Showing posts from 2010

Book comment: Andy Clark “Supersizing the Mind—Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension”

The book “Supersizing the Mind—Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension” by Andy Clark is a great account for the idea that our thinking and our minds are not only a matter of the brain. Clark is developing the idea of the “extended” mind in contrast to what he calls the “brainbound” idea of thinking. Even though this book is primarily a book on modern cognitive science and its different models and explanations of thinking, it also has a broader interest and also practical consequences.
I am of course reading this book from the perspective of my own interests in interaction design and design theory. Reading the book from such a perspective makes it very easy to be supportive of the major ideas discussed since they make intuitive sense. This is interesting since Clark notes that in cognitive science this proposed theory instead is commonly seen as too radical since it goes against an intuitive understanding of thinking.
The basic argument in the book is that humans do not merely thin…

Book comment: Cass R. Sunstein "Going to extremes--how like minds unite and divide"

A few years back when I read Cass Sunstein's book "Republic 2.0"  I was immediately impressed both by the message and the argumentation. In his most recent book "Going to extremes--how like minds unite and divide" he comes back to the same topic but more grounded and with a broader scope. The topic of this book is the idea of "group polarization".  Sunstein defines the phenomenon like this: "When people find themselves in groups of like-minded types, they are especially likely to move to extremes." (p 2). This means that when people meet with other who have similar views they reinforce and strengthen these views, to the point when they may be seen as extreme. This can happen around any topic and Sunstein gives many examples in the book. People may become extreme in their views on politics (something Sunstein uses a lot), health, sports, religion, etc.  Sunstein uses the major part of the book to show research that in different ways support t…

Favorite books in Design Theory, Version Deux

In 2007 I posted a post with the same title as this one. I read this old post today and saw that it is time to update the list. This is how I introduced the list in 2007:
"I had a meeting today with a PhD student from another department and was asked what to read if you want to get into the more theoretical and philosophical aspects of design and that had influenced my work. It was a good exercise and I came at least up with a few books, even though I am sure I have forgotten some that might be even more influential on my thinking."
So, I have kept the old list and added some book that I had forgotten or that have been published since then. Even though I have only picked book that have had serious influence, the list keeps growing. I do not always have the full references but instead some have links.
The list is in no particular order, so here we go:
Lundeqvist, Jerker. (1982?) "Norm och modell" (Norm and Model). in Swedish This was Jerker's PhD thesis and it r…

Book comment: Robert Nozick "The Examined Life--philosophical meditations"

As a philosopher Robert Nozick is mainly known for his 1975 book "Anarchy, State and Utopia" where he develops his arguments within political philosophy. But to me, it is one of his later books that has inspired me, and that is "The Examined Life--philosophical meditations" that came out in 1989.

This book contains about 25 essays that cover highly diverse topics even though they all have to do with how to live a life and the meaning of life. I read this book many years ago and it made a strong impact on me. I have recently started reading it again and realize even more that it has a lot to offer for anyone with an interest in design theory.

The basic theme in the book is the notion of reflection or examination. Nozick writes "examination and reflection are not just about the other components of life: they are added within a life, alongside the rest, and by their presence call for a new overall pattern that alters how each part of life is understood." Thi…

The new reality of interaction design

Recently we have seen some amazing new technologies entering the scene of interaction design and HCI. First came the Wii, then the iPhone and apps, and now the Kinect. Just in a few years the technology that can make up the interface of artifacts and systems have radically changed. We are moving into an era of highly physical, tangible, and haptic interfaces while at the same time seeing technology that makes the physical and tangible interfaces disappear.

All these new technologies are radically expanding the design space for interaction design. In the "old" days (just a few years back) almost any kind of interaction was all about the screen, keyboard, and mouse interface on a computer and more than often in relation to the web. Now, the same design includes questions about what device to use (desktops, laptops, iPads, iPhones, cell phones, cars, buildings, environments, appliances) or maybe develop a new special device manifested in any material, shape, and form, and also…

BOOK REVIEW: Clay Shirky "Cognitive Surplus -- creativity and generosity in a connected age"

Clay Shirky's latest book "Cognitive Surplus--creativity and generosity in a connected age" takes on the same topic as his previous books, namely how new technology changes our society when it comes to who has the power to be an information consumer versus a producer. The main claim in the book is that we (the people) have an enormous amount of "cognitive surplus", that is, time that we at the moment are not necessarily using for anything important, so there is a surplus of cognitive "power" that can be harvested. Shirky's prime example of the surplus is the amount of time people spend watching TV. This time is, according to the author, time that could be used for other purposes. The book is mainly a long parade of examples of people who has managed to use the new social technology to do things that only a few decades ago would have been impossible, or only possible for those with power or money. The examples are all exciting even though they are …

Hofstadter, Dennett and the "rough ground"

I have always been fascinated by philosophy about the mind and about human thinking. A great moment for me was when the book "Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid" by Douglas Hofstadter was published in 1979. The book was so different from anything else I had read in philosophy or any other academic field. The writing was so clear! It was direct, challenging, and provocative. Hofstadter took on questions about the mind in a logical and beautiful (!) way. The book made me continue to read other philosophers and particularly Daniel Dennett.

The book "The Mind's I" (1981) by Dennet and Hofstadter had probably an even greater impact on my thinking and I was overwhelmed by the rhetoric, the argumentation, and the logical reasoning. Over the years I have continued to read Dennett, maybe less for the ideas themselves (even though they are interesting) but more for the style, the logic, and the reasoning. I have always strived to be able to argue in a similar f…

BOOK REVIEW: Graham Harman "Prince of Networks -- Bruno Latour and Metaphysics"

As someone who has a lifelong interest in what could serve as a philosophical  foundation for design, I have for many years admired the work of Bruno Latour. I have read most of his books and have seen him as one of the most important contemporary philosophers. However, Latour has not received the same recognition from the professional philosophical community. He is by many seen as a sociologist and not as a philosopher.

The book "Prince of Networks -- Bruno Latour and Metaphysics" by Graham Harman makes a great case in presenting  the ideas of Bruno Latour as a philosopher and someone who actually contributes to foundational metaphysical questions. Harman's book is basically divided into two parts where the first is a wonderful presentation of Latour's writings and ideas. In the second part Harman elaborates on his own philosophical thinking which of course rests solidly on Latour's, but deviates in some crucial and important regards. I must say that I really e…

"The Dark Side of Creativity", book comment

One of our PhD students (Samantha, thanks!) pointed me the other day to a new book with the intriguing title "The Dark Side of Creativity". The book is edited by Cropley, D, Cropley, A, Kaufman, J, & Runco, M. and contains 20 chapters on the notion of creativity.

I need to point out that this blog post is not a book review since I have only read the first two chapters plus the last one, so, I will restrict my comments and not review the book as such.

It is obvious that the title of the book is intriguing and inviting for anyone who is dealing with studies of any kind of creative human activities, which for me of course is design. The editors make the observation that creativity is in our society seen as a completely positive "thing",  in some quarters almost revered in religious terms. This fact is in itself enough for a book that in serious fashion takes on the potential "dark side" of creativity. This is also the reason for the book according to the…

The Design Way, 2nd Edition

Some of you may know about the book "The Design Way -- Intentional Change in an Unpredictable World" that I wrote with my good friend and colleague Harold Nelson. Well, we have since it was published in 2003 struggled with our publisher who has been unusually difficult to work with. So, we are at the moment working on a 2nd Edition of the book. We also have a contract with MIT Press for the new edition, which will make things so much better. Now we just have to make sure that Harold and I  will be able to develop the new version, if so, it may be published in 2011. A couple of  new chapters, some parts removed, and some changes. Looking forward....

"Back to the rough ground" by Joseph Dunne

After many years, I have gone back and started to re-read the book "Back to the rough ground--practical judgment and the lure of technique" by Joseph Dunne. I first read this wonderful book when it came out in 1993 and it immediately became one of my favorite books overall. It is therefore exiting and interesting to go back and read it again. Not surprisingly, I see other aspects of the text now and I understand it much better (I think). At the same time I wonder how much of what I have thought are my own ideas actually comes from my reading of Dunne. To be honest, I also find the book now to be less overwhelming and intimidating than I remember it even to the degree that I now can find arguments and sections where I can see potential improvements. Anyhow, the book is a wonder of detailed argumentation and analysis.

What is still the most amazing aspect of the book is the fact that the reason Dunne wrote the book was that he was trying to "solve" a concrete practic…

Malcolm Gladwell article in The New Yorker

In the October issue of the New Yorker there is an article called "Small Change, why the revolution will not be tweeted" by Malcolm Gladwell. I found this article to have all the typical good Gladwell qualities such as an interesting topic, a bit counter intuitive and also challenging mainstream ideas. In the article Gladwell  makes an interesting argument about social networks and their potential power to support or produce societal change. Gladwell makes the case that serious and real societal change can only be done through activism that is a different sort than what happens in social networks. He makes the case by contrasting "weak ties" with "strong ties" when it comes to relationships and friendships. He also contrast the "network" with the "hierarchy". The overall argument is that for real activism to happen the preconditions are the presence of strong ties and hierarchy, while social networks only provide weak ties and networks…

Book comment: Paul Virilio "The Original Accident"

I have for many years liked the ideas of Paul Virilio. He is a fascinating and highly challenging thinker. Unfortunately his writings are quite complex and sometimes erratic. I am at the moment trying to read his "The Original Accident" published in English in 2007. I am intentionally writing "trying to read" since it does take work and effort without any promise of success in increased understanding.

Virilio is highly self centered and seems quite uninterested in others ideas and theories. Anyway, the basic idea in his writings is that "speed" is a dangerous power in our society. This is such a simple and powerful idea. Based on the idea of speed he also argues that every technology carries its own inherent accident or even distaster. He writes that the accident is "an invention in the sense of uncovering what was hidden, just waiting to happen". The airplane has the crash built in, the nuclear power plant has a Chernobyl accident built in, etc…

Design theory and rationality

In my class on design theory we read some of the more influential design thinkers for the last decades. Tonight I read an article that I will talk about tomorrow. I did use this paper last year too, but did not read it carefully. Tonight I did--and what a great paper. The author is Armand Hatchuel and the article is "Towards Design Theory and Expandable Rationality: The Unfinished Program of Herbert Simon" ( Journal of Management and Governance Volume 5, Numbers 3-4, 260-273, DOI:10.1023/A:1014044305704).

Hatchuel analyzes the work of Simon especially his notion of "bounded rationality". Hatchuel discusses the problematic issues with Simon's approach and makes a wonderful argument where he shows that Simon is  "stuck" in a problem solving paradigm where "design" is seen as a special case of problem solving, while in fact it is the opposite. Hatchuel develops this arguement in an elegant way and presents his own notion of "expandable rat…

Book review: "Designing Things" by Prasad Boradkar

It is always nice to find a new book with an intriguing title that resonates with ones own interests. That happened when I recently found the book "Designing Things - A critical introduction to the culture of objects" by Prasad Boradkar.

This is one book in a growing stream of writings focused on 'things', objects, and artifacts. There seems to be an increasing interest in the material world and especially in the world that consists of designed objects. There exists of course a long history of  research and studies with the 'thing' in focus, but never with the same intensity and richness as right now.

Boradkar has written a book that takes this growing interest in material things as a starting point. The book is presented as providing a 'map of the rapidly changing field of design studies'. Boradkar does indeed present a 'map'.  Even though there is an underlying theoretical perspective that the author favors, most of the book, with its diffe…

The DRS 2010 Conference

Back home after the DRS 2010 conference in Montreal. I had a good time these and the conference went well, except for the really hot weather. I had the opportunity to listen to some really interesting papers, participate in some great discussions, and also meet old and new friends.

I found the quality of the papers to be  better than ever before in the DRS conference history. This is a good development and I hope it will continue. However, there were some interesting discussions on the future of the conference and what its purpose is in relation to all the new design conferences that are within different disciplines. What can a general design conference deliver that the more focused ones can't. I think there is a possibility to make the conference into the top general design conference that is not connected to any particular design discipline. But this also makes it important that the conference and the papers takes on the challenge to be non-disciplinary and general in a sense th…

New writings...

Lately two articles that I (together with some colleagues) have been working on for quite some time have been published. Here are the references and the abstracts:

Janlert, L. and Stolterman, E. 2010. Complex interaction. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact. 17, 2 (May. 2010), 1-32. DOI=  (

An almost explosive growth of complexity puts pressure on people in their everyday doings. Digital artifacts and systems are at the core of this development. How should we handle complexity aspects when designing new interactive devices and systems? In this article we begin an analysis of interaction complexity. We portray different views of complexity; we explore not only negative aspects of complexity, but also positive, making a case for the existence of benign complexity. We argue that complex interaction is not necessarily bad, but designers need a deeper understanding of interaction complexity and need to treat…

Book review: "Vibrant Matter" by Jane Bennett

Through history humans have debated how to understand and relate to their surrounding reality. We have all heard about societies that believed that every object and thing has a soul. Today this is commonly seen as a primitive and outdated view. The  dominating modern view is instead that reality consists of the human, spiritual, world of life, and on the other side the dead, material, world of matter. This division of living things from dead things is highly influential in the way humans think and act on their world.

However, in modern philosophy there is a new trend that is bringing the importance of objects and matter back into our focus. In a new book by Jane Bennett "Vibrant Matter-- a political ecology of things" one such position is presented. Bennett claims that her ambition is to develop a positive ontology of 'matter as vibrant', and to dismantle the divisions between the binaries life/matter, human/animal, organic/inorganic, and to do this with the purpose o…

Book review: "Everyday Engineering" edited by Dominique Vinck

Ok, time for another book review. This time it is "Everyday Engineering -- An Ethnography of Design and Innovation" edited by Dominique Vinck (MIT Press). First of all, I find the study of practice to be one of the most exciting forms of research in design. So, this book has a promising title and the introduction also lives up to my expectations--it does aim at studying and describing practice without being prescriptive.

The book is written by a group of French engineering researchers and sociologists. The idea of the book is wonderful, it sets out to explore the complexity of 'real' engineering practice in relation to the 'simplistic' form of understanding that dominates engineering education and textbook based prescriptive models and methods.

The book also delivers, at least here and there, and is an interesting read. For instance, I liked the first chapter about the experience of a young and newly graduated engineer in his first job at CERN. The story is q…

Book Review: "The Design of Business" by Roger Martin

One of the most interesting and surprising developments in design and particularly design thinking has happened at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. Few if any other business schools have payed any attention to design as a potential philosophy of inquiry and action suitable for management. The Dean at the Rotman School is Roger Martin who has been instrumental and the force behind this development. Being a professor of strategic management he has pushed the school to adopt design thinking as a major approach when it comes to business strategy and management. He has earlier developed some of his ideas in the book "The Opposable Mind" (2007, and is now continuing to formulate his thoughts and approach in his new book "The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage".

This is a book whose audience is primarily people in the world of business and who do not know design thinking but might have heard the buzz. It …

Book review: "Change by Design" by Tim Brown

Tim Brown is the CEO and President of the famous design company IDEO. In his new book "Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation" Brown explains his own view on the notion of design thinking. Brown has a long and successful experience as a designer and has many great stories to tell to support his claims about the benefits and nature of design thinking.

As we all know, design and especially design thinking has received extraordinary attention these last few years. It seems as if design thinking is seen as the solution for almost anything from modern product design, the new field of service design, organizational design, etc. Design thinking is in Brown's new book defined as the way to think as a designer but he also describes what that means when it comes to the process and activities.

I really like this book. For people who have heard about design thinking and do not really know what it is, I think this book is a great first …

Things take time....the history of Apple tablets

This is a nice little story about one part of the history behind the Apple iPad. It is important to see what has been done, why it did not happen earlier, etc. A lot can be learned....

Designerly Tools

Last week I was invited to the 6th Student Interaction Design and Research Conference, this year at the Umeå Design Institute. It was a great event and I had the chance to do both a workshop on "Design Judgment -- how to become a good designer" and a keynote presentation on "Designerly Tools". The students, from several design schools in Europe, were great, they asked good questions and participated in the discussion.

I also had the pleasure of listening to Heather Martin from the design company "Smart Design" (the Barcelona office). She gave a great presentation on the nature of design.

My presentation on designerly tools is based on a couple of studies that I have done with some students were we have interviewed professional interaction designers about what tools they use in their design process, and particulaly how they make their choice of tool and why. We define tools quite broad, anything that a designer can use in the process (pen, whiteboard, soft…

Web content curation--are journalism coming back?

We all experience the overwhelming flood of information on the net. Social media has not necessarily made the task of being informed easier. Even among experts and the people at the forefront of the new media this problem is recognized. As a potential solution the notion of curation is discussed as a idea that refers to the act of collecting, refining, and presenting information in a way that can be trusted. Sounds like traditional journalism to me.

For instance, at this panel description at the SXSW conference recently: "With all the stuff we weed through online, good filters are crucial. Who's best-suited to determine what's best, curators or the crowd? People have their religion about one or the other, however this panel will focus on the overlap, the grey areas and how curating and crowd-sourcing enrich each other."

I believe we need large broad public well-developed arenas (by professional journalists) where important societal issues are described, reported, an…

Upset by Bad Design or Inspired by Good Design

A lot of design writings are based in the "mantra" that the world is filled by bad and terrible designs and we need to change that. I do not like that approach to design. To me it often (not always) implies that good design is both possible and almost easy to do. Good design is possible, I agree with that, but design is far from easy. The world is not filled by bad designs because people do not care or do not try. There are bad designs all around us because good design is difficult. I am much more fascinated by the fact that, despite the difficulty of design, good designs can also be found all round. It is amazing how often good designers are able to come up with designs that defy the complexity and difficulty of the challenge at hand. So, let us be inspired by good designs and let them prove to us that amazing design is possible. Even in the most restricted design situation, the design space is (relatively) infinite. Within this space there are opportunities and risks to co…

The Toyota Problem, Interaction and Complexity

I guess everybody has heard about the Toyota car problem. This is a terrible situation for Toyota, of course. At the same it also exposes some interesting interaction issues. Without knowing anything about what has really happened and how much Toyota really knows, I think this is a kind of situation we might see more of in the future.

When artifact complexity increases as a consequence of growing features "need", new problems emerge. The blend of mechanical/physical material with digital material seems to be part of the Toyota problem. A spokesperson said something about "not being able to locate the problem". A modern car is highly complex and is an example of an system where parts "collaborate" in a highly intricate way. So, is the gas pedal issue a mechanical problem or a digital problem. According to an (TV) expert, Toyota is hoping and praying that it is a mechanical issue, since it will be possible to locate and hopefully add or remove some mechani…