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And the (Design) Oscar Goes To...

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Jennifer Bove, Kicker Studio.
Jennifer Bove, Kicker Studio.
This week, the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum celebrates the 10th anniversary of the National Design Awards. This year's finalists are invited to meet First Lady Michelle Obama, honorary patron of the awards, at a ceremony and luncheon in their honor; and there is a series of free public programs that explore design scheduled in Washington, DC.

Over the past few years, many well-known industrial design companies who design technology-enabled products have been recognized by the National Design Awards for product design, including Antenna, Smart, Jonathan Ive, and IDEO; IDEO founder Bill Moggridge is this year's recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. New this year is the Interaction Design category for the awards, described as "the innovative design of digital technology." Twenty years since Moggridge first gave Interaction Design its name, IxD is finally being recognized for its contribution to American design.

Perceptive Pixel captured the 2008 presidential elections via multi-touch big screen data visualizations.
Perceptive Pixel captured the 2008 presidential elections via multi-touch big screen data visualizations.
The three finalists in Interaction Design's inaugural winners circle--Perceptive Pixel, Lisa Strausfeld of Pentagram, and Potion--are certainly innovators in digital technology. They've each introduced new paradigms for manipulating digital information through graphic gestural interfaces, and their work straddles purely digital (web) and physical space. Perceptive Pixel, this year's winner of the Interaction Design award, has stolen the spotlight of many network news presentations with their multitouch wall for manipulating photos and information graphics (above), so it's hard to remember how new multitouch was when Jeff Han first presented at TED in 2006.

Finalist Lisa Strausfeld's work for the Detroit Institute of Arts has received multiple awards--Creativity has more on the interactive installation. At Pentagram, Strausfeld's work focuses on the intersection of virtual and physical structures. Finalist Potion specializes in interactive installations at virtually any scale, which is demonstrated in this overview of their most recent projects. Potion created the below 12-foot interactive surface for Clo, a New York wine bar. The display is both a menu and an informative catalog on the select wines.
I'm thrilled to have my discipline recognized at a national level, and be represented by such talented designers. I wonder about the Smithsonian's definition of IxD, however, and hope to see that evolve in the coming years. Interaction Design is about more than innovation in technology; it's about behaviors, and how we design products, systems, services, even organizations, that respond to the ways in which people interact with them. This often involves technology, sure. But it's not about the technology; it's about how something works.

It's our first year at the Design Oscars, we're off to a great start. But where can we go from here? Next year, I hope to see representation beyond the design of digital displays alone, toward recognizing how interaction designers think affects the design of public services and spaces, and produces new ways of interacting with the world around us, and not just technology. The selection criteria for the awards are excellence, innovation, and enhancement of the quality of life. That's a challenge we can all strive towards, and now even receive National recognition for it.

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Jennifer Bove is a founder and principal at Kicker Studio in San Francisco and on the faculty of the School of Visual Art's Interaction Design MFA department in New York. She travels, a lot.
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