Aside from questions about maple syrup (which I get at least 3 time per week), the most common things people ask here are “What are you studying?” and “Why Sweden?”. Since I’m fairly confident that my mother tells people I’m studying “computer stuff” and the fact that I took off to Sweden might seem a bit odd to some, I figure this topic might make for an appropriate post.
What am I studying?
I’m enrolled in a 2 year Interaction Design Masters (MA) program at Malmö University.
Since interaction design isn’t exactly a common, everyday term, it’s worthwhile for me to explain that as well. Without getting into all sorts of grander, philosophical definitions – which admittedly, we do discuss in class – interaction design is the design of a product or service that a user interacts with. Essentially, this means that an interaction designer shapes the way something – be it a website, bank machine, mobile phone, etc. – works. From this description, it’s probably quite easy to conjure up images of me hacking away at a computer writing code, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Though interaction design does involve some computer programming, it’s just a means to an end for communicating ideas and demonstrating concepts.
Though it’s difficult to imagine without having worked in the IT industry, the same brain that designs the way an application works for a user (IE: what you see, click, hear, etc.) is an altogether different brain than the one that tells the computer how to perform those same functions. In this sense, interaction designers are a little bit like architects. Architects design the way a building looks and functions but aren’t responsible for actually constructing it. So, interaction designers design the way an interactive product or service works but aren’t immediately responsible for developing it.
If you’re curious, take a look at this project in my portfolio for a sense of what an interaction design might actually look like in practice. This project was part of my solution to the design assignment required for my application to Malmö University.
Side Note: The decision to study interaction design wasn’t random, but, as with most people in this field, I took a roundabout way of finding it. In about a third of my undergraduate classes, I studied digital design and a handful of these touched on interaction design. I enjoyed these classes far more than anything else I had ever studied and for the first time in my life – both academically and otherwise – I felt as though I had found my calling.
It wasn’t until I was fifteen that I realized that Europe was a place that I could actually go to. Don’t get me wrong here; I knew that people could go to Europe, I just had never imagined myself doing so until this time. Even then, I looked into exchange opportunities that would get me out of Small Town, Ontario but the high cost of these trips coupled with my meager “drycleaner boy” salary made these options a no go.
I explored similar opportunities late in my undergrad, but after landing a 1 year contract at the university working on interactive e-learning projects, I consciously put my travel plans on hold. Throughout the year, I applied to graduate programs in various locations throughout Europe but I couldn’t have been more excited when I got accepted into the Malmö program.
Malmö was my number one choice from the beginning because it’s “famous” for research and education in this field and because university in Sweden is free. For all the of the North American’s reading, that is not a typo. My entire education in Sweden – even as an international student – is completely free. Though this wasn’t my primary reason for choosing Malmö, the financial side of things combined with the quality of education and my strong desire to study in Europe made Malmö the clear choice.