30 Years of Innovation: Happy Birthday, ITP
Mud, paparazzi, and what rodents have to do with the bleeding edge of interactive technology.
By Kirstin Butler
A self-decapitating squirrel-as-clock, voice-activated tug-of-war games, and anti-paparazzi fashion aren’t typical student thesis projects, but then the program for which they were created is no typical program. NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) celebrates its 30th anniversary from October 1st through 3rd this year, and belying its ’70s-era name, the ITP is the go-to place for the newest in new media.
A cross between experimental arts studio and R&D technolab, the ITP is a two-year degree program and self-described “center for the recently possible.” The current course catalog reads like some kind of avant-hacker’s dream: Cabinets of Wonder, Design for UNICEF (taught by faculty member Clay Shirky), and Sousveillance Culture are among the many electives available.
ITP’s bi-annual thesis shows have become must-see events for talent recruitment and pure geekdom alike. The artists, designers, engineers, theorists, and technologists that make up the program’s community of alumni/ae, faculty, and students include a current MacArthur Fellow, numerous TED presenters, and Ze Frank — in short, a who’s who of high-minded cool.
With equal emphasis on hardware and software, student projects push the boundaries of new technology but with a distinctly user-centered focus. Some, like Plott by Thomas Chan, have immediate real-world application—as applications (of the iPhone variety). Others, like Tom Gerhard’s Mud Tub, take a more theoretical bent. All draw on life as their laboratory, and we love how they augment our experience of interacting with the world.
As it turns 30, the ITP’s mission—to explore creative applications of communications technologies—is more relevant now than ever. The program’s immersive approach to learning excites us not only because it approaches the classroom as playground, but also because it’s a great example of design within social contexts. (And consistent with this collaborative ethos, ITP has set up a wiki so that its current and past students and faculty can assemble a timeline of the program’s history.)
With concentrations in design areas such as assistive technology, mobile computing, and sustainability, the program has not only kept pace with the times but seems poised to lead the way into the brave, new, mediated landscape we live in. To see what makes ITP such a cool place, check out a project portfolio and a few additional videos.
Published October 1, 2009