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The second German Design Graduates programme, taking place this year, is a non-commercial initiative that aims to distinguish graduates of German colleges and universities each year and in doing so offer these up-and-coming designers a platform for their work, making them visible to a wide and professional audience. The exhibited work consists of thesis projects by graduates of bachelor’s, master’s and other advanced degrees in product and industrial design.

New: an award for new talent in design research

This year’s German Design Graduates initiative will see the presentation of the already familiar special awards for culture and sustainability. Complementing them will be the first-ever award for new talent in design research: the Design Research Award. The award comes with EUR 1,000 in prize money and is organised by the Institute for Design Research and Appliance (IfDRA), which was established as part of the German Design Council at the beginning of the year and is led by Stephan Ott. The IfDRA went through all the submitted work and composed a shortlist of six outstanding design projects that are situated at the intersection of theory and practice and produce exceptional results thanks to their combination as well as integration with the design process. Following this preselection, the public will now vote to decide which of the nominees should receive the award.

Below we present to you the first three projects from the shortlist and the up-and-coming designers behind them. In a second article, we will provide insights into the remaining projects and introduce their designers.

Project Hacko

Part one: More than just a user

A look at the thesis projects by graduates in the design community exposes an overall perspective on the current sentiments and circumstances in society. It also provides a feeling for the issues that a new generation of designers are currently dealing with.

The projects on the Design Research Award shortlist span a vast range of themes and fields. What is striking, however, is that they almost always involve issues and questions that the students have been grappling with for a longer period of time. These students are now using their thesis projects as an opportunity to deal with their subject matter at a deeper level. Cooperation with institutions and businesses does not appear to have been limiting in any way. Rather, such cooperation has been used to generate expertise and increase the projects’ professionalism even further.

The following three thesis projects also examined the role of the user in an utterly exceptional manner.

At a glance …

  • Yi-Ting Chen, from the Weissensee Academy of Art Berlin, designed Project Hacko, a new ecosystem for electronics that lets users develop their own technical solutions for products.
  • With Tangible Tags, Benno Brucksch from Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design in Halle, investigates whether data storage in our digital world could be better suited to people’s cognitive and sensorimotor capabilities.
  • Kilian Frieling completed his studies at Muthesius University of Fine Arts and Design in Kiel. The Smart Medication project is a kind of 3D printer for medicines which can dispense them with precise accuracy and thus enable individual treatment.

Hacko: active design by the user

Yi-Ting Chen’s Project Hacko gives users the opportunity to consciously design their own systems and usage scenarios, and individually configure functional products using a modular toolbox of numerous electronic elements. The target audience is more than just an information source for the development process. Instead, it is given an ongoing, active role in the development of its own user scenarios, fostering an equal dialogue between the designer and user.

Tangible Tags: a bridge between the digital and analogue worlds

A similar concept is at work with Tangible Tags, for which Benno Brucksch builds a bridge between the digital and analogue worlds by linking the power of human and artificial memory. The interfaces created from this use the sensorimotor and cognitive capabilities of their users to store and retrieve data. Unlike with existing systems, the interfaces do not provide a ready-made structure for data storage. Instead, they offer the user various possibilities for interaction. That means they not only allow personal preferences, but also break with the widespread norm of technology dictating the interaction with products and subordinating humans to them.

Smart Medication: evolution of medicine consumption

Smart Medication is about a shift of power away from the pure profit maximisation of large pharmaceutical corporations and back to the actual target market. Kilian Frieling seeks to help multi-morbid patients who often must take many different medicines daily by using a 3D printer for a more individualised administration of medicine. The patient no longer has the displeasure of swallowing many, and sometimes large, tablets and can instead simply take his or her medication by licking it off the carrier foil.

Focus on the target market

Who is better placed to take a stand for target users and their needs than designers? Who better to identify these users and needs in the first place? The projects presented above vividly show that a focus on the target market is made possible using the methods of design research and, moreover, spawns innovative and relevant approaches for solutions. Educational institutions of all kinds must recognise this first in order to equip their students with the right skill set and make the benefits known to them.

Yi-Ting Chen, for example, reports that design research played an important role throughout her entire studies at the Weissensee Academy of Art Berlin and that her practice-based research helped most of all to identify the opportunities hidden in problems and translate them into relevant design solutions. When researching for Hacko, she investigated the subject of open design in particular. Studying a variety of literature on this subject helped her predict potential problems and challenges in the course of the project at an early stage and let her take early action.

As for the future of design research, Yi-Ting Chen expects that design research, much like design itself, will become more open, and that people from different fields – from designers to researchers, product managers and engineers through to analysts, scientists and entrepreneurs – will join forces to design our world (using design research). Design research only stands to benefit from these new and very different perspectives, as she sees it.

Perspectives of practice-oriented design research

Benno Brucksch’s projects are also almost always based on research questions and on aspects of practice-oriented design research. He has consistently received help and support with these from his professors and mentors at Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design in Halle. As part of his thesis project, design research primarily taught him a lot about how the human memory works and the potential that these mechanisms can by implication also hold for the field of technology development.

He believes that in the future there will be a special role for design research in the initial identification of relevant issues – by using research methods as well as through cooperation with scientific research itself.

In terms of medical design, Kilian Frieling believes that design research can help most of all with designing relevant, user-centric products. In-depth research and analysis of the stakeholders and circumstances involved, as well as of the social contexts and the effects of the resulting product on society, should always have a significant impact on the design process. Kilian Frieling also sees design research as a driver for future-oriented projects and product development, and views designers and design researchers as relevant interfaces for bringing together and fleshing out findings from different fields.

All three of these designers may have obtained their degrees, though it is unlikely that this will be the end of their projects. Rather, it seems inevitable that they will want to delve even further into each of their issues and keep developing their projects.

Public Voting: choose your favourite

The German Design Graduates website is already open and offers you the possibility to view all six projects and cast your vote for one of them. The winner of the public vote will then be announced at the German Design Graduates awards ceremony, which will form part of the exhibition opening in early October..

Further information:

German Design Graduates

Institute for Design Research and Appliance

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