Bear & Co honoree of the FastCompany 2019 Innovation by Design Awards

VIRT-EU’s immersive ethical installation joins 483 projects, products, and services from Nike, Microsoft, Mastercard, Gensler, and others in the FastCompany 2019 Innovation by Design Awards.

We are thrilled to announce that the Bear & Co installation, designed by the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design research group (CIID Research), won an honorary mention in the FastCompany 2019 Innovation by Design Awards in the Experimental category.

Bear & Co is a simulation for integrating difficult, ethical thinking in the world of an IoT start-up. Visitors are invited to join a fictitious company, Bear & Co, as new employees. As they start working, they go through difficult dilemmas and rehearse ethical reasoning. The new employees (visitors) can only start their work once they have stated their values in a custom punch card – indicating what they bring to the company and what they care about. In doing so, CIID’s researchers are able to test these values through different scenarios and difficult choices. Annelie Berner, principal investigator at CIID, explains:

Sometimes there will be a misalignment – a tension – between the values they stated and the choices they made. The experience of that tension is the key to Bear & Co, and our “employees” are not fired; rather, we invite them to work on understanding why this tension happens and invite them to try to do a better job when they come to work the next day.

Bear & Co is one public-facing intervention produced by the interdisciplinary VIRT-EU project, that aims to intervene in the design process of IoT, to foster ethical and moral reasoning, self-assessment, and to provide actionable tools that encourage reflection among developers of IoT products and their stakeholders. Annelie Berner describes how the exhibition is designed to surface theories of ethics from the VIRT-EU project:

“Each of the steps of Bear & Co is based on a different aspect of the ethical framework that our partners developed as part of the project. For example, indicating important values on the punch card relates to virtue ethics, the restricted capacity to choose in a dilemma (A or B) represents the challenge of the capabilities approach. The stories that accompany the dilemmas are written to surface unusual or overlooked perspectives, hinting at care ethics.”

CIID created this immersive experience informed by findings and discussions with partner scholars in the fields of law, social theory, human-computer interaction, science and technology studies, and policymaking – all part of VIRT-EU. Bear & Co is just one of the tools created by the collaborative effort of the research project formed by the IT University of Copenhagen, CIID, Uppsala University, Politecnico di Torino, London School of Economics and Open Rights Group. In her own words, Annelie Berner explains:

We are working with ethicists, lawyers and social scientists as well as policymakers to try to figure out how to integrate ethical thinking into the process of creating connected devices, where connected devices have an influence and impact in surprising and sometimes invisible ways. The VIRT-EU project focuses on start-ups making connected devices oriented towards individual users, where the environment of the connected device might be your workplace, home, hospital or car. So, it’s about technology weaving through various environments that people traverse.”

Bear & Co’s installation was staged at Ars Electronica in September 2018 and the prototype was demonstrated at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (ACM CHI 2019). A description is available here.

Honorees for the 2019 awards were selected in the following categories: Apps and Games; Data Design; Experimental; Fashion and Beauty; General Excellence; Graphic Design; Health; Learning; Mobility; Products; Retail Environments; Social Good; Spaces, Places, and Cities; Students; Timeless Design; User Experience; Workplace; Best of Asia-Pacific; Best of Europe, Middle East, and Africa; Best of Latin America; and Best of North America. Fast Company is also recognizing Nike as the title’s second annual Design Company of the Year for its outstanding efforts merging digital and physical retail experiences.

To see the complete list, visit