From the spectacular installations of the early days, designed to astonish, to projects in which digital media create new contents and experiences that would otherwise be impossible. Here’s how interaction design becomes the driver of future projects

At first it was the ‘wow effect’: details of masterpieces of art, revealed on giant screens, with virtual reality utilized to enter the landscape of the Mona Lisa, or a painting by Vermeer. “This was the not so distant era in which the digital was seen as an added value, in the literal sense of the term: something that came afterwards, and served above all to amaze,” say Alessandro Masserdotti and Laura Dellamotta of Dotdotdot, the multidisciplinary studio founded in Milan in 2004, which has since spread and expanded the culture of interaction design with its projects. “That period is not completely over, but another, more advanced one has already begun, in which the contribution of digital methods will not be to create a spectacle, but to offer a new sense of discovery, through the creation of contents. For this reason, our work is not just to bring technology into a project, but to structure its contribution from the outset, to create a common language for professionals in different sectors and disciplines, to make the impact of the digital more substantial.”

The meaning of more substantial interaction design is illustrated by the latest project of Dotdotdot, the immersive – and the term is now much more apt – experience of the Domus Aurea in Rome, reopened after years with a multimedia exhibition that narrates the works and stories connected with the ancient paintings buried in the “grottoes” of the residence of the emperor Nero. The paintings were discovered in and around 1480 by artists, who were the first to descend into the cavities of the Oppian Hill, to gaze upon the images that were reinterpreted by Raffaello in many masterpieces. The installation by Dotdotdot uses digital means precisely to reveal these ‘grotesques,’ transforming what until a few years ago would have been a purely spectacular dimension into a new meaning, connecting moments and places across time.

“The work itself is not at the center of the installation, so much as the experience of a story with all the senses. Emotion, surprise and stimulation of curiosity encourage visitors to learn in an innovative way about multiple contents hidden in the episodes of Raphael and the Domus Aurea. Thanks to digital means, the narration becomes freer, more dynamic and flexible, less predictable, and it is possible to reconstruct pieces of history, to transport visitors into other space-time contexts, reconstructing processes, creating visual and conceptual connections, while providing curatorial viewpoints and reflections that intertwine material and immaterial elements, mixing them in a personal way.”

The new challenge is to make this approach enter the home, especially now that the boundaries between physical and virtual are getting blurred. New developments include the two gaming rooms created by Fabio Novembre for Favij and Pow3r, young international online stars, conceived precisely to provide an ideal habitat for the technological gamer, hence multifunctional spaces amidst LEDs, neon lights, sci-fi graphics and some icons of design Made in Italy. “As a designer, it is my duty to narrate the time in which we live, our contemporary condition which is a mixture of physical and digital. These young people are successful professionals who transform that mixture into entertainment. I have always designed spaces that bring people together, and in these two apartments more people than those seated in a football stadium all arrive at the same time,” Novembre says.

Whether in installations that reveal novel perspectives on age-old histories, or in the design of houses made to measure for virtual heroes, the key factor of interaction design is always the same: a multidisciplinary attitude. “Which does not mean putting a psychologist, a philosopher or a developer alongside an architect or a designer, in banal terms,” Dotdotdot explain, “but to create a team in which everyone speaks a shared language, interpreting a reality that is becoming more and more complex, in which the integration of services becomes necessary, and the audience needs simple, understandable solutions. For this reason, different types of professional expertise have to join forces, starting with the brainstorming sessions. This process creates a sort of serendipity, an all-around form of creativity that leads to unexpected results, richer than traditional creativity. This approach is finally making inroads even in the most traditional spheres of interior design. We are now often called in to make a contribution to the interpretation of the possibilities of a space – be it residential, commercial, or for healthcare – and to analyze how it can be designed for better living. The time will come when our abilities will also be utilized in the previous phase, that of the true architectural design.” Which will undoubtedly lead to even more interesting developments.