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.

New type of posts--Article Notes

As some of you have noticed over the years I now and then write Book Notes. These notes are not real reviews, but they are comments on books that I am reading or have read. I have now realized that I can do the same thing with journal articles (maybe later on with conference papers). It is a way for me to force myself to read more carefully and also to formulate my thoughts on what I am reading. If anyone else find these article notes useful then even better.

So if you have some articles that you want me to read and write a note about, just let me know. I might do it....

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Article Note: "Making Things Happen: Social Innovation and Design" by Ezio Manzini

In a recent article, "Making Things Happen: Social Innovation and Design" (2014 Design Studies), Ezio Manzini discusses what social innovation is and how it relates to design. The article is quite short and is based on a discussion of cases where Manzini sees social innovation at play. Overall this article is interesting but it is quite brief in its treatment of the cases and the way Manzini deals with both the notion of social innovation and design leads to some really good questions.

I will only comment on one of the insights in the paper since I find the analysis of the cases as different forms of social innovation only to serve as background to the main argument. Manzini is making the case that social innovation involves design. It is possible to read the article in a way that makes it almost impossible to distinguish the two based on the definitions Manzini uses. However, at the end of the article Manzini states that designers (I read this as professionally educated and trained designers) can act in different roles when it comes to social innovation. He mentions the roles of facilitators, triggers, members of co-design teams, and design activists. He writes that at the moment the role as facilitators is today the most common, but argues that the roles as triggers and activists "seem to be very promising". He comments, "In fact, operating in this way, designers can make the best use of their specific sets of capabilities and their special sensitivity." He ends by stating "In other words, "making things happen" seems to be the most concise way to express what could be the most effective and specific role for designers".

I believe that many would find this position as commendable and something to aspire to. Who would argue against the idea that designers should activity try to change society, to make things happen, to engage in social innovation? Well, I find this reasoning to be troublesome. Depending on how you define design and designing, this shifting of roles is  not easily done without serious consequences. Manzini writes about designers "specific sets of capabilities and their special sensitivity". To me, these capabilities and sensibilities are developed because professional designers are trained to be in service of others. Designers work with clients, customers, and users. They have the capability and sensibility to work in close relation with the people to reveal their needs and wants and to be able to imagine new solutions that can fulfill their desires. As soon as a designer becomes a "trigger" of change or an activist, this relationship changes fundamentally. Now the designer is seeing his or her own desires as the primary purpose and goals. The designers role now becomes one of an activist which is a political role which brings ideologies and values to the forefront. There is of course nothing wrong with this, but it also means that the capabilities and sensibilities need for this type of activity is necessarily in the toolbox of most designers. They are not necessarily trained in public policy, the philosophy of government, democracy and activism, etc. They do not necessarily have the capability and sensibility for being the leader of a social change. To me, as soon as a designer becomes an activist, he is primarily an activist that maybe secondarily draws on his designerly competence. The measure of success is no longer if he is a good design, but if he is a good activist. I am quite sure that these two roles requires radically different capabilities and sensibilities (even though there may be some overlap).

The question of what constitutes the role of a professional designer requires an ongoing discussion. New proposals related to design, such as critical design, adversarial design, etc., all raise the fundamental question what the designer is. To me, there is a difference between the role of a designer and the role of someone who is primarily something else and uses design as an approach (as some of the people described in Manzini's article).

As you can see, I am not really sure what my argument here is. It is obvious that the article by Manzini stimulated me more than I thought when I read it. The article raises the question of the role of the designer in a way that leads to more questions, such as what is it that determines one role or another. I am afraid that if the role of a designer, social innovator, activist, etc. collapses then we have lost something. Keeping roles distinct (at least in theory, as Weber's "ideal types") is useful in scholarly discussions, even though in practice it may be less crucial.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The common mistake of seeing design as a particular field or profession

I have written here before about the mistake of seeing design as a profession and/or a discipline. To me, design is an approach, a way of approaching reality with the purpose to change it. There are no given design areas or disciplines. Instead it is the nature of the problem/situation that usually determines what is a field or discipline. So, for instance, graphic design is a field that has to do with graphic and visual artifacts, architecture is a field that engages with buildings and structure, etc. They are not by nature design fields or disciplines.

Graphic design has some similarities with architecture of course. Some of those similarities can be seen as related to materials, surfaces and structures. Some similarities have to do with how people perceive forms, shapes and colors and their combinations. To me it is obvious that you can approach these qualities either with a scientific approach or with a designerly approach or with a combination. This means that graphic design and architecture can, depending on how we understand them, be seen either as two science based disciplines or two design based disciplines.

This is why it becomes so confusing when people or companies try to state what design is based only on their experiences in one field and only from one persepctive. For instance, Zillions Design (a logo design company) puts out what they call a Periodic Table of Winning Design Elements. They write:

"The following infographic on the Periodic Table of Winning Design Elements, completely sums up what goes on in the design field right from what basic skills designers need to have to design elements to how to handle clients."

Of course they don't mean that this is table in a comprehensive way describes all design elements for all design areas. They probably think about logo design. But they don't state that, which is unfortunate. It creates a lot of confusion. It is possible to develop a periodic table of design elements that is meant to be true for all design areas (see my book "The Design way" as an attempt to do that). I would welcome anyone who would engage in the attempt to further an understanding of design, not as a discipline or profession, but as an overall human approach of inquiry and action that can deliver outcomes that other approaches (science, art, politics, etc) can not.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Faceless Interaction - a conceptual examination of the notion of interface: past, present and future

Now the article by Lars-Erik Janlert and me is published on the Human-Computer Interaction Journals website. I am very happy to see this article published!


Janlert, L-E., & Stolterman, E. (2014). Faceless Interaction - a conceptual examination of the notion of interface: past, present and future. In Human-Computer Interaction

Abstract

In the middle of the present struggle to keep interaction complexity in check as artifact complexity continues to rise and the technical possibilities to interact multiply, the notion of interface is scrutinized. First, a limited number of previous interpretations or thought styles of the notion are identified and discussed. This serves as a framework for an analysis of the current situation with regard to complexity, control, and interaction, leading to a realization of the crucial role of surface in contemporary understanding of interaction. The potential of faceless interaction, interaction that transcends traditional reliance on surfaces, is then examined and discussed, liberating possibilities as well as complicating effects and dangers are pointed out, ending with a sketch of a possibly emerging new thought style.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The importance of good design presentations

I always talk with my students about the importance of being able to do good design presentations. No matter how good design work you have done, if you can not present it, explain it, and argue for it, no one will "buy it".

I saw this article today by Mike Monterio that in a simple and fun way explain a number of the points I always stress. There are many similar articles out there about presentation techniques, but this has a different flavor and I think it works well.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Design Way -- some news

Some good news about our book, "The Design Way". The new paperback edition of The Design Way was just released by MIT Press. It sold out immediately! More copies will be available in October. And an edition in Spanish will be published in the Spring of 2015!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

new article: "Faceless Interaction - a conceptual examination of the notion of interface: past, present and future"

I have for many year worked with my colleague Lars-Erik Janlert (Umeå Univeristy, Sweden). Actually we were PhD students in the same department many, many years ago. Our work together has slowly developed and become more focused over the years. We just got our latest article "Faceless Interaction - a conceptual examination of the notion of interface: past, present and future" accepted for publication in the journal Human-Computer Interaction. We have now three articles published on the theme of "interactivity" and one in draft.

Janlert, L-E., & Stolterman, E. (in progress). Increasing Interactivity.

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

Lars-Erik Janlert and Erik Stolterman. 2010. Complex interaction. ToCHI (ACM Transactions of Computer-Human Interaction) 17, 2.

Janlert, L-E. & Stolterman, E. (1997). The character of things. in Design Studies Vol 18, No 3, July (1997).

The plan now is to develop these articles into a book. We are convinced that the field of HCI need our book :-) There is a need for an in-depth and detailed attempt at defining what interactivity is and can be.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Some reflections on the overwhelming amount of research publishing

Recently I thought I would try to compose a list of journals that publishes HCI research. I engaged in a search. I was overwhelmed. I never finished a list. The reason is that I found several lists of journals, many journals, many of which I have never heard off and even more that I have never read.

The HCI bibliography
web site of Panayiotis Koutsabasis
http://sighci.org/index.php?page=journals
http://www.scimagojr.com/journalrank.php?category=1709
https://hci.rwth-aachen.de/isi-journals
microsoft list
and there are many more.

Some of these journals are supported by large academic organizations, some are independent. It is important to remember that ACM is not the only large academic organization that has a special focus on HCI (so are AIS, IEEE, etc).  Who reads all these journals? Add to this all the conferences where an even larger number of papers are published every year. Overwhelming.

This little search made it very clear that as researchers we are not really doing research in a discipline or field but in some sub-sub field or maybe in a corner of an area covering only a tiny portion of what goes on in the world of HCI research. Of course I have always known this, so it is not a surprise really. But going through these lists makes you more humble about your role in the world (in case that is needed) and you can see how small your own role is.

So, what does this mean? I do not know. Should we stop publishing? I have for many years entertained the idea that as a researcher you should only be allowed to publish 1 paper per year or maybe 1 per every other year or every 5th year. This would drastically change the academic publishing landscape. But of course, it is easy to see issues with such a model too. Maybe modern research is just an industry like any other, with many actors doing more or less the same thing. And as in any industry, here and there someone is lucky to break through the noise with an idea or finding that will influence the field, but more as a consequence of luck than anything else. Too pessimistic? The real reason why we are engaged in research is of course that, despite all the publishing pressure, doing research is a drug. Being involved in the world of ideas and learning is exciting and fun. That is it!


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Is Object Oriented Ontology and Speculative Realism the answer? [and if so, what is the question?]

Over the last few years I have read some books in the new philosophical school of thought called Object Oriented Ontology or Speculative Realism. I have read Graham Harman and others, the most recent books are Levi Bryant's "Onto-Cartography: an ontology of machines and media" and Tristan Garcia's "Form and Object: a treatise on things". I am still intrigued with this new form of philosophical realism and, in some cases, materialism. In many ways it feels fresh and inspiring as an attempt to get away from philosophy that seems to have left the world of 'reality' and things behind.

The basic idea behind all these new attempts seems to be a willingness to return to reality as we experience it as humans in a very direct way, that is, as a world composed of things that make up our reality. It is also an attempt to build some form of objective approach to reality that distance itself from intricate and elaborate ideas of subjectivism and phenomenology. Overall I am in favor of this adventure and I have also really enjoyed reading some of these books, but I am now starting to doubt that this approach is leading to something 'useful', that is, to some philosophical ideas that will be possible to use as a foundation in more everyday research endeavors. Tristam Garcia's book is an example of beautiful philosophy, but it is an intellectual exercise so removed from everyday thinking and practice (and language) that it ends up as intellectual art (which is not necessary bad, I truly enjoy reading it) or maybe some would argue as true philosophy. The most promising ideas I have found so far is in Levi Bryant's "Onto-Cartography". Bryant offers a set of ideas that are basic in the sense of foundational at the same time as they also seem 'usable' in the sense of creating a way of thinking that can influence everyday research practices.

I am far from sure about my thoughts about this philosophical development though. It needs more work and thinking and I assume testing. Just to be clear, I am not looking for a philosophy that is 'useful' in a concrete way. (The popularity of Latour's Actor Network Theory a few years back led to some awful examples where people tried to apply it.) But I do think that real research becomes better if it is at least inspired by and rest upon some foundational philosophical stance.