New experience design school in the Netherlands

Experience Design at Utrecht School of Visual Arts
The Utrecht School of the Arts in the Netherlands will be starting a new bachelor degree in experience design [website in Dutch only] as of September, the first programme of its kind in Europe, and is now recruiting students.

The four-year degree programme is lead by Rob Van Kranenburg, who used to work at Virtual Platform, De Balie, the New Media Department of the University of Amsterdam, and Doors of Perception. He published on RFID and Ambient Intelligence.

The programme has a strong focus on the design of ambient devices in a wireless world. It is introduced as follows (my translation):

Experience Design is a new study programme at the Utrecht School of the Arts that teaches designers in a new, emerging professional field that brings together (computer) technology, the physical environment and a positive-critical design practice. An Experience Designer develops communication applications that will involve people without them having to sit behind a computer screen. Well known of course are mobile phones, digital organisers, navigation systems in cars and handheld game consoles, but in the coming years we can also expect intelligent clothing, smart spaces (that know who and where we are) and doors that automatically open for some people but not for others. The applications that an Experience Designer develops will add to the quality of life by creating ‘meaningful experiences’ for people with the help of wireless technology.

Interestingly, it has a rather idiosyncratic way of differentiating itself from interaction design (that one can also study at the Utrecht School of the Arts) that is not too clear and I don’t really agree with.

Interaction Design has a much broader orientation on human-computer interaction, and focuses in particular on graphical interfaces, multimedia design, game design and physical/experimental interfaces. Experience Design deals with the (individual) user experience, has a more social focus, and hardly deals with the graphical interfaces of ‘classical’ multimedia such as websites or interactive cd-roms.

But maybe this definition has more to do with internal politics at the Utrecht School of the Arts than anything else, and we shouldn’t focus too much on it.

Good luck, Rob


  1. Hi Rob,

    Thanks for blogging this, one typo though:

    Experience Design deals (NOT) with the (individual) user experience,..In fact we address the move from usability to sociability.

    Some more info:

    Mapping Territory


    Van Kranenburg, Rob. Towards Designerly Agency in a Ubicomp World, In: Tales of the Disappearing Computer, Kameas A., Streitz, N. (eds), CTI Press, 2003, pp. 119-127.


    Wireless is increasingly pulling in all kinds of applications, platforms,
    services and things (rfid) into networks. Many people communicate through mobiles, blackberries, digital organizers, palmtops. Cars become information spaces with navigational systems and consoles like Nintendo DS have wireless capacities and get linux kernels installed. We are witnessing a move towards pervasive computing and disappearing technologies in intelligent clothing (wearables), smart environments (knowing where and who we are), pervasive games, and we will see doors opening for some and closing to others. Mimickry and camouflage will become part of application design. Ipods will show colors and produce sounds corresponding with your surroundings.

    In this BA Experience Design (with the possibility of doing a Masters, EMMA) we will develop theories, concepts, scenarios and prototypes for this wireless world, beyond the product, beyond the individual user, to social and culturally empowering experiences for larger groups of people.

    The job of an EDesigner is to envisage future scenarios in an age where science and fiction are on the same trajectory (Kate Goonan), as the ideas of Philips researcher Mark van Doorn who claims stories and narrative are the key to designing successful ambient narratives.

    Whereas ID focuses on individual users and their interaction with things, and Game Design on sets of rules, narrative structure, immersion and situated knowledge, AED focuses on resonance as a design principle, loss and lack of control in situated daily activities (walking, shopping, learning) where it is no longer clear what is communicating with what (rfid, smart cameras) and what kind of profile is triggered in datamined environments. ED also has a very clear social and cultural component in the way it thinks about technology. At the core of thinking about code we look for recent EU thinking on Ambient Intelligence and Working Paper 29 on RFID that describes the move from privacy compliant applications to privacy compliant technology. Issues that were thought to be cultural and front end problems are now being rethought as clear back end deliverables. As we increasingly live in a world where everything is connected, designing stand alone things for stand alone people is no longer an option. Things are connected, and through these things, people are always part of some group, increasingly more online and in the real world as well, as Yocai Benkler shows in his Wealth of Networks.

    We will be looking into biotechnology, mostly in the way Christian Nold is researching Biomapping, and José Carlos Mariatequi is looking into low tech experiments, but we will not set up a bio lab. The same goes for nanotechnology. Sensors and actuators are at the heart of the lab we’re setting up, but we’re not interested in the first place how small they are, that is conceptually yes, but in terms of making prototypes we cannot compete with the big boys shrinking things. We do hope to be working with smart fabrics.

    We’ll probably be working with Processing and Arduino. But we will be looking into Pure Data, Supercollider, MAX/SMP too. And knitting too should you want to weave conductive fibers into your wearable. Code is not at the heart of AED, though, it is one of cornerstones. Scenarios and prototypes is the output we aim for.

    Wireless sectors of the primary kind such as telecoms and the RFID retail, logistics, educational, safety and health sectors, need people who can make scenarios for services that balance out spam against privacy, need for real-time feedback against surveillance. It is early days, but ‘Hey what’s that sound’ is spearheading the growth and deepening impact of embedded sensors. The move from the Internet to The Internet of Things is official now,with the ITU claiming that “it seems that we are standing on the brink of a new computing and communication era, one that will radically transform our corporate, community, and personal spheres.” RFID may become a 3billion dollar business by 2010, according to Gardner. But in order to do that, it needs scenarios that benefit all stakeholders and prototypes that embody different levels of privacy and security.

    We have been looking carefully at key terms from the EU documents on Embedded Systems and Pervasive Computing that will inform the new FP 7, so that when students want to research further in the MA they walk parallel with the major EU projects in this area.

    In a networked world where feedback is so swift, the creative process has become the entire cycle of concept-scenario-prototype, where the latter again informs a better concept

    The framework that we have chosen is centered on the levels of a successful introduction of new technologies.: code, node, link, network.

    The code node link network framework helps to structure thinking on emergent technologies. Code refers to the axiomas underlying the technology, how does it function and why. Marc Langbeinrich[1] thought: “You get real world privacy guidelines from direct feedback from developers.” However, he found very little thoughts on privacy at all from developers. On the code level, privacy is seen as a layer that can be added, not as a factor in the coding process. His proposal was to make simple direct surveys to tick off a code against privacy issues, and a generic privacy toolbox. Node refers to the new data and information structures that are generated by the technology, for example new languages such as PML (Physical Markup Language). Link refers to the technological and application and services context that the new technology is affecting. Network refers to the broader cultural, social and polical issues that are raised by the new technology.

    A few examples of artistic or interaction design projects that best embody the “experiences and creative wireless applications” the department will focus on:

    Katherine Moriwaki’s handbag, (Inside/Ouside) is a keywork for AED. It uses as a form a conventional daily object, a handbag. This means that we deal in very analog objects and notions of design, expertise, skill, fashion apply. Yet this particular handbag has a layer of digital connectivity added to it. This means we deal with ad hoc networks, environmental sensors and smart textiles. And what does it do? Well, it allows you to measure pollution in your street and neighbourhood. As Katherine writes: “Locally sensitive and contextually relevant data can be used by the inhabitants of a community to police and monitor their own neighborhoods and public spaces. This “local knowledge” is a very powerful factor in allowing for personal identification and connection with the environment, and can lead to greater emotional investment and connection with public space. Through the process of collection, reflection, and action, personally invested environmental monitoring can provide alternative views of the city, and redirect behavior within the urban zone.”

    Haunt, by Usman Haque. He built a room “Using humidity, temperatures and electromagnetic and sonic frequencies that parapsychologists have associated with haunted spaces, this project aims at building an environment that feels “haunted”: a non-visual architecture.” In this project notions of corporal literacy, local psychogeography, and wireless technical skills are matched with research, and rich narrative possibilities.

    Processing developed partly out of Casey Reas need to get better tools to express his visual ideas with.

    What is data and what is not data in the space of flows? What data become information? In Urban Eyes, a “critical design concept combining RFID technology, CCTV cameras and pigeons to create a unique service for urban spaces.” Marcus Kirsch is investigating these questions.

    Netobjects by Victor Vina and Hector Serrano preceded a lot of the works we see today that use input from the internet: a “collection of everyday objects for the home that present real time information from the web. The collection reappropiates everyday objects: archetypes which relate to the content they embody. Materializing virtual information, objects become contemporary.”

    Building on her work on Amsterdam Realtime where she realized her visualizations could stand alone as poetic evocations, Esther Polak and Ieva Auzina appropriated in Milk the GPS trajectories to create and facilitate meaningful stories and opened up new forms and fields of research: Mobile Habitat, Fulani.

    Bio Mapping is “a research project which explores new ways that we as individuals can make use of the information we can gather about our own bodies. Instead of security technologies that are designed to control our behaviour, this project envisages new tools that allows people to selectively share and interpret their own bio data.”

    Christian Nold investigates individual agency over special constraints. In Mobile Vulgus his main research question was: “How can we come to new conceptual understandings of the behaviour of all the protagonists involved in political demonstrations?”

    Jussi Angesleva won the 2002 Open Doors Contest with his groundbreaking project Body Mnemonics, that put the body back into the centre of making movements of both analog and doigital meaning.

    Body mnemonics is a “meta tool for portable devices that enhances their usability, shifts the interaction to the periphery of our concentration and makes them more responsive to our cultural background on the basis of three principles: proprioseptic sense, our outlook on our own bodies, and the “method of loci” mnemonic device.”

    We are aiming for

    – Commons Based Peer Production ideas that have open sharing as a common denominator in the realms of politics, energy, infrastructure, health, education, media and entertainment, building on Yochai Benkler’s work Wealth of Networks, such as Wikipedia, Sharer and Thinglink.
    – pervasive gaming ideas that are critical design, like the Ipack Game
    – social and cultural applications that do not lead to more surveillance and control but individual and local neighbourhood agency and transparency, like LIME, Stalkshow by Karen Lancel, and the work of Jonah Brucker Cohen, Katherine Moriwaki and Amy Franceschini
    – forms of designing larger debates to spark of broad discussions of emergent technologies (ethics, security, privacy, Electromagnetic Fields, EMF…), and forms of intervention (hack, game, performance..)

    [1] Disappearing Computer Privacy “Troubadour” (Researcher) for . EU FET (Future and Emerging Technologies Programme)

  2. And I made a typo too! Hi Mark is what I meant to say, and thanks for the luck, we need lots of good students, cheers! Rob

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