Six Questions: Chris Noessel & Stefan Klocek

The next installment of Six Questions with Device Design Day speakers features Chris Noessel and Stefan Klocek, who will be co-presenting at this year’s conference.

In his day job as a Managing Director at Cooper, Chris Noessel manages teams and designers for products, services, and strategy for a variety of domains, including health, financial, and consumer. In prior experience he has developed kiosks for museums, helped to visualize the future of counter-terrorism, built prototypes of coming technologies for Microsoft, and designed telehealth devices to accommodate the crazy facts of modern healthcare. His spidey sense goes off about random topics, which leads Chris to speak about a range of things including interactive narrative, ethnographic user research, interaction design, sex-related interactive technologies, free-range learning, and, most recently, the relationship between sci-fi and interface design.

As a Director of Interaction Design at Cooper, Stefan Klocek leads teams, manages engagements, and sparks new initiatives. He’s adamant about working in the practice and signs up for solving the really hard complex problems. As a designer he’s reflective about thinking and manic about making. In the past few years, he has designed free computerized medicine for the iPad and helped cardiac surgeons support the hearts of their patients, helped doctors and nurses quickly and easily record their patient notes, and insurance underwriters understand the risks of catastrophe for a given market. Stefan teaches the practice and method of design for Cooper U and advises Rock Health startups in how to bring their ideas to market.

What is your most cherished product, and why?

CHRIS – First is the DELTA 25-869 14-Inch Goose Neck Magnetic Base Mount Lamp Attachment with 8-Foot Cord. I love it because it’s understated, affordable, maybe even a little dopey, but crazy functional. As an analog interaction design, it’s spot on.

Second is the Alien Abduction lamp. As I understand it, the lamp started out as a funny idea that the designer put together in Photoshop, but got such a positive response from the Internet that she was able to make it into a reality. That’s kind of a modern event, so not only is it a hilarious conversation piece that’s well done (and right up my sci-fi alley), but also a souvenir of the zeitgeist.

STEFAN – My most cherished product is books that I’ve read and marked up: the added information layer captures my inner dialogue with the author and externalizes my thinking. I make notes in the margins, underlines in the body text, draw little pictures or conceptual models of the content for myself. I may literally write a little note to the author at the top of the page, particularly if I disagree, trying to articulate my different point of view. Working so actively with the material helps me internalize it, to make it mine. I’ve invented little symbolic marking shorthand for myself. One book that really changed my thinking about practice (and which I have many notes in) is Communities of Practice by Etienne Wenger. I had lots of notes because the material is dense and academic, and I needed to wrestle to make it mine.

What’s the one product you wish you had created/built/designed, and why?

CHRIS – Can I answer with a piece of software? If so, Prezi.com. I built my own custom zoom software engine in grad school and have been using it since. And while Prezi can’t do everything that anyone’s custom code can, they embodied some nifty new ideas in UI and software delivery models in a nice package that gets people into making zoom presentations quickly.

STEFAN – Twitter: in a crowded communication space they delivered a new platform of communication that spread because it solved real needs for modern communication.

What excites you about today’s tools and technology?

CHRIS – That’s the focus of Stefan’s and my talk at D3.We’re at the cusp of some new technological trends that are ushering in a new “era” of what it means to use things in the world. It’s going to change the way we work, the way we interact with systems and each other, and make technology much more humane (if complicated to design for) in the process.

STEFAN – Working with still forming tools is really exciting because the systems haven’t been figured out yet. There’s lots of opportunity to explore, invent, and fail.  If you’re doing it right, the work should feel a lot like play and also like really serious business. You spend your time working into raw potential then working it back down into products that can actually be made. It’s hard work, but you feel like you are materially contributing to the cultural fabric.

When do you first remember getting excited by the intersection of design and technology?

CHRIS – When I was 12 my father bought me a TRS-80 “coco” computer. It had 16K RAM and could display 16 colors (so, you know, one of the upscale models at the time) and a cartridge that you plugged into its side to run BASIC. I bought myself a book to learn programming and was lost in code-as-text for a while. But when I got to the graphics chapter, I wrote my first “graphics” program. It was simple: ten lines drawn with a for-next loop. But staring at the gentle curve they made together, created without my having to get out a clumsy, error-prone straightedge and pen, I realized that this machine was going to mean more to me than a fancy calculator. It was a tool to make beautiful, new things.

STEFAN – My second year of college, I defined my own focus of study in the communications department (the intersection of technology and communication) and realized that the design of the tools we used had a profound impact on our work and relationships. I was excited that I could be a maker of tools.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned and who taught it to you?

CHRIS – I’d have to return to an odd assignment we had in undergraduate, when I was studying graphic design. The lesson is “do both”. Here’s the story:

Our visiting professor Mark (I cannot recall his last name, only his first name and that we nicknamed him “Mr. Fate”) had us bring to class an article from a newspaper that interested us. He then had us select a sci-fi short story from a set he brought in, and select an article about myth from a second set he brought in. We were then to combine the newspaper article, the sci-fi short story, and the myth article into a single text and design the resulting text into a book.

It’s an odd assignment, and of course the question to ask is why go through this rigmarole? Why not just select an extant text to use for design content? Mark explained that one major challenge that we would encounter in our careers was choosing whether to attend to our client’s agenda(s) on a given project or our own, whether those agendas are designerly, political, social, ecological, etc. This is a false dichotomy, he explained. The trick is to figure out how to achieve both what your client wants and what you want, in order to do good work and feel good about it.

I took this lesson deeply to heart and tried to make sure I incorporated into not just the design I do, but a lot of aspects of my life. There’s always stuff you have to do. The question is not how to avoid that stuff. It’s how to do that and do what you want to do at the same time. Do both.

STEFAN ­– “Just start it”. I learned to take action, to get the ball rolling from my father. He’s an amazingly prolific human being, and he shared that the main contributor to his success is that he doesn’t wait for everything to be perfect. He starts the project and trusts that the initial momentum will carry it through. As a designer it’s easy to get carried away with the ideas, with thinking it all through before getting started. To practice “just start it” means no longer waiting for perfect conditions (which never happen anyway) and simply start working. Put down that really lame first idea. Ruin the perfectly beautiful sheet of paper, and soon enough you’re past the block, and actually making something. When you are working with people it’s much easier for them to collaborate if you get things started, otherwise you can spend lots of time waiting for someone to make the first move.

What are your five pearls of wisdom you can give to the product design community?

CHRIS –

1. Research isn’t a luxury.

2. Frame your designs as answers to questions.

3. Sometimes no design is the best design.

4. Think in maps.

5. Do “both”.

STEFAN –

1. Use design friction to make it easy to do the right thing.

2. Load on a system causes growth at the most stressed points; consider these in the system you design.

3. Defining the problem goes a significant way toward solving it. Solutions to vaguely defined or understood problems rarely solve a problem, and once launched, you spend your effort trying to convince people of their utility. Solutions to problems find willing consumers.

4. Design badly: then improve it. You won’t get a better design trying to think it all out. Put it to paper, then edit.

5. Solve what’s in front of you: It’s easy to get distracted, which leads to frustration, which leads to inaction. Identifying the issue that’s right in front of you and working on that is a great way to stay focused and effective.

 

Don’t miss Chris’ and Stefan’s presentation, “Implicit Interaction”, at Device Design Day, August 3, 2012 in San Francisco. Registration is open, so reserve your spot and get ready for a day full of innovation and inspiration.