Week 2: Musical Reflections

After the tumultuous, exhausting but exhilarating begin to my studies last week I finally got to know my peers in the first year Interaction Design program. They're a great bunch – very international and diverse. Curiously, not a single Swede got accepted. Most of them have an industrial design background, with a visual designer and some interaction designers mixed in.

The old Umeå Fine Arts building is right next to us.

The old Umeå Fine Arts building is right next to us.

I'm starting to enjoy life in Umeå a lot more now that I've got to meet people. The Umeå Institute for Design is like a creative haven, a shelter for expressive people with all kinds of backgrounds. It feels like anything is possible. And people will gladly help push you on. You'll quickly find yourself invited for dinner if your staying late, or get to join others for Barbecues at the lake. Which reminds me, I still haven't bought my bike yet. Nor have I gotten any winter clothing. But luckily neither has been truly necessary so far. 

A view over the Ume river a few meters from where we work.

A view over the Ume river a few meters from where we work.

We also got briefed on our first longer project. And it's a good one. You should know that Umeå will be next years European Capital of Culture. There's a lot of construction going on to get the city ready for next january.  Possibly the coolest of all projects is the new guitar museum. Throughout decades, two guys have been collecting vintage guitars from all over the world. Coming February they will be exhibiting the worlds finest vintage guitar collection right here in Umeå. And our work will be front and centre. We will be designing an exhibition around "musical experiences". The same place will also host a guitar shop and the most alternative club of the region – Scharinska. Details are still sparse, but we're all very eager to get going. 

The building in which the Guitar Museum and Scharinska club will be in. I stole this image from their website, which you should definitely check out.

The building in which the Guitar Museum and Scharinska club will be in. I stole this image from their website, which you should definitely check out.

The main theme of this week has been reflection. We had more than a day to reflect upon and then describe one of our own personal musical experiences. The idea being that we would be interviewing people on their experiences next week. Their musical experiences and stories will then make up the DNA of our exhibition. Our own reflection is basically putting ourselves in their shoes. The tricky part was to find an experience that involved the music as well. In most experiences the music merely was the vessel that triggered an emotional memory.

It felt unusual for me to have this much time on my hand. But I really appreciated the space and depth we were given to ponder. Reflection will be an integral part of my professional and personal life going forward.  Coincidentally, this is one of the reasons why I started the Umu Blog Collective. It sounds important but its really just a way to  peer pressure students into starting their own blog. There's only one rule: post weekly.

Umeå is getting ready for being the European Capital of Culture next year. This giant clothes peg sculpture is just one example (designed by Mehmet Ali Uysal).

Umeå is getting ready for being the European Capital of Culture next year. This giant clothes peg sculpture is just one example (designed by Mehmet Ali Uysal).

After having shared our musical experiences with the whole class, we then focussed on interview techniques. In our professional lives most of us have found ourself in the situation where we had to interview somebody. We turned to the book "Essential Ethnographic Methods" by Schensul, Schensul and LeCompte and focussed on chapter 6 "In-Depth, Open-Ended Interviewing". This interview technique is primarily used when the interviewer is somewhat unfamiliar with the domain. Its supposedly great to explore aspects of the current problem space, hence its one of the most important exploratory interview techniques. The main goal is to get new information and to expand understanding. For me, there where three key takeaways. Firstly, exploratory interviews may be inherently unstructured, but they are not unplanned. It's important to prepare a set of open-ended questions beforehand. Secondly, probes can be used to encourage the interviewee to disclose more information. Examples of such probes are ("Oh yes, I see", "Could to tell me a little more…", "Just now you have said that…", or just repeating what the person has said in a questioning way). Thirdly, it's really important to keep the interview on topic. Especially given that this type of interview is relatively unstructured and interviewees tend to jump on new thoughts quickly.

Not exactly scientific reading, but alas, I found a book shop in town that sells overpriced English books. This is what I'm currently reading - outside the curriculum.

Not exactly scientific reading, but alas, I found a book shop in town that sells overpriced English books. This is what I'm currently reading - outside the curriculum.

Another interesting feature on our weekly schedule is the literature circle. Here two students are asked to prepare an hours worth of discussion on a scientific paper. All students are required to read the material and then share their thoughts in the meeting. The first paper was «Designing a Pleasurable Experience - Emotion in Human Computer Interaction» by Rebecca Scollan. In it, Rebecca poses the question of "how one might design a pleasurable experience for tasks that are inherently unpleasurable". Think of a tax filing app, for instance. She presents various heuristics for usability (Schneidermann and Nielsen make their obligate appearance) but then ventures into game and flow theory. I like the format of the literature circle and having the space for scientific discourse is new to me. But remember to bring tea.

Fika is Swedish for coffee break with deliciously sweet snacks. Something that we really celebrate at UID. These are (were?) home-baked chocolate rum cookies that a student brought us.

Fika is Swedish for coffee break with deliciously sweet snacks. Something that we really celebrate at UID. These are (were?) home-baked chocolate rum cookies that a student brought us.

The rest of the week I spent finishing up the review of a master thesis for the University of Applied Science Rapperswil (I had been coaching two good Software Engineering Master of Advanced Studies students throughout this year). Introduction to prototyping also started. But thats been pretty basic so far. And we entered the ozCHI student design challenge. But that's a whole other story to be told in a different post.