For the fifth profile in our series on the Interaction Awards Jury, we've interviewed Italian interaction designer Massimo Banzi. Massimo is the co-founder of the Arduino project. He has
worked as a consultant for clients such as: Prada, Artemide, Persol,
Whirlpool, V&A Museum and Adidas. He spent 4 years at the
Interaction Design Institute Ivrea as Associate Professor. Massimo has
taught workshops and has been a guest speaker at institutions like
Medialab Madrid, ARS Electronica Linz, and Doors of Perception
Amsterdam. Before joining IDII he was CTO for the Seat Ventures
incubator. He spent many years working as a software architect, both in
Milan and London, on projects for clients like Italia Online, Sapient,
Labour Party, BT, and boo.com.
We asked Massimo two questions, and here's what he had to say:
1- What is your favorite product, digital or otherwise, to use, and why?
When I was 8 years old my dad gave me a Braun Lectron Electronics Kit. It was packaged like a book. On the left side there was an actual book you could pop out that explained how electronics work using hand-drawn bubbles that kids could understand, followed by very clean and simple instructions on how to assemble the modules. Then on the right there was a play area made of metal, where you could make various projects and then neatly store away the building blocks when you were done. You could just close up the book afterwards and put it on the book shelf.
I see people creating all these new tangible tool kits for making stuff, but this one kit for kids back in in the 60s is just perfect. The interface is very simple, beautifully designed by Dieter Rams. It makes it so quick to rearrange the cubes and build lots of things. I remember I made a radio, an audio amplifier, and a flip flop. It's the the ultimate simple tool kit to experiment with technology. They still manufacture it in Germany, but it's very expensive now. Everything i've done with Arduino is an attempt to make something as good as this.
In terms of digital products, I really like the Fitbit. It's a very simple device that does one thing and one thing only, and it has just enough interface to forget I have it on. It's like it disappears on me. It runs for days, and doesn't require me to do anything. When I remember I can plug it in and it uploads the data to the server. It's different from the other digital products because it's not as needy; It just does it job and doesn't constantly ask questions. Other products are like little kids, constantly crying for attention.
2 - What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned, and who taught it to you?
This question is a bit surreal, because there are so many lessons that people teach you every day. That's one of the reasons why it's good to be alive; people are always providing new and useful ideas.
One of the first useful lessons that I remember is from my electrical engineering teacher in high school, who later gave me my first job. He taught me how to debug things: essentially how to explore a problem one step at a time so that I could understand the results of my actions at each stage, and if I fixed the problem or made it worse, so I could go back a step and restart.
Naturally, when the TV breaks, the first tendency is to just bang on it until it works. But to solve a problem you have to divide your actions into steps where you can understand the impact of each action, learn from it, and then move forward. I realized later that this was a system designed to help me to learn lessons over and over. It became a meta lesson on how to create opportunities for learning in my work. Take a measurable action, see what comes back, and learn from it. Once you understand the impact and results of your actions you can replicate them. It's what I try to teach my students.
You can follow Massimo on twitter at @mbanzi and @arduinoteam.
It's the last week to enter the Interaction Awards, which are open until this Saturday October 1st. The winners of the Interaction Awards will be celebrated at Interaction|12 in Dublin in February 2012. Find out more, read about our other jurors, and submit your work!