Monday, May 23, 2016

The meaning of interactivity —some proposals for definitions and measures

Lars-Erik Janlert and I just got our article with the title "The meaning of interactivity  —some proposals for definitions and measures" accepted for publication by the HCI Journal. This is very exciting since this article is an important part of the book we are working on.

Here is the abstract of the article:

"New interactive applications, artifacts and systems are constantly being added to our environments, and there are some concerns in the HCI research community that increasing interactivity might not be just to the good. But what is it that is supposed to be increasing, and how could we determine whether it is? In order to approach these issues in a systematic and analytical fashion, relying less on common intuitions and more on clearly defined concepts and when possible quantifiable properties, we take a renewed look at the notion of interactivity and related concepts. The main contribution of this article is a number of definitions and terms, and the beginning of an attempt to frame the conditions of interaction and interactivity. Based on this framing, we also propose some possible approaches for how interactivity can be measured."

I do not know when the article will be published, but if you want a copy by email, just write to me.

Interactivity overload: hyperreality

Take a look at this interesting video that describes one vision of what hyper-reality could look like. First of all, this is not science fiction in the sense that we do not have the technology to do this. This is quite possible already today. It is  interesting to see how our reality can become a hyper-reality when we add layer upon layer on top of it. A lot of questions arise though. Take a look!

This video works is a great example of what Lars-Erik Janlert and I are writing about in our new book about interfaces, interaction and interactivity. Especially the notion of 'interactivity clutter' that is something we develop and define in the book.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Speaking and Consulting

I have finally added a page on this site about Speaking and Consulting (see navigation bar). The reason is that I am in a situation where these kinds of activities are becoming more attractive to me than before. I have over the years realized that a lot of what I have learned have emerged as a result of speaking to people and by working together with them on their issues and challenges. So, if you are interested in working with me, check out my new page and get in touch.

Comments on Pieter Vermaas article "A logical critique of the expert position in design research: beyond expert justification of design methods and towards empirical validation"

In the latest issue of the journal "Design Science" there is a really interesting article by Pieter Vermaas. In this article Vermaas examines the idea of what he labels the "expert position" among those who study design. The expert position is hold by those who, according to Vermaas, try to extract aspects of the work of expert designers with the purpose to transform that into prescriptive design methods. The idea is of course that if expert designers are well suited to do design well, then what they do should be 'copied' or at least used as a template by non-expert designers. However, Vermaas argues that this is a highly problematic position for several reasons. First of all, he questions the idea that 'extracted' expert behavior and thinking is even possible to 'use' by non-professionals. The argument is that the process used by experts is based on extensive education, training, practice and maybe even talent. The second aspect that Vermaas raises is the problem of validation. He questions the possibility to validate that certain behaviors and thinking of a designer leads to certain outcomes.

The arguments that Vermaas makes are important and it becomes a serious and damaging critique of a lot of research that aims at developing new design methods. Vermaas shows in the article how the 'expert position' easily becomes conservative since it focuses on the existing practice of expert designers while neglecting radically new practices. At the end of the article Vermaas shows that there is potentially an opportunity to validate certain aspects of being a designer that could lead to desired outcomes but it is an approach that rests on serious empirical investigations that requires a lot of work.

Overall I find this article to be highly needed and it opens up for a problem that I have been working on for some time and that is the questionable value of the enormous efforts in many design fields (maybe especially in HCI and interaction design) devoted to the development of new design methods. Most often these methods are proposed without being properly validated. In many cases the validation consists of a small study (often with students) who are given a design problem and asked to use a new method. The evaluation then consists of interviews with the participants (did they like it?) and sometimes some form of evaluation of the outcome. Together these two rudimentary validations are then taken as 'evidence' that the proposed method is useful.

Of course, there is a different form of 'validation' that Vermaas does not discuss in the paper but could be seen more as more designerly and that is that, at least, experienced designers are able to recognize and judge the potential value of a new method themselves, even without any validation. But that is another aspect of the problem that would take this discussion in a different direction.

I strongly suggest that anyone who is engaged in developing new design approaches, methods, or techniques, read this article by Vermaas.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Interaction design and virtual reality

It is obvious to anyone who follows news within the tech world but also in regular news that VR (virtual reality) is the 'big thing'. Everywhere is VR in different versions discussed with amazement and excitement. It seems as if every morning news show has to have a segment on some new VR application or technology. The same is going on in more professional contexts. For instance, at the yearly CHI (ACM Computer Human Interaction) conference last week, there were a large number of session related to VR in all forms.

This excitement is easy to share. What is possible to do today with fairly accessible devices is quite amazing, especially in relation what was possible to do a couple of decades ago. It is not only VR, it is also augmented reality, mixed reality, etc. The possibilities seem endless.

So, what does this mean for HCI and for interaction design. Well, for now it seems as if all effort is aimed at making these technologies perform good enough. In parallel with these more practical efforts, there is a flood of visions on how this technology  will transform aspects of our professional and everyday lives.

The interaction aspects of this technology is so far less developed. It is for instance easy to anticipate extraordinary difficult design challenges when we have well functioning mixed reality systems. How can we design systems that are useful when combining the 'real' with virtuality, how can people work together in environments where they do not experience the same 'reality'? As long as these technologies are used in labs or controlled environments this may not be obvious problems, but when the technology moves out in the 'wild', new issues and challenges will emerge.

I am convinced that this new technology will lead to drastic changes in what we can do with digital technology. However, I am also convinced that the potential 'success' of this technology is not only a dependent on if it is possible to make it function well but even more a question of design. I am sure that the design of applications will be strongly influenced by the existing 'thought styles' that dominates the field today. But we will soon see new interaction paradigms emerge that deviates radically from what we today see as interaction or interactivity.

Friday, May 13, 2016

CHI 2016: some reflections

Well, I am home after a few days at CHI 2016 in San Jose. The conference was bigger than ever and probably more diverse than ever before. CHI is an amazing 'machine'. To make this happen once a year is a major achievement!

With the growth of the conference comes some obvious issues, for instance it is difficult to find people, it is impossible to listen to all interesting sessions, etc. But at the same time, the size provides something else, maybe more important. I see CHI nowadays as providing more of an overview of the field than leading to more detailed and engaged research discussions. Very few sessions (that I attended) led to any interesting questions from the audience, and in most cases the questions were asking for clarifications or expansions, almost never any critical questions aimed at challenging the presented research. The compactness of the sessions with very short time for Q&A of course does not make it possible to have any reasonable debates or discussions of any depth.

On the other hand, the same 'compactness' makes it possible to quickly get an overview of a sub-field in a condensed and focused way. The sessions were in general well composed to contain presentations that did relate and fit together. I have found this 'overview' aspect of the conference to become more valuable over the years. For instance, this year (since I am working on the notions of interface and interaction) I went to several sessions on new interaction techniques and solutions. I think that I am now quite updated on what is going on when it comes to these topics in the field.

Of course, I do miss scholarly debates and conversations regarding new ideas and theoretical positions and frameworks. The panels are to some extent designed to serve this purpose and some do but most don't seem to really work well for that purpose, instead they become mini-sessions where a number of presenters get a chance to present their specific perspective without any room for more serious conversations.

Maybe there is a missing conference format. I would like to see a format that made it possible for researchers with different standpoints on an issue to discuss with each other in public. I think such events would be invaluable to younger researchers and phd students who would get a chance to see real scholarly debates. These debates would give them a different understanding of the texts they probably have read. I think the only thing that is needed is one moderator and two researchers debating some major aspect of the field. Maybe next time we can arrange something like this.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Books on my desk right now...

I do like books! Here are some of the books on my desk right now. Have looked at all of them, have reads parts of some and all of others....

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The best short film about the design process

Today my colleague Harold Nelson sent me a link to a short film (about 15 min) about the design process made in the 1960s. It is just a wonderful film. It contains all the aspects of the design process. Watch and learn!

Monday, April 25, 2016

ACM Interactions looking for Editors-in-Chief

Ron Wakkary and I have now been Editors-in-Chief of the ACM Interactions magazine for six years. It is time to let go. We are finishing up our last year and ACM is now searching for new editors
(see here

It has been some great years. It has been a privilege to work with so many outstanding colleagues in the field, famous and unknown, old and young, academics and practitioners...those who deliver what they promise and those who don't :-) 

I have learned a lot. Read things I would never had read otherwise. Seen research and ideas that I would not have cared about. Met people that I would never have met. It has been fascinating, fun and enlightning. So, if you are interested, just apply! It is good to be two so you can share the work.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Death of Design Thinking -- a few years later

A few years ago I wrote a post on this blog with the title "The Death of Design Thinking...". This post has been read quite a lot since then. I read it myself today and realized that it is as relevant today as 5 years ago. Of course, things has changed since I wrote the post. For instance, the notion of "design thinking" has become even more spread and recognized and the prediction of its "death" has not yet been fulfilled. However, we are seeing more of critical voices that are expressing concerns. At the same time, the observations around "design thinking" that I made are still valid and maybe even more important today. I am afraid if we do not engage with design in the way I write below we will very soon experience a serious backlash and maybe the "death" of anything designerly....

"...........As someone who has been dealing with design theory for about 30 years, it is both amusing and sad to see the way the question of the status of design thinking is being approached. The intellectual development around design as a special human approach to inquiry and action has been around much longer than the "last decade" and is a deep and  profound attempt to understand a particular kind of human activity that for a long time was not appropriately understood.

Looking back through history it is obvious that some human approaches, such as art and science, have attracted centuries of intellectual interest. People have tried to grasp what they are, what their purpose is, what they can deliver, what they can't deliver, when they are appropriate, and how they relate to each other. To me "design" is a human approach to intentional change at the same level of importance and stature as art and science.

Over the last 40 years we have come a long way in developing an understanding of design as an approach in its own right. But it is still a new project and we are only taking the first steps. There are serious questions still to explore, for instance, why was design not recognized as an approach worthy of intellectual investigation until recently? What are some of the best ways to define design, how can it best be taught, what are the philosophical foundations best suited to explain design, how does design relate to art and science, etc?

It is however not, as many state, difficult to define design. At least, it is not more difficult than defining what science or art is. As we all know, there is no precise and generally agreed upon definition of either of them, but that does not really make anyone argue that neither of them exist or that it is not important to continue to study them, trying to understand them, and of course to improve them.

However, if we take on a highly simplistic view of design--if we see it as a management "tool", a straightforward recipe to reach innovative new products, or a way of "thinking" that will drastically improve  our capacities in certain ways-- then it will of course lead to failure. But if we see design as an always present human approach aimed at the creation of the not-yet-existing then the challenge and its potential contribution becomes different in size and scope.

In the last 30 years there have been a tremendous change in the understanding of design. We have seen educations, professions, and ideas of competence change. There is a slowly growing understanding of design that has real consequences in real human activities and projects. These consequences can of course be seen as a result of a "fad" that will soon go away and be replaced by something else  (like Nussbaum's attempt to launch CQ). But this is not what is going on. What we are witnessing is a broad and deep, but slow, recognition of the fact that there is a form of human approach to intentional change that is not appropriately captured by our more developed traditions. And as humans, we need to find ways to talk about what that is. We need a language and we can't just borrow that from other traditions.  Design is not a form of art, not a form of science, and not a form of management. Design is not applied art, not applied science, and not the same as business practice. It is not the same as invention or creativity in general. Design is not a simple change in practical step-by-step procedures or the use of particular tools. Design is the activity we humans engage in when we are not satisfied with our reality and we decide to intentionally change it. It is an approach that deals with overwhelming complexity, that rely on judgment as its logic, and that is focused on the creation of the ultimate particular. 

Design as an approach or as a form of "thinking" is not dead. At the same time, it is not yet  alive as a fully developed intellectual and philosophical tradition. A lot of people are doing a great job today trying to develop such an understanding, but it will probably take another century to reach a situation where design as an approach is recognized at the same level and in the same intellectual and intuitive sense as art and science."