Pre-Program in Tokyo

Oct 6, 2012 // IMPERIAL / RCA, KMD, PRATT


Pre-Program @ KMD in Tokyo

September 14 - October 6, 2012
Participating Students: 3 from Pratt, 3 from RCA/Imperial, 5 from KMD

by Daisuke Uriu


KMD hosted a Pre-Program from September 14 to October 5, 2012, with group projects carried out by mixed teams of students from Pratt, RCA and KMD. A year earlier, Pratt and RCA students had spent a week at KMD participating in many short workshops that could only provide samples of KMD’s extensive curriculum. This year’s Pre-Program doubled as a dress rehearsal for the main program, with short-term intensive coursework culminating in a final project. The period of the program coincided with the introductory lectures for foundational courses taken by all KMD students entering the Master’s degree program. Pre-Program students participated in these lectures as well, integrating into their final project KMD’s unique combination of design thinking and four skill areas: design, technology, management and policy. 


Despite the limited three-week period, students were required to complete comprehensive projects, including ethnography research in the town of Hiyoshi, physical prototyping, and narrative videos portraying user experiences using the prototypes. The target user and subject for design in this project was Professor Daniel Steinbock, a KMD faculty member who had just been hired in September to develop the GID Program at KMD. Students did ethnography research on the question, “How does a foreigner who doesn’t know Japanese make purchases in the town of Hiyoshi?” and worked on designing media to support Daniel’s daily life there. As a vegetarian, he was concerned about the ingredients in the food and struggled with Japanese food labels he couldn’t read. Often, he would have difficulty communicating with shop assistants who couldn’t speak English.

Three teams worked independently on this project, modeling experiences gained during this research. One team designed a shopping basket with a navigation system that directs you where you want to go inside the supermarket. Another team designed a digital bracelet that recognizes desirable and undesirable product ingredients. The third team designed a robot dog, “Hachikō the Faithful Dog,” to guide foreign newcomers through Japanese places and culture. Each team interpreted Daniel’s experiences of shopping and walking around town according to their own viewpoint. They developed concepts that could actually be used for pitches aimed at organizations like supermarket companies, and represented concepts with fully-modeled prototypes and videos depicting a story about using their services. 


The outcomes of the three-week-long course project were full of the power produced by the collective efforts of KMD students with their regular engagement in projects following design thinking processes, Pratt students with their excellent modeling skills, and RCA students with their wide-ranging command of everything from concept design to engineering. The works they designed, based on ethnography that seeks to understand human life in its actual state, were compelling -- not only as products, but also as concepts with the potential to improve the life of the intended user, Daniel. The projects underwent a comprehensive design process, from the “pie-in-the-sky” stage, to their representation as highly developed prototypes that could be picked up and worn on the body, all the way to questions about their technical feasibility and potential application to services and businesses.

This year's Pre-Program left us with many ideas and insights as to what GID students in the main program should study and achieve over the half-year period of their stay at KMD. The sequence of ethnography research on intended users of services, followed by the development of those services based on the resulting data, effectively equipped students with the skills of design thinking and prototyping within a limited period of time. GID design projects that bridge the cities of Tokyo, London and New York will prove to be intriguing design experiments that cannot be reproduced anywhere else. And if, following the ideas behind KMD’s Real Projects, we can establish a place where students design concepts for real companies and clients, it will lead to more meaningful outcomes for participating students, in KMD as well as GID.