Interaction Design Education Summit: Part 1

Séamus Byrne

Director of User Experience

This year’s Interaction Design Education Summit in Helsinki was a wonderful success. Now in its fourth year the one and a half day event, which is run by IxDA founder Dave Malouf and seasoned practitioner Fred Beecher, has slowly but surely been rising up the ranks as a compelling and very necessary component of Interaction week.



The Education Summit took place 20 minutes north of Helsinki city centre, in the esteemed Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture. This school was formed in 2012 when the School of Art and Design and the Department of Architecture at the School of Engineering merged together. The School of Arts, Design and Architecture is the largest of its kind in the Nordic countries and one of the most prestigious in the whole world.

Sunday, February 28th

Keynote: Xiangyang Xin

After opening welcomes from Dave and Fred, the Interaction Summit’s opening keynote began on Sunday evening with an impressive high-minded talk on Experience Design by Xiangyang Xin, Professor and Dean of the School of Design at Jiangnan University, China. In his talk Xiangyang Xin honed in on the “action” verb within the term ‘Interaction Design’. He showed some examples of common user scenarios with technology.

These included changing the brightness on your phone. He zoomed in on and inventoried the amount of steps in the user paths, when compared across mobile Android and iOS platforms. The visualisations of this analysis were impressive in their ambition and detail.

Xiangyang Xin’s talk reached lofty heights covering a range of general but interesting topics such as the logic of behaviours and experience as a principle. He also raised the idea that even habits can be designed, alluding that it is possible to look at parents as designers of their children’s lives. The talk wrapped up with eye opening statistics about the significant increase in volume of design programs and design graduates throughout China. It was refreshing to hear a Chinese perspective on Experience Design.

Xiangyang Xin’s final slide juxtaposed two photos of Tiananmen Square from the same aspect. One was covered in smog, the other with blue skies. The title of the slide said, ‘To make a difference’. Design education is maturing and flourishing in China and is running beside, if not overtaking, western countries. This is not only in the area of design thinking, but also where and how design can be applied to make the world a better place.

Monday, February 29th

Keynote: Andy Budd

The opening Keynote on the second day of the conference was Andy Budd, UX Designer & CEO at Brighton based firm Clearleft. Andy shared his perspective from the industry side about recruiting and mentoring new interns, dealing with educational Institutions and the overall health of design education in the UK, which he said was years behind North America and other European countries such as the Netherlands.

The format of the talk was a casual interview style with Fred Beecher asking good questions. The conversation meandered through topics like the struggle of industry to find and place qualified graduates, the irrelevance and out-of-datedness of many design courses to the industry’s requirements, and the innovative ways that Andy and Clearleft have created to onboard and mentor new interns.

Andy talked of a crisis in design education with many educators having little industry experience, which is reflected by the poor quality of graduate portfolios and students doing their final projects on their own, without collaboration. He said there is a need for better mentorship of new graduates, to gain practical knowledge and generally prepare them for working life.

Fred referred to Andy’s recent blog article ‘Digital Education is Broken,’ which Andy responded to with a stark fact–he knew of many industry practitioners who had offered to help teach students on design courses, only to be met with a refusal based on their lack of educational qualifications.

None of this has dissuaded Andy from taking on graduates at Clearleft. On the contrary, he recommended to recruit a bunch of recent grads and put them together on an innovative non-client project, to help them learn the collaboration skills required for success on design projects.

To those interested in starting up an Internship programme, Andy recommends to “Just do it,” and bring someone in at low cost. He said, “Figure it out as you go. Getting it perfect will delay it happening”. When it comes to practical education for recent grads it seems the ball is in the industry’s court, with the exception of programmes like IBM Design’s bootcamp, but more on that in the next article.