Wednesday, February 03, 2016

When design is about replicating nature

I don't know how but I ended up ordering a book called "The reality of the artificial: nature, technology and naturoids" by Massimo Negrotti. I had no expectations. However, the book surprised me and has forced me to reflect on a lot of questions I have not really thought about. The main topic of the book is "naturoids", that is, human made objects that imitate or replicate some aspect of nature. One chapter is for instance labeled "Duplicating Reality". Massimo makes the case that duplicating nature is different from creating 'new' objects. He discusses this using notions as the 'essentiality of things', complexity, transfiguration, etc. He also tries to define what is an exemplar and how it can be defined.

I find the book fascinating and insightful. Also well-written. To the point and clear. The specific perspective in the book is quite different from what we usually find in theoretical investigations into design. It opens up for new questions, such as, when is design really about the creation of something new and when it is about replicating something already existing. It also becomes a philosophical approach to innovation (it involves the creation of naturoids, their transfiguration, etc.). Very cool!

Design and Boredom

Maybe one of the most important but neglected human emotions when it comes to design is boredom. Designers are always challenged by it. You do not want to design something that is boring. At the same time, what one day is exciting is the next day boring. What one day is designed in accordance with the most trendy and popular principles is the next seen as old-fashioned and boring.

To all those researchers who are trying to develop tools, methods, principles or theories aimed at supporting designers in their process, boredom is a significant enemy. What if you are successful in supporting and influencing designers to improve their designs in a specific way, you also with some certainty will make designs more similar and with that comes inevitable the sense of boring.

This is why anyone who is engaged in the challenged of improving design in any way or form, have to be very careful. The improvements, the influences, the support can not have any built in prescriptions of what kind of decisions, judgments, qualities, etc. are better than others, other than really foundational (or abstract) beliefs and values. These first intentions should only be aimed at guiding but not restricting the designer, to support reflection and opening up, but not limiting.

 So, if more attention was payed to the notion of boredom, I think that todays theorizing around design would drastically improve.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Intellectual Character

Over my career I have now and then been in a situation where I had to present my "teaching philosophy" in a statement. It has always been difficult and taken some effort. At the same time, I have over the years become more and more sure about what I am doing when I teach and how it should be done. A few days ago I ordered a book that looked interesting. it is written by Ron Ritchhart and the title is "Intellectual Character--what it is, why it matters, and how to get it".

It seems as if my ideas about teaching and thinking are close to what Ritchhart present in this book. This means that I do not have to write any teaching statements any more, just refer to the book. Ritchhart does a great job in presenting what it means to teach if you believe that teaching is to help students to think. There are some foundational thoughts expressed in the book as well as very hands-on and practical advice and guidelines. I like it!

Monday, January 11, 2016

"When Philosophy Lost Its Way" and how it matters to design research

In a great article titled "When Philosophy Lost Its Way" Robert Frodeman and Adam Briggle, the argument is made that philosophy as a human activity lost its way when it tried to become accepted by academia and to become a discipline. The authors makes, in my view, a wonderfully clear and strong argument that philosophy has lost its way. For philosophy, one reason was when "knowledge and goodness were divorced".

To me it is possible to read almost this whole article as if it is about design research instead of philosophy. I am afraid that we are today in a similar situation where design is about to lose its way and for the same reasons as philosophy did, namely to be accepted into academia and the scientific way.  Read and think...

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Film documentary: Design Disruptors

A new documentary is soon to be out. It is called Design Disruptors and  is presented like this

"Today’s most disruptive companies have a new guiding principle: a fierce focus on customer-centric product design. DESIGN DISRUPTORS features an elite group of 15 disruptive companies—valued at one trillion dollars combined—who share the perspectives and sacrifices necessary to upend age-old industries and disrupt the status quo."

You can find a trailer here:

It is amazing to see how design has transformed as an approach in the last couple of decades from being seen as the effort to decorate existing products and making them aesthetically pleasing to now being understood as a approach that promises disruptive innovative outcomes.

Monday, January 04, 2016

The Future of Design Jobs

If you are interested in what it means to be a designer in the future then you should read an interesting list composed in an article in Fast Company. The article is titled "The Most Important Design Jobs Of The Future". The article is basically a list of what some established (and famous) designers think it is future design jobs (in the next 3 to 5 years). The list consists of everything from organ designer to augmented reality designer to cybernetic director.

Looking at the language and words used, it is clear that designers work with composing systems that can cope with complexity while meeting 'user needs' on every level. Even the more technical areas revolve around who is the user and their needs and experiences. In most cases the future designers are defined as those who bring everything together. Future designers have the ability to anticipate needs and desires while also being able to understand technology and to compose technical systems. Phrases like "The companies that have the smartest, most individually resonant products and experiences are going to do the best job of attracting and retaining their users" are common in the article.

I am convinced that the people who suggested these future design areas know what they are talking about and in most cases I agree with their predictions (which is different from saying that the predicted future is desirable). If these predictions are reliable, then what does it mean for academia and higher education. What kind of research can support the needed expertise and what kind of educational programs should we develop? It is obvious that academia is far behind when it comes to the understanding of what kind of competence is needed. To set up educational Masters level programs (which I think is the appropriate level) around these future design responsibilities is not easy since they require so diverse disciplines and areas of expertise. Anyway, the academic units who can do it will of course be ahead of the curve.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Book note: Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom

The question of intelligent machines has always fascinated me. And obviously not just me. There is a huge number of sci-fi books and movies built on the idea that machines surpasses humans as the most intelligent 'species' on earth. It is of course a wonderful idea to develop since it opens up for an array of possible futures. As someone who works with technology and the design of technology, the question of intelligent machines is of course not only entertaining--it is a serious question that deserves serious treatments.

In the book "Superintelligence--paths, dangers, strategies", Nick Bostrom a philosopher, among other things, presents a serious attempt to explore the notion of 'superintelligence', that is, machines that are more intelligent than humans. Bostrom discusses how we can define and understand superintelligence, the possible ways for it to become real, and what the consequences would be if it actually happened. It is one of the most thoughtful treatments of these questions as far as I know. Bostrom approaches the questions in a truly philosophical manner, that is, he does not necessarily judge if a particular development is 'good' or 'bad' but try to explore what it means and how it can be understood and how likely it is to happen. The writing and 'method' of analysis in the book is impressive, even though I have seen reviews that see the book as 'hard to read'. There are some technical parts of the book but they are not too difficult for an informed reader.

It is obvious that Bostrom is warning us. Superintelligence, if realized, poses a definite threat to humankind. Bostrom explores several strategies that humans could take in trying to 'control' the consequences of a superintelligence, but it is clear that they all have their issues and problems.

Overall, anyone who is involved in the development of intelligence inside machines should read this book. I think there are many aspects of Bostrom's reasoning that is applicable on much less intelligent machines. Many of the issues that he discusses can be seen in simpler and more contained forms as soon as we have machines doing things that we humans can't do and are not able to understand, such as highly sophisticated algorithms or extremely powerful data analysis. As soon as we do not have full transparency of what the machines are doing to reach their results we are to some extent in the same situation as Bostrom describes as dealing with a superintelligence. There is of course an extra level when you reach the 'super', and that is of course what Bostrom is primarily examining. So, I think this book deserves reading by anyone who is engaged with enhancing the ability of machine 'intelligence' and especially by those who believe that superintelligence is not possible and those who believe that it is a 'solution' to problems we human experience.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Leaving Facebook

Today I closed my account on Facebook. I did that a few years ago but then reactivated it again. I don't know if that will happen again, but I do not think so. I have slowly 'starved' my Facebook during this last year. I started to unfollow (not unfriend) people I did not want to read updates from. Then I became more strict and unfollowed most students and colleagues and old acquaintances. Lately I have only kept my close family members and some good friends. And now I deactivated my account, I kind of unfollowed myself. So, for now, no Facebook...

And since I am doing this, I also deactivated my Twitter account that I really never use anyway.

So, I am not on any social media anymore....

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Influential bloggers in interaction/UX design

In my class my students had an assignment where they had to analyze two blogs by people who work within the fields of UX design, interaction design and related areas. They had to read a substantial number of post on each blog and then compare them. Very interesting results. In many professional fields today, professionals who blog about their profession and practice have a huge influence on the field. Here are some of the most popular bloggers that my students selected and analyzed. An interesting list in itself.

Aaron Walter                         Design leader @ Mailchimp
Luke Wroblewski                  Product director @ Google
Mike Monteiro                       Mule Medium
Jared Spool                            User Interface Engineering
Matt Webb                             BERG London
Kevin Gaunt                           Intern at IDEO
Simon Pan                              Uber
Julie Zhuo                               Facebook
Meng To                                 Heyzap
Catriona Cornett                   InspireUX
Jenny Reaves                         UX designer
Andy Fitzgerald                     UX architect
Jack Moffet                             Interaction Designer
Michael J. Darnell                  @BadDesignsCOM
Nils Sköld                               UX Designer  
Karl Vredenburg                   IBM
Tobias van Schneider           Spotify
David Airey                            Graphic designer
Nathan Swartz                       Web designer
Matt Sundstrom                    Illustrator designer
Jared Spool
Jonathan Shariat                   Therapydia
Erika Hall                               Medium/Mule

Are you looking for great UX designers

Our MS program in HCI design students are planning their yearly employer event again in February. See info below. If your company is interested, get in touch with Kate (info below). Help spreading this to anyone who may be interested.