Anna Vallgårda is challenging the way we view the computer. Aiming to develop new material expressions for computational things, the interaction designer treats the computer as a material for design, conducting practical explorations on textures and materials. In doing so, she aspires to enrich our user experience by broadening the computer’s purpose and definition.
“The main driver of my research is this curiosity of how we can use computers in a non-IT way,” Vallgårda says. “How can we keep expanding computational expressions or expressions of computational things? And my way of doing that has been this material perspective on computers. How can we open it up and make it collaborate with all sorts of different materials?”
Upon completing her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Computer Science from the University of Copenhagen, Vallgårda ventured into design research in an effort to experiment with the computer as a design material. In 2009, she earned her PhD in Interaction Design from the IT University of Copenhagen and spent the next two years collaborating with textile and fashion designers at the Swedish School of Textiles. Currently, the designer serves as an Associate Professor and head of the IxD Lab at the IT University of Copenhagen.
Exploring new expressions
Using design as a method of inquiry, Vallgårda seeks to create richer aesthetics in interaction design, articulating it as a form-giving practice. While the designer acknowledges that there are many ways to conduct design research, her chosen approach is driven primarily by aesthetics.
“I do believe we are going to see –materially speaking– much more varied aesthetics within interaction design,” Vallgårda claims. “I think the view of interaction materials in interaction design becomes a necessity alongside the development of smart products and the notion of the Internet of things, that we do not just plaster our surroundings with screens and tablets and so on but that [interaction materials] become embedded in the artifacts we already use.”
In order to further develop her research, Vallgårda plans to collaborate with design researchers at the University of Twente as a Design United Research Fellow. The designer considers the Dutch approach to Interaction Design as unique in that, since the beginning, researchers in the Netherlands have combined both Industrial and Interaction Design in an interesting way. As a result, she is keen on putting her ideas to the test and gaining new insights into her work.
A variety of aesthetics
Ultimately, Vallgårda hopes that designers and researchers alike look to the computer as a design material and work with it as such to create a more varied landscape of aesthetic expressions.
“A lot of our experience in the world comes from the depth and variety of materials around us,” Vallgårda says. “If we design computational things to consist only of interactive glass surfaces, then we’re going to be deprived of stimuli that is crucial to our well-being. When we expand to new kinds of expressions, new functions will also emerge because the way things look has so much to say in terms of how we use it.”