Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My PhD dissertation (in digital version for download)

I defended my PhD dissertation in 1991. It took me forever to finish it but at the end I was at least quite happy with what I had accomplished. I now and then go back and read bits and pieces from it. Always entertaining and sometimes surprising, encouraging or even depressing. The depressing part is when I realize that I wrote everything in my dissertation that I am still working on, and in many cases better than I could write it today (at least it feels like that).

Anyway, I have not had an digital version of the dissertation but found one today (in the Umea University Library). It is in Swedish so it is of course not really readable to many.

A pdf of the dissertation can be downloaded here.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Wonderful movie about Heidegger (and design)

If you have not yet watched the movie "Being in the world" by Tao Ruspoli about the philosophy of
Heidegger, you should. The film is full of comments from many of todays leading philosophers. They talk about Heidegger but in a language that makes it possible to understand for anyone. It is a movie about being a human being. And it is a movie about being a designer!

You can read more about the movie here.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Interesting review 50 years later of Marcuse's "One-dimensional man"

It is 50 years now since Herbert Marcuse published his influential book "One-dimensional man". This has been one of my favorite books since the first time I read it. I have frequently returned to it and is every time inspired by it, usually in a new way than before. It is a book rich of big ideas. Recently I wrote a book chapter on how Marcuse is relevant to the field of interaction design research (hopefully to be published soon).

I am of course not the only one who returns to this seminal book. In a really interesting review, written in relation to the 50 year anniversary,  Ronald Aronson explains the immensely important role that Marcuse has had over the decades. This review is thoughtful and insightful. I was while reading it first a bit concerned by the argument that the conditions during the time when Marcuse authored the book have changed so much that it is not relevant in the same way anymore. However, later in the article Aronson makes the case that I would do, namely that the present society is not the same as in those days but that it has the same foundational qualities, maybe even in a way that makes Marcuse's analysis even more relevant today. It is not the cold war with the big (given) enemy that is the system's engine, instead it is consumerism and the comfortable life. One-dimensionality has maybe never been stronger than today!

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

DesignX -- a new collaborative initiative to radically reform design

We do not see a lot of manifestos or White Papers in the field of research, which is unfortunate since they do have certain qualities that almost no other scholarly writings have. Some of these qualities are that they are short, to the point, argumentative, and usually written and signed by a group of people with a stated purpose to influence others.

Today I got one such document in an email. The document is called DesignX and is written by a group of well known design scholars (in alphabetical order): Ken Friedman (Tongji University, College of Design and Innovation and Swinburne University Centre for Design Innovation), Yongqi Lou (Tongji), Don Norman (University of California, San Diego, Design Lab), Pieter Jan Stappers (Delft University of Technology, Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering), Ena Voûte (Delft), and Patrick Whitney (Illinois Institute of Technology, Institute of Design).

You can download the text here. Or you can read the text here on Don Norman's site.

The first sentence states "DesignX is a new, evidence-based approach for addressing many of the complex and serious problems facing the world today. It adds to and augments today’s design methods, reformulating the role that design can play."

The document is only three pages. It gives a brief history of design and a review of where design is today and where it has to go. The text contains several quite succinct definitions of what design is and what design can do.

I think the authors have done a great job in describing design and its distinctive qualities and also lays out an interesting agenda for the future. I fully support the general idea behind this initiative.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The future of the smartphone

As we all know it is not easy to predict the future. It is so difficult so it sometimes becomes almost depressing. In this short article with the lead designers Matias Duarte (Google) and Gentry Underwood (Dropbox) are supposed to speculate about the future of the smartphone. They do that by mostly examining the problems with where we are now. It is difficult to see any grand visions or even optimism in their speculations.  They both see the future of the smartphone in its ability to live in an ecology of devices and not as a radical change of the smartphone itself.

It is interesting to see how these two influential designers are discussing the problem of modern smartphones very much in a way that resonates with Albert Borgmann's theory about the "device paradigm". The designers are, in the same way as Borgmann, concerned that the everywhere presence of screens distance us from the "real" reality and Underwood ends by saying "I hope as we push these screens forward, we do it with an attention to what makes life meaningful." This relates to the notion of focal practices by Borgmann.

The short article is a fascinating read. Is this the forefront of the field? Is this the visionary thinking? I find the article to be inspiring in the sense that it is refreshing to see Borgmann's philosophy being present in this type of context, at the same time I find it a bit sad that there are no bold ideas how to deal with the problems that they recognize. The solutions seem to be more of the same unfortunately.

[This challenge of device ecologies is something that I have worked on in different ways and is published:

Janlert, L-E., & Stolterman, E. (forthcoming). Faceless Interaction - a conceptual examination of the notion of interface: past, present and future. In Human-Computer Interaction.

Stolterman, E. , Jung, H., Ryan, W., and Siegel, M. A. (2013) Device Landscapes: A New Challenge to Interaction Design and HCI Research. Archives of Design Research, 26(2), 7-33.]

Friday, November 07, 2014

Amazon Echo and Faceless Interaction

Amazon is presenting a new device called Echo. It is a voice controlled device that makes it possible to play music, ask questions (Siri style), create shopping lists, set alarms, etc. It is supposed to have a
sophisticated microphone system that can recognize commands even when playing music. You can place it anywhere in a room and control it with your voice. You can check out the video link found on this page.

I find this really interesting. It is a step towards what Lars-Erik Janlert and I call "faceless interaction" in our article "Faceless Interaction - a conceptual examination of the notion of interface: past, present and future".

This type of faceless interaction, that is, interactivity without a "real" interface (defined in the article), is becoming more common and the issues we discuss in the article, for instance, interaction clutter becomes more prominent. When we have not just one but many faceless interactions in our environment, new challenges become apparent to interaction designers.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Design Way (third print of paperback!)

Just got the good news from MIT Press that they are preparing the third print of the paperback version (first print came out earlier this Fall) of our book The Design Way. This is exciting. It means that for some reason people are buying the book! If you are one of them -- thanks.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Anatomy of Prototypes

In preparation of a lecture on Monday I had to re-read an article that I wrote together with Youn-Kyoung Lim and Josh Tenenberg called "The Anatomy of Prototypes: Prototypes as Filters, Prototypes as Manifestations of Design Ideas".

I don't think I have read the whole article in a few years which is always an exciting  and a bit nervous experience. Anyway, this time I was pleasantly surprised. I really find this article to be interesting and still useful. Unfortunately I have not done any more work on this topic since we wrote this article but after having read it now, I think I  have to.

I am more convinced than ever that what our field needs are analytical tools that makes it possible to investigate specific entities in a structured way. In this article we propose an anatomy of prototypes that supports such investigations of one of the most important entities in our field--the prototype.

It would be great if we could develop similar "anatomies" for other entities in our field. The 'power' of anatomies (or frameworks) is that they (if done well)  provide clear definitions that support examinations, categorizations and understanding without being prescriptive. The anatomy of prototypes that we provide in our article is a conceptual tool for the analysis and description of every possible prototype without saying anything at all how to design prototypes or what constitute a good prototype (except in a very abstract but principled and precise way).

Anyway, good to return to "old" texts and to discover that they still can be valuable and not outdated.

A video talk: Improving Design without Destroying it

I did a Skype talk with the Belgium CHI community the other day. The title of my talk was "Improving Design Without Destroying it". They recorded the talk and it is now available on Youtube.

There is an introduction of about 5 min before my talk starts. Here is an abstract of the talk. I am not sure how well I stayed with the topic though....

"The design process is today highly appreciated for the kind of results it can deliver. This appreciation can be found within academia as well as in the  business world. At the same time there is in many communities a noticeable  uneasiness of the ambiguous character and the apparent elusiveness of the  methods of design. This unease has led to many attempts to transform or improve the design process, for instance with the purpose to make the process more efficient, rational, predictable, and safe. However, many of these attempts  have lead to results that are detrimental to the design process, because they  impose conditions, limitations, restrictions, procedures, and measures of success that are not grounded a deep understanding of design as a unique approach of inquiry and action. In my talk I will examine approaches to and examples  of design process improvements that are destructive to design, but I will also explore and discuss some safe alternatives to improving design."

Friday, October 03, 2014

Article Note: "A design thinking rationality framework: framing and solving design problems in early concept generation" by Jieun Kim and Hokyoung Ryu

I just read this (quite long) article "A design thinking rationality framework: framing and solving design problems in early concept generation" by Jieun Kim and Hokyoung Ryu (in Human-Computer Interaction, 2014 Vol 27). I did not know about this work at all but was positively surprised. The authors are doing a great job in referencing a lot of contemporary design theorists. The authors clearly know the field. They also report from a large experiment where they engaged experienced and non-experienced (novice) designers in a design task. The insights from the study is primarily that experienced designers are more effective in framing a design problem but also that they "stick" to their early ideas (what the authors call "design fixation"), while inexperienced designers are not as good at framing a design problem but instead are more willing to let go of initial ideas.

I think these findings are interesting, specifically since I usually hear people argue that inexperienced designers are the ones who stick to their initial ideas while experienced designers do not. The fact that experienced designer are better at framing design problems is less surprising. Anyhow, a lot of interesting material in this article.

My only concern with the work is (something that often concerns me with research articles) when the authors try to use their findings as a tool to improve the design process. They write "These studies might suggest how to develop a creativity-support system that can help expert designers avoid bias and design fixation and assist novice designers in approaching better design strategies". I do not mind so much the second part, the one about novice designers, but I have a problem with the first part.

If it is a fact that experienced designers are more engaged in design fixation (that is, staying with an initial idea) I would be very careful in drawing the conclusion that that is a bad thing. Expert designers probably have this particular behavior because they realize (maybe not consciously) that this behavior leads to good consequences. There are some studies out there that support and argue that the idea of sticking with early ideas and working with variations of that idea instead of working on many parallel ideas is more successful. Anyway, the leap from observation to implication is always a dangerous and difficult leap. Great observations and insights does not have to be transformed into actionable prescriptions. Many times the observations and insights transformed into theoretical concepts is more than enough.