Monday, March 19, 2018

PhD course on "The elements of interaction"

I am just back from a trip to Europe where I among other things taught a two day Ph.D. course called "The Elements of Interaction". The course was organized at the department of computer science at Aalborg University by my colleague Peter Axel Nielsen.

It was an intense experience. Two full days completely focused on our new book "Things that keep us busy--the elements of interaction". We worked through almost all chapters in the book. It led to wonderful discussions. The doctoral students were great. They were curious, critical and inquisitive. And to me, it was a great way of exploring if the content of the book make sense and work for others than me and my co-author Lars-Erik.

Based on the experience, I learned two things. Our book seems to work fine with PhD students and they were able to relate the content to their own research in ways that might help them. Secondly, to teach a PhD course in this format, two full days, is excellent. It leads to complete focus. I will definitely argue for this format when I have the chance.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

When is a copy and the original the same

In an interesting article, Byung-Chul Han examines the notion of what is an original artifact versus a copy. He explains the different notions in the East and West in a way that is relevant to anyone thinking about design and creativity. The major argument that Han makes is that in China (and other Eastern societies) the notion of what is an original might appear as strange to us in the West. According to him, in these cultures, a perfect copy is the same as the original and has no greater value than the original. The article tells a number of fascinating stories of when this difference in thinking between East and West has led to serious misunderstandings and conflicts.

I was intrigued by this article. I have no idea how correct it is and how true it depicts the cultural differences, but even if it is not a true depiction, it does raise a lot of exciting questions about how to think about what is an original and if an original should have any particular status. Again, all relevant questions to any designer.

I have earlier commented on two other books by the philosopher Byung-Chul Han on this blog. See links below.
"In the swarm"

"The burnout society"

Btw, the online magazine Aeon, where this article published, is excellent!

Monday, March 05, 2018

Interaction and Complexity

One aspect of interaction that keeps emerging is related to complexity. A lot of people complain that interacting with systems and devices today is too complex. As a natural reaction to that, a lot of designers argue for simplicity as an important design principle. But what is complexity when it comes to interaction and why does it appear? In our recent book "Things that keep us busy -- the elements of interaction" we spend two chapters on interaction complexity and the related notion of control.

We do this by examining what interaction complexity is and what causes it. This leads to a theory (or model) of interaction complexity that consists of four different types of complexity. This is what we write (on p 85).

"We will identify and define four main loci of complexity of an artifact or system (see figure 5.1), all with respect to its designed purpose:
      1. internal complexity
      2. external complexity
      3. interaction complexity
      4. mediated complexity
These four loci should not be thought of as different measures or types
of complexity; they represent a rough division into the main (more or less abstract) locations where complexity is residing in varying degrees, and manifesting itself in various ways."

and figure 5.1 lays out how these different forms of complexity relate to each other.

After having worked with this model for quite some time, I find it quite useful and it helps to understand many aspects of interactivity and its relation to complexity. One of the major consequences of the model is that it indicates (strongly) that there is no easy "fix". To design for simplicity does not have any optimal solutions, every design decision about how to handle (or where to put complexity) leads to serious trade-offs that are inevitable.

This is why I believe that understanding this model can help and prepare every interaction designer to better approach the design of any interactive system and device.

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