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Jennifer Bove
Aug 21, 2012
Interaction Awards Profiles Dan Hill

For our first profile in our series on the 2013 Interaction Awards Jury, we’ve interviewed Helsinki-based juror Dan Hill. Dan is a designer and urbanist. Throughout a career focused on integrating design, technology, cities and people, Dan has been responsible for shaping many innovative, popular and critically acclaimed products, services, spaces and strategies. He works for Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund, in their Strategic Design Unit in Helsinki, exploring how design might enable positive systemic change throughout society. Prior to Sitra, Dan was an Associate at Arup, Web & Broadcast Director for Monocle, and Head of Interactive Technology & Design for the BBC. He writes the well-known blog cityofsound.com, as well as being Interaction Design Editor for Domus.

We asked Dan two questions, and here’s what he had to say:

1 – What is your favorite product, digital or otherwise, to use, and why?
That is a really tricky one. Mostly not digital, actually. I think most digital stuff is still too full of problems. Can’t think of a single thing I really, unequivocally like! Plenty of things I quite like, and of course respect, but I think nothing I love. Why is that?! Probably says more about me, but still.

I’m looking around, and I can see a Genelec speaker by Harri Koskinen which works well and has an appealing character. Also a notebook/sketchbook by a Japanese artist/graphic designer called Fumio Tachinbana, which deliberately frays in an appealing way. I’m typing this resting on some beautiful and functional String System shelving system. Also on that shelving is a an old Tizio desk lamp, designed by Richard Sapper in 1972, which I bought in a second hand shop near Bondi Beach in Sydney a few years ago, which is awkward and a bit broken, but so elegant to use, and so full of character that it – like all of the above – knocks all that aforementioned digital stuff on the head, at the moment. It has two counterweights, and you just have to nudge it into position and it stays there. The arms conduct electricity – so no wires – and was the first to really use halogen bulbs. And it looks amazing, somehow black and stealthy, but elegant, sleek and with dash of colour, and a sensation of floating, and touching both metal and plastic, like the best Italian design (though Sapper was German, this feels like a very Italian product.)

2 – What’s the one product you wish you’d designed, and why?
Even trickier question! I love the idea of making a tool, like a typeface or Photoshop or somesuch. A good typeface, which becomes well-used, would be an incredible challenge – well beyond me – but I like the idea of making a system that someone can build upon. Perhaps also the grid system, after Tschichold/Muller-Brockmann et al. Photoshop or Illustrator, of course, are not particularly well-designed, but still, are incredibly versatile tools. “Western” musical notation is interesting in this respect, but too limiting to be considered really successful, perhaps. That also makes me think of a Gibson Les Paul guitar, maybe. Which in turns suggests cameras, like a Leica M7, which is probably near-perfect.

I like the idea of designing everyday systems, like Kinneir & Calvert’s road sign system for the UK (also hugely influential elsewhere). I’d maybe chuck the barcode (and UPC) into that category too. What an incredible thing to design. While on that tack, currency would also be an incredible challenge and immensely appealing. Or the world wide web, of course. The idea of a single person designing these systems – as the question implies, inadvertently – is also thrown into question here, natch. If the question can extend to service, as well as product, then I’d say something like the UK’s National Health Service – but that is really the work of a multiple people, just as buildings, or these more complex systems are.

Too many to choose from – so again, somewhat off the cuff, the National Health Service, if that counts, or Kinneir & Calvert’s road signs – everyday, universal, genuinely useful, implicated in cultural change, and elegant and meaningful if you take a second glance.

You can learn more about Dan at cityofsound.com and follow him on twitter @cityofsound.

The Interaction Awards are open until October 1st and will be celebrated at Interaction|13 in Toronto in January 2013. Find out more, read about our other jurors, and submit your work!

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