MA ID 02: Andrea Petrucci explores the use of personal data in contemporary times

This year’s MA Interaction Design show is now over, true, but we still have another interview for you! Andrea Petrucci talked to us about his project on personal information and the way it is being used in today’s society:

Andrea Petrucci

What was your background before the MA in Interaction Design course at Goldsmiths?

I did my BA in Media Art back in Italy. My focus had always been on analogue and multimedia installations. I started to experiment with Interaction Design for my graduation project, focusing on tangible interfaces. Basically, the concept was being able to do video editing using objects instead of a screen interface. That lighted up an interest in Interaction Design that brought me to Goldsmiths.

What were your expectations starting the course, and how did they compare to your experience? What do you think you got from it, and what did you enjoy most while studying here?

Before the course I had an idea of Interaction Design as being basically centred on studying innovative technologies and then prototyping with them – that is, quickly responding to a brief with proposals that are as close as possible to the end result, and perfecting them through the process. The course showed me just how much richer the design process can be. The focus on research methods, in particular, pushes you to make projects that go beyond your ideas and what is already out there.

In this context I really enjoyed working with others and seeing everyone’s individual projects develop over time. I think this aspect really impacted my practice.

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What is your graduation project about, in a nutshell?

My project questions how our personal information is currently collected and managed online. We constantly generate personal information, which is often owned and traded by the companies that store and analyse them. I looked at a portion of the data that I personally produce to try to understand how my habits and preferences can be understood through this data.

How did you get the idea and what were the challenges in developing it?

The project started from a reflection on the increasingly large and diverse stream of data that people produce through wearable devices about their health, routine, preferences. This is a particular case where valuable information about an individual or a group of people can be aggregated and analysed. The question is, who benefits from this analysis?

What kind of research did you undertake for your final project? What processes and tools did you use to reach the finished result?

In order to get a concrete grasp on the topic I decided to use my personal information as material. Thus I requested access to my personal data from the services that I normally use – which companies are obliged to provide by European law. I got hold of part of this information, which I turned into a readable format and collected in a book. I analysed this data and generated a profile of myself and predictions for the near future. This was done in the context of a fictional company, which provided details on how the process was conducted. The aim was to highlight the contrast between such an analogue process and the extremely complex computational processes that analyse vast amounts of data.

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What other work undertaken during the course was particularly rewarding to you?

I really enjoyed working with researchers from different departments in Goldsmiths as part of the Impact project, which was outside of the course modules. I was struck by the variety and depth of the research projects produced in the College. It was stimulating to try and translate aspects of their work in installations that could communicate how academic research addresses and benefits concrete social issues. The installations are coming up just in this period around the campus.

What is design to you? How would you describe your approach to design?

I believe that one of the most powerful aspects of design is its capacity to act as a space of collaboration between disciplines and contexts that can be really different one from the other. My approach is to strive to understand the motivations of the parts involved in the process and the consequences for the people that will use the product, and work towards solutions that improve their experience.

From the 1st to the 4th of December MA Interaction Design students presented their final work in the St James Hatcham Church Gallery. You can find photos of the event on our Facebook page; the show was also extensively covered on the Design blog.