University visits

One great side effect of moving from the product teams into Microsoft Research is that I can focus much more on design education. This was something I think I COULD have done before, to a certain extent, but Research puts more emphasis on communicating with academia, or outside of Microsoft generally. It’s actively encouraged, which is good.

Last year I started focusing on this more deliberately, by working with Dundee University on their participation in Microsoft’s Design Expo event. I’d seen the work of Dundee students at New Designers, hired one as an intern, and finally contacted a faculty member to invite them to participate in the competition. I loved the whole process of visiting the university, spending time with their awesome students and faculty, and then helping them out in Redmond for the final student presentations.

This year I’m happy to continue my relationship with Dundee. Jon Rogers, who now runs the Innovative Product Design course, organized an “Ideas Day” last Tuesday during which a bunch of us from “industry” spent some time helping the students of the 3rd and 4th year make decisions about the directions for their projects. I was lucky to make the flight out of City Airport and make it to the college.

We started with a great Q&A session sprung on us a few days earier by Jon. He’d picked a selection of questions submitted by the students for a panel of us to answer in a sort of Question Time format. Some tough ones, too, like “commercially, how far can art be applied to product design”, “where do you see the future of interfaces heading” and “where do you draw your design values from”. I think the panel (Bill Gaver, Nic Villar, myself, Anab Jain, Charlie Rohan from NCR and Tim Regan acquitted ourselves well – here’s a write up of the event by Giorgio Giove, one of Dundee’s master’s students – more shots Tim – shot below from Anab)


Jon had had the 4th year put together a book of their “top 100” ideas for final projects, from which they had drawn 20. These were stuck up on boards for us to talk through with the students, as well as “vote” on our favourites. I really enjoyed the conversations and the variety. Some students had already narrowed down their focus considerably, and had 20 ideas across the same theme. Some were still thinking at quite a high level, with a set of ideas that were much more distinct. I hope their time with us was useful.


On Wednesday Tim, Nic and I travelled down to Edinburgh and visited the Furniture and Product Design course in Edinburgh’s College of Art. Their course is accredited by the University of Edinburgh and going through some transition as it moves from it’s craft base to incorporating more interaction and product design. Andy Law, formerly at Dundee, has just started their as one of the faulty members, and we spent some time with him, as well as looking at the work of 2nd and 4th years, before getting a tour of their awesome facilities. The glass blowing, print making and jewellery studios are really great. In the same vein as the RCA (focusing on low numbers) but a little less cramped.


A bunch of people here in the lab have been knocking out Instructables, step-by-step explanations for how to build various projects. They’re doing this primarily, I understand, so that they can take part in the DIY for CHI workshop happening in Boston in April. The submission criteria for taking part in the workshop is an Instructible, which is a great idea, and it sounds like it’ll be an excellent event.

Nic Marquardt wrote up instructions for how to build your own RFID tag (and reader) and how to build cool versions that react to tilt. This is based on work he did with us in the lab as an intern over the summer.


And Nic Villar posted the details for how to use an old hard drive as a rotary controller for a PC. Really slick. I think this bit of work was done before he joined us in Cambridge, during what he described as a “late night hacking session”.


Thank god for the Lords


Why is it that the unelected half of our parliament, made up of a dubious group of retirees, is consistently able to make sensible, logical and ethical decisions on issues in a way that the elected half doesn’t seem capable of?

Example 1, the House of Lord’s views on the UK’s DNA database. Since it’s focused on criminals, it seems eminently sensible to me innocents should be removed.

Lords demand DNA database deletions

“The House of Lords forced another climb-down by the government yesterday by voting to amend the rules for the DNA database to allow innocent people to have their DNA samples destroyed and removed from the database.”

Example 2,  their views on whether the police should be able to detain UK citizens for long periods of time without due process.

UK House of Lords rejects 42-day detention | Amnesty International

“The House of Lords rejected proposals on Monday that would allow the period of pre-charge detention in terrorism cases to be extended up to 42 days.”

Thank god we have the House of Lords to protect us from ourselves.

New work by Maya Lin

Some really beautiful looking new work by Maya Lin. Hope this exhibition comes to the UK.



“The Systematic Landscape exhibit, Lin’s second nationally traveling exhibit within 10 years, ranges from a 50-ton sculpture created by 65,000 pieces of 2×4 set on their ends (2×4 Landscape) to Rand McNally into which Lin has cut through page by page to create new fictional landscapes that feature canyons through France and a valley in southeast Brazil that bottoms out as a lake (Atlas Landscape series).”

Systematic Landscapes exhibit at the de Young Museum – Dwell Blog