Thoughts for Chris’ design students visiting Paris

Posted on January 22, 2014


My friend Chris Ebbert is taking a class of UK product designers to Paris. What should they see he asks?  Here are my thoughts (it was a 3k straight swim this morning so lots of time for thinking).

I’m sure there are places such as product design museums or particular icons that you should have your students do.   Here’s my slightly random thoughts from a 7 day stay for ITiCSE and a 9 day stay for CHI.  

1. Eyes open.  First off, if they haven’t already I’d have them read Keri Smith’s How to be an explorer of the world.   Make sure they have their eyes open to the differences in communication.


2. Bookshop. (assuming they don’t speak french).    Go to a bookshop big enough to have a decent children’s section and “read” the books. If you have time, do the same at the science museum the Palais de la Découverte.  It is a fascinating lesson in communication without language.


3. Tourist interaction with the city.  Spend a decent amount of time people watching.   Not just the Parisians but the tourists.   Watch how they navigate.  Watch how they take pictures (aside, why do they take pictures? how many pictures of the Eiffel Tower does the world need?).  Look at the cultural memes that prompt particular poses and forced perspectives.   And see the design responses of the city to those acts.


4. Automated metro.  What are the systems they’ve had to put in place to make it work?  This picture isn’t the metro, it’s at Gard de l’Est.  Cool trains though.


5. Constructed landscapes and visions of perfection. If you take them to Versailles, have a look at the incredible palace.  But then get outside and explore the grounds.  In particular, the fake farm. Fascinates me that that in the 1700s there was already an idealised rural idyll.  (If you don’t get out to Versailles, there’s the  interesting Parc Monceau, full of supposedly english follies).


6. Products. Yes, I remembered that they’re product designer students.  Sure, go and look at the shoes and dresses in the shop windows. I think we can learn more though from these two well-honed products.  I’d love to know more about these boats – how old is each one? have they tried alternatives? (probably not, why would they?).


And these guys, they always seem to be on the run from police so something dodgy is presumably going on.  But the question I’d have the students explore is why have they got just one product?


7. Interaction and interpretation.  There’s surprisingly little interpretation and way-finding.  Maybe they think everyone is carrying a map and a guidebook, or maybe they don’t really care about anyone who needs such information.  This interactive at the top of the Arc de Triomphe is an exception and a great example of direct manipulation and augmented reality.


8. Street art: formal and informal.   The statues: the obvious ones. And the ones in the back streets.  The Champ de Mars behind the Eiffel Tower has a particularly intriguing Monument des Droits de l’Homme.   Also, the buildings and their statues really are something else.




The informal street art is a class above anywhere else (except perhaps Bristol).


9. Normal lives, subtly different. If you can get the students  into houses to experience how other people live, that would be great.  Otherwise your students will have to be voyeurs on lives that are the same but different.  I don’t think I’ve seen window ledges used as an extension of the kitchen quite like they do in Paris. 


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