Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Looking for researchers and practitioners who have developed a method, technique, tool or approach for interaction design

We are looking for researchers and practitioners who have developed any kind of new method, technique, tool, approach, etc. aimed at being used by practitioners in interaction design practice. 

If you fit that description, we would like to interview you about your work (via email or Skype). It is a quite short interview where we will ask questions about why you did it, what you did, how you did it, what you expected the outcome would be, etc.

Get in touch with me if you can do this! Or let us know if you know someone who would be a good interviewee.

You can email me at estolter@indiana.edu

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Expanding Notion of the Interface

When Kinect and other similar new technologies were introduced it changed the conception of what constitutes an interface. This is a fascinating topic and one that I am working on with my colleague Lars-Erik Janlert.

There is a new attempt to develop haptic feedback without have any physical contact with a device. Aireal is a new concept that sends small puffs of air towards a user in a way that leads to (some kind of) experiences of objects. The technology is developed by University of Illinois PhD student Rajinder Sodhi and Disney Reseach’s Ivan Poupyrev. [You can find a description and video here]

This new technology is another step in the development and change of what constitutes an interface and is an interesting example that I wished Lars-Erik Janlert and I had used in our newly submitted article labeled "Faceless Interaction - a conceptual examination of the notion of interface: past, present and future". In the article we develop a way of thinking about interfaces that makes it possible to understand historical versions of interfaces and to some extent predict interfaces that will come. I hope to be able to write more about this later (if the article is accepted).

PS. Today I read this article about Leap Motion which is a slightly different approach but on the same theme. You can see how it works here.

Here is another article by Janlert and me about interaction and interfaces:

Lars-Erik Janlert and Erik Stolterman. 2010. Complex interaction. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact. 17, 2, Article 8 (May 2010), 32 pages. DOI=10.1145/1746259.1746262 http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1746259.1746262

Friday, July 19, 2013

Book note: "Thinking on Paper" (how to write and how to design)

In 1989 I got the book "Thinking on Paper : Refine, Express, and Actually Generate Ideas by Understanding the Processes of the Mind" written by V. A. Howard and M. A. Barton as a gift by my PhD advisor Professor Kristo Ivanov. Kristo gave this book to all PhD students for a while. I assume that he did not appreciate how little we all were writing.

I really liked this book. Today I re-read some parts of it (since I showed it to a colleague yesterday). I found my own notes and comments from 1989 in the book and realized that this book has in many ways shaped my thinking about both writing but maybe even more about design.

The core ideas that the authors present in the book are all highly relevant for design in general and not only for writing. To me, the book presents two core ideas that I still return to. The first is the idea that writing is, what the title says, 'thinking on paper'. The authors explains the difference between writing as articulation and communication. Most writing has to start as articulation and if the writer sees it as communication it becomes a problem. Articulation is the discovery and formulation of ideas, while writing for communication is a process of critique, testing, assessment, and evidence. In relation to this, they also make perfectly clear that writing is not something that happens to you, it is an activity, something you do. There is no "waiting for the Muse".

The other core idea is also visible in the title and that is the  idea that to become a better writer you have to understand writing. They write "The first step is to get clear in your mind what writing is, and what it isn't." And the reason for that is because "what you think writing is (or isn't) can profoundly affect how you do it."

To me, this means that the most useful knowledge for design is knowledge about design. This is also a philosophy that I have followed over the years and also why I always stress the importance of theory and philosophy as the most practical ways to improve as a designer. Of course, you also need hands-on skills and knowledge which also the authors take seriously which is why the second part of the book is very hands-on advice based on the notion of 'thinking on paper'  on how to structure your writings, how to make an argument, even some about grammar and punctuation.

Anyway, if you are someone who struggles with writing, this is the book for you. If you are a designer, this is a book that presents a highly useful theory about design!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Design Thinking Imperialism and the Danger of Simplification

In the Economist there is an article, "Design companies are applying their skills to the voluntary and public sectors", that examines IDEO and the growing "design thinking" industry. The author, Schumpeter, makes the case that design is today moving from traditional "clients" of design to clients in governmental and non-profit organizations. The author sees this as part of a "revolution" that has almost signs of being imperialistic.
Schumpeter writes:

"IDEO is the standard-bearer of a broader revolution. Designers are becoming much more ambitious—perhaps imperialistic—about design thinking. In the United States the Stanford University Institute of Design, or D-School, which Mr Kelley founded in 2006, acts as an intellectual centre for the movement. The school helps businesses improve innovation and reduce complexity. It also encourages students to apply their skills to solving social problems, such as designing an inexpensive incubator for premature babies. In Britain the Design Council and the Royal Society of the Arts are also strong advocates of design thinking."

It is understandable that design can be seen as imperialistic with the attention and recognition it has received the last few years. Design and particularly 'design thinking' is often portrayed as the approach to apply to any problem where there is a lack of creativity, new ideas, or human oriented thinking. However, design as a human approach to inquiry and action is often presented in a simplistic and almost 'childish' way when it comes to what it is as a process, methods and tools. This article is an example of this. The author gives a summary of what is the core of the IDEO approach. To him it consists of three elements.

He writes:

"There are three main elements to IDEO’s “design thinking”. 
"The first is “lots of different eyes”. 
"The second is to look at problems from the consumer’s point of view"
"The third element is making everything tangible."
This description apparently captures the nature of 'design thinking'. This is to him the core of the approach that has been successful and that everyone is trying to copy. It is not surprising that he shows some hesitation about the approach when he writes:
"It is easy to mock all of this as bearded nonsense (if you are on the political right) or a ruse to divert attention from cuts in essential services (if you are on the left). .......Nevertheless, there are good reasons for giving the new fashion a chance."
To me there are two observations to be made from this article. First is that when design (or 'design thinking') spreads to larger and new groups of people less educated and trained  in design, it inevitably looses in richness and is slowly almost disintegrating as a unique approach. Design faces the danger of becoming a 'common sense' approach that anyone can do.
The second observation is that proponents of design have to very careful in 'overselling' design and explaining it in a simplistic fashion. Both 'overselling' and simplification leads without a doubt to failure, disappointment and the consequence will be a serious backlash for design. If all of us, who do believe in design as a powerful human approach to inquiry and action, different from other approaches such as science and art, that can produce unique outcomes; if we are not careful in how we present and explain design, we and design will fail. Design is an activity that is complex, rich, highly dependent on the competence, knowledge, skill and character of designers. It is a process that requires well developed judgment and ability to discern quality and to research and understand complex contexts and the desires and needs of people and organizations in order to create something 'not-yet-existing'. It is an expensive process that takes time. If this process is simplified into three elements that lack depth, richness and any form of practical relevance, then design will never be successful in any 'imperialistic' sense, instead it will be disregarded and ridiculed for not providing what it promises. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Trying to organize my book reviews and book comments

It seems as if I continue to write small comments on books I read. It sometimes becomes a bit longer review but often just a note. The blog format is not the best to get an overview of these different posts, so I have added a page with a list of links to the posts. I do not think I have found all posts yet so I will keep adding. If you have any idea on how to make this more useful, just let me know. You can find the like to the page in the navigation bar above.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Micro Book Note: Susan Haack "Defending Science--within reason"

I have always liked to read about science since it is the professional practice I am engaged with on a daily basis. I have over time realized that my own view of what science and research really is about constantly changes, many times in surprising (to myself) ways. This seems to happen again when reading Susan Haack's "Defending Science--within reason".

While reading the introduction I started to do some googling on the author and found a very interesting talk by Haack where she presents the philosophy she labels "innocent realism". I was intrigued by her argumentation and reasoning and I can see the same form of clear and rational thinking in the book too. To what extent her ambition to defend science makes sense, I have to come to another day after having read some more. But I am optimistic and hopeful that her account of science continues to intrigue me and to make sense.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Book note: "Convivial Toolbox--generative research for the front end of design"

I just received a copy of a quite new book "Convivial Toolbox--generative research for the front end of design" by Elizabeth Sanders and Pieter Jan Stappers. It is exciting to see that more books on design are being published, and especially books that are not only simple "how-to" but also present a philosophical and theoretical position.

Sanders and Stappers is doing this well in many ways. The book is first of all nicely designed with great paper! The book is full of interesting design schemas, many of which are quite insightful and interesting. I have yet to read the book carefully and I am not sure I will, not because I do not find it useful but because I am quite aware of most of what the book covers. To me the most interesting elements of the book are the elaborate schemas that in some cases are rich and dense and provide the reader with a lot of insights about the topic in a designerly relevant way. I will definitely use some of those schemas in my own teaching.

So, the book covers in a good way how early design can be supported by generative research. It gives examples and cases on how to do it. I think the book can be useful for anyone who is searching for such support.

At the same time, I find the layout of the book confusing. Numerous different sections, colors, and sidebars. The layout is structured as if it is a basic textbook with readers who need to be guided in detail in their reading, with "hints" and other typical features. It becomes confusing and difficult to read, at least for me.

I was quite intrigued by the title "Convivial Toolbox" since I am well aware of Illich writings and of his ideas. I was hoping that the authors would in a stronger sense build and relate their ideas to the notion on conviviality, but that did not really happen. For instance, to what extent and in what way are the tools described in the book better suited for convivial design than others, and in what way is conviviality supported by the process presented? I was looking for a final reflection or discussion of that but could not find it.