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
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 ( 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.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Reflections on Google's Material Design

It is really interesting to read about the new initiative from Google that is labeled "Material Design". It is a new interface 'language'.  Google has released an excellent Introduction that shows and explains the principles and details of their Material Design philosophy. It is very informative to click through all the pages and to try all the examples. It takes a few minutes but it is worth it.

It is impressing how much thinking and work has gone into this new design guideline. The basic inspiration is the notion of "material". It is however not easy to understand what that means and how Google understands the notion. One interpretation that is both ambitious and informative can be read in this interview with two of Google designers. The writer and interviewer is Mark Wilson who writes for Fast Company. His article explores some quite good explanations of "Material Design".

He writes "With Material Design, Google has become a second reality inside touch-screen devices--complete with its own rules of logic and physics--and if Google has its way, it will eventually break free of touch screens to quite literally reshape the world around us". I think he is right. This is the intention behind the new design guidelines. It seems to be an attempt to join the physical world, or at least some of its characteristics, with the digital world. Or at least an attempt to give the digital world some physical properties, as Wilson writes "Material Design wants to add the intuitive feeling of physical objects in a purely digital environment."

It is clear when you go through the Google Introduction that this is their ambition. They have built their ideas based on the common material 'paper' and its qualities. Even though they are not trying to copy paper and all its properties, they are looking for some fundamental characteristics that can guide the design of the digital. For instance, material things can not disappear in any kind of way, materials have built in properties that has to be respected (to some extent), for instance when put on top of each other they cover each other. Wilson argues that this is also why "Material Design is Google's synthetic explanation of what's going on between their screens and apps. The digital physics might not be real, but it provides a grounding to the virtual interface nonetheless." And on a bit more abstract level Wilson ends with "The object will become the interface, and the interface will become the object. In Duarte's mind [Google design lead for Android], one can see Material Design powering a living infrastructure in a world where every conceivable surface glows, shifts, and ripples, quite literally reshaping the way we communicate, learn, work, and live."

I find the Material Design to be a highly developed idea that rests upon a stable foundation of both philosophical principles as well as pragmatic guidelines. However, it is also the case that Google states all through the Introduction what is a "Do" and what is a "Don't", that is, they clearly outlines what is a correct Material Design and what is not. I am sure designers and developers will have a tough time finding ways to design their products in perfect harmony with these strict guidelines. And of course, if they are successful, then everything that is by Google, based on Google, depending on Google, will look and feel the same. Is this what we want? Is this what Google wants?

If we at some time become bored (and we will) with the wonderful, consistent and beautiful Material Design--it will be everywhere and we will not be able to escape it except by escaping Google. This is the underlying problem with carefully developed design guidelines. They show you the way to a world where all things are designed based on great principles, probably reducing the number of bad designs in our world, but at the prize of living in a conformed and boring environment.

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