Interaction designers give shape to the relationships between people and machines. It is both an art and a science.

Ishac Bertran, as most interesting people you meet out there, is not stuck in a narrow field of work. He elegantly blends the fields of design and fine arts.

As a designer he works exploring new ways of relationship between people and technology, while as an artist he explores new ways of connecting analog and digital.

This new installment taps into Ishac’s practice and how he uses prototypes with varying degrees of fidelity as part of his work.

How the seed was sown

Ishac’s background is Mechanical Engineering.

One of the first steps in his career involved working for three years in an innovation consultancy. This helped shape his interests. Rather than designing new technology, the focus would be in designing the relationship between people and technology.

Picture of a control panel

With this approach in mind, he decided to take a one-year programme in Interaction Design at CIID.

Rather than designing new technology, the focus would be in designing the relationship between people and technology.

This course exposed him to a variety of creative areas, from graphic design to coding, as well as awareness of the importance of devoting time to free exploration.

That was back in 2010.

Since then, Ishac has simultaneously embraced both professional work with clients as interaction designer and experimental art practice.

The mission, the vision

Q. What are your guiding principles? On what premises do you base your work?

A. Interacting with technology can be intriguing, appealing, and even magic. Yet for many people it can be scary and alienating. Many times technology brings us to places where we, as humans, do not feel comfortable.

When I design interfaces I try to bring technology to a human level. Technology that is aligned with everything that makes us human. Technology that is intuitive, which respects social conventions and our personal space, satisfies our curiosity and contributes to a sustainable and organic evolution.

I’m into making technology speak the human language rather than helping humans understand technology.

Picture of a keyboard

Q. Interaction design is a rather broad field. In what areas are you most comfortable?

A. I like to focus on new experiences, helping imagine how an early stage technology or product will manifest and be experienced when it’s ready. This involves envisioning how the whole system works, but also designing these small, delightful interactions that people will remember.

I’m into making technology speak the human language rather than helping humans understand technology.

I also like to imagine the stories that will develop around a product, and design for these stories to happen. Stories will remain, while technology inevitably becomes obsolete.

The practice

Q. What is your usual workflow? Where do you find inspiration for your work?

A. My starting point is removing any technology baggage and constraints. I wonder “What’s the ideal experience? What’s the dream?”.

This question poses the most difficult challenge: detaching oneself from what is considered possible.

That dream dictates some initial principles that I’ll try to comply with during the design process.

Picture of signs at a cross-roads

From there I start sketching on paper and prototyping quick and dirty to explore solutions, challenging assumptions and starting to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

What’s the ideal experience? What’s the dream?

The process is rather organic. There is a lot of zooming in and out, to make sure perspective is not lost. I also jump from one feature or aspect to another, letting things rest and come back with a fresh approach.

After a few iterations, things start to make sense and the organic process becomes more structured.

Picture of different pencils classified

Q. What’s your take on user-centric design, co-creation, etc.? How much user feedback do you take on board when designing new stuff and how much do you rely on your instincts?

A. I’d say I mostly follow my instincts, which is not necessarily a good thing.

I did quite a lot of user research before, which I used to understand the problem and the people I’m designing for, not as much to find solutions together.

User testing is very important to validate your designs and have more informed iterations.

Two boys using the Pas a Pas system

Recently, working on digital products with a couple of startups I realized how important is to add data from user behavior to the design process. There are tools that allow you to see what users do inside your app and introduce variations in the interface which may develop in better user engagement, etc.

Setting up those ‘watchers’ and interpreting the data is becoming as important for an interaction designer as the traditional user research or user testing.

Nevertheless, I tend to skip user validation in my own projects.

On one side I like to have full control. On the other, the outcome of personal projects is not products people will use, so there is less risk in not validating the ideas.

Prototyping and details in interaction design

Q. In the process of moving from problems to solutions, it is necessary to give shape to ideas through prototypes of all sorts. Those can range from rougher, cheaper, quicker ones to finer, more detailed yet costly ones. How do you find the sweet spot in this spectrum?

A. I see a difference between prototypes for exploration, for feasibility or aesthetic validation, and for user testing.

  • Exploration prototypes. I don’t follow many rules for prototypes that are part of the creative process. I let things flow.
  • Validation prototypes. When it’s time to validate ideas, I usually define specific problems and create prototypes that address them specifically. I try to be methodical and efficient, since it’s easy to get lost on details that are not relevant at an early stage.
  • User testing prototypes. Those usually take a more holistic approach, testing the whole experience rather than isolated interactions.

A series of prototypes with an increasing degree of definition

In general, to get the most out of prototypes you want them to speak by themselves. Users should be able to quickly relate to it and act as if it was a real product.

In order to shape the prototypes, you can go down two basic roads:

  • The paper and cardboard route, which helps users abstract the physicality of the artifact. The less ‘design’ the better – there is no point on adding a color if  chances are it will not be the final color. It will be misleading information for the users which will have some kind of effect on their experience.
  • The smoke and mirrors route, in order to create an experience as if the product already existed. That’s a very effective way of testing an experience and getting feedback, and it doesn’t necessarily take more time to fake it (in a video for instance) than to make it with cardboard.

Q. What room is there for attention to detail in rapidly changing or highly innovative environments, such as startups?

A. What I learnt from recent experiences is that startups’ priority number one is bringing something to the market quickly. In such environment, details are not important. It is better to launch quick and iterate fast. Details can take 80% of the time but the main idea may be outdated in two weeks.

Detail erotica

Images are worth thousands of words. Check out the painstaking attention to detail Ishac puts in his projects, especially taking into account those products are handmade one-offs.

Pas a Pas

This award-winning system focuses on easing the process of learning the fundamentals of stop-motion.

Interested? Read more about Pas a Pas!

Slow Games

In this era of haste and increasingly virtual interactions, what would a one-move-a-day physical game be like?

Also interested? Read more about Slow Games!

Very Personal Data

This project is an exploration of new concepts for storing, managing and retrieving personal information.

All pictures © Ishac Bertran. Reproduced with permission.