Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Why a 'gap' in a field is not an argument for research

One quite common argument used in research papers is made by showing that there is a 'gap' in the field that no one or few have studied or researched. This argument is flawed in many ways. It is built on some assumptions that do not make sense. For instance, it is built on the assumption that the whole 'field' (whatever that means) need to be equally well researched. It also assumes that areas that have been researched do not require the same attention as other areas.

We know from the history of science that a field is never researched completely or finished. In the decades before Einstein, there was a growing sense in physics that the field was done, that the world of physics was more or less completely understood. So, if Einstein had followed the advice of only study gaps, his revolutionary theory would probably not have been developed. Instead, he studied the area of physics that was perhaps most developed, most complete, and the most popular. There was no gap for him to approach. His ideas revolutionized physics.

In my own field, HCI, the idea of studying gaps is extraordinarily strong. It seems as if the idea is that only by studying something less researched there is a chance to make a contribution to the field. This has led to a field that mainly develops its knowledge horizontally, that is, by adding new aspects or phenomena to the repertoire of study. We see much less of vertical knowledge production, that is,  in-depth studies of areas where we already have substantial knowledge.

There have been some attempts in the field to advocate for more vertically oriented knowledge production (such as Repli-CHI) but in general, the aspiration for the new and the novel in combination with the idea of the 'gap' is apparently too strong. For a dynamic field like HCI this is unfortunate and may not, in the long run, lead to a foundation of knowledge that is stable and sustainable and that can deliver increasingly deeper insights about the relation between humans and machines.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Interactive species: GOFIs, Things and Beings

At the end of our book "Things That Keep Us Busy--the elements of interaction" (Janlert and Stolterman, 2017, MIT Press) we spend some time speculating about the future of interaction. One of the ideas we present is to consider three forms of interactive 'species'. We claim that even if our ideas are speculations, they are not pure fantasy, actually, we argue that they are logical consequences of the examination of the nature of interaction that we engaged with throughout the book. So, here are a few pages that present some of these ideas (page 198-202).

"11.1 Things and Beings

Any attempt to imagine what may lie ahead easily becomes science fiction or pure fantasy. Not least when it comes to interactivity—a popular topic of futuristic portrayals in science fiction movies. It is exciting to imagine futuristic scenarios where the methods and patterns of interaction have completely changed due to some unknown technology. It is tempting to imagine future forms of interactivity that relieve us of all the complications and issues we have discussed throughout this book—without considering how realistic they may be. Even though we believe that science fiction can stimulate technological development and invention, and indeed has in many ways influenced our field, we will refrain from wishful futuristic thinking. Instead of imagining radically new forms of interactivity without connection to our present situation, we are rather trying to extend what we already have observed in existing and developing technology.

Let us also make it clear that we do not in any way foresee the demise of “traditional” interfaces and, let us call them, GOFIs, Good Old-Fashioned Interfaced artifacts and systems with dedicated interaction areas occupy- ing a limited part of their surface. GOFIs are likely to continue to be used even as faceless interaction and other nontraditional solutions become common. One reason is that a clearly located user interface generally has lower risk of accidental interaction and may simplify handling of the artifact as a physical object. By keeping the object’s “smart parts” separated from the “dumb parts,” users can have better control and confidence regarding when and which operations are actually performed. Another reason is that a clearly defined and visually recognizable interface enables users to quickly see similarities with other interfaces and draw on earlier experiences.
In the present situation we can discern the emergence of two novel species of interactive artifacts and systems, different from the ordinary GOFIs: one development toward “Things,” another toward “Beings” (we will spell them with capital initials to distinguish them from things and beings in general).

The Things line of development means abandoning the traditional dedicated, surface-bound user interface for artifacts that can be interacted with in a fashion similar to how traditional small- or medium-sized “dumb” interfaceless things, natural or artificial, are handled—that is, by being moved, squeezed, thrown, shaken, folded, twisted, rubbed, bent, and so forth, just like a chair, a pillow, or a piece of paper can be interacted with in many ways without any designated area for interaction. Some of these Things may be in more or less magical and mystical rapport with other Things. Lately, we have seen a lot of effort in HCI research (embodied inter- action, tangible interaction, ubiquitous computing, Internet of Things, and more) that can be viewed as work in this direction.

While the role model for Things is ordinary, nondigital things, the point is of course that Things have nonordinary and perhaps extraordinary properties and qualities. Given the present state of technological development, we can for instance reasonably expect to see objects entirely covered by some relatively cheap touch-sensitive display layer on top of some smart shape-changing material, equipped with various kinds of sensors and micromotors, enabling the object to change its shape and physical configuration, color, and pattern in a controlled manner under the impression of external forces and sensations—and still without adding a traditional interface. Furthermore, today wireless access to and delivery of local and remote information are already very much taken for granted. Yet, in the end we do not think there will remain a sharp dividing line between things and Things; as Things become common their once extraordinary and marvelous properties will come to seem more ordinary. What initially will set Things apart are above all their expressive and impressive abilities, particularly their dynamic, live impressions and expressions, and their ability to offer interactions that (to begin with) challenge everyday experience in unexpected and interesting ways (e.g., when you push, instead of yielding, the Thing might move in the opposite direction, contrary to the applied force). But these expressive-impressive abilities do not take the form of a developed symbolic language as we have been accustomed to in the interfaces of GOFIs, and as interactants their agency is weak—it still makes sense to think of them as “things.”

The introduction of Things into everyday life means that we will encounter new forms of interaction, and interactivity will appear in many places where none was expected before. Instead of turning on the room light with a fixed wall switch, in the future you might turn it on by tapping or stroking the wall anywhere in certain ways; you might unlock or lock the door by pressing your palm against it; you might adjust the height of the tabletop by nudging it with three fingers in the desired direction—and so on, and on. A chair might groan when you sit down if you are overweight, whine if you jump up and down on its seat, and lock its wheels (if it has wheels) if you step up on it. What used to be ordinary things may be equipped with interactive and expressive abilities that are related to their physical and tangible qualities, their materials, shapes, and forms. We will see Things that can change their appearance in ways that serve functional purposes as well as deliver expressions even at a quite nuanced and subtle level. We may encounter a chair that expresses sadness through some slightly drooping shape change, perhaps because it is in disrepair or because it commiserates with us. We may be able to interact with Things by expressing emotions through our manner of physically handling them, by our posture or intonation, for instance. There may be nothing very remarkable in any single example, but when Things are everywhere they will transform everyday life.

The other line of development we call Beings. In contrast to Things, Beings have stronger agency and may also have elaborate and sophisticated language-like methods of expressing themselves and be impressed by their users symbolically. Some may even have GOFI-like interaction areas (some robots come with an integrated screen for displaying texts and images, for example). While a Thing is basically dumb and has only a limited and fixed repertoire of behavioral patterns, a Being is smarter and can have a richly varied, adaptable behavior, capable of development. Simple Beings you might shoo at or pat; more advanced Beings you might strike up a conversation with. In any case, to interact with Beings should be more like getting along with your dog or cat than dealing with your furniture.1 But just as with Things and things, there may be no sharp line separating Beings from Things. Rather, we imagine an unbroken chain of entities at different “levels of existence,” stretching from things over Things to Beings (again reminiscent of the old idea of the great chain of being; see our earlier comment at the end of section 7.1). And why not as in earlier times indulge ourselves by chauvinistically putting humans on top of Beings, as a kind of superBeings (but let us stop there and go no further).

The dream of infusing intelligence into the things around us goes far back, but it has always led to mixed feelings. To be surrounded by “beings” that you can relate to in a supposedly more “natural” or “human” way, some see as desirable, others as a nightmare. This is also a favorite theme in many science fiction narratives. The omnipresent Being called Hal in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey evolves from being the perfect servant to a mortal enemy with dubious moral instincts. The prospect of future artificial “superintelligence” and the potential danger for humankind it poses, as analyzed and discussed by Nick Bostrom (2014), should certainly be taken seriously.

Even though we are not yet living in a world of superintelligent Beings, a number of perhaps minor but still significant steps have already been taken on the road to populate our environments with Beings. There are numerous examples of toys, social robots, and certain everyday objects like cars and homes that already behave like Beings. They respond to commands, they perform actions based on our desires, they engage in conversations, they can proactively suggest your next activity. They may still be somewhat experimental and not very broadly used, but a rapid spread of more advanced Beings in everyday life does not seem unrealistic.

Some Beings will be able to remember us, they will know who we are, understand our needs, understand what we are doing, and they may even persuade or force us to behave and do things we are not eager to do, like diet, study, or drive under the speed limit. They may become our partners, our allies, our superegos, or “parents.” In some cases, we will interact with them through traditional surfaces or gestures, but in many cases language will be the primary mode of interaction, in some cases developed into what could be called conversations. To what extent our average future Being will be an eloquent conversation partner is not clear. We can already converse (although primitively) with our car about where we want to go, how we want to be entertained, and with whom we want to communicate. This interaction may increase our perception of the car as having a character (as we examined earlier). Whether we will experience this Being, the car, as a servant or boss (or something else) is another issue. When and where conversational interaction will be of any use is still an unknown and will probably continue to be difficult to predict, partially because it is to a large extent a consequence of what is culturally and socially accepted behavior. We have seen how the use of mobile phones in public have evolved since its initial days, not because the interaction has changed but as a result of changing social norms.

Things and Beings have in common that interaction has ceased to be a matter of having detailed knowledge about precise operations and their effects (with or without a designated interface) and instead becomes a matter of understanding and interpreting primitive reactions, expressions, and behavior patterns (Things), or objectives, needs, intentions, and plans (Beings)—and of behaving in a corresponding fashion in relation to the artifacts and systems. Living with such Things and Beings, we are undoubtedly getting closer to the animism of Toontown—even though not necessarily to its frenzy."

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Practical (design) reasoning explained (Martha Nussbaum)

After quite many years I am re-reading an essay by Martha Nussbaum. The title is "The Discernment of Perception: An Aristotelian Conception of Private and Public Rationality" (to be found in the book "Love's Knowledge--essays on philosophy and literature" published in 1990). This essay helped me a lot when it was first published and it has influenced my thinking over the years in so many ways. It is therefore great to re-read it carefully now, many years later and realize that it is even better now.

Even though the title of this essay may scare some people with its complexity and reference to Aristotle, the essay is in my view one of the best texts ever written about practical reasoning and judgment. It is an essay that resonates perfectly with anyone who is reflecting on design practice and how designers reason, think and make judgments.

Nussman discusses why practical reasoning is not possible to understand with some simplistic (scientific)  form of logic. She builds her argumentation on the writings of Aristotle and his "attack on scientific conceptions of rationality". She summarizes her intention at the beginning of the essay by stating:

"I shall suggest that Aristotle's attack has three distinct claims, closely interwoven. These are: an attack on the claim that all valuable things are commensurable; an argument for the priority of  particular judgments to universals; and a defense of the emotions and the imagination as essential to rational choice."

Nussman then goes through these claims and explains how they lead to a definition of practical reasoning that is distinct, understandable and useful. This understanding of practical reasoning fits extraordinary well with the reality that designers face, when dealing with overwhelming but insufficient information, in their dealing with particulars and not universals, and having to rely on imagination and accept being influenced by emotions.

Just read it!!

------------------------------- Addition --------------------------

Ok, today I found my notebooks from earlier years and randomly pick one up, and randomly open up a page. At the top of the page I had written: "Good idea for an article, based on the notions of private versus public rationality by Martha Nussbaum."

Then a note (translated from Swedish): "No one has pushed this [rationality] far enough, not Churchman, not SSM [Soft Systems Mthodology]. Everyone is trying to start with how the world is, while Nussbaum starts with how people are. An article idea: How to manage systems design: the conflict between private and public rationality."

So why did I read Nussbaum yesterday and why did I happen to see that page today? Synchronicity...

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

"How to think" by Alan Jacobs

I just want to recommend Alan Jacobs new book "How to think --  a survival guide for a world at odds". It is a wonderful book that is easy to read about an extraordinarily important topic. What
resonates with my own thinking is the argument that thinking is work, it leads to trouble, it is slow, and it is far from comforting. Excellent thinking about thinking. Great examples. Useful advice. Read it.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Basic Anatomy of Interaction

What is interaction and how can we describe it? In our recent book "Things That Keep Us Busy--the elements of interaction" we take on this challenge and we develop, what we call, an anatomy of interaction.  We also develop a detailed account of when it is reasonable to say that interaction actually takes place. We do this by employing the notion of the "window of interaction" (more on that later).

Below I am briefly presenting some of the work on our anatomy of interaction (from Chapter 4 in the book, as a teaser :-)

The basic elements of the anatomy are artifact and user. Interaction takes places between a human and an artifact/system, as described in the figure below (4.3).

Some of the terms used in the figure need to be explained since they mean very specific things. First of all, an artifact has certain 'states':

internal states, or i-states for short, are the functionally important interior states of the artifact or system.
external states, or e-states for short, are the operationally or functionally relevant, user-observable states of the interface, the exterior of the artifact or system.

And then

world states, or w-states for short, are states in the world outside the artifact or system causally connected with its functioning.

To fully describe the anatomy of interaction some more terms are needed (as defined in the glossary in the book):

Action (with respect to an artifact or system): an action that a human interactant can do in its fullness, here defined to include also the intention with the action; only used for human interactants

Cue the user’s impression of a move of an artifact or system

Move (with respect to artifact or system) something the artifact or system can do, the counterpart of a human action; only applicable to nonhuman interactants

Operation (with respect to artifact or system) an artifact’s or system’s impression of an action by a human interactant; something the artifact or system is designed to take as input from a human interactant; only applicable to nonhuman interactants

So, how does it work. Here is an excerpt from the book, page 65.

"Let us first look at the artifact or system end of the interaction. States can change. They can change as a result of an operation triggered by a user action. For digital artifacts and systems i-states as well as e-states are usually affected by an operation. They can also change as a result of the functioning of the artifact or system itself, what we will call a move. For digital artifacts and systems the changes caused by a move will concern first of all i-states, but frequently also e-states, and sometimes w-states.

An operation can be seen as an artifact’s perception of a human action, a projection of an action. Operations can be seen as partially effective implementations of actions. A move can be seen as the artifact counterpart of a human action. To avoid confusion, we choose to call it “move” rather than “action.” Operations and moves are thus artifact centered: they change i-states always, e-states sometimes, and in some cases also w-states (see figure 4.3). .........

Turning now to the human end of the interaction, we have already pointed out that user actions appear to the artifact or system as operations. Similarly, the moves of an artifact or system appear as cues to the user. A cue is the user’s perception of an artifact move: it is what the user perceives or experiences of a move, the impression of a move. Actions and cues are user- centered concepts. Cues come via e-state changes or w-state changes. When using a word processor the cues mainly stem from the changing images and symbols on the display, but in the case of a robot vacuum cleaner, the important cues will come rather from watching its physical movements, hearing the sounds it makes, and seeing dust and dirt disappear from the floor (all a matter of moves that change w-states). .....

To summarize: User actions appear to the artifact as operations and are reciprocated by artifact moves that appear as cues to the user. Operations are projected actions. Cues are projected moves."

Well, that is a lot. If you find this interesting, read Chapter 4 in the book! Have fun.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Some great books on rationality

In my last post, I talked about my interest in the relationship between designing and rationality. Here are some of my major inspirational sources for this project.

New book project "Nature of design rationality"

I have since my early days of being a Ph.D. student been intrigued by the question of what it means to be rational and to act rationally. This interest manifested itself in my Ph.D. dissertation that translated to English had the title "The Hidden Rationality of Design Work".

Reading about rationality has since then been a lifelong side project, almost like a hobby. I have not done so much writing on the topic but I have read. Recently I have started a book project around designing and rationality (maybe with a title similar to my dissertation, however with different content).

The main idea of this project is that the designing, as a major human approach for change, still struggles with a "hidden rationality". Even though today the praise of designing is stronger than ever before, it is far from clear what is the distinguishing features of the approach compared to other approaches. What is the rationality underlying designing that makes it into a unique approach and makes it possible to achieve outcomes that seems difficult when using other approaches?

There are a lot of superficial ideas about designing presented today as a design approach. In many cases, designing is not seen as anything more than some steps or phases and the use of some simple techniques. It is obvious that we would not define science in the same sense. So what if we treated designing as an approach that has to be understood and explained at the same depth as we do with science. This is what I think is needed and where my interest in rationality can help, I hope. I understand that this is ambitious and maybe overwhelmingly difficult but it is very exciting and maybe I will be able to develop the book project to at least relate to some of these big issues.

[For a long time I have been inspired by the book "The Nature of Rationality" by Robert Nozick. It is a wonderful book that develops a fundamental understanding of rationality and also opens up for a form of rationality that seems to resonate with design.]

Monday, October 30, 2017

Book note: The Grace of Great Things - Creativity and Innovation by Robert Grudin

Looking through your bookshelves is exciting. I have recently experimented with looking at my books and almost randomly picked one to read in. Today I picked Robert Grudin's book "The Grace of Great Things - Creativity and innovation" from 1990.

I remember when I read the book the first time, probably in the mid-90s, I was intrigued and excited to read about creativity in a way that made much more sense to me than most other books on the topic. The typical books on creativity use examples of famous creative people and innovations. They tell stories and, in the best case, try to abstract some useful aspects that regular people could potentially use. In most cases, I find those book uninteresting and not very useful (even though they usually have good stories). Grudin's book is different. It is actually more philosophical but at the same time much more practical and useful.

Grudin sees creativity as something that we, if we do the right things, "deserve". This may sound strange but it makes sense. Creativity cannot be controlled. It can not be "purposed or designed" as Grudin writes. Instead, he writes "But even if we cannot specify or command inspiration, we can, I think, practice deserving it." (p 11). And the 'deserving' is not a talent or inborn virtue, it is something that can be cultivated and made into habits.

Anyone, who really want to understand creativity and innovation should read this book. It was great to find it again on my bookshelf and to be reminded of its ideas.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The things that keep us busy (first two pages)

Here is the first couple of pages from our book "Things that keep us busy - the elements of interaction" by Janlert and Stolterman.

1. The things that keep us busy

Despite strong misgivings, private eye Eddie Valiant eventually ventures into the city of Toontown (in Who framed Roger Rabbit, 1988). It is a truly nerve-racking experience: everything is throbbing with life, nervously responsive to his every move, incessantly calling for his attention—not just the usual toon animals, but plants, cars, buildings, everyday things like the elevator button—even the bullets in his toon revolver are alive.  Everything is on speed as it were, Tourettic, incessantly making faces, quipping, jesting, collectively whipping up the environment into a bedlam of interactions. Toontown, the viewer soon realizes, is a madhouse where you would not maintain your sanity for long.

Is this our future?

Even though there are early examples of amazing constructions and machines with interactive abilities, everyday interaction with technical devices is to common people a fairly recent phenomenon brought about by the modern revolution in information technology. An avalanche of interactive devices, artifacts and systems has followed in its path. With this change come new questions and challenges.

It is hard to deny that our artifacts and environments are becoming more and more complex, more and more “alive,” and as a consequence more and more demanding. We have to interact more. Interactivity seems to be everywhere. Why is this happening? There are of course many answers to this question, among them some short and simple. Because it can be done: One obvious cause is the extraordinary and powerful development of digital technology that makes it possible to complexify and infuse everything in our environment with computational and interactive capabilities. Because we want it: It brings on many benefits that we would not want to be without. Interactivity changes our everyday environments in ways that previous generations would have seen as science fiction or magic. We are today able to interact in advanced ways with a range of diverse artifacts and systems, from the smallest device to our homes and with our environments. Interactivity promises that we can be in control of our lives and that we can shape it in any way we desire.

These days, everybody seems to be talking confidently and comfortably about interaction—you interact with web services, with apps, appliances, vehicles, and any form of technical equipment, but also with people, and even entire environments. To be interactive is generally considered good—a positive feature or property associated with being modern, efficient, fast, flexible, reasonable, dynamic, adaptable, controllable—perhaps even smart, curious, caring, involved, engaged, informed, and democratic. Still, there seems to be no very precise idea of what interaction is and what being interactive means, beyond a vague notion that it is some kind of interplay, usually optimistically understood as good-natured cooperation. This vagueness would not be very surprising if it were just the idea of the general public, but even among researchers and experts in Human–Computer Interaction (HCI)—a field of research and development with “interaction” in its very heading—a deep, crisp, shared understanding is wanting. We will in this chapter stay close to the inclusive everyday understanding of ‘interaction.’ In the following chapters we will approach a narrower and more precise definition of ‘interaction’ focused on interaction with digital artifacts and systems, while still keeping in touch with and drawing inspiration from the broader and vaguer everyday sense.

The closely related notion of interface, which has a more technical flavor in everyday parlance has similar problems of depth, preciseness and shared understanding. Yet, it has over the years attracted more attention than interaction from researchers and developers. From a design point of view this is understandable. Interaction, whatever exactly it is thought to be, is something fluid, a dynamic relation played out in time, in use time, not design time—whereas the interface appears as a stable property of the artifact or system, which is there also when no user interaction is going on, hence directly accessible to the designer at design time.

For these reasons, the interface appears more designable than the interaction. Even if a designer is really focusing on designing the interaction, it is hard to see how this design can be effectively implemented except indirectly via the design of the interface. To some extent, it is of course possible to influence the user through education, training, or seeding behavioral patterns, for example, but this path to shaping interactions is not as direct nor usually as potent as the concrete design of an interface and we will not investigate it further in this book. Our examination of interactivity will rather take as its point of departure the interface itself and how the way we think about it has radically changed over time, from being a physical surface with knobs and dials, to clickable symbols, to gestures, and finally to its disappearance.

Today we can interact with some artifacts and environments without there being any visible surface presenting controls or displays of any kind. It is obvious that even if there is no interface, we still interact. We open doors just by walking towards them, we turn on the light by clapping our hands, we get the weather forecast spoken to us by just asking for it, the red light turns green triggered by our car, etc. Of course, as soon as we move towards interaction without any visible surface the questions of what an interface is and what interaction is become more complex.

This development combined with an ability and desire for interactivity fosters a common feeling that the level of interactivity will just keep rising, inexorably. We feel that there is more interactivity, more interaction between humans and things going on, than ever before in history, and it just keeps increasing. There seems to be no retreat or escape from interactivity. Some well-informed critics worry that the proliferation of interactions and interactive things has already gone too far. Their concerns raise many questions. Does interactivity in fact increase? How can we know? What does it really mean to claim that it does? And if indeed it is increasing, what does it mean? Should something be done?

To be able to answer any of these questions requires a more careful and penetrating examination of the concepts of “interactivity” and “interaction” than has been common in research on human-computer interaction. We believe that the answer to questions about rising interactivity and how it affects us humans is not just a matter of belief and conviction about the overall nature of technology and its influence, or how we experience it on a personal and social level. We think it requires a careful investigation into the aspects of artifacts and systems that causes interactivity with a purpose to develop some common understanding that in turn can inform our opinions and positions. This is also the purpose and ambition of this book.

But before we enter into such examinations, let’s first take a closer look at some of the concerns that recently have been recognized in relation to the proliferation of interactivity, concerns that taken together paints a picture with a lot of unknowns. Unknowns that have inspired our examinations.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

When design philosophy becomes reality

One of the things I "preach" in my class on Design Theory is that everyone who designs act based on some kind of design philosophy. It may be explicit or implicit, but it is there. A design philosophy influences how you think about design, its role, its purpose, how to do it, etc. I push my students to do four things.

First, to examine and reveal their own (existing) design philosophy, to make it as explicit as possible, in an honest way (usually they do not think they have one).

Secondly, to critically examine their own design philosophy, what it means, its consequences for practices, its strengths, and weaknesses, etc.

And then thirdly, to reflect on if their existing philosophy is what they want. What are they missing, what do they want to emphasize, and what do they see as their future strength as a designer.

And finally, to reflect on how they can change and develop their design philosophy in a desired direction.

I think this article about how Logitch has changed their design philosophy is a great example of the importance of knowing your design philosophy. This is how design philosophy becomes reality.

The Meaning of Interactivity—Some Proposals for Definitions and Measures

Is it possible to define interaction and interactivity? And is it possible to measure it in some way? My colleague Lars-Erik Janlert and I have developed some concepts and definitions that we believe can help us answer these questions. In our article (that you can download here)

Lars-Erik Janlert & Erik Stolterman (2017) The Meaning of Interactivity—Some Proposals for Definitions and Measures, Human–Computer Interaction, 32:3, 103-138, DOI: 10.1080/07370024.2016.1226139

we present our work. [Even though this article is recently published, some of the materials in the article has been reworked and further developed in our new book. "Things that keep us busy -- the elements of interaction" (MIT Press, 2017). ]

What I like about this work is that we take the question "what is interaction" seriously and in detail try to define it, or at least frame it, in a way that makes sense and also makes it usable. I know that the way we do it seems strange to some (we have already heard that), but even in those cases, it seems as if our attempt opens up for new questions and invites to a conversation. And this is really what I think our field needs, we need some serious efforts and attempts to carefully frame and define what interaction is since it is our core object of study.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Book note: "Making Design Theory" by Johan Redström

It is great to see books being published by people you respect as scholars and thinkers. I am especially happy to see my colleague and friend John Redström's new book "Making Design Theory". Johan is one of the most thoughtful scholars in the world today when it comes to how to understand the relationship between design practice, design research, and knowledge production. Johan is one of the few who can, in a scholarly and successful way, grapple with fundamental questions around design as an approach of making things and of making theory.

One of the most important features of this book is that it presents a foundation of concepts and definitions that are philosophically sound and practically useful.  I am convinced that his thoughts around design research: what it is, how to think about it, but also how to actually do it, will soon be regarded as a fundamental corner stone in the field of design research and research about design.

This is a book I strongly encourage every PhD student who is involved in any form of design research to carefully read. It will provide them with an understanding that is solidly grounded and practically useful. It will help them to defend the way they do (design) research and it will lead to new kinds of theory development that will seriously improve the field.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Things That Keep Us Busy -- elements of interaction

Ok, now it is only a week or so until our new book is available (at least according to Amazon). Here is the title and short overview of the book.

Things That Keep Us Busy
The Elements of Interaction

By Lars-Erik Janlert and Erik Stolterman


We are surrounded by interactive devices, artifacts, and systems. The general assumption is that interactivity is good—that it is a positive feature associated with being modern, efficient, fast, flexible, and in control. Yet there is no very precise idea of what interaction is and what interactivity means. In this book, Lars-Erik Janlert and Erik Stolterman investigate the elements of interaction and how they can be defined and measured. They focus on interaction with digital artifacts and systems but draw inspiration from the broader, everyday sense of the word.

Viewing the topic from a design perspective, Janlert and Stolterman take as their starting point the for manipulation by designers, considering such topics as complexity, clutter, control, and the emergence of an expressive-impressive style of interaction. They argue that only when we understand the basic concepts and terms of interactivity and interaction will we be able to discuss seriously its possible futures.
interface, which is designed to implement the interaction. They explore how the interface has changed over time, from a surface with knobs and dials to clickable symbols to gestures to the absence of anything visible. Janlert and Stolterman examine properties and qualities of designed artifacts and systems, primarily those that are open

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

The limits of critique

My colleague and friend Harold Nelson sent me a link to a very interesting article. It is a review of Rita Felski's new book "The limits of critique". I have not read the book but just by reading the article I get a good sense of the major argument Feltski makes. And it really resonates with my own experience and thinking, of course, not so much when it comes to literature critique, but critique in general. Interesting!

Friday, July 14, 2017

How designers can know about the future

I have written on my blog earlier about one of my favorite books, Donald Schon's "Beyond the stable state". Unfortunately this is a book that is almost forgotten. Probably because people see it as 'old'. It was first published in 1971.

The core idea of the book is that there is no 'stable state' in the world and never will be. Change is the normal, stability is abnormal. Schon makes the case that any form of knowledge that can support designers, therefore, need to be based on the notion of 'no stable state'. I will here only point to the most wonderful pages in the book where Schon presents his notion of 'projective models'. This is a concept that captures what designers do and in his language an 'existentialism' approach instead of a 'systems analysis' approach. He develops this briefly in a subchapter called "Other ways of knowing". He does this on only 10 pages, p 227-237.

It is possible to read the argument in this book as a challenge to more scientific approaches that are built on the idea that knowing about potential future solutions (designing) can best be done by engaging with and extrapolating what we know is stable in the world. Schon's proposal presents an approach that takes the full richness and complexity of everyday reality into consideration. It leads to a realization that 'knowing' as a designer cannot be disconnected with who you are and your experiences and your ability to capture the ultimate particular conditions of each design situation.

I can't write more just know, but I am working on this idea of 'projective models' from Schon and hopefully, it will become a chapter in a book I am slowly working on.

(By the way, if you know someone who has written about this concept, please let me know.)

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

HCI research contributions to the world of knowledge

Here is a fun exercise:

make a list of the knowledge contributions that HCI research has produced over the years.

First some definitions:
Assume that HCI research is about the interaction between humans and interactive computational objects.

The human part is quite straightforward. It refers to any human being, groups, organizations or societies of human beings.

The "computer" part is less clear, but to me, it makes sense to see that as interactive computational objects. Both interactive and computational seem to be part of a general understanding in our field. There are many objects that are not computational but interactive, or the other way around, but we mainly focus on those type of objects that are both. The notion of object is of course complicated. Traditionally it refers to physical machines, but it has changed and can now be any composition and manifestation of functionality that anyone sees as the part a human is interacting with. Ok, these definitions are not enough, but a simple starting point for the exercise.

So, if this is what HCI research is studying with the purpose to understand, explain, reveal, challenge, and improve etc. then what are the major contributions that the field has produced over the years? What do we know about this interaction between humans and interactive computational objects?

Of course, there is a huge pile of knowledge that our field has produced about details when it comes to interfaces, interaction, design and development, technological aspects, etc. But, what if we try to formulate contributions at a very high level of abstraction.

For instance, if the field of HCI is stating that interaction with computational interactive objects is different than interacting with non-computational interactive objects? If so, would that be a major contribution?

It would be exciting to see the field try to formulate some major knowledge contributions that would complement the world of knowledge. Of course, it does not mean that the field would agree on these contributions but at least they would be seen as some kind of substantial knowledge that other fields and the world would benefit from knowing.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Jerker Lundequist "Norm och modell"

[This post will be in Swedish]

Jag sökte en bok idag. I en av mina hyllor hittade jag istället Jerker Lundequists doktorsavhandling från 1982. Titeln är "Norm och modell - samt ytterligare några begrepp inom designteorin". Jag vet inte hur många som har läst Jerkers avhandling, men den var enormt viktig för mig. Jag hade precis startat min doktorandutbildning och sökte förtvilat efter texter kring designteori och kanske ännu mer efter exempel på hur designforskning skulle kunna utföras. Jerkers text och ansats passade mig perfekt. Han arbetar med en filosofisk metod, analytiskt, begreppsanalys, definitioner, etc. något som jag hade troligen sökt men inte tidigare sett.

Jag blev så betagen av Jerkers ideer att jag reste till Stockholm för att träffa honom. Jag var nervös och visste inte riktigt vad jag skulle säga när vi träffades. Men det blev ett bra möte. Han var pratsam och vi diskuterade designteori i ett par timmar på arkitekthögskolan där han jobbade. Jag träffade honom ett flertal gånger senare under årens lopp.

Nu när jag bläddrar i hans avhandling kommer en massa minnen tillbaks och en massa ideer. Det är så tydligt nu hur påverkad jag blev av hans arbete och hur mycket det formade mitt eget tänkande, och fortfarande gör.

Nu när jag läser lite här och där i hans avhnadling blir det tydligt för mig att hans text, ideer och tankar är relevanta än idag. Fler borde läsa honom!

Friday, June 02, 2017

Why designing is not irrational

Any approach that is aimed at changing our reality is an expression of a specific understanding of what it means to be rational, to think and act in a rational way. Most people strive to be rational in some sense, but it is obvious that what it means to be rational varies.

When I look back on my own research over the years, the notion of rationality has always been at the core of my studies. Actually, my Ph.D. dissertation had the title "The Hidden Rationality of Design Work". The core idea of the dissertation was that as long as we can't reveal the hidden rationality of designing, it will stay difficult to describe and understand, and even more important...teach. The study of designing has since then made huge progress in revealing the 'hidden rationality' of design (see Schon, Cross, Krippendorff, etc).

One of the major problems with the notion of rationality is, to me, that people confuse what being rational means with one specific interpretation. This narrow understanding of being rational is highly influenced by what is seen as the highest form of rationality--the scientific process. But most people do recognize that depending on what we are trying to achieve, we need to embrace different forms of reasoning. It is crucial to understand that we have to embrace the notion that rationality comes in many flavors, each bringing certain strengths and weaknesses. If this is not understood, it becomes a problem.

For instance, some people argue that design thinking means not being rational. Some even argue that designers are, or even have to be, irrational in their thinking and doing. This is however only true if we understand 'being rational' in a very narrow sense. 

To argue that designing is irrational is, therefore, a mistake. Designers are rational and have a well-developed rationality (if they are good at what they do). Designing requires both logic and rationality, but it is a logic and rationality that is aimed at exploring and developing new ideas that can lead to not-yet-existing designs. This means that what is rational as a designer is not the same as what is applied by someone involved in trying to explain how reality works or create an understanding of some particular aspect of our reality. Design thinking is aimed at changing reality into something that we do not know what it is,  into something that is only an imagination. Such a process requires certain forms of thinking and acting, it requires a certain form of rationality. The 'hidden' rationality of designing. 

Ok, this is already too long, but as a takeaway idea, I would propose that anyone involved in the study of designing or has ambitions to improve designing spend a bit more time trying to understand the notion of rationality. It is a theoretical tool that is extremely important in any exploration of human approaches of inquiry and action.

Stuff to read:
Robert Nozick "The nature of rationality" 
John Dewey "How we think"
Horst Rittel "The reasoning of designers"

and if you want something really good
Joseph Dunne "Back to the rough ground"

and here is an article to download that I wrote a few years back about this topic

Stolterman, E. (2008). The nature of design practice and implications for interaction design research. in  International Journal of Design, 2(1).

Friday, May 26, 2017

Book note: "Homo Deus" by Yuval Noah Harari

I am apparently one of the few that has not read Yuval Noah Harari's first book "Sapiens". I did not even realize this until I got his new book "Homo Deus: a brief history of tomorrow". Now after I have read "Homo Deus" I understand why the first book got so much attention and praise. It is not often you find a book that takes on the biggest possible perspective of humanity, its history and future, and manages to do it without completely making a mess of it.

After I read the book, I read several reviews of it, most of them were quite bad. They do not really seem to get the basic ideas in the book and therefore end up with arguments and critique that clearly David Runciman in the Guardian. Runciman presents the book in a way that, in my view, represents the ideas quite well. I will therefore not here write much about the book, instead, just read his review.

A couple of my own thoughts about the book. Harari introduces the notion of "Dataism" at the end of the book. I found the chapter "The Data Religion" to be fascinating. The way he describes dataism, what it means and what it leads to, opens up many questions and challenges especially related to my own field. Of course, Harari is extraordinary bold, uses the biggest possible brush to paint his picture, which means that as a reader you easily react on details that you may find incorrect or problematic. That is unfortunate since it means you might miss the bigger picture. To get something from a book like this, you have to engage with it at the level of the big ideas it tries to explore. Anyway, the notion that dataism is the next religion and that it can make humanism extinct is quite an ambitious and maybe to many a scary idea. Harari states that if this is correct then humans are not 'needed' anymore.

One strength of the book is, of course, the way it is written. It is easy and fun to read. Great examples and clear arguments. The text is full of conclusions and statements that most would not even dare to express. I truly enjoyed reading the book and I agree with Daniel Kahneman who write on the back of the book "Homo Deus will shock you. It will entertain you. Above all, it will make you think in ways you had not thought before".

Monday, May 22, 2017

Brief book note: The Science of Managing Our Digital Stuff by Bergman & Whittaker

I guess all of us are every day reflecting on how to organize our 'digital stuff', that is, our digital documents, pictures, videos, presentations, etc. Even though we know this, we are often overwhelmed by the speed of the growth of our digital stuff and even more about how to handle it. If you read blogs and magazines there are millions of pages with advice on how to organize, de-clutter, save, purge, etc. However, most of this advice are based on some individuals personal experience and experimentation and not on any broad (empirically based) understanding of what works for most people. That means that all of us can be inspired by the advice we read and then try it on our own, but sometimes we might want to know more about what 'really' works.

In the new book by Ofer Bergman and Steve Whittaker we are presented with what they argue is "The
science of managing our digital stuff".

The book is based on many years of research in the field. The book covers aspects of managing stuff that most of us are familiar with but do not really know much about if it works or not. The book is however not a handbook. The authors are quite clear about that. They write "We believe that research should be very careful in recommending 'good practice'. First, it is difficult to measure whether a practice is good or not. More importantly, ....., individual preferences are prevalent in PIM [personal information management], so that even if a practice is good for some people, research still needs to provide evidence that it will be good for others who implement the same practice. For this reason, we refrain from giving practical advice in this book." (p 235) (I really appreciate this position and I wish we would see it more often.)

Even if this book will not help you to solve your everyday problems of organizing your digital stuff it will help you better understand what the problem is and why it is so difficult. And for those who study any form of organization of data at the intersection between people and machines, this is a great book.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Brief book note: The Death of Expertise by Tom Nichols

In these days of 'alternative facts' and a growing rejection of science and truth, it is both depressing and refreshing to read a new book by Tom Nichols "The Death of Expertise--the campaign against established knowledge and why it matters".

Nichols has a wonderful way of describing what is going on today with a dismissal of knowledge and expertise. The book is full of extraordinary examples that he examines closely in an intelligent and clear way.

Nichols asks if this is a new problem and his answer is yes. He comments on what is different from earlier times when he writes:

"The death of expertise, however, is a different problem that the historical fact of low levels of information among laypeople. The issue is not indifference to established knowledge; it's the emergence of a positive hostility to such knowledge. This is new in American culture, and it represents the aggressive replacement of expert views or established knowledge with the insistence that every opinion on any matter is as good as every other. ... This change is not only unprecedented but dangerous." (p 20).

This is a depressing picture and as Nichols argues it is not only unfortunate, it is actually "dangerous" and as such something that needs to be dealt with.

Even though Nichols does not provide any simple solutions and ways forward, he is a strong advocate for reason and rationality. And he discusses to some extent what it would take to strengthen the role of reason in our society.

What I particularly like about the book is that Nichols is not looking at the problem from an elevated and superior position, he is not just complaining and blaming others, instead, he approaches the issues with a lot of self-reflection and also criticism of those who are supposed to 'know'--the experts. Overall, a timely and great book.

Monday, May 15, 2017

"..matters which no lips of man could teach"

One of the most frequent questions and comments I hear in relation to the notion of 'Design Thinking' is actually not about design, instead it is about the word 'thinking'. "If design thinking is such an efficient approach to change why is it only about thinking?" This is a very good question and in many cases a question that leads to highly uncomfortable answers.

In our book, The Design Way, we argue that designing is about the hand and the mind, about thought and action. We do this by introducing the old greek notion of sophia as a form of knowledge that combines the hand and the mind. Or as we call it "the knowing hand".

This idea that as an excellent designer of any kind you need both your mind (theory) and your hand (practical skills) is not new. For instance, in one of the first books on design, Vitruvius wrote: "Pytheos made a mistake by not observing that the arts are each composed of two things, the actual work and the theory of it." (Vitruvius, P 11). In the following pages Vitruvius makes a strong case that any architect [or designer] needs to be trained and skilled in both theory and practice.

Christoffer Frayling makes a similar comment in his book "On craftmanship". In one of the chapters, he elaborates on the need for students to have practical hands-on experiences complementing their education. He refers to John Ruskin who wrote: "Let a man once learn to take a straight shaving off a plank, or draw a fine curve without faltering, or lay a brick  level in its mortar, and he has learned a multitude of other matters that no lips of man could teach him." (Frayling, p 84)

Of course, Donald Schön made the same argument over and over in his writings (heavily inspired by the ideas of John Dewey). One of my favorite texts on this topic is to be found in Dewey's book "How we think". In the chapter on Judgment, Dewey makes an extraordinary case for how to develop once judgment ability. One core argument is the need for repeating encounters with situations of different kinds, that is, the particulars of each practical situation teaches us more than any theory without action can.

Unfortunately, we live in a society where the 'split of sophia' is still alive, where the hand (practical knowledge) is separated from the mind (theoretical knowledge). The proponents for each of these tend to look down on the other. It is as common to see statements that denigrate any form of theoretical or philosophical knowledge as to see statements that look down on practical knowledge and skills.

When it comes to designing, this type of division is completely out of place. Designers need to have a deep understanding of the theory, principles and philosophy that guides their own work and how it relates to more universal ideas and philosophies, while at the same time have sophisticated training in the concrete skills, materials, techniques, and procedures needed in their field. And of course, neither of these two is enough in itself, it is only when they are combined into a whole, when 'sophia' is reconstituted that they create the knowledge foundation that can lead to excellent designs.

This means that 'design thinking' is not only about thinking. It is about doing design. And doing includes both the hand and mind. I mentioned above that this is a conclusion that is in many cases highly uncomfortable since it means that those who are drawn to the thinking aspects of design has to accept that no design is a result of pure thinking. At the same time, those who love to do design, has to accept that excellent design is a result of their actions being inspired and informed by thinking. So, go think and do.


Dewey, John. (1991, originally 1910). How We Think. Prometheus Books.

Frayling, Christoffer. (2012. On Craftmanship--towards a new Bauhaus. Oberon Masters.

Nelson, H. & Stolterman, E. (2012). The Design Way – Intentional Change in an Unpredictable World. 2nd Edition. MIT Press.

Vitruvius. “Ten Books on Architecture" Chapter 1. ( the whole book is here http://www.gutenberg.org/files/20239/20239-h/29239-h.htm)

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Knowledge Claims Made in Design Research

I am happy to report that an article by my PhD student Jordan Beck and me has just been published in a new issue of She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation (Volume 2, Issue 3, Pages 179-270, Autumn 2016).  [If you can't download the article, email me]

The title of the article is:

Examining the Types of Knowledge Claims Made in Design Research

The article discusses what distinguish research in design areas when compared to other research areas. We do this by focusing on what type of knowledge claims researchers make in their publications. We found some fairly clear differences between research areas and also some distinct patterns when it comes to research in design.

Here is the abstract of the article:

While much has been written about designerly knowledge and
designerly ways of knowing in the professions, less has been written about
the production and presentation of knowledge in the design discipline.
In the present paper, we examine the possibility that knowledge claims
might be an effective way to distinguish the design discipline from other
disciplines. We compare the kinds of knowledge claims made in journal
publications from the natural sciences, social sciences, and design. And
we find that natural and social science publications tend to make singular
knowledge claims of similar kinds whereas design publications often contain
multiple knowledge claims of different kinds. We raise possible explanations
for this pattern and its implications for design research."

And here is the last section "Conclusion" from the article:

Multiple knowledge claims of different kinds within individual journal publications
might be the consequence of a young, multidisciplinary field. Another explanation
might be that scholars publishing in Design Studies tend to embrace the values of
design and science, which may account for those publications making claims of
fact and claims of policy. Finally, a third explanation might be that scholars publishing
in Design Studies are writing for multiple audiences with diverse needs. For
example, if a scholar is attempting to write for professional designers, it becomes
relevant and useful to make claims illustrating the utility or applicability of findings
in practice.

Our purpose in writing this article is not to make generalizable claims about
design research or the design field. Nor are we attempting to characterize all publications
in Design Studies, Nature, or the American Sociological Review. We do believe that
our comparison of publications in these three journals can serve as grounds for further
inquiry. It would be possible, for instance, to analyze a more comprehensive
sample of Design Studies publications to determine whether the pattern we describe
in this paper is generalizable. It would also be interesting and worthwhile to compare
our results with an analysis of other design journals to see if and how knowledge
claiming in other design journals manifests different patterns. Moreover, in
this paper we only discuss the kinds of knowledge claims made in design research
as opposed to the legitimacy of the claims in the field or the reasons for publishing
these kinds of claims.

We believe that understanding knowledge-claiming practices is an important
part of intellectual culture building. And it might be a fruitful area for design
research to distinguish itself from other intellectual cultures, since many of the
scholars and researchers working in the discipline apply research methods that
are not unique to design—like anthropology and ethnography—and they work on
topics that could be studied by other fields. Design could be considered a social
activity and, thus, studied by sociologists and psychologists on their terms and
within their culture. The knowledge claims contained in publications, therefore,
could be seen as an interesting and important distinguishing feature of the design
discipline whereas its objects and methods of study might be less distinguishable
from others.

We should continue to engage in the kinds of self-reflective questions that
brought the discipline to where it is now. But we should also begin to think more
intentionally about the kinds of knowledge we are producing and what the consequences
of its production might be."

Friday, May 05, 2017

Book Note: Byung-Chul Han "In The Swarm"

I am reading my second book by Byung-Chul Han. The title is "In The Swarm: digital prospects". Han is a professor of philosophy and cultural studies in Berlin. His books are very short, this one is about 80 short pages. I mention that since it means that you can more see his books as long articles.

So, I will only here comment on the notion of the 'digital swarm' that is the core idea of the book.
Contrary to many other theories of what the digital revolution has led to, Han argues that it does not lead to increased broad political and community involvement. The reason for this is that what we see as a consequence of digital media is not a establishing of a 'mass' or 'crowd' or any other social construction that has a 'soul' or a 'spirit'. Instead, the digital swarm consists of 'isolated individuals', there is no 'we'. There is no "internal coherence. It does not speak with a voice" (p 10).

This 'swarm' has, according to Han, characteristics that do not correspond to the popular image of what social media leads to or can do. One is that it leads to a "gathering without assembly--a crowd without interiority". Sometimes these individuals come together in gatherings, for instance in "smart mobs". Han continues, these individuals "collective patterns of movement are like swarms that animals form, fleeting and unstable. Their hallmark is volatility." (p 12). 

To me, this type of language makes sense in relation to phenomena we experience on social media. Large swarms of people 'liking' and supporting a protest during a fleeting moment in time, just to move on, to the next 'issue' or 'cause', without creating or constituting a sustainable structure or foundation that can engage with real issues, in real time.

Of course, we all know examples where social media truly makes a difference and have influence our society. however, Han's reflections are, in my view highly interesting and raise a lot of questions. I am eager to read more in this book, even though it has already been valuable enough to me.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

"Things That Keep Us Busy - The Elements of Interaction" proofs are sent

Ok, yesterday Lars-Erik Janlert and I sent our final edits to the proofs of our forthcoming book "Things That Keep Us Busy - The Elements of Interaction". If everything goes well the book will be out in August/September. The 'book' is already available on Amazon. And you can preorder it!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Concept-driven interaction design research

Today I carefully read an article that I wrote with Mikael Wiberg and published in 2010 in the HCI journal. The article is titled "Concept-driven interaction design research". It is not always fun to read something you have written a while back, but in this case I was pleasantly surprised. I really liked it!

One reason why I liked it is that since we published the article the field of HCI research has developed and it seems as if the article and its contributions are better suited for today than when it was published.

I also really like the basic idea in the article, that is, that it is possible to use a concept-driven design approach with the purpose of theoretical advancements.   (I think you can download the paper here)

Here is the abstract of the paper:

"In this article, we explore a concept-driven approach to interaction design research with a specific focus on theoretical advancements. We introduce this approach as a complementary approach to more traditional, and well-known, user-centered interaction design approaches. A concept-driven approach aims at manifesting theoretical concepts in concrete designs. A good concept design is both conceptually and historically grounded, bearing signs of the intended theoretical considerations. In the area of human–computer interaction and interaction design research, this approach has been quite popular but not necessarily explicitly recognized and developed as a proper research methodology. In this article, we demonstrate how a concept-driven approach can coexist, and be integrated with, common user-centered approaches to interaction design through the development of a model that makes explicit the existing cycle of prototyping, theory development, and user studies. We also present a set of basic principles that could constitute a foundation for concept driven interaction research, and we have considered and described the methodological implications given these principles. For the field of interaction design research we find this as an important point of departure for taking the next step toward the construction and verification of theoretical constructs that can help inform and guide future design research projects on novel interaction technologies."

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A forgotten but crucial aspect of designing

One of the most exciting reactions I get when I talk to professional designers about the design process is when I mention what I call the practicalities of designing. With this notion I try to capture all those seemingly 'trivial' aspects of designing that are so easy to forget when we talk about design thinking. The practicalities of designing can briefly be listed as:

Time (not having enough)
Resources (not having enough)
Information (not having enough)
Knowledge (not having enough)
Competence (not having enough)

Every design process and designer lives with these practicalities. The first two are the most concrete and also the ones that are most often forgotten and neglected. Designing is about projects. A project has some kind of a starting point and some kind of an end point. The process is to a large extent defined in time and by resources. In most cases, time and resources are decided without any deep understanding of the particulars and specifics of the design process in question. It is done during the 'contracting' process (another aspect of designing which is not given enough attention unfortunately).

The three practicalities under the line are maybe less concrete but are equally practical.  When it comes to information, for instance, there are situations during every design process when the designer experiences that there is both too much information and not enough information. And even though every step in the process creates more (useful) information it also leads to a need for even more. Designers struggle constantly with overwhelming (too much) but insufficient (not enough) information.

My point here is that these practicalities (and there are of course others) are not glamorous or exciting, especially not time and resources, but they are crucial and they define designing. To understand designing requires a deep understanding of these practicalities.

My experience is that if you want to talk to designers and be taken seriously you have to show that you understand and respect the practicalities of designing. You have to know what it means to engage in a design process without enough time and resources, with too much and but insufficient information, without enough knowledge and competence, etc. You need to be able to talk about these practicalities in a language that make sense to professionals and make them recognize that you respect all aspects of their practice.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Why designing is all about you and not the method or tool

Working with students and professionals over the years have helped me understand what aspects of the design process that makes designers stressed and insecure. One factor is the role of methods and tools in designing. Common questions I get are "what are the best methods and tools to use in designing?" and "can you do human centered design while being 'agile'?" or "can 'personas' be used when working with highly specialized products?", etc.

The basic assumption underlying all these and similar questions is that a method and tool to some extent can function as a 'guarantor', that is, that the use of the method or tool can promise successful outcomes. It is possible to see this assumption as a hope for increased 'predictability' in the design process. Predictability in this case means a hope that if we use 'method A' then we can with higher certainty predict that the outcome of the process will score higher on some measure of success scale.

This type of reasoning is not strange. Who would not like to see our design attempts to have a higher level of predictability, so we could be more sure of the outcome? The problem with this reasoning is however that it places too much importance on the role of methods and tools and reduces the importance of the designer's judgment. And such reasoning has some drastic consequences. For instance, it means that if we are able to produce better methods with higher level of 'guarantee' the role of the designer goes down, ultimately even disappears.

In a simple schema that we present in our book "The Design way", we show this in simple way. The circles represent the designer(s).

The left side of the figure shows the logic that I described above, that is, that methods and tools (input) is in some logical relationship with the outcome, will influence the outcome. This means that it is possible to control the outcome of the design process by choosing the right 'input' (methods, tools, etc). This implies that using a certain method will with some certainty improve the outcome. This is a way of thinking that I find utterly problematic and quite wrong.

To me, the design process is at its core a process that is governed by the designers judgment, as is shown on the right side of the figure. Whatever the 'input' is (methods, tools, knowledge, etc), it is the designer(s) judgment that form and shape a certain outcome.

So, the answer to the questions I started this post with is that 'of course, methods and tools matter' in designing, they can help designers or be in the way in their preferred way of working, but they can not in any way predict of guarantee any form of quality of the outcome. This means that designing is all about you as a designer and not about methods and tools.

I realize that this is too rich question to discuss in a blog post...maybe I will return to it later.....

After publishing this post I got this wonderful question from Deepak (thanks!).

"Are there methods, tools and processes to improve the "you", i.e the designer and designer judgement ? Or is the process just called life :) - that is every designer lives in a unique combination of circumstances and such circumstances ultimately shape their judgement(due to various conscious and unconscious biases)."

My answer is 'yes'. There are ways (even methods and tools) that can be used to develop, grow, and deepen a designers ability to make judgments. For instance, Donald Schon provides a whole range of ways of thinking suitable for this purpose, and there are others too. So, yes it is definitely possible to develop a designers judgment ability.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Designerly Thinking Workshop Reflections

I am just back after a full day workshop on "Designerly Thinking and Doing" in Chicago last week. It was a great day with wonderful participants who contributed with a lot of insights, comments and questions.

It is as always fascinating to hear the stories from individual designers about their professional experiences in widely diverse organizational environments. The stress and frustation of not being understood, the importance of everyday practicalities related to design practice, the philosophical differences between professional groups, the misconceptions about what the design process requires, etc. But also experiencing the enormous energy and willingness among these professionals to learn more, to keep developing, to take the next step. There is a passion about design that in many cases goes far beyond professional need and organizational loyalty. These professionals not only want to do good design work, they are to some extent addicted to it and need to know how to get there.

Anyway, here is the agenda for the day, even though we did not follow it in detail :-) If you are interested in knowing more, just write to me.

9.00 Who I am and who you are
The day in overview
Discussion, who has been trained in design thinking, what are your experiences, why are you here
Approach of the day, schemas
The design map
No problem, no process, no solution
Design Thinking is not a process that leads to good design, it is all about you
10.00 A brief history of design thinking, what does it look like, some examples
Schools of thought about design thinking
What is designerly thinking as a practical method
11.00 Why engage in design at all
What is it that makes designing appealing
The uniqueness of designing
Design Challenges, risk, courage, no process, overwhelmingly complex, insufficient information,
unpredictability, first intentions, depth, value, judgment,
12.00 LUNCH
1.0 Who am I as a design thinker
How to assess design thinking character and competence.
2.00 Developing your own designerly expertise,
How do you stay aware of the development of the field
How do you keep your competence relevant and how do you develop it
3.00 Design thinking and leadership: Build culture (wide), Organize process (middle), Develop expertise
Creating a design culture in your group, team, section and organization
Overcome organizational pushback when implementing a design thinking strategy

Next step!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Designerly Thinking and Doing workshops

Just a brief reminder of upcoming workshops.

I will hold a workshop on Designerly Thinking and Doing in Chicago on March 31st. Click on the link if you want to know more.

I am planning to hold the same (similar) workshop in Bloomington, IN, later this Spring, probably in May. Let me know if you are interested. It will be similar purpose and content (but less expensive).

You might be wondering with is different with my workshops in relation to many others out there. Most other workshops on 'design thinking' focus on the design process and some simple tools suitable for the process. In my workshops I focus on the individual's thinking and character, that is, what designerly thinking and doing means when it comes to an individuals competence, abilities, and skills. And on why they matter, and how they can be developed. We will focus on how to grow and become a thinking designer, instead of just describing some activities or tools. It is who you are as a whole person that makes you designer, how you can think, how you can make informed judgments, and how you can assess and evaluate when, where, and why a designerly approach is appropriate or not.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Why Design Thinking Needs Systems Thinking

I was a young student in my first year at the university. I had never heard of systems thinking or any other kind of thinking either. I had entered a program with focus on systems analysis and information systems, and I had no idea what it was all about. Pretty soon I had my first encounter with a real university professor. In the very first course the professor had us read “The Systems Approach” by C. West Churchman. The book was so different from anything else I had read. For the first time, I read something that was intellectually stimulating at the same time as it felt real and practical. I loved the book. 

Due to the same professor, throughout my undergraduate and doctoral years I was "forced" to read, think, reflect and discuss the works of Churchman. We had lectures, seminars and discussions around Churchman’s work. Churchman was as a visiting professor at our department. All this, of course, strongly influenced my intellectual development. My mind was devoted to systems thinking.

But it became too much! I actually came to a point were I had to free myself from the intellectual tradition I was trained in. I realized that systems thinking was not enough, at least not for me. I found that it was too much focused on analysis, on revealing the conditions of the already existing, while I became more and more interested in the not-yet-existing, and therefore moved towards ideas and traditions more focused on design inquiry and action. I tried to find out what creativity, innovation and design was all about. 

In recent year my thinking has changed again. All the ideas that were introduced to me by Churchman is slowly making a “comeback”. I believe this is not something that I am the only one to experience. We are entering a world that through new technology, changing cultures and markets rapidly becomes more complex. Design today is almost never about creating something closed and contained. Almost everything is systemic by design and part of other systems. This is especially true when it comes to digital products and systems. The infusion of computational and communication abilities into almost every new artifact radically changes our whole environment. Nothing is separated from anything else. There are no separable components. We find ourselves in a true world of systems.

In such a world of extreme complexity we need intellectual tools suited for that challenge. And it is obvious to me that popular forms of 'design thinking' are not equipped with such tools. It is as if the pendulum has swung too far on the side of 'creative' and 'innovative' aspects of designing while tools that can support serious investigations of the complexity of reality is neglected. 

I have realized that I am, in a way, back to where I started. In my attempts to handle this complexity I find support and guidance in the thoughts and ideas of Churchman and of systems thinking in general. In his books he reflects on the many aspects of systems and of complexity. He tries to makes these reflections go hand in hand with basic aspects of life itself by always pushing the questions of what systems thinking could and should be used for. These are all issues pertinent to design. Design thinking today is in need of systems thinking. The work of Churchman is relevant and useful in a way I think he would have liked, that is, not as an isolated theoretical lens without relevance outside academia, but as a pragmatic approach to reality with the focus on making a difference.

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