Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A New Exciting Design Research Organization for US and Canada

In April this year there was the first meeting of a task force of design scholars and professionals from the US and Canada in Chicago with the purpose to discuss the need for a design organization for North America.

This work is chaired by Carlos Teixeira, IIT Institute of Design, and John Zimmerman, Carnegie Mellon University.  I am happy to be part of this initiative with these outstanding members on the steering committee (unfortunately I could not be at the workshop myself):

Carl DiSalvo, Georgia Tech, Wonjoon Chung, Carleton University, Canada, Liz Sanders, Ohio State University, US, Lara Penin from Parsons School of Design, US, Linda Wagner, University of Washington, US, Jay Melican, Intel Corporation, US, Katie Salen, DePaul University and Institute of Play, US and Erik Stolterman, Indiana University, US.

Design research societies already exist in many other continents and countries. In the US and Canada, there are already some professional design societies, but nothing that supports design researchers in academia. The participants of the workshop agreed that there might be a need for a design research society with a focus on constructive design research that intends to transform and improve artificial systems.

This new organization would have the purpose to serve the needs of academic design researchers in North America, and it could also help build a global community of scholarly researchers and practitioners who share an interest in design action as a force of intentional change. The workshop proposed an organization that can link academia, government, foundations, business, startups to help us to better develop and articulate design knowledge.

If you want to know more about this initiative or be part of it, then contact
Carlos Teixeira, PhD
Associate Professor in Design
IIT Institute of Design, USA

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.

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