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.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Beautiful 50 sec video: Elements of Design

Harold Nelson sent me this link today. It is to a short video with the name "Elements of Design" by Matt Greenwood (mattgreenwood.tv). Greenwood is an art director and motion designer.
Some of his work is displayed on his site. Very nice work!

Monday, July 14, 2014

"Field Notes" note books and the art of taking notes

A friend of mine gave me two "Field Notes" note books last week. It was a two-pack with one book for science and one for art. I suppose that Field Notes has been around for a while and are probably quite famous, but for some reason I had not seen them before. The format, the paper, and the colors are just wonderful. Take a look at their shop and all the note books, pens, and other smart devices for note taking.

The Field Notes really make we want to be better at taking notes. For many years I did good job and all my research was written down in my favorite note book. Nowadays, not so much. I try to, but I do not do it frequently enough to make it a second nature of my work habits. I have realized that these days I do most of my thinking by typing and not by taking notes. One reason for this may be that I am almost always in front of a screen and a keyboard, so it feels as an unnecessary step to first write my ideas down on paper and then later type them.

Of course, I know that taking notes and typing is not all the same thing and does not require or support the same kind of thinking processes. Taking notes has some great advantages that would serve me well to go back to. I wonder what it would take to make me go back to taking notes instead of typing my ideas. The only solution I have been successful with so far is to move away from any computer, bring some readings and a note book and go to a coffee shop. Since typing is not available, the note book is soon filled with ideas. But since it is not a regular activity, the notes are forgotten in the note book and seldom used.

It is obvious that the difference between my note taking and typing is that my note taking becomes much more visual.  Typing requires words and sentences. It is equally obvious that this difference has consequences for the thinking and what ideas can be thought. Typing on the other hand has the wonderful advantage of being both precise and unforgiving. Your thoughts are 'forced' into shape. This means that the most 'productive' approach would be to use both note taking and typing as thinking tools. Anyway, maybe this little rant can persuade me to engage more in note taking again.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

New book in the Design Thinking, Design Theory Series

Yesterday I got in the mail the newest book in the MIT Press book series on Design Thinking, Design Theory that I am involved in. The book is called "Situated Design Methods" and is edited by Ole Erik Hansen, Jesper Simonsen, Connie Svabo, Sara Malou Strandvad, Kristine Samson and Morten Hertzum. The authors make the case that every design is situated and in need of different ways to approach them. They present 18 situated design methods with cases and analysis. The authors all come from Denmark and have extensive experience with these kinds of methods.


It has been exciting to work with MIT Press these last few years on this book series.  Ken Friedman and I are Book Series Editors and we work closely with Doug Sery from MIT Press. We have now published six books and more are coming. You can find a nice presentation of the books in the series here: Design Thinking, Design Theory. If you think that your book idea fits in this series, just write to me.