Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The meaning of interactivity

Just got a message that said that Lars-Erik Janlert's and mine article "The meaning of interactivity—some proposals for definitions and measures" will be published in the HCI Journal.

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."

If you are interested in the article, just email me and I will send you a copy.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Good complexity and design judgement

It seems as if a lot of people today see the world as difficult place to fully understand. The complexity of reality is frequently mentioned. Our culture is complex. Contemporary technology is definitely complex. And our everyday lives are complex. The notion of 'complexity' is in many cases used as a negative descriptor. meaning that things are difficult, hard to understand, and that it presents challenges to us. It seems as if the solution instead would be things are simple and easy to understand. I see this strive for simplicity as a mistake or at least not as trivially correct. My colleague Lars-Erik Janlert and I commented on this in our article "Complex Interaction" when we wrote:

"Complexity is not just a necessary evil and not just instrumentally good. Given the right circumstances, encounters with the very complexity of some systems and behaviors can give us fullness, entertainment, aesthetic and sublime experiences, spur and develop our abilities and ambitions, and give depth to our experiences and understandings [Nelson 2007; Csikszentmihalyi 1990]. 
Rather than being a universal human ideal, simplicity is often disapproved and derided in our everyday lives. Being simple can provoke condescension and even contempt. On the other hand, humans seem to seek and enjoy certain experiences of complexity. Sometimes complexity may be understood as richness, generally found to be a positive and wanted quality. The experience of being in a forest with its overwhelming profusion of different life forms and natural structures is seen as richer than being in the controlled and simplified park. The simpler an environment is, the easier it is to understand and handle, but at the same time it lacks the richness and stimulation that we appreciate and enjoy. (Gardner et al. [2002] discuss similar aspects when examining what constitutes “good work.”) Many natural phenomena, such as a river or the weather, are in our daily lives not experienced as problematically complex, but when we want to control them or understand them in a scientific sense we need extremely complex tools, systems, and explanations. These natural phenomena are of course extremely complex, even though humans live with them without feeling intimidated by their complexity. 
There is something intriguing about complexity. It constitutes a challenge, something we can explore and experience, something we can attempt to learn and attempt to master, and something that we know can send us off into new and unpredicted directions, something that promises adventure.We can gladly spend a lot of time and energy trying to figure out the mechanisms behind a complex behavior or system. We can even be prepared to devote our life to the complexity of something such as wine or music."

If our reasoning is correct then complexity is not by default bad, or at least not always something we should try to simplify, reduce or remove. We have to be careful when dealing with systems that people are engaged with. Reducing complexity may lead to reduced richness which in turn may lead to poor and simplistic human experiences with those systems. It is of course true that some systems may be better with less complexity, sometimes simplicity is truly what is needed. But when is complexity good and when is it bad? And how is it possible to know the difference?

First of all, there is no guarantor when it comes to this kind of questions. There are no 'correct' answers. Designing a complex interface may be a solution to a safety issue, while the same design may be cumbersome when the task at hand in a everyday repetitive 'safe' task. The challenge is not to be able to make everything simple, the challenge is to know what is an appropriate level of complexity given a particular task and situation. And then, of course, to be able to design that level accordingly.

This all leads to the notion of design judgment. There is no other guarantor in design than the judgment of the designer. There is nothing 'out there' that can tell a designer what the 'right' design is. There are no correct solutions. There is no design principle, approach, method, or tool that will deliver the 'best' design. There are no patterns or templates that can reduce the risk of designing. There is only the ability of designers to make good judgements.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Workshop on "Designerly thinking and doing" -- again

Now I have all the information and planning done for the workshop on "Designerly thinking and doing". If you want more detailed information, please write to me. If you know someone else who might be interested, just share the information.

Here is a flyer about the workshop.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Speaking at the UX Strategy Group in Chicago

I am happy to have been invited to give a talk at the UX Strategy Group in Chicago. This talk will be on September 1st. That is all information I have at the moment. I think it will be an open event, but am not fully sure.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Design crash courses and why a deeper understanding of designerly thinking is needed

Aaron Walter writes in a very good text about '7 Problems Growing Design Team Face'. I read this text as a support of what I wrote about in my post 'The problem with 'crash courses' in design thinking'.

The problems that Walter's discuss are all of a complexity and scope that is not possible to prepare for a crash course on design thinking. Anyone involved in real designerly thinking will always face fundamental questions that reach throughout an organization and has to do with organizational structure, people and processes. And to add on that, the diversity and complexity of values, visions and strategies.

This also means that any design challenge of importance will involve a team of people and that is when the issues that Walters describe emerge. Working together in a designerly way requires some common understanding of what a designerly process is. To just have a simple understanding of basic steps or phases, or of the importance of sketching or prototyping, or of iteration, is far from enough to handle these situations or the '7 problems'.

Designerly thinking is more foundational. It requires people to deeply understand the fundamentals of design, for instance what 'being in service' means or that design is about 'ultimate particulars' that require the design judgment more than any prescribed process model.



Monday, June 20, 2016

The problem with 'crash courses' in design thinking

It is obvious that 'design thinking' as an approach to change has never been more popular than now. Everywhere on the web it is possible to find workshops and courses, and even 'crash courses' that will make anyone understand and appreciate the 'methodology' of design thinking. This is an unfortunate development. No one will be able to think and act as a designer after a 'crash course'. But this is not what I see as the problem with this development. The major issue is that it will lead a large number of people to believe that 'design thinking' is some kind of simplistic step-by-step method that is possible to apply to all kinds of situations and problems. The inevitable consequence will be a large number of people frustrated with what they think is 'design thinking' and they will turn to some other approach with the hope for another quick fix.

There are no quick fixes. There is no simple approach that is possible to understand and learn in a 'crash course'. As with any human approach that has evolved over centuries design is not something that you can 'use'. It is obvious to most people that a 90-minute 'crash course' in the scientific methodology is not going to make it possible to conduct any form of advanced or even useful science. "Crash courses' may have their place and a role to play, but it is a way that will make it possible to "take away some of the basic principles of Design Thinking and start to adapt them into your personal and professional routines". 

Design thinking can of course be learned. But it takes time, training and practice. And instead of 'learning' a stepwise methodology, a 'crash course' may be a way to introduce the foundational ideas behind design as an approach in a way that makes it possible to understand what it is, how it differs from other approaches and what it takes to actually perform design thinking. However, this requires maybe a bit more by those who offer these courses than what is the case today.

Workshops on designerly thinking and doing...again

I have added a page, see navigation bar, where I have added a bit more information about my plans for some workshops. Again, if you are interested and want to know more, or have ideas for me, just email me.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Conversational Agents and Personal Assistants--some thoughts

In a recent FastCompany article, Mark Sullivan writes about the "AI personal assistant wars". The main point of the article is how Apple as a company is (or is not) well positioned to compete in the new emerging landscape of conversational agents and personal assistants (or whatever the final term for this type of thing will be).

One of the main messages in the article is that we are leaving the 'app' paradigm and moving towards, what Microsoft CEO Nadella calls, the age of the 'bot'. In the article he is quoted saying that 'Bots are the new apps'.

These bots are supposed to create a new layer on top of existing applications and services and guide and support users by being the 'person' that can find the right information or service. As a user you are supposed to just talk to your bot as you would to a real person assistant or butler (which is another term used).

This development is exiting and it will be transformational in many aspects, but the question is if the present hype is maybe overestimating the potential of this new paradigm. One of the most obvious strengths of conversational agents is that they are 'faceless' (as we define it in our article on Faceless Interaction) that is, we can interact with them without having to focus our attention of a specific surface. However, at the same time facelessness poses serious problems with interaction. In the same article we for instance discuss the notion of interactivity clutter and how faceless interaction leads to new forms of clutter that are so far difficult to see how they can be solved.

The idea that agents or assistants by themselves will change interaction is of course too simplistic. It will in many ways add complexity and confusion. The more we add 'intelligence' to our technology and the more we are able to converse with them, the more we enter our daily life dealing with people with all its misunderstandings and confusions. Interfaces provide us with a simple and direct way of not having to negotiate, not having to explain, to 'discuss' things. With intelligence and conversations comes of course attentional freedom, at least spatially, though it will automatically restrict and limit us in other ways.


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Keynote talks

I am very happy and honored to have been invited to be a Keynote speaker at two conferences this Fall.

I will speak at NordiCHI (more about the program here) which is one of my favorite conferences in the field of Human Computer Interaction. I have not decided the topic yet in detail but it will be based on the book that Lars-Erik Janlert and I are finishing up, so maybe something about interactivity clutter and interactivity fields.

I will also give a Keynote presentation at the Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSD5) Symposium. This is an exciting symposium that is intended to develop a stronger integration between systems thinking and design. Among the other Keynote presenters are Humberto Maturana and Liz Sanders. Both of which I have already had the pleasure of meeting. For this Keynote I am even less sure what it will be about. We'll see when we get closer.