s definitely a little bit silly to imagine a bunch of adults sitting in a circle doodling—and getting paid for it. But learning to flex brain muscles in different ways is a particularly useful skill for the Product Experience group. “My job and the job of my team is to give a human side to what we’re building,” Steinback explains. That means taking the engineer’s products and translating them into terms that a broad subset of people will understand and relate to.
Read the full article and see a smashing photo of alumni Cooper Smith!

March 19, 2014

Improving NYC’s Citi Bike through Practical Design Fictions


Design in Public Spaces is a first-year MFA course that pushes interaction designers to explore ways in which ubiquitous technology can transform the everyday experience of urban public space.

This semester, students in Jill Nussbaum’s class were approached by NYC Bike Share, better known as the parent company of New York’s Citi Bike transit program, to focus on improving the service experience. With tens of thousands of annual members, Citi Bike has proven wildly successful for New Yorkers looking to borrow a bike on a regular basis. For new and casual users, however, there is still room for improvement in accessing the fleet of several thousand blue bikes. NYC Bike Share asked students to examine how the purchase of day and limited-use passes could be improved through mobile and newer technologies.

Working in groups, students examined real-world cases through immersive research and interviews. They studied the pain points common to a first time user’s experience. While language barriers and unfamiliarity with a new system were prevalent, closer inspection revealed frustration with payment practices and restrictions that could easily dissuade tourists. In their strategies to make realistic improvements, students developed fictional narratives that demonstrate ideas within reach. Here is a selection of their work:

Explorer - Is a mobile app that creates a unique biking experience for tourists in NYC.

Enhancing Citi Bike’s User Experience - Looks at how the system can better instruct new users at relevant moments and places upon acquaintance.

Citi Bike Ride - Prepaid retail guest passes to get going even quicker.

A Design Fiction for Citi Bike - Investigates how Citi Bike might seamlessly integrate with other tourist friendly services and experiences.

The response from NYC Bike Share has been genuinely positive, with continued discussion to implement some of the ideas presented within the body of work. The class and department extend a special thanks to NYC Bike Share director of marketing Dani Simons and marketing manager Will Bissell, who acted as guest critics on the project.

March 17, 2014

Student’s Kickstarter-funded project grabs Gizmag’s attention and gets us off our posterior.

First year students, Mikey Chen and Sam Carmichael’s UpStanding Desk was featured on Gizmag. The clever desk sits on top of your current workspace, allowing you to stand, no matter your current office arrangement.

Gizmag highlights the projects practicality:

The UpStanding Desk, developed by the New York-based Sam Carmichael and Mikey Chen, is a lightweight structure designed to turn any normal desk into a standing desk. Made from just five pieces of Canadian birch plywood that is precision-cut and flat-packed for easy shipping, the UpStanding Desk has a multi-level work surface to suit most needs.

The assembled UpStanding Desk weighs just 10 pounds (4.5kg), and it can, with practice, be assembled or disassembled in under a minute. The plywood is hand-sanded for a soft finish, and the pieces lock together without any need for fasteners.

In regards to affordability, Gizmag writer Dave Parrack goes on to say:

Backers of the Standard UpStanding Desk are being asked to pledge US$200, with the Double-Wide UpStanding Desk promised to those pledging US$250. The project has already surpassed its funding goal, so shipping should begin from mid-May.

And those living outside the United States are:

Advised to pledge at the US$25 level to receive the plans needed for the UpStanding Desk to be manufactured at a fabrication shop.

Get your own desk, stay informed, and see what the rest of the Entrepreneurial Design class is working on!

February 14, 2014

MFA Interaction Design Application Deadline


The MFA Interaction Design application deadline is today, February 14, 2014. Take the plunge. Apply and invest in your love of research, analyzing, prototyping, and design concepts. 

While we recommend that applications be submitted then, we continue to accept applications on a rolling admissions basis throughout 2104 until space is filled.

For those planning to apply by February 14, 2014, here’s what you can expect in the months from February through April, 2014:

  • February 14, 2014: Application deadline for prospective students.
  • March 14, 2014: Applicants who applied by February 14 receive notification about an interview. (Admittance to the program requires a personal interview.)
  • February 14-28, 2014: Interviews for select candidates.
  • April 1, 2014: Applicants who applied by February 14 receive a decision in writing from SVA.

Read more about the application requirements, and if you’d like to stop by for a tour or a talk, reach out to us or schedule a tour.

February 14, 2014

Visualizing New York’s Transit Data for and with the MTA


Over four weeks in January and February, 13 first and second year students participated in Rachel Abrams' MTA Big Data workshop. Devised for and with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the workshop's goal was twofold: 

First, to introduce the public agency to the principles, methods, tools and activities of data visualization, so they can harvest greater value from the information that New York City Transit (and other parts of the MTA) generates about itself 24/7, year round. 

Secondly, to let the students loose on content with real-world context and impact, to give them an insider’s view of a complex piece of New York’s public infra- and info-structure, and explore ways to make the transit information landscape more legible for its executive decision makers, municipal operators and passengers.

Two of the four workshop sessions included much-appreciated masterclasses by guests of the moderator: Jennifer Kilian (Facebook) on prototyping and Eddie Opara (Pentagram) on data visualization.

Five topics from the Subway

With preselected topic areas, five project groups gathered, cleaned, organized source data to represent stories in visual prototypes about each issue. Each group identified a general theme, hunches and questions to explore, aspects of the data to visualize and next steps to develop deeper inquiry into their given topic. From there, the whole team suggested key recommendations for the MTA, to highlight best practices the agency could adopt to make more of the data riding around New York produces every minute of every day.

Addressing these topics, students:

Key learnings

Students’ key recommendations for the MTA included:

  • What makes data glorious is that it’s the raw material of evidence: Key to making cases that guide decisions
  • Start with just enough data, clean it, structure it. Identify what decision-makers really need to know, and collect data to support just that. 
  • User-centered design means start with decision-makers’ and operators’ real needs and establish a common visual grammar and vocabulary everyone can use
  • Limit jargon and acronyms: Use simple language regular people can understand
  • If you can’t draw conclusions, spot outliers, tendencies and patterns that send the data analysts on a new hunt
  • Engage users of visual data progressively: Start by establishing those visual basics, then build up layers of complexity from there to tell the full story.
  • Consider scale - showing macro and micro views reveals details in a big picture. 
  • Scorecards and personas are an excellent way to summarize attributes of an issue and of typical users
  • Getting stuck and identifying what’s missing can provide useful clues 
  • Standards for collecting, organizing and representing content are all critical for managing data
  • Tell a story for people, not data for data’s sake
  • Like gold, the value of data is not in mining it, but in smithing it.

In conclusion, both the students and the MTA agreed, we’d accomplished the first steps to demonstrate how to make the network legible and to make the users literate. It’s a massive undertaking to to embed user experience within functionally siloed, complex, always-on public agencies, but together, we’ve shown the potential design strategy and craft can offer in that process.

Moderator: Rachel Abrams
MTA Liaison/Teaching Assistant: Jennings Hanna
Jan-Feb 2014