Business affinities with design research

Dr Carol Strohecker, Director Everyday Learning G3roup
Media Lab Europe, Dublin

Building Bridges
Media Lab Europe is as an innovation-and-research lab focusing on the interface between design, education and industry. The Lab is concerned with developing research, and also with developing researchers. Our aim is to create bridges between the arts and sciences, and business and innovation.

The Birth of Media Lab
The idea of Media Lab evolved at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1985. Centred around a new academic degree programme that initially incorporated a Master’s track, followed by a PHD, in Media, Arts and Sciences, undergraduates were also encouraged to supplement their course work under the MIT’s UROP — Under Research Opportunities Programme — scheme, working on projects with senior researchers. The scheme is very much the model of an old style atelier, in the broader engineering sense.
We take the notion of atelier quite seriously at Media Lab, particularly in the broader engineering context because we generally concentrate on art- and user-related disciplines. The key to our successful creative output, however, is undoubtedly an inter-disciplinary approach.

Funding sources
MIT Media Lab, which was sustained largely through corporate funding, is a prime example of how corporate funding can be filtered into innovation research. For instance, MIT Media Lab lists a number of sponsors — 160 in total — that supplement government funding. It is also hoped that Media Lab Europe will share the same intellectual property pool as the MIT Media Lab — a very attractive prospect for corporations interested in partnering with us and funding new work.

Developing media lab in Europe
Being just three years old, Media Lab Europe has not yet established a formal academic system. However, the educational process our fledgling researchers go through is similar in scope to a Master’s programme, and our aim is to offer a standard of learning and development that will generate world-class research and researchers. We currently teach around 50 students, with six principal investigators leading the research groups. There are also three adjunct faculties affiliated to Dublin universities, and it is hoped to expand those faculties to include universities throughout Europe.

Life-long Learning
Media Lab’s Life-long Learning programme focuses on programmable technology, and one of our aims is to look at how people can become literate and fluent with computer technologies — not just Microsoft Office — and other popular software, by understanding programming to the point where they too can master creative computing programmes. Therefore, many of the learning tools are related to cybernetics processes through different media in different forms, in the hope that different users can easily get their heads and hands around them. Take, for instance, ‘common sense’ — a term applied to a broad category of efforts, some of them stemming from a traditional, artificial-intelligence style of approach. Seemingly simple ‘common sense’ decisions — where to look when crossing the street, knowing which foot to put which shoe on — represent a much more complex thought-process than even today’s computers can ‘think’ about. And so the idea behind Life-long Learning is to develop a computer programme that can mimic ‘simple’ human thinking. The Adaptive Speech Interfaces research group at Media Lab Europe, meanwhile, is currently looking at how language interacts with other modalities like gesture and visual representation, to explore how we might develop a more natural kind of interaction with computers.

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Design Management
VIZO Workshop

“Design makes the Difference”
Brussels, Belgium - 29/30 November 2002

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