Friday, April 11, 2014

Notes regarding the notion of Device Landscapes

Device Landscapes
 Erik Stolterman

I am working on the idea of device landscapes or ecologies of artifacts since some time back. Here are some notes on the topic. They are short and somewhat abstract, but they work for me. If you want to comment. add or change them, please let me know.

A device landscape can be defined as “the landscape made up by all physical devices with some level of interactivity, made possible by digital technology, that one person owns or has access to and engages with”

Device landscape analysis is about non-designed landscapes, that is, landscapes that are serendipitous, emerging, evolving and dynamic.

A device landscape consists of (1) elements (devices), (2)    relationships, and (3)       qualities of relationships.

-        What constitutes a device, a relationship, a quality of relationship, is a choice.

Why Device Landscape Analysis

There is an increasing need for landscape analysis in our field: digital technology is “wicked”, that is, it is complex, everywhere, connected, and experienced from the perspective of an inhabitant.

Every digital interactive artifact/device is part of one or many device landscapes.

Every person who owns any digital interactive artifacts is the owner and caretaker of a device landscape

People see digital interactive devices primarily as “things” which makes it useful to also analyze them as things/devices.

Landscape factors influence people’s thinking about and behavior toward their devices.

People develop landscape and device strategies

Analyzing/Mapping Device Landscapes

Any analysis/mapping is a response to a question.

A mapping of a device landscape is an activity that leads to a conceptual construct that can serve analytical purposes (knowledge), technical purposes (design), or emancipatory purposes (ideological).

A mapping can be
-       phenomenological (personal, particular, perspective of the “owner”)
-       analytical (composed, universal, perspective of the researcher/designer)

A mapping is always an act guided by intentionality and a result of judgment.

A mapping is a cut in time. A series of cuts may lead to a mapping of a landscape’s evolution.

A landscape analysis and mapping is always based on some kind of device landscape model.

A tentative device landscape model:

This work has been done in collaboration with Heekyoung, Ryan and Marty, and have been published in some papers and in this journal article:

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.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Interesting book proposal: "Practical Wisdom in the Age of Technology: Insights, Issues and Questions for a New Millennium"

I got an email today with a Call for Contributions for an edited book with the title: Practical Wisdom in the Age of Technology: Insights, Issues and Questions for a New Millennium. It seems to be an attempt to bring together the notion of practical wisdom with philosophical understandings of technology. In the Call for Contributions there are several topics interesting topics mentioned. The editors are: Nikunj Dalal, Ali Intezari, Marty Heitz Take and look!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Memory and forgetting in the digital age

I just read a very interesting article by Liam Bannon called "Forgetting as a feature, not a bug: the duality of memory and implications for ubiquitous computing". Liam, who is a colleague and friend of mine since many years, engages in a theoretical exploration based on the simple question, what if forgetting is a feature of being human and not a problem?

Traditionally the case is made that digital technology is the perfect technology to support us humans to overcome our defective memory. But if we assume instead that our memory is not defective then what does that mean for the design of digital technology. The way Liam develops this question leads to a number of new questions, all intriguing but also complex in themselves. The article does not lead to a simple answer, instead it opens up for further examinations of the way we think about the relation between humans and technology. For instance, we can, based on Liam's examination, ask questions about other human traits that are commonly seen as in need for support. For instance, we usually consider computers fast and humans slow. What if slowness is a feature and not a bug. This has been discussed by Johan Redström around the notion of "slow technology".

I think the lesson from Liam's article is that if we, as Liam does, flip what is truly a "feature" and a "bug" of being human, we may open up new potential design spaces. I really appreciate the article by Liam, it is a type of articles we see far too seldom in our field. They take on big questions in a methodological and philosophical way that makes sense from both a theoretical and practical perspective!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What is a design theory?

I am working with one of our PhD students, Jordan Beck, on the question of what is design theory. It is such an exciting question. Jordan is collecting 'things' (ideas, frameworks, etc.) that could potentially be seen as a design theory. It is now a long list. But, the challenge is, which ones are truly a design theory and not just a theory that has been appropriated or 'used' in a design context. And are there different kinds of design theory, maybe at different levels or with different focus or purpose? In our meeting today we came up with ideas that already has changed my thinking about what could be a design theory. I realized that I have to rethink to what extent some of the ideas I have myself worked with and written about is a 'theory' or not. I hope that we soon can present some of the ideas we are working with.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Philosophy of design and "critical flexibility"

In my advanced seminar on Philosophy and Theory of Design I ask all participants to bring a text that they think relate to the course and our discussions. Today my colleague Elizabeth Boling presented an article "Between eclecticism and orthodoxy in instructional design" by Stephen Yanchar and Bruce Gabbitas. It is an excellent article! The authors make the case that design (an particularly instructional design) is dominated by two broad approaches, theoretical orthodoxy and eclectic practice.

The authors make the case that both these approaches rest on something more fundamental, something they label a conceptual design sense.

They write:
"To the extent that conceptual design sense influences the way theoretical principles are used, it might be said to operate as a cryptotheory—that is, as a kind of hidden framework that, to some significant degree, guides important aspects of the design process."


"...we contend, that eclecticism leads surreptitiously to the same problem that attends theoretical orthodoxy, namely, operating under a single (albeit implicit) perspective
and, ipso facto, lacking genuine openness to itself and alternatives in the design process."

I read this paper as a great argument for philosophy of design. It resonates with other scholars who advocate for a reflective stance and for attempts to explicate and externalize what are fundamental assumptions, values, beliefs, and ideas about design. Great article!!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Tools for thinking

I have lately been interested in the question of what constitute the philosophical method. Of course, the first question is if there is anything like that at all. Is philosophy done in some methodological way? How much is it cleaver thinking, or detailed reading of existing work? Can anyone learn to think as a philosopher or do you have to be formally trained? Anyway, as part of my interest I am as usual getting some books.

At the moment I am reading these books.

Chris Daly "An introduction to Philosophical Methods"

Peter Sloterdijk "The art of philosophy"

Baggini, J. & Fosl, P. "The philosopher's toolkit. A compendium of philosophical concepts and methods"

Daniel Dennett "Intuition pumps and other tools for thinking"

I have looked through these book and am reading some parts more detailed. Overall I find it most interesting to see how these books have been structured and developed. Some have the appearance of a textbooks or handbook, for instance, Baggini & Fosl but also Dennett.

Some take on philosophical thinking as a way of critiquing existing thinking and philosophy, for instance Sloterdijk.

At the moment I would recommend them all. Especially taken together they create an interesting overview and give anyone interested in knowing what philosophical thinking and method is all about a good starting point.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

"The Unicorn Institute -- Courses to shape the future of UX design"

Today I saw the ads for the new Unicorn Institute. An interesting initiative to create a new program with the purpose to educate students to become the future of UX design. It is right now a Kickstarter project led by some well known people in the field.

This is how they introduce the idea:

"You might be asking yourself: Why do we need a UX design school? Doesn’t this already exist someplace?
It’s true, you can learn parts of user experience design through a variety of programs, both online and in person. However, it’s challenging to piece together all of the required skills for a UX designer.
We’re creating a holistic program that connects education and industry to bridge the skills gap between what students learn and what industry needs. Our long-term goal is to create a bricks-and-mortar school where students learn the comprehensive skills to earn meaningful jobs in the field of user experience design.
We want to create a school to produce industry-ready UX professionals—otherwise known as “unicorns.” A UX unicorn is the ultimate generalists: a person who has the right mix of hard and soft skills."
It will be quite interesting to follow the development of this. As someone who has worked with academic programs for many years and experienced the complexity and difficulty in making them work, I am impressed by the ambition and speed of this project. 
Interestingly enough, I think that we in our school already have a program where we educate UX designers in the way this projects describes it.  We have done that for over a decade. We have the experience on how to educate, what skills and competence is needed, and how to work with a highly diverse group of students. Anyhow, we need more programs like this, so this is a welcome initiative!

Monday, January 20, 2014

I bought a $37 tablet -- what did I learn from that?

I few days ago I got my new Ubislate 7Ci that I ordered online. I do not need another tablet, I have an iPad and an iPhone so this was more out of curiosity. How can anyone design, produce and sell a 7 inch tablet for $37? The company that makes Ubislate is called Datawind.

So, now I have tried the Ubislate for a few days or at least tried to use it.  It has an Android system. Actually most of the manual and support language present the device as if it is a phone. The Ubislate has a camera, apps, and an app store, it has most built-in functionality that you would expect from a tablet.

First impressions are that is is very, very slow, really, really bad screen, it is far from intuitive to use. It is still quite amazing (and somewhat disturbing) that something like this can be produced and sold for $37. I will not review the tablet per se here, I suppose there are many reviews online already. Instead I have been testing this device just to see what kind of observations and questions it may lead to.

First of all, if this can be built for almost no money, it means that devices like this will soon cost almost nothing and will be pervasive. You may get one for free in the store, school, movies, etc. Devices that work as "windows" into the world of information and content will be everywhere. Of course, I knew this already, we have said that for years, but having this device in my hand really makes that clear.

It is also quite obvious that this kind of functionality will be built into every other thing. We knew this too, but again, seeing this device makes that very real.

It is also obvious that we are entering a time when the way to handle devices like this has become as normal as using a car. To make someone read a manual, to go through very detailed descriptions of how to use it is not going to work. I can imagining myself spending some time learning a new device if it is expensive but for $37 I do not want to have to learn anything new (btw, this device does not satisfy that requirement).

So, what have we learned here. Well, I realized that being face to face with this device, trying to use it, have helped me to ask some questions and to realize things about where we are with our technology today--things I already knew in a way but that became quite real. And it was quite fun to try to understand the device and to see if I could use it for some practical purpose (for now, the answer to that question is 'no' :-)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A lesson about design and quality---a video by Saddleback's CEO

This is a fun and interesting video that reveals the design thinking and material quality of the Saddleback's bags. Dave Munson shows in the video how you can produce a cheap version of his expensive bags by saving money on design and materials.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

"Connecting" short movie about the future of interaction design

About a year ago (I think) the company Basset & Partners presented a short movie (18 minutes) on Vimeo called "Connecting". At the time I watched the movie and I liked what I saw. Some of my colleagues are interviewed and so are a number of leading people from industry. I watched it again this morning for some reason and realized (again) that it contains a lot of interesting and exciting ideas about the history and future of interaction design. The insights delivered are still highly relevant even though some are somewhat futuristic. It is possible to identify some deep thoughts or underlying philosophy presented by the interviewees. Even though some parts of the video is focused on technological progress, the values and visions that the participants reveal are strongly human centered and far from being simplistically solution oriented or technology driven. It is great to see so many industrial leaders in our field being so thoughtful. A big thanks to Basset & Partners for making this movie.