Amit Pitaru Named Co-Chair of MFA Interaction Design Department

September 17, 2012

The MFA Interaction Design Department recently welcomed Amit Pitaru, who now serves as Co-chair with Liz Danzico. A renowned coder, artist, educator and designer (as well as a former professional musician), Pitaru’s work has been exhibited at the London Design Museum, Paris Pompidou Center, Lincoln Center, Israel National Museum, Sundance Film festival, Seoul Metropolitan Museum of Art, and ICC Museum in Tokyo.

Pitaru is also a recipient of a MacArthur grant for documenting his work in the field of assistive technology, and his writing on this subject was recently published by MIT Press. In addition, Pitaru designed an app for iPad that allows users to easily compose and email a handwritten letter, and he recently co-founded a startup that hopes to greatly improve people’s ability to save money.

Before SVA, Pitaru taught at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program and Cooper Union’s Arts department. He is also an advisor for the Institute of Play, who is developing a public school that will use game design and game-inspired methods to teach critical 21st Century skills. SVA Close Up recently caught up with Pitaru to discuss his new position at SVA.

As a faculty member and now Co-chair, what is it about SVA’s MFA Interaction Design Department that sets it apart from similar graduate programs at other colleges?

I think that we are very opinionated about what it takes to become a great Interaction Designer.

Ultimately, we’re here to shape technology in a way that empowers people. To do that, we need to master the core disciplines of design and become proficient technologists, but most importantly—learn to accommodate human behavior.

In these terms, we feel that the difference between a good and great Interaction Designer is in their ability to employ empathy, as they mitigate between technological advances and the humans who’ll use it.

The MFA Interaction Design Department is here to accommodate and nurture those who share this vision.

To do so, I feel that Liz Danzico, the department’s founder and co-chair, has brought together some of the best talents that New York has to offer. This allows our students to learn and collaborate with wonderful designers, entrepreneurs, researchers, coders, and artists, as they establish their own unique voice within the craft.

In what direction do you see the MFA Interaction Design Department going in the next five years?
Traditionally, designers were asked to deliver their ideas to a manager, who would then take it onwards to developers. No more. We live in exciting times where designers can act on their own ideas. They can decide to further an idea from design to prototype to product (or service, or artwork). They can also choose to skillfully lead teams through the proper execution of their ideas.

Just this year, two of our second year students have formed startups (that actually make money!), and all of this during a second semester course. Both were designers and coders, as well as marketers of their own vision.

I think this is a sign of things to come. I’m waiting for a student to ask me about making an iPad app to help disabled children create music, or a startup idea to fix the healthcare industry, or just build a funny helmet to control the ambiance lighting in the room using brain waves. Doable. Anything goes, and we’ll be here to help them out.

In fact, we’ve just co-launched the Visual Futures Lab, which is where our students get their hands dirty with circuit boards, wood, 3D printing, and the likes.

While the possibilities are endless, we also believe that code and technology are here to serve our creativity, not detract from it. And so, we’re actively developing forward-thinking methods to teach creative minds how to wield technology in a way that works for them.

Looking five years into the future, we’ll be here to accommodate those great minds that aren’t scared to venture beyond the confines of one discipline. We’ll be helping artists and designers learn to code, help coders fall in love with design, and together redefine what it means to be an Interaction Designer.

If there was one piece of advice you would give to a new student in your Department, what would it be?
“DESIGNER”, “CODER”, “ENTREPRENEUR”, “ARTIST”

If you want to see the future of Interaction Design, take a close look at the terms above, squint really hard and blur your vision. That’s where we’re headed. Embrace yourself for a wonderful adventure, and trust that we’ve equipped you well for the ride.

After taking a spin around your website I was impressed by the breadth of projects you are orchestrating. Is there one (perhaps new or in the making) that you would like to share with us?
Thank you. My newest project is not actually ready to show, but I’ll be happy to describe. I’ve been greatly inspired by John Cleese and his recent lectures on creativity. I’m working on a strange video game (probably for iPad) that embodies his process for coming up with creative ideas. Who knows how long this will take to complete, but for now, here’s the video that got me thinking:

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