Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Device-Agnostic Experiences

Recently I have seen some writers talk about what is new in interaction design. There are many suggestions, such as storytelling. voice-first design, frameless experiences, augmented reality, emotional design, transparency design, systems design. Most of these are quite obvious and we will probably see more of them these coming years.

I just want to comment on one trend that I have seen mentioned here and there. The basic idea is that any design should seamlessly function on any device or system. This sounds all good to a user who can move freely between technologies and devices and still use the same functionality, only with different interaction modalities. We have seen this idea being implemented for many years already, for instance, in how websites have been designed to also work on smartphones.

Even though the idea is easy to support it leads to some serious design challenges that are not always addressed. I will mention two issues.

First, the idea is based on the assumption that any functionality is possible to perform given any technology, for instance, that voice interaction is just another form of interaction but can perform what direct manipulation can do. This is maybe possible, but it can lead to increasingly complex interactions that make no sense to a user. Each device (technology) supports and lends itself to certain actions and interactions and not to others.

Secondly, to be device-agnostic easily leads to complexity on the level of systems. What devices should be included in the "agnostic" design? And which ones do not have to be included? We live with a large number of devices, from traditional computers to cars, appliances, home equipment, tools, games, TV, etc. What functionality needs to be available on what devices? It is not only a question of what agnostic design that can be done, but also which ones are appropriate. When does it lead to crowded and cluttered interactive devices?

This is of course an old challenge that designers have struggled with for a long time. There has always been a conflict between those who argue for specialized devices with particular focus and functionality and those who argue for general devices that combine a broad spectrum of functionality. We can see that fight in the HiFi industry, in kitchen appliances, woodworking tools, etc. 

So, the question is not if device-agnostic design is good or bad, but when is it appropriate and when is it not. Maybe some functionality should be left to one, and only one, device, while others can be spread across a spectrum of devices.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Monday, October 28, 2019

New book by Stephane Vial "Being and the screen - how the digital changes perception"

The latest addition to our MIT Press book series "Design Thinking/Design Theory" is by Stephane Vial with the title "Being and the screen - how the digital changes perception".

It is great to see this text finally translated to English and we are happy that we can publish it in our book series. Read and enjoy!!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Predicting the future of interaction

Having lived through highly dynamic decades of technology and changing forms of interaction, it may feel as if it is impossible to predict what will come. And in many ways it is. We have over and over been surprised by new forms of interaction and interactivity. When we experience the new, we usually think "of course, why did we not see that coming".

One of the reasons why prediction in this field are rare and maybe not always so interesting is that it is a field dominated by people who are thinking as designers, that is, they focus on what can be done for certain people, in a specific situation and time, and on people's  particular needs and wants, etc. Designers are focused and driven by the particular (or as we have labeled it the "ultimate particular" in our book "The Design Way").

When the particular is your focus, the general or the universal becomes secondary. However, shifts in technology and technology use take place in the general and universal. Recognizing such broad and often deep changes requires a different way of looking. It requires a serious ambition to reveal and understand underlying structures and processes. This is not done by only being involved in design, it requires analytical investigations and conceptual and theoretical precision.

I have personally experienced this in my own work. For many years I have with my colleague Lars-Erik Janlert been working on developing fundamental definitions and theoretical concepts relating to the 'nature of interaction' or the elements of interaction. We have tried to create a general understanding of interaction and interactivity that is broad and deep in the sense that it should be helpful in describing any form of interaction. I think we have been quite successful and the result can be seen in our book "Things that keep us busy - the elements of interaction" (MIT Press).

We never set out to predict the future of interaction at all. Only to develop a way of describing and explaining interaction. At the end of our work, we realized that when you have such a fundamental understanding you also have a 'tool' that makes it possible to project and to some extent predict the future. This is why our book ends with some future-looking projections or speculations of what we will see in the coming years. These are not predictions in the sense that they are wishes or personal speculations, they are more logical projections from where we are.

This has led me to even more appreciate what some might call 'basic research', that is, research that only has as its goal to capture, describe and explain existing phenomena. And, as a consequence, it has also led me to understand that the field of HCI could definitely need more basic research.

Monday, September 09, 2019

The Future of Interaction

Yesterday I watched the movie "Minority Report". It has been many years since I saw it. During these years I have often used the movie as an example full of futuristic forms of interaction. And I have argued that it is good to watch it for that reason.

And again, yesterday, I realized that the movie is still forward-looking even though a lot of the futuristic forms of interaction are now not so futuristic. We live with several of these interactions today, for instance, conversational agents in our homes.

Watching the movie shows that predicting the future when it comes to technology is possible (and maybe not even so difficult), as long as we only think about what can be done. However, the design challenge is to understand what it should be used for.

In our book "Things that keep us busy -- the elements of interaction" we are analyzing interaction of today and we also project it into the future. We do not argue about what is good or bad, useful or not. We just find ways to describe, analyze and understand interaction. Today, maybe more than ever, such understanding is crucial if we want to understand what all design decisions today may lead to.

So what is your idea about the future of interaction, what are the forms of interaction you see as viable and useful, and what are the steps you take today to move in that direction? To me, the lesson from watching the movie again is that it is definitely possible to predict technological advancements, but where we end up is not a question of prediction but of choices and intentions. To be able to make those informed choices we need to have a good sense of possible alternatives.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Lack of Organizational Design Competence

We see a great interest today in design thinking as a way to foster the creative development of products and processes. However, most of the efforts we see are directed towards the individual. Individuals are encouraged to take courses, go to workshops, to increase their ability to think as a designer.

Having worked with many professional designers over the years I know that one of the most frustrating experiences for these designers is the lack of support from their organization. Sometimes there might be an expressed support but real support is missing.

As with every approach, a designerly approach cannot thrive unless it is embedded in a larger system that understands and supports the approach. Unfortunately, we do not see many ideas out there on how to assess the level of an organization's design competence and how to intentionally develop it. But there are ways to do it, and it makes a difference. Designers who find themselves in design competent organization can thrive, feel safe, take on bigger challenges, deliver exceptional outcomes.

Monday, August 26, 2019

We all need professional mentoring

A while back I started to offer mentoring and coaching to design professionals. It has been exciting. Even though I have been doing this kind of mentoring and coaching for a very long time, every new meeting and session leads to new insights. Some of the most important insights are simple and obvious.

The most simple insight is that whether you are successful or not in your job, you need to talk about your situation, your career, with someone who is not involved in your workplace, and someone who is not your family or friend. You need an external view. Someone who can challenge you and offer new perspectives. You need someone who actually doesn't know you too well. 

Professional mentoring is about your whole life. You cannot separate your professional life from the rest of your life. This is also one reason why good mentoring is problematic to get from family and friends who are entangled in your life outside work. They are personally involved in what they are trying to mentor you about.

Professional mentoring is about how to combine and compose all levels a professional position: the mind set, knowledge set, skill set, and tool set. There is no simple division possible. You cannot 'fix' your career by only dealing with one level. They are intermingled. 

So, if you do not have a professional mentor. Find one. You do need one.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Life of a paper

In 2004 I published a paper with Anna Croon Fors. The paper was not recognized by anyone really for quite many years, and then it got some citations. I just mention this since it shows how difficult it is to predict the interest and importance of what you do as an academic. Here is a screenshot from Google scholar about the paper.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

One-on-one Design Thinking and Leadership Mentoring

Just a reminder that this is still an opportunity. Take a look at the tab "Mentoring and Coaching"

Here is a comment from one of the mentees:

"I feel so much better after I talked to you every single time, and it makes me full of hope for my life.  I have been asking for advice from co-workers, my peer friends, some people who are successful, but I did not get any clear answers. Now I have answers and know how to improve my career. I cannot thank you enough. Your advice is worth billions of dollars to me." (Yuki, Visual Designer/Product Designer, Aug 2019)

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Nice review of our book "The Design Way"

Linda Naiman, founder of Creativity at Work, has written a very nice review of our book "The Design Way". I really appreciate her review because she is seeing the big picture and understands what we are trying to do.

She writes that the authors "offer not a recipe for design practice or theorizing but a formulation of design culture’s fundamental core of ideas."

She also writes "The Design Way provides a broad and deep understanding of design as a philosophy and a practice. It offers illuminating insights for leaders and managers interested in bringing the design way of thinking to business."

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Explainable AI and what it may mean for human-system interaction

The quest for explainable AI is ongoing and there seems to be a universal belief that if AI systems could explain their behavior then all will be good. A great overview of the field is found in this article "The Dark Secret at the Heart of AI: No one really knows how the most advanced algorithms do what they do. That could be a problem." by Will Knight.

To HCI this is a growing concern. If AI is able to produce systems that are intelligent enough then the way we interact with them will drastically change. 

Instead of asking if a system can explain its behavior and decision, we could ask the question "what form of interaction with things and systems do we prefer?" For instance, when we interact with a colleague at work trying to solve a problem or develop something, we usually want the colleague to interact with us, give her feedback, argue strongly for her view and position. We use this interaction as a way to explore and develop a position that makes sense to us. This is a process that goes back and forth, sometimes smooth, sometimes difficult and full of controversy.  It is seldom a process that is fully rational where we expect each interactant to be able to fully explain his or hers or its position. But we engage in this form of interaction because we know from experience that it commonly produces a better result.

So, what would it mean if AI systems would be able to engage in that form of interaction? It would change the way we look at these systems, away from providers of final answers to companions in a process. Instead of trying not to see AI systems as humans (by forcing them to be fully rational and transparent) we would do the opposite, that is, see them as 'humans' with all the flaws and issues that we know we have to deal with when we deal with people.

This would have the consequence that we would automatically not trust systems, in the same way we do not really trust people. And as a consequence of that, we have to foster ways of interaction with these systems that make sense based on that realization.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Design Thinking: Slow and Fast, Part II

[In an earlier post, I mentioned some research aimed at applying the extraordinary popular theory of the two modes of thinking, fast and slow thinking (developed by Kahneman, ref below) to design thinking. That attempt was quite theoretical, trying to merge two theories of thinking. But I think it is interesting to consider the fast and slow thinking in a more practical sense, that is, how do the two forms of thinking apply to designers in general and their practice.]

First of all, let's assume that Kahneman's theory is a good description of two forms of thinking. One that is intuitive and fast and one that is reflective and slow. I have been teaching designing for many years and I have found that students commonly have problems in knowing how to apply the two forms of thinking.

In many cases, students engage in slow thinking when they are facing design situations where they have to act and do things, for instance, generate ideas, sketch, explore, develop concepts, etc. This is the kind of activities that in general is suitable for fast thinking, intuitive and instinctive thinking. Instead, they engage in slow thinking, they try to figure things out, they try to use reflective thinking to do it. This usually does not work so well, they get stuck, they do not make progress, they are not creative and innovative. They get very insecure about their own actions and if they are doing things 'right'.

My impressions is that these students and inexperienced designers are afraid of fast thinking. To them it goes against what they have been taught their whole life in school, that is, to carefully plan, think through, find the right way of approaching a task and then apply that approach. To act based on intuition and intuitive thinking feels wrong to them. And they commonly admit that.

They are usually better at applying slow thinking. They do want to reflect and think about their practice. Often they are intrigued by Schon's ideas about reflection and its role in designing. But at the same time, they miss the message from Schon about the act of designing which is that you have to trust your experience and your built up repertoire of design knowledge, and just do it.

Designing truly requires both fast and slow thinking. But it is crucial to understand when which form of thinking is appropriate.


Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. Macmillan.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Interaction Design Is Changing

We have seen some dramatic shifts in interaction design the last couple of decade. Interaction design has gone from being focused on providing good information in a functional and useful way to the design of interactions that also include the overall experience. There has over time been several of these shifts (sometimes called waves or paradigms). This constant development of the field is what makes it an exciting area to be in, and forces everyone to continuous learning and competence development.

I believe we are moving into another shift. It is not an obvious shift but over time it will lead to an important challenge when it comes to all interaction design. Once again technology development is the force behind the shift. The shift can simply be seen as having to do with the implementation of interactivity. Or where interactivity will be 'living'?

It is possible to think about three main forms of future interaction in relation to where it is implemented.

#1- we will always have the traditional form of implementation in stationary setups, that is the traditional interface (surface based),  any kind of interactive setup (interface) on a thing, machine, or equipment.

#2- we are already living with a new form of implementation, that is, the implementation in personal devices that we carry with us,  such as smartphones and other small devices.

#3- finally, we are seeing an emergent new form of implementation when we infuse our environments with interactive power where we interact just by doing things, moving around, without any designated surface/interface to engage with. The store door is an old but typical example. We interact with it just by walking towards it.

A lot of things differ between these forms of implementation. I will not go into any detail here since my purpose is to make the case that this ongoing shift in implementations of interaction will radically change interaction design.

We have seen many examples where interaction designers have moved the interactions from one implementation to another. For instance, doing online bank business was early on always done in a stationary setup which led to certain forms of interaction, and now it has (in many cases) moved to a personal device. This has not only changed where you can interact, but also how and when. And it has changed the overall experience of being in touch with your bank, accounts and money.

We also see a lot of interaction moving into the environment, where people do not have to 'interact' in any traditional sense. The house changes its temperature when you enter it. The environment knows where you are and what you want and acts accordingly.

So, as an interaction designer, when should your interaction be implemented as 1, 2 or 3?

This will become a hugely complex design problem. It is difficult to fully understand how a specific interaction can be implemented in all these forms. The technological possibilities are expanding. People's expectations are changing. To individual designers, this may be an overwhelming problem. But every interaction has to be implemented in some way so the decision is there to be made.

The shift from #1 to #2 has been exciting and is ongoing. The shift from to #3 has only just begun but will maybe, or probably, be even more dramatic. Are certain interactions not possible to move between the implementations? What are the proportions? Will we one day only have #3....

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Design Thinking: Slow and Fast

The book "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman presented a model of human cognition that became extraordinary popular a few years ago. His ideas have been influential in many areas and have led to 'applications' of different kinds.

The work by design theorist John Gero has also for some time been influential. His FBS ontology established a foundational model of designing as a cognitive process.

In a new article, John Gero in collaboration with Udo Kennengiesser proposes a framework for applying Kahneman's model to designing based on Gero's model.

This is an ambitious enterprise and not easy to do successfully. I am not here to comment on how well they do it or the value of it, but I do find that the effort should be praised for at least two reasons.

First of all, it is an attempt to theoretically work across disciplines, not only by 'borrowing' a theory from another field to apply it. Here we see real ambition to work across theoretical areas.

Secondly, we see here an attempt at developing theory based on existing theory. Often theories like these are seen as competitors and they are compared and measured against each other to see which one is the 'best'. In this paper, the authors are trying to combine two advanced theories with the purpose of improving them. They explore if they can be combined, how they overlap, and if they open up new aspects of each other.

I wish we could see more theory work like this.


Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. Macmillan.

Kannengiesser, Udo & Gero, John. (2019). Design Thinking, Fast and Slow: A Framework for Kahneman's Dual-System Theory in Design. 10.1017/dsj.2019.9. 

Monday, May 20, 2019

Professional Practice and Higher Education

In a wonderful article from 1995 "Knowing-in-Action: The New Scholarship Requires a New Epistemology" Donald A. Schön discusses what he saw as one of the more serious problems with higher education. I think it is fair to say that the problems he saw around 25 years ago are still here today, maybe even more severe.

Schön uses a wonderful article by Edward Shils (reference below) to set the stage. Shils describes how the idea of a research university came to the USA. Today it may be difficult to understand the transformation of higher education that took place in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The idea that research and science would be the dominant foundation for higher education spread during this time and soon became the new normal.

As Schön argues, this shift created serious problems for professional practice. He writes "Most of the knowledge essential to professional practice is not what the research university calls fundamental knowledge, and practitioners are not. as a rule, either scientists or scholars."

So Schön makes a strong argument for a new form of scholarship, based on a new epistemology suited for supporting professional practice. Some of what he is arguing has been adopted in certain areas of higher education but most of it has not.

This is a great read for anyone who believes there is a gap between research and practice, or who wants to develop knowledge in support of professional practice, or is involved in teaching professionals.

Schön, D. A. (1995). Knowing-in-action: The new scholarship requires a new epistemology. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning27(6), 27-34.

Shils, E. (1978). The order of learning in the United States from 1865 to 1920: The ascendancy of the universities. Minerva16(2), 159-195.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

One-on-one Design Thinking and Leadership Mentoring

Having done researched and worked with professional designers continuously since the early 80s I have learned a lot. I have been able to formulate insights on what works and what doesn't work through my writings, teaching, and advising of students and professionals. It is time to share this with others.

I offer one-on-one personalized mentorship on design thinking and leadership. I will challenge your way of thinking and acting as a designer. The mentoring is aimed at helping you explore your strengths and weaknesses as a designer and to develop your ability to take the next step as a designer and leader.

One package includes
-      8 one-hour face-to-face skype sessions (during a three months’ period),
-    advice on career moves, 
-    advice on work situations and problems,
-       everyday email exchange,
-       suggested readings,
-       exercises (if relevant),
-       feedback on writings and work.

Each package is personalized based on your background, experience, and expectations.

I only have two mentorship possibilities open at the moment.

If you are interested, contact me for cost and availability at estolter@gmail.com

A certificate will be provided. A more formal description can be provided if your employer is interested in paying.

If you are interested in something similar but for a group/team or organization, let me know.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

One-on-one Design Thinking and Leadership Mentoring

Please go to


The growing need for systems thinking in design

As a phd student I was primarily trained in systems theory, systems philosophy, and systems practice. I read "general systems theory" by Ludwig von Bertalanffy. I also read a range of systems thinkers such as Russell Ackoff, Béla H. Bánáthy, Gregory Bateson, Anthony Stafford Beer, Peter Checkland, Fritjof Capra,  Kenneth E. Boulding, and many more. They all present different perspectives on systems and how to think about them and approach them.

I was mostly influenced by the writings of C. West Churchman. I still today go back to some of his writings. Then things changed. I slowly shifted my interest to design theory and the study of the design process. I devoted most of my research to understanding design as a practical process to achieve intentional change in the world. This type of research gain traction in these last decades and has impacted the world in ways that I think no one would have guessed.

Today it seems obvious that designing as an approach to intentional change is in real need of systems thinking. I constantly see designers and design students being overwhelmed by the richness and complexity of the systems they are supposed to investigate and improve. The infusion of computation into all kinds of things has led to a formidable explosion of connectivity. We are entering an age where what we define as a system is becoming even more challenging than before.

The evolution of design as an approach to change has been amazing. Now it is time to see a similar development when it comes to systems thinking. And then the challenge will be to combine the two. There is a need to develop ways of thinking and acting that support designers who want to make a difference in the real work by influencing real systems despite their complexity. One person who best manifests such a combined approach is Harold Nelson who I have been happy to work with for many years.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The challenge of designing social robots

In a recent article in Wired Magazine, we can read about the number of companies that are shutting down. The article discusses the fact that social robots seem to be quite difficult to design in a way that would make people interested in them over time. The "over time" is crucial here since most of these robots initially draw a lot of attention since they are often fun and exciting, while over time they seem to lose their attraction.

So, do we need social robots at all or is Alexa enough. Well, the experience that is partially described in the article is that robots work fine when they have a clear utility (Zomba), but at the same time they lose their ability or effect as a social thing. They disappear in the environment as other appliances.

It seems as if there are two major aspects of social robots that need to be addressed.  First of all, it seems as if people do not want social interaction with things that do not necessarily require it. And secondly, if there is a need or want to social interaction, the technology is still far from adequate.

Interaction designers in many cases seem to blend these two desires into something that become a bad mix. We end up with things that are neither useful enough nor social enough. I guess that this tendency will continue and we will in the near future see many failed attempts in this category.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Limitations of Big Data approaches

Today I listened to a talk by Alex Vespignani on data science and epistemology. It was a great talk. Alex referenced a paper by Hosni and Vulpiani "Forecasting in light of Big Data". I downloaded it right away and read it. It is a great paper. Both Alex talk and the paper touches on the relation between modeling (theory) and data (ML/AI) and when to use what for what purpose. Alex especially discussed the limitations of data and ML (same as in the paper). This is interesting to anyone who is thinking about using ML and AI for problem-solving or forecasting.

Hosni, H., & Vulpiani, A. (2018). Forecasting in light of big data. Philosophy & Technology31(4), 557-569.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Rich interaction in airline cockpits

I have recently been introduced to the work by Catherine Letondal and her colleagues at the University of Toulouse in the ENAC group. This group has for some time studied pilots in airline cockpits and their interactions. It is work that really relates well to our work in the book "things that keep us busy".

This group is taking interaction at the most challenging level. Highly complex technology, extraordinary safety concerns, intense interactivity with the plane, the ground control, etc. The research shows almost all of the multi-faceted aspects of interaction, everything from traditional, tangible, gesture, embodied, faceless, etc. They also show with many examples when certain modes of interaction (sometimes seen as the best solution) are definitely not appropriate.

Really interesting research and a type of research we definitely do not see enough of in HCI.

Friday, April 05, 2019

Some missing aspects of IX and UX design

It is amazing how interaction design and UX design have grown and been recognized these last couple of decades. It has made a great difference to the field and the benefit of many users. This development has been so fast and radical that it has made it difficult to see what is eventually missing. So, looking at the field today I think it is safe to argue that there are aspects of IX and UX that is in need of being strengthened, both in academia and practice. I will here only mention a few.

1. There is a lack of systems thinking in contemporary IX and UX design. This is the overall and most important aspect.

2. There seems to be a lack of curiosity and interest in new technologies. The extraordinary outburst of new forms of technology that shifts interaction away from traditional screen-based interactions opens up for new creative designs. However, the field does not seem to take advantage.

2. UX is still focused on personal applications while organizational applications are not treated with the same attention. We all use simple and easy to use apps on our smartphones and on our laptops. It is amazing how these applications have developed into beautiful and efficient tools that support our everyday lives. But when we move into the world of workers in all kinds of organizations, the systems, and the interfaces commonly look like they are decades old. They are hard to learn and use, inefficient, ugly, etc. It is obvious that the complexity of these systems is way beyond what we see with personal support apps. They require intimate knowledge about the organization, its structure, logistics, information flow, and needs, etc. And again systems thinking!

Of course, I am not providing any evidence for my claims above. Personally, I find that looking at commonly used textbooks in the field supports my observations.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Skype lecture Gothenburg

I just gave skype lecture with students to professor Johan Lundin at University of Gothenburg about interaction design. It is always interesting and exciting to work with students from other programs and to see how they think and what questions they ask. This group of students asked really good questions and I wish them the best as they continue their program.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Interactivity Fields - the next challenge in interaction design

Here is a draft of a couple of paragraphs from the introduction of a paper that I and Lars-Erik Janlert are working on.

"When we walk into a room the light turns on. When we approach a store the door opens. When we enter our home the thermostat changes the temperature in the house, the intelligent assistant starts to play our favorite music, our mobile phone reminds us to take out the garbage, and our loved ones are notified that we are safely home, wherever they might be; all happening at the same time. In our workplaces a multiplicity of digital tools and artifacts are at our command or struggling for our attention, creating a symphony or disharmony of interactions involving us.  

We interact with our environments today in numerous ways, sometimes by just being there or moving or waving our hands, sometimes by precise commands and actions, sometimes with focused attention and direction, sometimes half unaware and lacking a clear addressee or aim, sometimes acting on isolated cues from some specific source, sometimes on overall impressions generated by the environment as a whole. Interaction and interactivity is no longer necessarily something that takes place between a person and a single, clearly defined artifact and interface. A new kind of diffused or confused interaction has become an everyday experience for many of us and we are gradually getting more used to it. 

We have in previous writings introduced and explored the concept of faceless interaction and its potential consequences (Janlert & Stolterman, "Things That Keep Us Busy - the elements of interaction"); we have also extensively discussed multiparty interaction and the ensuing problems of interactivity clutter: occlusion, chaos, and distraction.
We will in this paper argue that what we are experiencing in the examples above reflect the first steps in a larger, coming change in the style and conception of interaction, interactivity and interfaces. As this change spreads and develops, it will be useful to conceptualize what emerges as what we call interactivity fields. We believe interactivity fields is a new way of thinking about interaction, a change in how researchers and designers think that, we will argue, has consequences for HCI research and interaction design practice."

If you want to read more about this, you can find that in our book in the final chapter (Janlert & Stolterman, "Things That Keep Us Busy - the elements of interaction").

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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Four Aspects of Being a Successful Designer

Over the years I have worked on simplifying what I see as the core of being a successful designer. This is based on my studies of design practice and professional designers in relation to contemporary design theory and design philosophy. Of course, there are many ways of condensing my understanding, and this is just one of them.

The four aspects of being a successful designer are:

1. The Nature of Designing

Successful designers have a developed understanding of the nature of designing as a human approach to change. They understand what designing can deliver but also what it cannot deliver. They have a deep appreciation of when designing is a suitable approach and when it is not. They understand how designing relates to other approaches to change, such as science and art.

2. The Design Process

Successful designers have a developed understanding of the design process. They understand that there is no one correct process, that there is no best tool or the best method. They know that every choice of tool, technique, and method depends on the situation, time, people, culture, and expectations. They know that every design process is unique and has to be designed in relation to intention and desiderata.

3. The Design Culture

Successful designers have a developed understanding of what designing requires when it comes to context and culture. They understand that every organization has its own unique culture that either supports or hinders designing as a practice. They understand that design is leadership and requires people who can navigate the complexities of contemporary organizations. They understand that design requires an organizational culture that recognizes designing as a valid approach to change.

4. The Designer

Successful designers have a developed understanding of who they are as a professional practicing designer. They have a developed personal design philosophy that guides them in complex and rich situations when decisions and judgments have to be made. They have a deep understanding of what they appreciate as good design and of their own ideals and values. They understand that there is no stable state when it comes to designing and therefore have an intentional way of constantly developing their own competence.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Classroom versus online teaching

Lately I have read a lot about changes in higher education, the development of mega-universities, the explosion of online teaching, etc. Reading all this, it seems as if higher education is facing some dramatic shifts in their basic way of doing things. But at the same time, there are a lot of signs that the fundamental structure of higher ed is not really changing.

One question that seems to be at the core is if online education is as good as classroom education. Everyone agrees that it is different and has to be planned and executed in different ways, but which one is better? After having taught my whole life and seen countless of colleagues teach, it is clear to me that classroom education is both better and worse than classroom education. With this, I just want to point out that the spectrum of teaching quality within classroom education is extraordinarily wide. It goes from wonderful learning experiences in some cases to the most horrible experiences in others.

There is nothing in classroom education that guarantees that there is any learning taking place. Bad courses or bad teachers can destroy any learning situation in whatever form they are delivered.  So, the idea that we can compare and measure if one or the other educational setting is better than any other is futile. And to believe that we by simply transforming teaching from one setting to another will lead to improved results is also futile. The only way to improve teaching is to have great teachers plan, develop and teach relevant materials.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Donald Schön's books and theory

Here is a picture of all the major books by Donald Schön. His name is also on a number of other books where he was the editor or had a chapter. In the picture, the books are in chronological order with the oldest at the bottom. This is an impressive amount of writings and even more as a  scholarly contribution. I am (since several years) working on trying to understand the core of this work and how it all hangs together. Unfortunately, most people who "use" Schön only reference a concept or two from his writings without really knowing why Schön developed these concepts and how they fit in his larger theoretical construction. When you read through his books you realize that his famous concepts are part of a broad and extraordinary powerful theory about professional practice, learning, and design. Since I am often lecturing about Schön' work as a whole (including all books), one day I might write about it.

Monday, February 11, 2019

The changing nature of design arguments

When my students in my graduate design theory course have to do interviews with practicing designers (combined in this year's class, about 100 interviews), one thing keeps surfacing.

In many cases, especially from more experienced designers, they mention the changing nature of design arguments. This is not unknown, but it is interesting to see that it is mentioned as a serious change in their practice. The change of design arguments can be simply characterized as a shift from a 'show and tell' model to a 'show and explain' model.

The show-and-tell model basically means that the designer shows the design itself (idea, prototype, etc) with its functionality, looks, etc. The show-and explain model means that the designer also engages in explaining how they came up with the design, what the process looked like, and what testing and evaluation they have done that shows the quality of the design. This is pushing many designers to be much more careful with their process planning and documentation. And it also forces designers to have a broader skill set when it comes to their process. They have to engage in more research like activities.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, also emerging in these interviews is that some designers feel as if they have to change their design argument model only for the purpose of satisfying their client, not because it helps them in their design practice. Actually, some see this shift as a waste of time and effort and that it takes time away from their 'real' design activities. In some cases, they even see it as a form of deception or pretense. And, since they do not themselves, believe in this form of arguments they do not feel good about it.

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