Monday, April 30, 2018

New course: The Elements of Interaction

This coming Fall I will teach a new (primarily graduate) course that I will develop over the summer. It is called "The Elements of Interaction" and it is based on my new book "Things That Keep Us Busy--the elements of interaction" (MIT Press 2017). The book is co-authored with my colleague Lars-Erik Janlert.

I am quite excited about this new course and I wonder if there are any courses like it out there. If you know, please let me know! And if you are interested or have questions, just email me.

Here is a description of the courses (at least as I plan now):

The Elements of Interaction

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 course, we will investigate the elements of interaction and how they can be defined and measured. We will focus on interaction with digital artifacts and systems but draw inspiration from the broader, everyday sense of the word. We will 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. We will examine properties and qualities of designed artifacts and systems, primarily those that are open for manipulation by designers, considering such topics as complexity, clutter, control, and the emergence of an expressive-impressive style of interaction. The course is based on the idea that understanding some basic concepts and terms of interactivity and interaction can support interaction design and inform discussions about the future of interactivity.

The course is directed at graduate students with an interest in human-computer interaction in any form. Students in the course will develop a fundamental understanding of interaction and interactivity and an ability to analyze how interactive devices and systems interact and influence their users and environment.

The course will also help and support students to imagine new forms of interactions and to support them in the design and develop of interactive artifacts and systems.

The course will cover:

• The everyday reality of interaction and interactivity
• Understanding interaction and interactivity
• Basic elements and definitions of interaction
• How to study, analyze and measure interaction
• Examination of interaction complexity and control, interactivity clutter, etc.
• Implications for interaction design and UX
• The future of interaction (faceless interaction, interactivity fields, etc.)

As the core reading of the course we will use the book: 

Things That Keep Us Busy – the elements of interaction” by Lars-Erik Janlert and Erik Stolterman (MIT Press, 2017)

Friday, April 27, 2018

A reflection after visiting CHI 2018 Montreal

Back home after a few days at CHI in Montreal. Overwhelming. Impressive in size, breadth and culture.

A lot can be said about HCI research, how it is changing, where it is moving, based on what happens at CHI. This is why I like to go to CHI. Not the individual papers or presentations, but the chance to get a sense of the whole field.

I made one new observation this year. I don't know if it is true or only a result of what I personally happened to listen to and see, but I will share it.

I experienced that the research presented at CHI seemed to drift and shift in two distinct ways. I saw more good design based research made by young design oriented researchers that take such an approach to research as given and as legitimate. I also saw more scientific research. People who study interactive technology and systems, but also different forms of interactivity, using traditional scientific methods and approaches. They did this not with the primary purpose of finding or developing new applications to real problems, that is, to support design, but with the purpose to develop a deeper understanding of certain aspects of human computer interactions.

I see these developments, both of them, as excellent for HCI research. For them to come together in one conference where they inform each other is the way it should be.

My personal critique of HCI research over the years has often been that it has been 'inbetween' research. It has not been real scientific research and it has not been real design oriented research. Being in between is the worst place to be as a researcher. It leads to confusion of purpose and of what the outcome is and how it can be evaluated. So, what I saw this year is positive and I hope it continues.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Studying the nature of interactivity (HCI)

I have always been drawn to research that is trying to understand the 'nature' of some phenomenon. There are several reasons for this. I am attracted to the idea that as a researcher I am actually improving my own understanding of the phenomenon I am studying and increasing my ability to explain its nature, and that this knowledge grows over time and is in some sense is cumulative. As a consequence of this, I have had two major research projects during my career. One has been to understand the nature of designing as a human approach to change and the other has been to understand the nature of the interaction between humans and interactive artifacts/systems.

I have realized that this aim is commonly confused with a radically different purpose which is to develop support that can improve peoples ability to design new technology and systems. As any kind of basic research, the results it produces will never be able to tell anyone what to design or create. Basic research primarily provides a deeper understanding of some phenomenon.  Instead of leading to prescriptive knowledge that could make design easier, it leads to increased complexity and from a design perspective often increased difficulty.

After being involved in basic research for many years I am more than ever convinced that it is not just necessary, it is also possible, even when it comes to a field like HCI. It is possible to study the nature of interactivity. It is possible to develop a deeper understanding of interactivity as a real phenomenon, something we, over time, can actually become better at explaining with sound and well-grounded theories and models.

For this to happen HCI research has to change some of its fundamental assumptions. For instance, HCI research has as a primary goal to lead to some form of (immediate) improvements or usefulness. In Habermas terms it is possible to say that HCI research is driven by a "control knowledge interest" and less of a knowledge interest of "understanding" or "emancipation" (which are his other two categories.  Of course, I am not saying that research with a "control" knowledge interest is not needed or should not be done. HCI is as a research field primarily aimed at improving practice so that is fine. But the field would benefit from also engaging in these other knowledge interests with a strong passion.

I am therefore both happy and proud of the work I have done with my colleague Lars-Erik Janlert about the nature of interactivity, where we did set out to do what I discussed above. We examined an existing phenomenon (interaction/interactivity) with the purpose to describe and explain its nature, to the best of our ability. Of course, we only reached so far. But I believe that it is a start that hopefully will inspire others. The result is the book "Things That Keep Us Busy -- the elements of interaction" (MIT Press, 2017)

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