Urban Alphabets at SIDeR 2013 in Aarhus/Denmark


Last week I went to the little city (town?) of Aarhus in Denmark to present the Urban Alphabets app as a demo during the Student Interaction Design Research (SIDeR) conference.

about SIDeR

SIDeR was organized for the 9th time this year. Place changes every year, but there are mostly people from Denmark and Sweden coming. Then there were also people from a school in the Netherlands, one Belgian and me (the German from Finland).
The purpose of SIDeR is to show that also students contribute to the research in their field and it’s obviously a good opportunity to get to know the conference format. I met quite many great people in just a few days, learned a lot about their projects and got a much broader overview about the interaction design field.

Also one quite obvious thing for me: Everyone talks about “products” all the time, whereas in MediaLab people are much more concerned with processes rather than outcomes. We are far more artsy and concentrate on meta-level-design than designing finished products. This is not a bad or good thing, it’s just something that I don’t realize in everyday studies in the lab but that comes out when you talk to people outside.
conference website here

Urban Alphabets at SIDeR

I showed Urban Alphabets in the demo category in SIDeR, which ment that I had much more time to show and explain it then I would have had in a 10-min-paper-presentation. So I basically had 2 days where I was talking more or less constantly for 1,5 hours during the official lunchbreak.
I got a lot of valuable feedback, many people liked the idea of urban alphabets, some came up with other use-cases (my favorite maybe is a sign-language-translator) and I had a lot of people just use the app, either guided by me or figuring out on their own. I also had one alpha-tester, who was walking around using the app for one full day. I think most importantly for Urban Alphabets from the conference was that it got a lot of attention, it proofed the essential concept is an interesting one and I really got to talk about the idea behind it to so many people!
One slightly funny thing that I have to note here is that there were also many questions about the target audience of such a thing as Urban Alphabets. I kind of felt as if they were asking me for my business plan and didn’t really understand that I am rather designing a platform that other’s can use than a product that I want to sell in the first place. Again, I became very aware of the different emphases of other schools and the specialities of MediaLab.

All Urban Alphabets made during SIDeR you can find at www.ualphabets.com

Wrapping up

All together I think SIDeR was a really good experience for me, also if I want to get involved into research more deeply this is a very good starting point. And I think Media Lab students should be more active in these kinds of activities! There were even some requests to do the next (10th!) SIDeR in Helsinki next year but I said the whole thing needs to get more attention in the lab before we can be the organizers. However, I really do think it should be organized in Finland very soon and Media Lab could share a lot of their own insights on how to do interaction design in the first place!