Interaction Awards "Future Voice Award" and Studio H: Why?

7 Feb 2013 - 5:05pm
3 years ago
1 reply
5642 reads

Hello folks,

I hope you'll tolerate an article-length post here. Last week in Toronto, the IxDA announced and celebrated the winners of this year's Interaction Design Awards. As jury chair, it was my task and honor to choose the recipient of this year's "Future Voice Award" (in consultation with the rest of the jury, the awards committee, and IxDA management). There is a blog entry and video about this on the awards site (, but partly in response to a couple of questions and partly for the sake of completeness, I thought I would post a longer explanation here in our community. 

For some people in the world of interaction design, the question arises: "Just how does the work of Studio H belong in the interaction awards?" To which I say, let me first explain the purpose of the Future Voice Award (this first part is a duplicate of a blog entry on the awards site), then say why I believe Studio H is a great work to recognize.

The "article" follows. I welcome discussion about the award and this choice, and I know the rest of the IxDA and awards staff are also eager for conversation. 

Marc Rettig

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 
A new award: why?

The IxDA Interaction Awards take a view that’s pretty close to the trenches: people enter recent work, the jury choose winners worthy of recognition, and the result presents a snapshot of the current landscape of interaction design.

But we are moving across that landscape. You can see ways in which this year is different than last year, and at the Interaction 13 conference there was lots of talk about trends that are going to change what we see in the awards next year.

The Future Voice award steps back from the landscape of current work, and asks different questions. Instead of asking, “What exemplifies good interaction design this year and where is it going?" it asks, “Where could we choose to go?” The Future Voice award is a way for us to recognize work that inspires us to lift our heads from the work immediately in front of us, and consider the view from a higher altitude, a further depth, and a more distant horizon all at once.

Choosing the recipient of the Future Voice Award
The Future Voice Award is chosen by each year’s jury chair, in consultation with the rest of the jury and the Awards committee. It is selected not only from entries, but from anything in the world whether entered or not, as representative of the following statement: 

This work deeply embodies the spirit of the interaction award categories – optimizing, engaging, empowering, expressing, connecting, disrupting. And it does something more: The Future Voice Award recognizes work that demonstrates the profound potential of Interaction Design, which at its heart deals with the dynamics and depth of human relationship and conversation. Recognizing its recipient celebrates evidence of what Interaction Design could choose to become.

The recipient of the 2013 Future Voice Award: Project H Bertie County
Here is the video on YouTube that introduces Studio H Bertie County as the first work to be recognized by the Future Voice Award.

Why Studio H was recognized as a Future Voice for Interaction Design
Studio H Bertie County is the work of Project H: Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller. For two years during 2010 and 2011, they moved their studio from San Francisco to Bertie County, North Carolina – a place with issues of low income, educational challenges, and limited opportunities. Their aim was to pursue their mission of using design to address issues of humanity, habitat, health, and happiness – the ‘H’s in “Studio H” – there in the poorest county in North Carolina.

the design
Emily and Matt identified the school as the heart of the community, found a way to gain qualification to teach in the school, and designed a curriculum of designing and building, with all the other kinds of learning needed to support it. In short, their design was to reinvent high school shop class. By spending three hours a day every day and project work in the summer with the Junior and Senior students in the county, their design was brought to life through the experiences, conversations and relationships of the students, their families, the school, and the extended community.

We are recognizing this work with the Future Voice Award because it is a pure example of a shift in the practice of design that is already happening in different forms all over the world. It represents an invitation to us all to consider a future in which design takes a different role in society and in communities than is typical today.

How would you lift the self-image, sense of empowerment, and actual knowledge and abilities of a whole community, accustomed over generations to being back-seat spectators to their own decline, sidelined from any conversation about their own future? Project H shows us that there can actually be an approach – a designed approach – to such challenges.

a series of designed interactions
Moving students out from behind desks and into a shop changed their interaction with each other, with their teachers, and with the activities of learning.

Having students design, build and showcase cornhole game boards (if that makes you raise your eyebrows, learn more here: is a deliberately designed interaction with materials, their teachers, and the community intended not only to help them learn, but to grow their self-confidence and sense of independence. This is a start at affecting their identity as “not good enough” poor uneducated rural kids.

Having students design and build chicken coops and put them into use in the community continues and reinforces the same work, and expands their new conversation deeper into the community. It is a work of intentional design to extend the impact of the project beyond the walls of the classroom deeper in to Bertie County.

Finally, having the students design, build and launch a farmer’s market as both a place and a business in their community propagates and deepens the impact for everyone involved.

What’s the point?
You may or may not agree that Emily and Matt’s work is a work of interaction design. That is something very interesting to discuss, but it’s not really the point.

The point is that Project H in Bertie County represents a way we could choose to steer our approach to the work of design. It offers a way of working that is demonstrably effective for situations and goals that most of us are currently shy about tackling. That is, situations where the outcome is not made of products, systems, or institutional services. In this work, the outcome is made of people, their sense of themselves and their place in the world, and the conversations they have with each other, their community, and the world.

If I say to you, “let’s design a new kind of phone,” you might think it’s going to be difficult, but you’ll know where to start and you’ll be ready with an approach to the work. If I say “let’s improve conditions for people in Bertie County,” in 2013 you’re likely to say, “You’ve got the wrong person. I’m a designer, not a community development worker. I don’t have the approach or methods to do that kind of work.”

By recognizing Project H as the Future Voice Award, I’m saying that the distinctive qualities of that work represent a signal that maybe we ARE the right people. And maybe we DO have suitable methods and approaches, but which may not be enough on their own. Maybe we could extend the way we work to include approaches where…

- we’re not the “experts” that design for people, but bearers of possibility that design with the people who live in the situation every day.

- we don’t visit the situation from outside so we can “understand it,” but instead we go inside, and by becoming part of the situation we change its power to create for itself

- rather than focusing on physical or digital products, or defining ourselves by the fact that we serve this or that business or institution, our focus is on the way we affect people’s conversations, relationships, identity, power, and the patterns of daily life. In Matt and Emily’s terms, the way our work affects humanity, health, habitat and happiness.

By recognizing the work of Project H Bertie County as the “Future Voice of the Interaction Awards,” I’m extending an invitation to you. The invitation is this: to grow your own idea of what design is. To see a direct path between this work and the work you are doing now. To listen to the story of this work not just as a case study, but as a voice speaking from a possible future.

To learn more

The IxDA Interaction Awards

Web site of Studio H – the curriculum and project being recognized

Web site of Project H – the organization that created and conducted Studio H:

Emily Pilloton’s TED talk: Teaching Design for Change

Interview with Emily Pilloton on PopTech

Project H’s Vimeo channel

Project H’s photos on Flickr



11 Feb 2013 - 12:04pm

Thanks for this, Marc. This is an important discussion for our community to have.

Syndicate content Get the feed