Interview: We get more info on the Microsoft Surface Blade DesignStorm session

As part of Microsoft's press event for its Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 tablets in New York City in late September, the company announced that it had held a collaboration with the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. Students from the school were recruited to take part in what the college calls an "DesignStorm" session, with the goal of coming up with new and different concepts for "blades", the accessories that can connect to Surface tablets.

The final results were quite interesting as the students came up with ideas for add-ons like a solar power panel for the tablet, a game pad, a keyboard, an artist's too, a "Guitar Hero"-like controller, and many more. Neowin got a chance to ask some questions to Jeff Higashi, the school's faculty member who oversaw the Surface DesignStorm project, to find out more about the process behind creating these wild designs.

First, how did Microsoft get together with the Art Center of College and Design for the Surface blade design project?

Microsoft wanted to showcase the creation process and inspire people to want to go out and create their own versions of the Blade. They wanted to show designers in the process of making. They have always been a big supporter of Art Center College of Design. The chief designer of Microsoft's tablet group is Ralf Groene and he's a big fan or Art Center and the DesignStorm process. DesignStorms can run anywhere from 1 day to 2 weeks in length. Students are hand picked by faculty to participate based on the creative brief for each project. The Microsoft project was a 3 day DesignStorm. Each student received a complimentary Surface Pro tablet with a blade a week prior to the project start date to help familiarize themselves with the product before the assignment. They didn't know what the assignment was before the first day. One of the goals of the Storm was to educate the internal group at Microsoft and show the execs the breadth of bandwidth that the blade could offer.

About how many students were picked for the project and why were these particular students chosen?

We invited between 12-14 students picked specifically, since the concept is both physical and on screen experience. They were recruited from Product Design, Graphic Design and from the Transmedia specialization within Graphic Design. By forcing those three disciplines of students to work together the feeling was that it would create a more complete solution and bring creation to the project at the beginning. They all work together at the kick off of the project. We infused some of our own philosophy at an early stage to create a better solution both physical and on screen.

What was the atmosphere like in the classroom when the students started creating their blade concepts?

They had 3 days total to build concepts. It was very active and fast paced environment but very collaborative. They were all paired in groups; 2-3 people in groups. It stimulates a lot of conversation and leverages multiplicity to be sure we have plenty of concepts. They make prototypes out of paper and foam core, then evaluate them, then iterate them. It is a constant process of experience, design, experience, design, etc; very fast, engaging. It brought the end customer experience closer to the designer and built groups based on diverse majors. It was a happy environment, with food and music, on campus in the Color, Materials and Trends Exploration Laboratory (CMTEL), where they spent 10 hours each day for the storm. 

We saw a few of the concepts in the Microsoft and Art Design videos. What were some of the other concepts that didn't get as much screen time?

Generally there were some education products, or others that were inspired by applications, how to change the way we control or interact with software applications.

Overall how did the students feel about the Surface blade concept experience?

They felt positive since they were enjoying the collaboration with music and food; it wasn't a party but it was fun work.

Did the Microsoft Surface team members express any special interest in one or more of the concepts from the students?

The Microsoft team and students integrated throughout the 3 days. It was a strong client relationship. Microsoft has a lot of trust in Art Center and our philosophy of how to create. They trusted the outcome would be valuable.

We would like to thank Jeff for answering our questions!

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