Interactive Things: The link between humans and data
Text: Marilena Stracke
Zurich-based design studio Interactive Things creates data-driven digital tools that “assist, connect and delight people”. In combining strategic thinking, design expertise and practical skills, the award-winning team offers innovative ways to engage people and bring the world of data closer to them. Its impressive client range of globally renowned companies stands as a great testimony for the quality of their work.
When the five partners, Benjamin Wiederkehr, Christian Siegrist, Christoph Schmid, Jeremy Stucki and Peter Gassner, finished their studies in 2008, they knew that there was a gap in the European market regarding interactive design in general, but particularly in relation to the field of data.
“Back in 2008, the term ‘big data’ was not as present in the media as it is today,” managing director Benjamin Wiederkehr recalls. “From the very beginning, the five of us believed that this subject presents opportunities, but also poses challenges and we realised that Switzerland didn’t have specific agencies tackling just that, like you would find in the US. By founding Interactive Things in January 2010, we created a space to realise these opportunities and solve these challenges.”
Shaping the future
Today, Interactive Things is firmly established and employs a team of passionate experts with backgrounds in interaction design, interface design, information design, data visualisation, data science, and software engineering. As they find themselves right at the intersection between human beings and data, they feel passionate about making data accessible and comprehensible for everyone.
“We understand the expectations of the user as well as the possibilities of the technology. Combining the two, we are able to design that link in a way that is easy to understand and intuitive to use. In light of the fact that data is increasing in terms of quantity and complexity, we believe that it’s important for everyone to be able to access and handle data,” Wiederkehr emphasises. “It should not matter what cultural, educational or financial background you have. Everyone needs to understand the power of data and how to use it. We are trying to democratise data literacy, so to speak. Data should not just be a tool for the rich and powerful. And that’s the future we are trying to build.”
Design thinking at its best
The studio’s services are divided into four key areas: research, strategy, design and technology. But it’s the way it blends all four into a smooth, coherent process, which really adds value to its clients’ businesses. Of course, clients can choose their individual approach, but the team at Interactive Things is particularly experienced when it comes to combining all components. They follow a user-centred design process that combines the enthusiasm for technological innovations with the sensibility of critical design thinking. Through close collaboration between designers and developers, Interactive Things successfully bridges the gap between functional intent and what the user eventually experiences.
As a design studio, its main expertise is naturally the ideation, conception, and design of elegant products and publications. But this way of design-orientated thinking informs all areas and can be seen as the engine for its consulting and production service.
New projects, new challenges
What keeps the studio’s work exciting and fresh is its relatively large and varied customer base, which literally spans across the world. Private and public organisations of all sizes and in various different fields trust Interactive Things with their projects. Amongst them, are internationally recognised non-profit organisations, such as the World Health Organisation and the World Economic Forum, for-profit companies including Samsung and UBS, as well as the National Geographic and Al Jazeera in the media sector.
“The problems which clients bring to us are usually extremely specific, and so is the accompanying data. So, we immerse ourselves in a world that is completely new to us in the beginning. But understanding it deeply is essential for developing solutions. Over the course of the project, and thanks to the close partnerships we form with our clients, we learn a lot about that particular world. This kind of continuous learning and diving into areas that are new to us is the best challenge at our studio.”
Creating products that not only look good but are also delightful to use, has brought the design studio a lot of professional recognition. Just this year, Interactive Things received the prestigious German Design Award. Previous awards include two Information is Beautiful Awards as well as the Grimme Online Award – to name but a few.
But what truly matters to the team at Interactive Things is reaching and inspiring people with its innovative work. Because regardless of what the project is about, one thing remains certain: the human being takes centre-stage here.
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