While completing her Communication Science Masters at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) Emilie chose an optional course on Users and Innovation in New Media. One of the activities was a crash design course in human-centered design (HCD) at Namahn: “We came to the design studio and covered the complete Namahn process in one afternoon. I was hooked.”
Is Communication Science a natural route to HCD?
Not really! My international masters degree was very broad, without a specific skill set. In fact, I was torn about what to do after graduation. I really like writing and research so one option was to lock myself into 4-5 years writing a doctorate, but to do this you also need life experience and especially experience of the business world… HCD was on my radar; I just didn’t know it was an actual profession.
So, what convinced you to join Namahn?
Until that design workshop I had never seen the theory of what I learned put into practice. One afternoon in Namahn convinced me that I wanted to do that too! When Joannes asked if people were interested in an internship, I immediately applied. And now I’ve joined the company. Namahn is a good fit for me because I can still learn and research—the culture really supports this—but I also get to see the theory applied.
Your BA research tackled gamification and won the LSE’s first Digital Innovation Challenge…
The author Gabe Zichermann suggests that gamification (the use of game elements in non-gaming contexts) is the Holy Grail for motivating pupils to learn, especially Generation Y. I was not convinced and wanted to test his hypothesis. My conclusion was that gamification is not new or particular to any generation; it already exists in classroom learning, for example, storytelling. Great teachers can be just as rich a source of inspiration for motivating pupils! However, games can provide inspiration for rearranging the way we tackle online learning. A well-designed program that interacts with you smoothly can be a great teacher… Which leads us back to Namahn! The resulting essay “Gamification: Educating the Angry Bird” won the LSE Award. I got to spend five days in London, meeting inspirational people!
Did you pursue this research domain for your MA?
No, I focused on the economics of privacy. According to José van Dijck (professor of Comparative Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam) there is a shift in society from connectedness to connectivity. Connectedness is any human connection; connectivity is the same thing but someone makes money out of it (for example, advertising via online social media). In order to make money out of connectedness, you need to know about the people who are connecting. Currently, this means knowing their offline identity, and this raises privacy issues.
At the time I was writing my thesis, Yahoo had just acquired the micro blogging platform Tumblr. Economically speaking, this was a big move: an “old” Internet company taking over a young, hip platform; it was bound to clash! Also, Tumblr only knows your online identity (your likes and dislikes, derived from online behavior). So how would Yahoo make money out of that from a media economics point of view? It’s interesting to see that 16 months after being acquired, Yahoo has not made Tumblr uncool and it is now making money. Yahoo has been clever at thinking of new ways to connect people better, taking small steps, building on the natural way Tumblr allows people to handle and share information, viral marketing: changing connectedness to achieve connectivity.
Are online/offline connectedness one and the same thing?
For me they are fluidly interlinked. There are different levels of connectedness in both, not different connections. For example, you can meet someone once a week in a yoga class. This is a superficial friend, and the same exists online. The interesting aspect for me is that online media have not yet figured out how to make money from just the online part. Disconnect the two, and privacy issues will become much less invasive!
What do you look forward to achieving at Namahn?
This is a huge opportunity to learn and discover the whole design process, and to be exposed to the different cultures of a wide range of companies. We are involved with clients along the entire life cycle of a project, from the first proposal, over implementation, to de-brief. Namahn is also very democratic. When I was an intern and said something, everyone listened. I was given responsibility from Day 1. I’m not the typical Namahn profile, but I bring a solid grounding in theory and above all I am very interested in learning more. Now I need to find out if I can be a good designer or not!
Any passions outside work?
Dance: I started old school dancing—swing, Charleston, ballroom—at the age of 17 and I still continue today.
The joy of life is not in the great achievements but in the little victories, finding pleasure in the small things.