How do you design a user experience? And, above all, how does the digital experience of a visitor integrate within a public space, usable by different audiences?
Answering these questions is the strength of Dotdotdot, the studio born in Milan in 2004 after an experience ('wonderful', they say) at the Interaction Design Institute of Ivrea in the Olivetti laboratories.
It was in Ivrea that the four future founders developed a common philosophy, which will make them work together until today, to position themselves at the top of international competitions: thinking about experience.
Digital to inform and create emotional engagement
Dotdotdot has just won the competition for the refurbishment of the Cavallerizza in Turin, together with the architects of the Cino studio Zucchi. But they are also involved in the BEIC - European Library in Milan, for too many years left hanging in a neighborhood that promised a rebirth and instead remained abandoned in the unfinished.
Among the completed works, the most recent is the one for the Rovati Foundation: a guided journey through the museum spaces, without downloading apps or typing in passwords. The system allows live insights thanks to the basic functions of your telephone.
Wow! Yes of course, the effect it has is that, even if Dotdotdot are keen to point out that for them, right from the start, when technology still represented the unexpected (almost magic), the digital was (and still is) considered a vehicle of information and a means to create an emotional engagement. No wow effect…
Hook the tech to something familiar
«Today technology is a presence taken for granted, if it isn't there you feel bad», Laura Dellamotta and Alessandro Masserdotti explain to me, she is an architect and he is a philosopher, representatives of the group in this interview.
«But what we have learned in these years is a lot about how humans interact with technology». That is to say? «If the technology is linked to something familiar, it becomes easy for the user». Is this what you refer to as experience?
Wow effect: yes but as a result of understanding
«A very concrete example is what we did for the MAAT - Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology in Lisbon. A work on the climate in which technology makes scientific information available in a simplified but very profound way.
The wow effect here is indeed emotional, but as a result of the understanding of the problem. Behind the technology there is an enormous work on data management and their interaction, in turn the result of an exceptional research work».
The visitor to this museum has a fantastic opportunity: to play with data on the climate crisis through a mixer and information from the ESA satellite, until the facts take shape before his eyes.
«The public lives a scientific experience in an emotional way. Because what we did was make information understandable complex».
Managing complexity and thinking about people's motivations
Complexity is another forte of Dotdotdot. «The more complex a system is, the better our result is. Because complexity makes the functional approach insufficient».
In other words: «A user experience begins with the experience of the visitor. Speaking of the Cavallerizza, we are working together with architects and structural engineers to transform this place into a cultural center used by people with different objectives: there will be a theatre, a university, a public space.
To design our digital architectures we have reasoned on the motivations that will bring people to that place, not to the target.
For the series: What do you come here to do? To study, to take a walk, to go to the theatre…. Digital is a complete support, which reveals everything that happens in the space: it warns the visitor of the show that will take place, proposes offers or cultural activities for example.
In other words, it opens windows and connections with the local architecture».
Work closely with stakeholders
To achieve this, the Dotdotdot start from the study of the project and then analyze practices in the world and finally work with the stakeholders. That is, the people active in the area, the inhabitants, associations, the parish priest, some shopkeepers.
“For example, for the BEIC we worked with the Milanese library system which boasts exceptional super-enthusiast experts, but also with local academics and booksellers, to broaden our view of the neighborhood with a social analysis town planning. We do interviews to acquire as many insights as possible”.
The essence of the experience, designed with the tools of Service Design
The next step is to use the User Journey, a typical tool of Service Design which involves the creation of a typical person guided by a specific motivation for the visit which allows designers to identify all the best touch points along the route, from ticketing to routes, up to dinner reservations (just to name a few).
“We ask ourselves why touch points – i.e. points of contact between visitors and services – are there and with what functions. Then we proceed to the design, which is very concrete: we also need to think about where to route the cables, trivially”, explain Dotdotdot.
In this type of work, there are many actors involved.
«We are designers, architects, developers, engineers. What we do is a multidisciplinary work whereby we learn the language of others. This allows us to be translators». The translators? «Perhaps one of the salient aspects of our work is having the skills to interpret and translate the different languages that make up the project».
To work in this field, Dotdotdot explain, “you need experience, curiosity, a desire to learn, knowing how to interpret and translate or, philosophically, knowing how to listen to the needs and requirements of complex contexts and of a multidisciplinary team.
And again, knowing how to do research, study, manage a project and invent a methodology…».
It is not the digital but the aging content
«Our projects continue to evolve because we don't stop following them», they explain. “And you know what? We too have made a discovery which has shown us that the idea of obsolescence is part of a prejudice. Our installation for the Piccolo Museo del Diario dates from 2010 and is in perfect health. Therefore it is not the digital itself, but it is the content that ages if it is not strongly unbalanced on the experience».
Even the experience, at least according to Dotdotdot's intentions, does not end within the walls of the museum.
"Indeed. Technology allows the visitor to take something with him. And we also think that the project will not end. We are called dotdotdot, like the ellipsis, which make the project something unfinished if not thanks to the visitor's experience».