Thursday, April 20, 2017

"Things That Keep Us Busy - The Elements of Interaction" proofs are sent

Ok, yesterday Lars-Erik Janlert and I sent our final edits to the proofs of our forthcoming book "Things That Keep Us Busy - The Elements of Interaction". If everything goes well the book will be out in August/September. The 'book' is already available on Amazon. And you can preorder it!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Concept-driven interaction design research

Today I carefully read an article that I wrote with Mikael Wiberg and published in 2010 in the HCI journal. The article is titled "Concept-driven interaction design research". It is not always fun to read something you have written a while back, but in this case I was pleasantly surprised. I really liked it!

One reason why I liked it is that since we published the article the field of HCI research has developed and it seems as if the article and its contributions are better suited for today than when it was published.

I also really like the basic idea in the article, that is, that it is possible to use a concept-driven design approach with the purpose of theoretical advancements.   (I think you can download the paper here)

Here is the abstract of the paper:

"In this article, we explore a concept-driven approach to interaction design research with a specific focus on theoretical advancements. We introduce this approach as a complementary approach to more traditional, and well-known, user-centered interaction design approaches. A concept-driven approach aims at manifesting theoretical concepts in concrete designs. A good concept design is both conceptually and historically grounded, bearing signs of the intended theoretical considerations. In the area of human–computer interaction and interaction design research, this approach has been quite popular but not necessarily explicitly recognized and developed as a proper research methodology. In this article, we demonstrate how a concept-driven approach can coexist, and be integrated with, common user-centered approaches to interaction design through the development of a model that makes explicit the existing cycle of prototyping, theory development, and user studies. We also present a set of basic principles that could constitute a foundation for concept driven interaction research, and we have considered and described the methodological implications given these principles. For the field of interaction design research we find this as an important point of departure for taking the next step toward the construction and verification of theoretical constructs that can help inform and guide future design research projects on novel interaction technologies."

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A forgotten but crucial aspect of designing

One of the most exciting reactions I get when I talk to professional designers about the design process is when I mention what I call the practicalities of designing. With this notion I try to capture all those seemingly 'trivial' aspects of designing that are so easy to forget when we talk about design thinking. The practicalities of designing can briefly be listed as:

Time (not having enough)
Resources (not having enough)
Information (not having enough)
Knowledge (not having enough)
Competence (not having enough)

Every design process and designer lives with these practicalities. The first two are the most concrete and also the ones that are most often forgotten and neglected. Designing is about projects. A project has some kind of a starting point and some kind of an end point. The process is to a large extent defined in time and by resources. In most cases, time and resources are decided without any deep understanding of the particulars and specifics of the design process in question. It is done during the 'contracting' process (another aspect of designing which is not given enough attention unfortunately).

The three practicalities under the line are maybe less concrete but are equally practical.  When it comes to information, for instance, there are situations during every design process when the designer experiences that there is both too much information and not enough information. And even though every step in the process creates more (useful) information it also leads to a need for even more. Designers struggle constantly with overwhelming (too much) but insufficient (not enough) information.

My point here is that these practicalities (and there are of course others) are not glamorous or exciting, especially not time and resources, but they are crucial and they define designing. To understand designing requires a deep understanding of these practicalities.

My experience is that if you want to talk to designers and be taken seriously you have to show that you understand and respect the practicalities of designing. You have to know what it means to engage in a design process without enough time and resources, with too much and but insufficient information, without enough knowledge and competence, etc. You need to be able to talk about these practicalities in a language that make sense to professionals and make them recognize that you respect all aspects of their practice.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Why designing is all about you and not the method or tool

Working with students and professionals over the years have helped me understand what aspects of the design process that makes designers stressed and insecure. One factor is the role of methods and tools in designing. Common questions I get are "what are the best methods and tools to use in designing?" and "can you do human centered design while being 'agile'?" or "can 'personas' be used when working with highly specialized products?", etc.

The basic assumption underlying all these and similar questions is that a method and tool to some extent can function as a 'guarantor', that is, that the use of the method or tool can promise successful outcomes. It is possible to see this assumption as a hope for increased 'predictability' in the design process. Predictability in this case means a hope that if we use 'method A' then we can with higher certainty predict that the outcome of the process will score higher on some measure of success scale.

This type of reasoning is not strange. Who would not like to see our design attempts to have a higher level of predictability, so we could be more sure of the outcome? The problem with this reasoning is however that it places too much importance on the role of methods and tools and reduces the importance of the designer's judgment. And such reasoning has some drastic consequences. For instance, it means that if we are able to produce better methods with higher level of 'guarantee' the role of the designer goes down, ultimately even disappears.

In a simple schema that we present in our book "The Design way", we show this in simple way. The circles represent the designer(s).

The left side of the figure shows the logic that I described above, that is, that methods and tools (input) is in some logical relationship with the outcome, will influence the outcome. This means that it is possible to control the outcome of the design process by choosing the right 'input' (methods, tools, etc). This implies that using a certain method will with some certainty improve the outcome. This is a way of thinking that I find utterly problematic and quite wrong.

To me, the design process is at its core a process that is governed by the designers judgment, as is shown on the right side of the figure. Whatever the 'input' is (methods, tools, knowledge, etc), it is the designer(s) judgment that form and shape a certain outcome.

So, the answer to the questions I started this post with is that 'of course, methods and tools matter' in designing, they can help designers or be in the way in their preferred way of working, but they can not in any way predict of guarantee any form of quality of the outcome. This means that designing is all about you as a designer and not about methods and tools.

I realize that this is too rich question to discuss in a blog post...maybe I will return to it later.....

After publishing this post I got this wonderful question from Deepak (thanks!).

"Are there methods, tools and processes to improve the "you", i.e the designer and designer judgement ? Or is the process just called life :) - that is every designer lives in a unique combination of circumstances and such circumstances ultimately shape their judgement(due to various conscious and unconscious biases)."

My answer is 'yes'. There are ways (even methods and tools) that can be used to develop, grow, and deepen a designers ability to make judgments. For instance, Donald Schon provides a whole range of ways of thinking suitable for this purpose, and there are others too. So, yes it is definitely possible to develop a designers judgment ability.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Designerly Thinking Workshop Reflections

I am just back after a full day workshop on "Designerly Thinking and Doing" in Chicago last week. It was a great day with wonderful participants who contributed with a lot of insights, comments and questions.

It is as always fascinating to hear the stories from individual designers about their professional experiences in widely diverse organizational environments. The stress and frustation of not being understood, the importance of everyday practicalities related to design practice, the philosophical differences between professional groups, the misconceptions about what the design process requires, etc. But also experiencing the enormous energy and willingness among these professionals to learn more, to keep developing, to take the next step. There is a passion about design that in many cases goes far beyond professional need and organizational loyalty. These professionals not only want to do good design work, they are to some extent addicted to it and need to know how to get there.

Anyway, here is the agenda for the day, even though we did not follow it in detail :-) If you are interested in knowing more, just write to me.

9.00 Who I am and who you are
The day in overview
Discussion, who has been trained in design thinking, what are your experiences, why are you here
Approach of the day, schemas
The design map
No problem, no process, no solution
Design Thinking is not a process that leads to good design, it is all about you
10.00 A brief history of design thinking, what does it look like, some examples
Schools of thought about design thinking
What is designerly thinking as a practical method
11.00 Why engage in design at all
What is it that makes designing appealing
The uniqueness of designing
Design Challenges, risk, courage, no process, overwhelmingly complex, insufficient information,
unpredictability, first intentions, depth, value, judgment,
12.00 LUNCH
1.0 Who am I as a design thinker
How to assess design thinking character and competence.
2.00 Developing your own designerly expertise,
How do you stay aware of the development of the field
How do you keep your competence relevant and how do you develop it
3.00 Design thinking and leadership: Build culture (wide), Organize process (middle), Develop expertise
Creating a design culture in your group, team, section and organization
Overcome organizational pushback when implementing a design thinking strategy

Next step!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Designerly Thinking and Doing workshops

Just a brief reminder of upcoming workshops.

I will hold a workshop on Designerly Thinking and Doing in Chicago on March 31st. Click on the link if you want to know more.

I am planning to hold the same (similar) workshop in Bloomington, IN, later this Spring, probably in May. Let me know if you are interested. It will be similar purpose and content (but less expensive).

You might be wondering with is different with my workshops in relation to many others out there. Most other workshops on 'design thinking' focus on the design process and some simple tools suitable for the process. In my workshops I focus on the individual's thinking and character, that is, what designerly thinking and doing means when it comes to an individuals competence, abilities, and skills. And on why they matter, and how they can be developed. We will focus on how to grow and become a thinking designer, instead of just describing some activities or tools. It is who you are as a whole person that makes you designer, how you can think, how you can make informed judgments, and how you can assess and evaluate when, where, and why a designerly approach is appropriate or not.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Why Design Thinking Needs Systems Thinking

I was a young student in my first year at the university. I had never heard of systems thinking or any other kind of thinking either. I had entered a program with focus on systems analysis and information systems, and I had no idea what it was all about. Pretty soon I had my first encounter with a real university professor. In the very first course the professor had us read “The Systems Approach” by C. West Churchman. The book was so different from anything else I had read. For the first time, I read something that was intellectually stimulating at the same time as it felt real and practical. I loved the book. 

Due to the same professor, throughout my undergraduate and doctoral years I was "forced" to read, think, reflect and discuss the works of Churchman. We had lectures, seminars and discussions around Churchman’s work. Churchman was as a visiting professor at our department. All this, of course, strongly influenced my intellectual development. My mind was devoted to systems thinking.

But it became too much! I actually came to a point were I had to free myself from the intellectual tradition I was trained in. I realized that systems thinking was not enough, at least not for me. I found that it was too much focused on analysis, on revealing the conditions of the already existing, while I became more and more interested in the not-yet-existing, and therefore moved towards ideas and traditions more focused on design inquiry and action. I tried to find out what creativity, innovation and design was all about. 

In recent year my thinking has changed again. All the ideas that were introduced to me by Churchman is slowly making a “comeback”. I believe this is not something that I am the only one to experience. We are entering a world that through new technology, changing cultures and markets rapidly becomes more complex. Design today is almost never about creating something closed and contained. Almost everything is systemic by design and part of other systems. This is especially true when it comes to digital products and systems. The infusion of computational and communication abilities into almost every new artifact radically changes our whole environment. Nothing is separated from anything else. There are no separable components. We find ourselves in a true world of systems.

In such a world of extreme complexity we need intellectual tools suited for that challenge. And it is obvious to me that popular forms of 'design thinking' are not equipped with such tools. It is as if the pendulum has swung too far on the side of 'creative' and 'innovative' aspects of designing while tools that can support serious investigations of the complexity of reality is neglected. 

I have realized that I am, in a way, back to where I started. In my attempts to handle this complexity I find support and guidance in the thoughts and ideas of Churchman and of systems thinking in general. In his books he reflects on the many aspects of systems and of complexity. He tries to makes these reflections go hand in hand with basic aspects of life itself by always pushing the questions of what systems thinking could and should be used for. These are all issues pertinent to design. Design thinking today is in need of systems thinking. The work of Churchman is relevant and useful in a way I think he would have liked, that is, not as an isolated theoretical lens without relevance outside academia, but as a pragmatic approach to reality with the focus on making a difference.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Why 'design thinking' is risky

When design thinking is promoted it can look like this

"Design Thinking is a mindset. Design Thinking is about having an intentional process in order to get new, relevant solutions that create positive impact. It’s human-centered. It’s collaborative. It’s optimistic. It’s experimental." (link to text)

It sounds really good. But what is not mentioned is that designing is also complicated, difficult, hard and risky. So, why is it that 'design thinking' is portrayed as this fun, exciting and highly positive process without mentioning how risky it is. Well, some people who advocate for 'design thinking' are selling it. They have selfish reasons for making design thinking look exciting, fun and useful and they do not want to stress 'negative' aspects of design thinking. They want everyone to believe that they can easily learn and use design as an approach.

There is of course no serious problem with describing 'design thinking' in a positive light. Designing is intrinsically an optimistic and positive approach. It is built on a core belief that  positive change in the world is possible, that we can make a difference. And to be honest, to those who are trained in designing, the process is rewarding and fun, despite (or maybe thanks to) it being complex and difficult.

However, a process aimed at producing the not-yet-existing is by definition risky. A design process is intended to lead to something that we have not seen before, something new, something different. It means that there is no way of knowing if the process is moving in the right direction, if what is designed will work in its intended context, until it is too late. Designers have to trust what they do. They have to trust the process and their own judgment. And since there is no 'guarantor of design' (that is, anything that can guarantee a 'good' result) the final outcome is a consequence of the designer's judgment and therefore also the responsibility of the designer.

It is not difficult to find examples of bad design in the world. I take this as a clear sign that designing is difficult. It means that whoever decides to approach a situation/problem with a design approach also has to accept that the process may seriously fail. And they have to be ready to take the responsibility for that.

Designing is different from many other process that have well defined goals and outcomes, that have well developed steps and procedures that can to some extent guarantee that if you follow the process you will end up with a good or adequate result. Designing is a process that is 'designed' to not lead to expected outcomes, which is why it cannot be prescribed in detail and why there is no way to clearly 'measure' what a good design is.

So, remember that the design approach is powerful in what it can achieve, but that that power comes at a cost. It is risky. Unpredictable. And difficult. And requires a good design judgment and not just a superficial understanding of what 'design thinking' is.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Things That Keep Us Busy: The Elements of Interaction

Our new book is now on Amazon, even though it will not be available until September. But it can be pre-ordered.

Things That Keep Us Busy: The Elements of Interaction (MIT Press) 
Hardcover – September 1, 2017
by Lars-Erik Janlert (Author), Erik Stolterman (Author)

There is no cover yet and not much information, but there is a description:

"We are surrounded by interactive devices, artifacts, and systems. The general assumption is that interactivity is good -- that it is a positive feature associated with being modern, efficient, fast, flexible, and in control. Yet there is no very precise idea of what interaction is and what interactivity means. In this book, Lars-Erik Janlert and Erik Stolterman investigate the elements of interaction and how they can be defined and measured. They focus on interaction with digital artifacts and systems but draw inspiration from the broader, everyday sense of the word.

Viewing the topic from a design perspective, Janlert and Stolterman take as their starting point the interface, which is designed to implement the interaction. They explore how the interface has changed over time, from a surface with knobs and dials to clickable symbols to gestures to the absence of anything visible. Janlert and Stolterman examine properties and qualities of designed artifacts and systems, primarily those that are open for manipulation by designers, considering such topics as complexity, clutter, control, and the emergence of an expressive-impressive style of interaction. They argue that only when we understand the basic concepts and terms of interactivity and interaction will we be able to discuss seriously its possible futures."

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

What design judgment is

A designer is constantly involved in making judgments. The reason is that any decision has to be made based on insufficient information. At the same time, a designer is commonly overwhelmed by the richness and the complexity of the situation. So, dealing with an abundance of information that still feels insufficient while being pressured to move forward means that judgments have to be made. However, even though judgment is a core ability for designers and is mentioned frequently, it is not well defined. So, what is it?

In one of his writings the famous philosopher John Dewey discusses at length what judgment is. This is done in his book "How we think" (which is a wonderful text). I am re-reading this book at the moment and will later write more about some of the core ideas in this book and how they are crucial to anyone engaged in designing.

Below are a few quotes from the chapter. I would like to reproduce the whole chapter, since every page is full of sentences that are both insightful and beautiful!

Dewey on why having more information does not reduce the need for judgment:

"For learning is not wisdom; information does not guarantee good judgment. Memory may provide an antiseptic refrigerator in which to store a stock of meanings for future use, but judgment selects
and adopts the one used in a given emergency -- and without an emergency (some crisis, slight or great) there i no call for judgement." (p 107).

Dewey on why judgment can be developed:

"Long brooding over conditions, intimate contact associated with keen interest, thorough absorption in a multiplicity of allied experiences, tend to bring about those judgments which we then call intuitive; but they are true judgments because they are based on intelligent selection and estimation, with the solution of a problem as the controlling standard. Possession of this capacity makes the difference between the artist and the intellectual bungler." (p 105)

Dewey on why judgment cannot be prescribed:

"No hard and fast rules for this operation of selecting and rejecting, or fixing upon the facts, can be given. It all comes back, as we say, to the good judgment, the good sense, of the one judging. To be a good judge is to have a sense of the relative indicative or signifying values of the various features of the perplexing situation; to know what to let go as of no account; what to eliminate as irrelevant; what to retain as conducive to outcome; what to emphasize as a clue to the difficulty....In part if is instinctive and inborn but it also represents the funded outcome of long familiarity with like operations in the past. Possession of this ability to seize what is evidential or significant and to let the rest go is the mark of the expert, the connoisseur, the judge, in any matter." (p 104)