Thursday, December 19, 2013

Artifact analysis, Bill Buxton, and the power of artifact inventories, compendiums, collections

I have many times on my blog made the case for a more artifact oriented approach in HCI research. One reason, among many, is that our discipline is not paying enough attention to the actual artifacts/systems that constitute the core and the reason for existence of our field.

So, developing ways to carefully study interactive artifacts and systems in a way that can lead to theoretical development is crucial. I truly enjoy the traditional philosophical method of going back and forth between theoretical definitions and concrete examples.  The purpose of this process is to increase the precision in the theoretical definitions through a step by step refinement so that they at the end capture the important qualities of the artifacts.

To be able to conduct such research you need concrete examples of artifacts. One approach is to work with highly diverse individual artifacts that present definitional challenges, but it is also good to have more comprehensive collections of artifacts that can serve as a foundation or horizon for individual examples to be compared and contrasted.

For instance, today I saw this compendium or collection of cameras (in some chronological order). A collection like this can be seen as an example of such a foundation or horizon of artifacts. In the article the author engages in some straightforward and fairly preliminary artifact analysis. It is clear that the collection, with its selections and structure, is itself an expression of some theoretical definitions and even postulates about what constitute this type of artifact and its primary qualities.

It would be great to see more collections like this in our field. Bill Buxton has  done a remarkable job with his collection. However, the Buxton collection can be seen as "raw data" for those who want to engage in more intentional artifact analysis. For instance, just take a look at the collection of different types of 'mouse' artifacts. It is an exciting collection, highly diverse when it comes to form, function, material, etc. that can lead to exciting questions such as: What has changed over the years? What count as a mouse today?

Anyway, this post was not meant to be this long. I really just wanted to link the the very nice collection of cameras :-)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Core77 and book reviews

Core77 is one of the most ambitious online magazines about design. I try to visit now and then even though it is not often enough. If you have not found it yet, they have a nice book review section. Of course, not all books are necessarily interesting, but they are all related to aspects of design. Some of the books I have also reviewed on my blog. I have not really read any reviews carefully to be able to say anything about the quality of them. Maybe I will later.
Take a look.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Maybe 'flat design' has not killed skeuomorphism yet....

In a recent post I wrote about "Why flat design is soon boring, old and 'flat'". Today I stumbled across this short but very interesting article in Fast Company about some  Kingston University animation students work. The article is called "Apple Skeuomorphism Reconstructed In 3-D" with the sub title "Using paper models, a team of animation students creates an elegant critique of Apples's iOS. Meta."

These students have done something great. They have tried to explore and challenge the dominant paradigm of 'flat' design in a highly creative and fun way! The text and the videos may not convince a flat design believer but at least they ask good questions and open up for richer discussion about design paradigms.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

List of all book notes and reviews

A while back I started to collect links to all the book notes and book reviews on my blog on a separate page. You can find it here or in the navigation bar above. It has been interesting to see what kind of books I have written about and of course it leads to all kinds of speculations about why I read these particular books. Anyone who wants to analyze that is welcome to comment :-)

Anyway, for those who are interested in reading I hope that the notes and reviews can be of some help.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Book note: Jonas Löwgren and Bo Reimer "Collaborative Media"

A couple of days ago I got the new book by Jonas Löwgren and Bo Reimer "Collaborative Media--production, consumption and design interventions". (Jonas and I have worked together and we published the book "Thoughtful Interaction Design" some years ago.)

I am very excited by this new book from Jonas and Bo. I have yet only read bits and pieces of it, but I can already see the value of their work. The authors make a great argument for the concept of collaborative media that they introduce as more appropriate than the existing concepts used for similar purposes, such as, digital media, social media or new media.

The book consists of three parts. The first is about the phenomena that they study, about definitions, and about how to research such a phenomena. The second part consists of some case studies from their own research practice. The third part contains insights and conclusions about the use and  research of collaborative media. As I would expect from these authors, the writing is clear, nicely structured and with a convincing voice and argumentation. The carefulness with definitions and in the reasoning makes the text enjoyable and exciting to read.

One of the main points and contributions in the book is proposition that to do research about collaborative media requires an interventionist approach. They argue for an integration of "intervention, analysis and criticism". The reasoning is that since researchers are part of an ongoing evolution of this new form of media and whatever they do they will influence and make a difference. This means that researchers have to take a stand, figure out their position and what it is that they are trying to achieve or strive towards with their research.

The authors offers a list of imperatives that define their stance as researchers and their interventionistic and transdisciplinary approach. These five imperatives that are further explained in the book are:
- Be collaborative
- Be interventionist
- Be public
- Be agonistic
- Be accountable

This is an interesting list and it is inspiring to imagine what this means in practice and also what it would mean in other research disciplines. The book is rich when it comes to insights about collaborative media in our contemporary society, but maybe even more interesting is the overall research stance and approach that the authors outline and subscribe to. The way they do this is unusually detailed and on a level that raises it to become a research "program" or paradigm. I expect and hope that this aspect of the book will receive the substantial interest it deserves and also will lead to engaging critique. This field is in real need of larger ideas when it comes to what the purpose of research is all about and how it is possible for researchers to "keep up" with and participate in the evolution of media.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Cool Virilio quote

I have earlier on this blog written about the thinker Paul Virilio. He is famous for his critique of modern technology and of our inability as humans to see the intrinsic (an unavoidable) danger of the technological systems the contemporary society is dependent upon. I have for some time searched for a particular quote from Virilio and today I found it. He says in an interview:

  • "To invent something is to invent an accident. To invent the ship is to invent the shipwreck; the space shuttle, the explosion. And to invent the electronic superhighway or the Internet is to invent a major risk which is not easily spotted because it does not produce fatalities like a shipwreck or a mid-air explosion. The information accident is, sadly, not very visible. It is immaterial like the waves that carry information."

    (Virilio, Paul and David Dufresne (Interviewer) and Jacques Houis (Translator). "Cyberesistance Figher - An Interview with Paul Virilio." in: Apres Coup Psychoanalytic Association. January 2005.)

If you, like me, find Virilio's quotes to be a form of super dense theory, then go to this page where you can read many similar quotes.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Special page with "Book reviews and book notes"

As you may know if you have been here before, I do write book reviews and book notes now and then. I have know a specific page "Book reviews and book notes" where I try to collect links to the reviews and notes I have published. It may not be a complete list but I think most of them are there. It makes it easier if you are looking for reviews and notes. Hope it may be helpful.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Book review: Harmut Esslinger "A fine line: how design strategies are shaping the future of business"

I have known about the design firm frog for many years, but I have not really known much about their founder, Hartmut Esslinger. Esslinger published a book in 2009 called "A fine line: how design strategies are shaping the future of business"where he tells the story about his own life as a designer and about frog. Esslinger has an impressive list of achievements and can probably be seen as one of the most influential designers in the world when it comes to high-tech.

It is always fascinating to meet the thoughts of someone who has been so successful and also has
intentionally tried to formulate his design approach in an overall 'philosophical' way. Esslinger shows clearly that it is possible to be both personal and unique while also formulating general principles and ways of thinking. The book balances on the line between design thinking and strategic business thinking. Esslinger makes a strong and convincing case that design is not only about making good products and services but that each and every designed object has a direct and and serious impact on the overall company, its image, and at the end--survival. Design is not for the faint hearted--it takes courage. Essslinger emphasizes that design is serious business and to be engaged in such processes requires that you know what you are doing, why you do it, and how to do it.

The book contains many stories that provides "evidence" that design is a question of business thinking and strategy. Esslinger formulates some approaches, frameworks, and methods on how to achieve this and how to actually do it. Most of them are fairly simple in form while not in content and are mostly presented as principles.

I find this book stimulating and I think it is a great reading for any young designer who is still trying to understand what design is, what design's purpose and goal is, and how to approach it. It is easy to agree with Esslinger and his overarching philosophy when it comes to design. He writes for instance at the end of the book that he wants to make "design the vanguard of humanistic progress and to encourage everyone, no matter what professional and personal paths he or she travels, to share my passion for improving the world." (p 159). He continues on the next page " is the living link between our human goals and needs and the material culture that helps to fulfill them". Esslinger definitely sees design as one of the most powerful forces shaping our reality.

Of course, a book like this can inspire designers but also be somewhat overwhelming and maybe scary to read. The life of Esslinger and his success has made it possible for him to work on projects that few ever get close to. The grand ideas and ideals that he expresses and lives by may feel unattainable and maybe even offensive to a young design who is involved in fairly plain and everyday design tasks. But I also think that the book can revitalize a your designers ideals and beliefs about the power of design and serve as a guiding tool on how to reach the kind of design adventures that do influence the world. It is obvious, as always, that Esslinger's story is also a story of extremely hard work, failures, extraordinary efforts and a constant struggle in figuring out what design is really about.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Book note: Robert Nozick again!

Well, in the last couple of weeks I have been returning to Robert Nozick's writings. The reason is that I had to check something in his book "The Examined Life" and when I browsed through the book I realized how much I liked it. That in turn led me to look for another of his books in my bookshelf "The Nature of Rationality" and to order his last book "Invariances -- the structure of the objective world".

These are some ambitious titles! After spending some hours with this books I am again captivated and delighted by his way of writing (even though I already knew it). His books are wonderful to read. The writings are vibrant and crisp. It feels more like listening to someone who really know what they are talking about than reading a text.

I am trying to figure out what it is that intrigues me about the texts. First of all, I like the almost ridiculous ambition of Nozick's projects. He is trying to explain rationality, life, nature, and the real world. This is of course what philosophy is about. The opening sentence in "Invariances" is "Philosophy begins in wonder."

I also like that he is not desperately trying to "win" some kind intellectual war and to have the final word. He writes that the "method" should be to explore and to find what is "plausible, illuminating, intellectually interesting, and supported by reason" and that it is not about "proofs". He uses this phrase frequently to make sure the reader do not forget what the measure of success is.

I also like that Nozick is dealing with the basic questions when it comes to everyday life, for instance, he comes back all the time to the simple question, what is "reason" and how do we know what is "reasonable" and is there a form of rationality that is natural and what would that mean. To me, these question are directly relevant for my own research on design and judgment. Reason and rationality are related to judgment. Rationality is a cornerstone in design arguments. But what kind of rationality? Actually, at the end of "The Nature of Rationality" he engages in a discussion about imagination and what it means that rationality is not only about alternative solutions but about imagining new alternatives. It is possible to read this short section as if it is about design.

Anyway, highly stimulating readings.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Book note: Robert Nozick "The examined Life - Philosophical meditations"

After being hidden in my book shelf for quite some time, the book "The examined Life - Philosophical meditations" by Robert Nozick surfaced the other day. This is a book that came out in 1989 and is maybe the most approachable of books by Nozick, even though that is questioned by some. The book has been called an overambitious and almost silly attempt to achieve the impossible.

The book is unusual for a philosophical treatment, since it has a quire personal tone and deals with issues that are way too big for the format. This personal tone and relevance for everyday life reflects the title of the book. The term "the examined life" is a reference to the famous expression by Sokrates "“The unexamined life is not worth living".

Nozick is not known for this particular book. Many reviewers see this as a strange non-philosophical exploration of topics that are less "philosophical" in a traditional sense. Those who do review the book mostly discuss the chapters where Nozick explores ethical or life issues, such as love, happiness, sexuality, and faith.

To me the book, apart from discussing those important subjects also takes on a fascinating experiment in how to analytically approach reality. I frequently use some of Nozick's definitions in my teaching, particularly his wonderfully simple distinction between  value and meaning. Nozick attempts to develop a full "matrix" of qualities that we have to consider if we want to understand reality. He ends up with a matrix consisting of 48 qualities! This is to some extent overwhelming and have by some been labeled as a somewhat crazy endeavor. At the same time, at least for me it is inspiring and a sign of courage. He calls it the "polyhedron of reality" or the "matrix of reality".

In my recent attempts to think about an analytical approach to human computer interaction and what that would entail, I find Nozick's work highly relevant and inspiring. I am convinced that some parts of his matrix can serve as a foundation for such analysis. So, I will definitely come back to this and see what can be done.

I highly recommend this book in general, not only for the "matrix" part but for the way it is written, the tone and style, and the way Nozick see the purpose of philosophy.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

An Analytic Turn in HCI Research

Over the last few years I have explored and played with the idea of an analytic turn in HCI research. My reasons for this exploration are several--some reasons are fairly simple and straightforward while others more complex and subtle. The most obvious reason for me to turn to analysis is that I am looking for a more object/artifact/thing oriented approach in HCI research

The turn in HCI research toward user-centeredness and user experience have in many cases gone too far. This research has strived to become more inclusive of aspects outside of the traditional ones, such as functionality, efficiency, etc. The complete focus on the user has led to  wonderful developments in the field that were highly needed and that have made a great impact. At this time though, with the ambition to consider "everything" important, a lot of research in interaction design and HCI is becoming far too broad, leaving a core without concreteness and without any analytical strength that would make sense from a design perspective. 

Interestingly enough this expansion of HCI research when it comes to scope is not limited to any particular approach or method. It is possible to see the same effort manifested in highly developed qualitative research as well as in quantitative research. The attempt in both cases seems to be to find ways to capture, analyze and explain users reactions and experiences of interactive artifacts and systems. However, in both cases it has lead to a shift in focus away from the object/artifact/system/thing that the experiencing subject is interacting with. 

My own explorations lately have therefore been based on the simple idea that analysis of interactive artifacts can be done without applying any form of use or user perspective. It is an analytic research approach that aligns with a design perspective in the sense that the analysis is directed towards those aspects of the design that a designer can control. After having tried this approach in some studies, I am convinced that it is highly rewarding but at the same time difficult and still far from clear how to do it. I am quite sure however that it is different from both any kind of user studies and interestingly also criticism (which sounds like it could be similar).

I am (slowly) developing an approach or at least a way of thinking, in collaboration with some phd students, that I label "artifact analysis".  It is clear that a proper artifact analysis has to be done according to some principles and the process has to be clearly thought out. The results are, in my view, really interesting and in many ways surprising. And what I like the most is that the findings are often counterintuitive and quite challenging. Now you may ask, ok, so how do you do it? Well, I do not have time to write that now, maybe later :-)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

New course in the Spring 2014: "Philosophy and Theory of Design"

I have against better judgment decided to teach a new course in the Spring of 2014. I have since 15 years or so taught a course on "Design Theory" mostly for master students. That course has become a bit less theoretical in the last few years (but it is also much better as a course!). The new course is a small seminar (maybe 6-12) with the title "Philosophy and Theory of Design". It will only be open for PhD students and interested colleagues, and only after permission from me :-) We will meet once a week for 1,5 hour, read good texts and discuss. I will also now and then give shorter "lectures" during these meetings. I don't know if anyone will sign up for this type of course, we'll see. I am looking forward to it, and if you are interested, write to me.

(I am as usual also in the Spring teaching a course on "Experience Design")

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Why flat design is soon boring, old and "flat"

The notion of flat design has seen some tremendous success in the last years (even Google is doing it). There is an abundance of sites and blogs that will tell you what flat design is and how it will revolutionize design, especially interface design. Some see flat design not as a form of style but as an inevitable development.

Flat design is as a form language and style quite interesting especially after a long period when digital technology made it possible to imitate reality in all its glory and richness. So, it is not strange that there is an attraction in the opposite, which some see as a turn towards the "real" qualities of digital material (which makes the whole question more philosophical).

Anyway, all this is fine and well. However, we will all quite soon be bored again, and flat design will be seen as "old" and maybe "flat". I have no problem with that, that is the way style and fashion in any field works.

What is somewhat problematic is when designers argue that flat design is not a choice, not a style, not one out of infinitely many possible ways to design. When they see flat design as a culmination of an evolution or as the unavoidable paradigm. Such a view is highly unfortunate. It leads to simplistic understandings of design and at the end of the day, it leads to a narrowing and streamlining of the design space which in turn lead to a deprived design landscapes and ultimately boring designs.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Book note: Goffman, interaction and analytical artifact oriented HCI

I just received the book "Interaction Rituals" by Erving Goffman in the mail. I have not really read Goffman before but found the writing to resonate with my own thinking. Even though a lot of his work is in psychology and sociology it is possible to read his work as if it is about human-computer interaction and not only human-human interaction.

I found this great quote in the Introduction:

"I assume that the proper study of interaction is not the individual and his psychology, but rather the syntactical relations among the acts of different persons mutually present to one another. None the less, since it is individual actors who contribute the ultimate materials, it will always be reasonable to ask what general properties they must have if this sort of contribution is to be expected of them. What minimal model of the actor is needed if we are to wind him up, stick him amongst his fellows, and have an orderly traffic of behavior emerge?" (page 2).

It is possible to read this as if it is about human computer interaction. Contrary to most work in HCI today, which is almost completely focused on the "human" side of use and experience and not on the "computer" side, Goffman argues that it is possible to, or maybe even necessary to, develop models of the "ultimate material", which in this case would be also the artifact side of the interaction. It is "reasonable" to study what "general properties" the ultimate material must have to be able to contribute to the interaction in the way they do. I read this as similar to the approach that I have argued for in some articles, especially together with Lars-Erik Janlert, about the need and benefit of an analytical artifactist approach in HCI research.

Lars-Erik and I have since early 90s tried to develop a more analytical and artifact oriented approach to interaction studies (see refs and links below). In our 1997 article "The Character of Things" we examined, without using Goffman, the possibility of understanding human-artifact interaction as a form of human-human interaction. We experimented with ascribing artifacts "character" and "character traits" as a way to handle the overwhelming complexity arising by the manifold and diversity of new interactive products. We ended the article with the following paragraph:

"We believe that we must learn to better exploit the basic abilities human
beings have evolved in dealing with each other and with things in their
environment. One of these abilities is the use of characters. We propose
that in the design of computer artifacts: (1) more attention should be paid
to character, and the completeness and coherence of characteristics; and
(2) the design of characteristic features should be developed to better bring
out the (true) character of computer artifacts."

I am convinced that when interactive artifacts evolve and becomes more complex and with even richer behaviors it is generally a good idea to use human-human interaction as a model for inspiration. We deal with highly complex people on a daily basis, even people who are hostile, dishonest, etc. in their relations and behaviors towards us, but we still manage to interact to some extent. Of course it is important not to engage in such an analysis thinking that artifacts are humans. We are still far from a situation where human-human interaction can serve as prescriptive for any kind of more serious artifact design attempts, but they can certainly serve as a metaphorical inspiration for potential explanations and understandings.

[My reading of Goffman is when I write this restricted to just some small parts of the book "Interaction Rituals", so any form of mis-interpretation is possible.]

Janlert, L-E. & Stolterman, E. (1997). The character of things. Design Studies Vol 18, No 3, July (1997), 297-314.
(Won the prize as the journals best article of 1997)

Lars-Erik Janlert and Erik Stolterman. 2010. Complex interaction. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact. 17, 2, Article 8 (May 2010),

We also have one more article under review and one in progress on the same theme.

"How System Designers Think About Design and Methods"

In 1991 I defended my PhD dissertation. The dissertation was in Swedish. In those days we (or at least I) did not write many papers or articles, we focused on the dissertation, and I did not really publish anything from my dissertation in English,. However, I published one article in the Scandinavian Journal of Information Systems (1991) with the title "How system designers think about design and methods--some reflections based on an interview study".

I have not seen this article in years and recently I realized I do not even have a copy. My colleague Jeff Bardzell has in some mysterious way been able to find it (the reasons for why he did this are for another post). He just sent me a pdf version of the article. Thanks Jeff!

[I just got a message from my old friend and colleague Peter Axel Nielsen that all SJIS articles are available online, and so is I have changed the link. Thanks Peter Axel!]

I am quite sure I have not read the article since 1991. As usual when you read something you wrote a long time ago you have different revelations. I realized that I am still working on and with the same ideas today as back then. I realized that I completely agree with myself. This can be seen as seriously sad or perhaps something good, I am not sure. I also realized that the article fits perfectly into the ongoing NSF project I am currently working on. It can be added to the papers we are writing today without any changes.

So, what about intellectual development and growth? Has nothing happened with me since then? Well, even if I still like the article, I can see what appears to be small changes in how I think. Reading myself, it is clear that my work today is grounded in a different way, and that it is connected to a much broader net of knowledge. At the same time, I can also see the optimism in the early writing, the lack of respect for big questions or for authorities or for the complexities of reality. Anyway, interesting reflections at least for me :-)

If you are working on anything related to design practice, design methods, etc. you should read the article. You can find it here.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Looking for researchers and practitioners who have developed a method, technique, tool or approach for interaction design

We are looking for researchers and practitioners who have developed any kind of new method, technique, tool, approach, etc. aimed at being used by practitioners in interaction design practice. 

If you fit that description, we would like to interview you about your work (via email or Skype). It is a quite short interview where we will ask questions about why you did it, what you did, how you did it, what you expected the outcome would be, etc.

Get in touch with me if you can do this! Or let us know if you know someone who would be a good interviewee.

You can email me at

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Expanding Notion of the Interface

When Kinect and other similar new technologies were introduced it changed the conception of what constitutes an interface. This is a fascinating topic and one that I am working on with my colleague Lars-Erik Janlert.

There is a new attempt to develop haptic feedback without have any physical contact with a device. Aireal is a new concept that sends small puffs of air towards a user in a way that leads to (some kind of) experiences of objects. The technology is developed by University of Illinois PhD student Rajinder Sodhi and Disney Reseach’s Ivan Poupyrev. [You can find a description and video here]

This new technology is another step in the development and change of what constitutes an interface and is an interesting example that I wished Lars-Erik Janlert and I had used in our newly submitted article labeled "Faceless Interaction - a conceptual examination of the notion of interface: past, present and future". In the article we develop a way of thinking about interfaces that makes it possible to understand historical versions of interfaces and to some extent predict interfaces that will come. I hope to be able to write more about this later (if the article is accepted).

PS. Today I read this article about Leap Motion which is a slightly different approach but on the same theme. You can see how it works here.

Here is another article by Janlert and me about interaction and interfaces:

Lars-Erik Janlert and Erik Stolterman. 2010. Complex interaction. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact. 17, 2, Article 8 (May 2010), 32 pages. DOI=10.1145/1746259.1746262

Friday, July 19, 2013

Book note: "Thinking on Paper" (how to write and how to design)

In 1989 I got the book "Thinking on Paper : Refine, Express, and Actually Generate Ideas by Understanding the Processes of the Mind" written by V. A. Howard and M. A. Barton as a gift by my PhD advisor Professor Kristo Ivanov. Kristo gave this book to all PhD students for a while. I assume that he did not appreciate how little we all were writing.

I really liked this book. Today I re-read some parts of it (since I showed it to a colleague yesterday). I found my own notes and comments from 1989 in the book and realized that this book has in many ways shaped my thinking about both writing but maybe even more about design.

The core ideas that the authors present in the book are all highly relevant for design in general and not only for writing. To me, the book presents two core ideas that I still return to. The first is the idea that writing is, what the title says, 'thinking on paper'. The authors explains the difference between writing as articulation and communication. Most writing has to start as articulation and if the writer sees it as communication it becomes a problem. Articulation is the discovery and formulation of ideas, while writing for communication is a process of critique, testing, assessment, and evidence. In relation to this, they also make perfectly clear that writing is not something that happens to you, it is an activity, something you do. There is no "waiting for the Muse".

The other core idea is also visible in the title and that is the  idea that to become a better writer you have to understand writing. They write "The first step is to get clear in your mind what writing is, and what it isn't." And the reason for that is because "what you think writing is (or isn't) can profoundly affect how you do it."

To me, this means that the most useful knowledge for design is knowledge about design. This is also a philosophy that I have followed over the years and also why I always stress the importance of theory and philosophy as the most practical ways to improve as a designer. Of course, you also need hands-on skills and knowledge which also the authors take seriously which is why the second part of the book is very hands-on advice based on the notion of 'thinking on paper'  on how to structure your writings, how to make an argument, even some about grammar and punctuation.

Anyway, if you are someone who struggles with writing, this is the book for you. If you are a designer, this is a book that presents a highly useful theory about design!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Design Thinking Imperialism and the Danger of Simplification

In the Economist there is an article, "Design companies are applying their skills to the voluntary and public sectors", that examines IDEO and the growing "design thinking" industry. The author, Schumpeter, makes the case that design is today moving from traditional "clients" of design to clients in governmental and non-profit organizations. The author sees this as part of a "revolution" that has almost signs of being imperialistic.
Schumpeter writes:

"IDEO is the standard-bearer of a broader revolution. Designers are becoming much more ambitious—perhaps imperialistic—about design thinking. In the United States the Stanford University Institute of Design, or D-School, which Mr Kelley founded in 2006, acts as an intellectual centre for the movement. The school helps businesses improve innovation and reduce complexity. It also encourages students to apply their skills to solving social problems, such as designing an inexpensive incubator for premature babies. In Britain the Design Council and the Royal Society of the Arts are also strong advocates of design thinking."

It is understandable that design can be seen as imperialistic with the attention and recognition it has received the last few years. Design and particularly 'design thinking' is often portrayed as the approach to apply to any problem where there is a lack of creativity, new ideas, or human oriented thinking. However, design as a human approach to inquiry and action is often presented in a simplistic and almost 'childish' way when it comes to what it is as a process, methods and tools. This article is an example of this. The author gives a summary of what is the core of the IDEO approach. To him it consists of three elements.

He writes:

"There are three main elements to IDEO’s “design thinking”. 
"The first is “lots of different eyes”. 
"The second is to look at problems from the consumer’s point of view"
"The third element is making everything tangible."
This description apparently captures the nature of 'design thinking'. This is to him the core of the approach that has been successful and that everyone is trying to copy. It is not surprising that he shows some hesitation about the approach when he writes:
"It is easy to mock all of this as bearded nonsense (if you are on the political right) or a ruse to divert attention from cuts in essential services (if you are on the left). .......Nevertheless, there are good reasons for giving the new fashion a chance."
To me there are two observations to be made from this article. First is that when design (or 'design thinking') spreads to larger and new groups of people less educated and trained  in design, it inevitably looses in richness and is slowly almost disintegrating as a unique approach. Design faces the danger of becoming a 'common sense' approach that anyone can do.
The second observation is that proponents of design have to very careful in 'overselling' design and explaining it in a simplistic fashion. Both 'overselling' and simplification leads without a doubt to failure, disappointment and the consequence will be a serious backlash for design. If all of us, who do believe in design as a powerful human approach to inquiry and action, different from other approaches such as science and art, that can produce unique outcomes; if we are not careful in how we present and explain design, we and design will fail. Design is an activity that is complex, rich, highly dependent on the competence, knowledge, skill and character of designers. It is a process that requires well developed judgment and ability to discern quality and to research and understand complex contexts and the desires and needs of people and organizations in order to create something 'not-yet-existing'. It is an expensive process that takes time. If this process is simplified into three elements that lack depth, richness and any form of practical relevance, then design will never be successful in any 'imperialistic' sense, instead it will be disregarded and ridiculed for not providing what it promises. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Trying to organize my book reviews and book comments

It seems as if I continue to write small comments on books I read. It sometimes becomes a bit longer review but often just a note. The blog format is not the best to get an overview of these different posts, so I have added a page with a list of links to the posts. I do not think I have found all posts yet so I will keep adding. If you have any idea on how to make this more useful, just let me know. You can find the like to the page in the navigation bar above.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Micro Book Note: Susan Haack "Defending Science--within reason"

I have always liked to read about science since it is the professional practice I am engaged with on a daily basis. I have over time realized that my own view of what science and research really is about constantly changes, many times in surprising (to myself) ways. This seems to happen again when reading Susan Haack's "Defending Science--within reason".

While reading the introduction I started to do some googling on the author and found a very interesting talk by Haack where she presents the philosophy she labels "innocent realism". I was intrigued by her argumentation and reasoning and I can see the same form of clear and rational thinking in the book too. To what extent her ambition to defend science makes sense, I have to come to another day after having read some more. But I am optimistic and hopeful that her account of science continues to intrigue me and to make sense.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Book note: "Convivial Toolbox--generative research for the front end of design"

I just received a copy of a quite new book "Convivial Toolbox--generative research for the front end of design" by Elizabeth Sanders and Pieter Jan Stappers. It is exciting to see that more books on design are being published, and especially books that are not only simple "how-to" but also present a philosophical and theoretical position.

Sanders and Stappers is doing this well in many ways. The book is first of all nicely designed with great paper! The book is full of interesting design schemas, many of which are quite insightful and interesting. I have yet to read the book carefully and I am not sure I will, not because I do not find it useful but because I am quite aware of most of what the book covers. To me the most interesting elements of the book are the elaborate schemas that in some cases are rich and dense and provide the reader with a lot of insights about the topic in a designerly relevant way. I will definitely use some of those schemas in my own teaching.

So, the book covers in a good way how early design can be supported by generative research. It gives examples and cases on how to do it. I think the book can be useful for anyone who is searching for such support.

At the same time, I find the layout of the book confusing. Numerous different sections, colors, and sidebars. The layout is structured as if it is a basic textbook with readers who need to be guided in detail in their reading, with "hints" and other typical features. It becomes confusing and difficult to read, at least for me.

I was quite intrigued by the title "Convivial Toolbox" since I am well aware of Illich writings and of his ideas. I was hoping that the authors would in a stronger sense build and relate their ideas to the notion on conviviality, but that did not really happen. For instance, to what extent and in what way are the tools described in the book better suited for convivial design than others, and in what way is conviviality supported by the process presented? I was looking for a final reflection or discussion of that but could not find it.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Book note: "Back to the rough ground" by Joseph Dunne

In our research group where we study design practice, we read relevant texts each week this summer and talk about them. Yesterday we read the last chapter, the Epilogue, from "Back to the Rough Ground" by Joseph Dunne.

I read this book when it was first published and I keep coming back to it. When it comes to scholarly examinations about what practice is all about, what competence is, what rationality is, there is no other book that can deliver so much wisdom.

Yesterday, re-reading the Epilogue (which I have read many times before), I was again completely overwhelmed with the way Dunne handles this difficult topic. Some paragraphs are so good, it hurts physically to read them!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Book note: "101 Design Methods" and the problematic success of design

I just received my copy of the book "101 Design Methods -- A Structured Approach for Driving Innovation inYour Organization" by Vijay Kumar. This is one of quite many similar books that have been published the last few years, that is, a book that contains a large number of design methods nicely but briefly described.

I have always like this type of book even though I never really use them myself. The same is true for "101 Design Methods". The book contains many of the popular design methods that are used today and Kumar has organized these methods by providing "A Model of the Design Innovation Process".

This model is, in my words, a schema that helps designers think about the design process, what activities are involved,  and how the different activities relate to each other. It is a nice schema that invites for further exploration.

Kumar does not discuss design in terms of phases or steps, instead he talks about "Seven Modes of the Design Innovation Process". For each of the methods, Kumar then presents benefits, input, output, and when to use. He also presents "what it does" and "how it works". Everything is well presented and the methods are pedagogically introduced, each on two pages.

As for many of the similar books that introduce methods and techniques in a condensed form, this book also have the same issues. I believe that for someone who is already trained in design and has internalized designerly thinking and is experienced in the design process, a book like this works well. The book then becomes a handbook, a repository, a memory support, an inspirational source for when a designer has to select how to approach a task. For a designer, the descriptions are enough to inspire how to do something based on previous experience, and then they can adapt and adopt the method to the specific situation and need. The two page description reminds the designer of potential methods and also about the core aspects of the method.

However, for someone who is not trained in design, who does not think in a designerly way, the book does not give the same support. Instead, it may even be misleading in the sense that it portraits design as a process of activities that all seem fairly straightforward and "simple". It may appear that given the situation at hand you just decide what you need, or what "mode" you are in, and then uses one of the methods for that purpose.  However, this is not the way design works. The complexity of even the "simplest" design situation and process never means that there are obvious choices of methods or techniques.

What we face today with the enormous success of design as a solution to most problems, such as 'innovation' in Kumar's book, is that design is being transformed from a process requiring competence and skills that takes time and effort to achieve into a "quick fix" approach where it is all about picking the right tools. It is as if we would take a traditional carpenters workshop, pick 25 out of the several hundreds of tools in there, arrange them conceptually in relation to what a carpenter does, and expect anyone to be able to do carpentry and achieve high quality furniture. We all know that is not possible. To be a skilled carpenter means to know what tool to use, when and how to use them, and to recognize improvement and quality of outcome. None of these skills are intrinsically part of any method or tool. The skill to be able to think and act like a carpenter is what carpentry is all about.

So, even though I am very happy with the way design has reached the status of today, that all companies and organizations want to be design thinking organizations, I am less happy with the way that this success is manifested in books. The book described above is definitely needed and is a great contribution to many designers. But what we need is more books that can help people to understand design, what it means to be a designer, that can support them in their struggle to develop as a designer. We need books about design that accepts that it is not a "quick fix", not a question of using the right tools, not a question of selecting the right method, but that design is a way of thinking and approaching the world with the purpose of change. And we need books that can do this in an intelligible way that intrigues non-designers and make them understand that the effort needed is worth it if they want to become a designer.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Wonderful 1.5 minute video about design

It is difficult to show what design is about, even if you just want to explain a few aspects of what characterizes the design process. This little video by Apple is in my mind an amazing good and rare example. In two minutes they cover the importance of first intentions, desiderata, service, composition, etc. framed in Apple language. All core concepts from our book "The Design Way".

Of course the video does not give a full exposition of design, but it presents some reflections of its core. And they do it in a beautiful way!

Monday, June 03, 2013

The many (universal) versus the (ultimate) particular

Being in an academic environment where many different approaches to understanding reality lives side by side is fascinating. I am intrigued by the new and growing approach that takes on the study of social phenomena as a study of complex systems and those who advocate 'big data' as the solution to most problems.

It seems as if almost everything today is studied in the format of "many", that is, as a sum, average or network of many actors or activities. This is of course the basic approach of science, the universal is at the core.

At the same time, so much of what make up our reality as humans is a composition of particulars. I live in this particular house, work in this particular job, have these particular friends, etc. Designers have always had a strong affinity for the particular since design is always about the ultimate particular and not about the universal or general.

It is interesting to think about the modern academic world in light of this division. Who in academia has as their main interest to figure out the universal and who is ultimately engaged with the particular of some kind? The answer is that a huge majority is engaged with particulars and how to deal with them, while very few are involved in the pursuit of the universal. But at the same time, the pursuit of the universal is considered the most valuable and the protocols and procedures that guide the search for the universal is also pushed into areas where the particular is in focus. My guess is that we will in the next decades see a new understanding of knowledge production that is more 'designerly' grounded, that is, with the intent to develop knowledge that support engagement with the particular.

The thing is that dealing with the particular can never be approached as if it is a consequence of universal knowledge. Why this is the case is a philosophical issue that I may come back to in another post.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Device Landscapes—A New Challenge to Interaction Design and HCI Research

Together with the PhD students Heekyoung Jung and Will Ryan, and my colleague Marty Siegel, I have for some time been working on the idea of device or artifact landscapes (ecologies). We have changed our vocabulary several times trying to capture the nature of relationships between interactive artifacts.  We have published a few papers on this research earlier and now a more overall journal article is to be published in a new Korean design research journal.

Stolterman, E. , Jung, H., Ryan, W., and Siegel, M. A. (2013) Device Landscapes: A New Challenge to Interaction Design and HCI Research. Archives of Design Research, 26(2), 7-33

You can find the article here

Below is a brief summary of the article:

Device Landscapes—A New Challenge to Interaction Design and HCI Research

Erik Stolterman, Heekyoung Jung, Will Ryan, Martin A. Siegel  

The number of interactive digital artifacts is growing surrounding personal lives, and individuals have an increasing need to describe, analyze, and interpret what it means to own, use, and live with a large number of interactive artifacts. It becomes critical from a design perspective to better understand the relational aspects among multiple artifacts beyond the use of individual ones. In this article, we examine the nature of networks of interactive artifacts and the way people understand and handle these networks. We introduce the concept of device landscapes as a conceptual tool for the analysis and examination of personal networks of interactive artifacts.

We describe previous work and discuss the theoretical underpinnings supporting our studies. In particular, we compare and contrast our concept of device landscape to other models of multi-artifact systems with an emphasis on the bottom-up perspective in which landscapes are created by users instead of a perspective given by designers. Also, we summarize and interpret several studies we have completed—including personal inventory study, mapping study, survey, and interview to examine how people perceive and manage their personal device landscapes. Based on our findings we propose a conceptual framework aimed at supporting research on these device landscapes.

From our studies we found that people perceive device landscapes in many different ways and develop their own strategies to manage multiple interactive artifacts, mostly digital devices in use. By investigating high-level patterns from device maps and verbal descriptions, properties and aspects of interactive artifacts are defined to describe the concept of device landscapes.

We also discuss how these personal networks—namely, device landscapes—present new challenges and implications to the interaction design and HCI research community by comparing it to the perspectives of ubiquitous and pervasive computing environments.

[If you are interested in reading the whole article, send me an email.]

Friday, May 17, 2013

Forms of inquiry in design and research

Lately I have been in many discussions with PhD students about how to set up research and also how to design a design process and sometimes even how to design a research process that has strong design qualities. The problem they face is that they see their work as research but not as 'pure' scientific research and this makes them uneasy and unsure of how to make good choices.

When I engage in these discussions I often realize that the major problem is that it is not clear what the purpose of the inquiry is and consequently what the 'measure-of-success' would be. As long as the purpose and measure of success is not made clear, the choice of inquiry approach becomes extremely complex and frustrating.

In our book "The Design Way" we discuss this issue in many places, but one that helps me a lot can be found in the chapter "The Ultimate Particular". Here we discuss three forms or designs of inquiry and action that humans can engage in. We suggest "... that design, as presented in this book, is based on a compound form of inquiry, composed of true, ideal, and real approaches to gaining knowledge." It is possible to also make the case that research and science also in most cases consists of compound forms of these three. There is not simple and direct mapping between them even though it may be tempting to assume that.

I will not here go into any detail about this, just copy two of the schemas we use in the chapter to show what kind of considerations are involved when anyone makes a decision on how to design a particular form of inquiry.

In Figure 1.4 (below) we present a schema that lays out several aspects of inquiry and action and how they can be understood for each of the three forms of inquiry, that is, the real, the true and the ideal. This is a quite rich schema with dense concepts, but reading each line carefully gives insights about how different the three are, but also where they are somewhat overlapping. So, in making choices about what form of inquiry to choose in your research or design, a schema like this may help since it not only explains but also provides with concepts that can guide the understanding of purpose and measure of success. For instance, you can examine what your intention is, what you motivation is, what your preferred form of understanding is, etc. Given any choice also tells you what the measure fo success should be. So, if you are truly looking for inquiry for understanding (under 'fundamentals') that can lead to 'enlightenment' of some kind, it is not appropriate to see 'facts' to be part of the measure of success.

However, choosing a research approach or a design approach is not a simple question of deciding which 'design of inquiry and action' to "use". The richness and specifics of the particular situation, your purpose and intention leads to complex considerations regarding how all three forms can inform and enrich an inquiry. This is shown in Figure 1.5 below.

Design or research is never a question of finding out what the correct or best existing approach is, instead it is a complex process of judgment that weighs all aspects in an attempt to reach an approach that makes sense, that is guided by intention, that has a purpose and is based on a clear understanding of what the measure of success is.

This may be a fairly abstract and theoretical approach to the question of how to choose an approach for inquiry in design or research, but it does provide some support and it can lead to more informed choices.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Marcuse and Morozov: 'One-dimensionality' and 'Technological Solutionism'

Evgeny Morozov is an author who just published his new book "To Save Everything-- The Folly of Technological Solutionism". Morozov is highly opinionated, he pushes arguments to the extreme, and he is probably to many both offensive and plainly 'loud'. However, he makes the case that some of the questions he raises are not raised by anyone today. The longterm consequences of the technologically based 'solutions' that we develop are never examined and discussed in the way they deserve according to Morozov. He makes the argument that we are on a dangerous track when we believe that by quantifying, tracking, capturing, gamifying human behavior we can also solve our societal problems. However, the most serious problem is not that we are actually already doing this, but that there seems to be an overwhelming consensus that this is not really problematic.

I am drawn to Morozov's book partly because I am working on a chapter about the notion of the 'one-dimensional man' by Herbert Marcuse. Marcuse was a philosopher and one of the founders of critical theory, and a serious critique of the modern Western society. The notion of the 'one-dimensional man' refers to the situation when society provides everyone (or a majority) with all that is needed and desired. All critique is absorbed by the existing structure, new radical cultural movements become fashionable and harmless, and after some time, no one can even imagine a different society (except for small variations). We are all seeing everything in the same way, we are becoming 'one-dimensional'.

So, two extraordinary and different thinkers can be read as having something in common, that is, a belief that our society is shaping us to not see and understand what is good for us. We have designed a 'system' that makes us products of our own ignorance.

Read the two books, but please keep an open mind, they may upset you...

Friday, April 19, 2013

Critical Design Exhibition (ISTC event)

Last evening we had a great exhibition of six 'critical designs' called  "The Fragile Self in Anxious Times." The exhibition was part of our involvement in the Intel ISTC Social Computing project. The designs are by our PhD students Shad Gross and Youngsuk Lee who are working with Jeff Bardzell, Shaowen Bardzell and me.

The six designs are exciting examples of what happens when you design interactive devices that are not designed for a well defined purpose and functionality and without any well-defined intended user. The designs are meant to express some aspects of 'criticality'. (I should have some pictures here of course, maybe I can add that later.)

In relation to the concrete design work we are also developing a theoretical framework about  what 'criticality' stands for in design. The reason for this work is that we found ourselves quite frustrated with the way critical design has previously been defined. We are making good progress and will at some point present our theoretical framework.

Anyway, yesterday we had the exhibition and about 50 students and faculty were engaged with the designs, all documenting their immediate thoughts and reflections. We were also happy to have Melissa Gregg from Intel visiting us during the exhibition.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

New book: Mads Nygaard Folkmann's book "The aesthetics of Imagination in Design"

I have the pleasure working with Ken Friedman as Series Editors for a MIT Press book series called Design Thinking/Design Theory. Today I got the fourth book in the series which is  Mads Nygaard Folkmann's book "The aesthetics of Imagination in Design". Here is how the book is presented by MIT Press:

"In The Aesthetics of Imagination in Design, Mads Folkmann investigates design in both material and immaterial terms. Design objects, Folkmann argues, will always be dual phenomena—material and immaterial, sensual and conceptual, actual and possible. Drawing on formal theories of aesthetics and the phenomenology of imagination, he seeks to answer fundamental questions about what design is and how it works that are often ignored in academic research."

It is exciting to work with a book series and one of the perks is that you get to see so many book proposals usually a couple of years before they are books, so it is a way of looking into the future. Unfortunately the vast majority of the proposals we get are never written. It seems as if many feel the calling to write a book but few have the time and energy it takes (they definitely do not lack good ideas!).

Anyway, take a look at these books and remember that we are always looking for ideas and manuscripts. Just email me if you want to discuss your ideas. You do not have to have a finished proposal or draft, just some ideas are ok to start with.

Remember that books usually have much more impact on a field than any articles and they stay relevant for a long time and do not get old in the same way. 

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

The fear of 'big data'

In my early days of my undergraduate education we read a lot about the relation between the model in the computer and the part of reality that the model was supposed to represent. My most influential professor at that time, Kristo Ivanov, always warned us about the danger when data is seen as a 'resource' like a natural resource to be harvest. He always stressed that all data, and even more so information, is the result of a process that involves mechanisms, procedures, measuring, and choices that ultimately rests on values and are driven by intentions. He always claimed: "there is no "raw" data". It is fascinating to see the exact same discussion emerging today  in the wake of the enormous interest in 'big data'. The same topics that were heavily discussed in the late 70s are again examined. The content of a new book "Raw data is an oxymoron" edited by Lisa Gitelman (MIT Press, 2013) is an evidence of that (here is a good review).

The discussion in the 70s about data, information and knowledge and how (computerized) models form and shape our reality was maybe exaggerated and raised way too early. The consequences of the use of data at that time was rather minimal, the computational abilities and even more the lack of 'data' made the fear of data used wrongly quite 'academic'. However with the advent of 'big data' and with the computational powers of today, the consequences are now real and have to be addressed.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Book note: Can Robots Commit Crimes?

I read today in the Chronicle of Higher Education about a forthcoming book "When Robots Kill: Artificial Intelligence Under Criminal Law" (forthcoming from Northeastern University Press), by Gabriel Hallevy. It is fascinating to see the growing debate about the 'nature' of robots and intelligent systems and to what extent they should be considered to have agency of some kind and therefore also responsibility for their actions. According the the Chronicle, Hallevy makes the case that we already hold other non-human entities responsible for their actions, for instance corporations even though they have no spirit, soul or physical body, so why not robots?

As someone who read all the works by Isaac Asimov (a long time ago) these questions are not new. All Asimov followers know his Three Laws of Robotics. Asimov envisioned a future society where robots had intelligence and agency in way that we are still far from. In his writings he explored what the relationship between humans and robots would or could look like, and what we humans could do to protect ourselves from robots. We are of course still far from the world that Asimov wrote about, but maybe we are getting closer. It seems as if Hallevy's new book is a sign of that.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Evil of Design

Even though I am happy to see the wonderful push for design thinking and a designerly approach today in academia and in business, it is also a bit disturbing to see the lack of critical thinking about design. Design as an approach is today by many seen as the silver bullet to almost any kind of problem. A design approach is considered to be able to deal with any kind of situation. I do agree that design as an approach is powerful, maybe more so than many believe even among those who advocate it. I do agree that many issues today should be approached in a designerly way. But it is also crucial to remember that design as an approach is not inherently good.

Almost all things that scare us and make our lives difficult and dangerous are designed. Some of the most wonderful examples of great design are also considered to be manifestations of evil. Humans design wars, genoside, weapons of destruction, and maybe even more extraordinary but less obvious designs aimed at suppressing people (such as political, governing or business structures), sometimes even in combination with wonderful 'user' experiences that makes people appreciate being oppressed (what a great design!).

In this new emerging era of design thinking and designerly approaches it is important to remember that design is only an approach--it is a process. It is a powerful approach, but there is no guarantor that the outcome will be good design and there is no guarantee that the design process will not lead to evil designs. At the end of the day, it all comes down to the character of the designer. Values and beliefs guides and shapes the judgements made by the designer. Developing design competence therefore means developing once personal character as well as once design thinking ability. 

Anyone engaging in design in a serious way therefore has to be constantly aware of and reflect on the 'nature' of design and also be highly critical of any simple versions of design that promises processes that will lead to good results in some 'automatic' prescriptive guaranteed way. Critical thinking is as important in design as in science.

[In the book "The Design Way" these issues are discussed in the chapters "The Evil of Design" and "The Guarantor-of-Design (g.o.d.)"]

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Design thinking revisited by Norman

Don Norman has in some earlier writings been quite critical to the notion of "design thinking", however now he argues that he has changed his mind. I agree with the new Norman. He makes the case that if we see design thinking more as a tool or method then he is ok with it. And he is also careful with stating that it is not the case that all designers are engaged with design thinking, or that all design schools do teach it. I could not agree more. Working with designers all over the world I know first hand that design thinking is not necessarily understood everywhere where the label design is used. Even worse is that a deeper understanding of design as a human universal approach (much broader and critical than design thinking) is almost completely lacking still. But hopefully this is changing in the years to come.

I have one problem with Norman's new position though. He writes "Two powerful tools of design thinking summarize the approach: the British Design Council's "Double-Diamond, Diverge-Converge Model of Design"; and the iterative process of Observation, Ideation, Prototype, and Test called "Human-Centered Design." I think it is dangerous to substitute a way of thinking with a couple of formalized and standardized methods with their own structure and process. Design thinking to me means a critical stance that makes it possible to engage with a situation in a way that is suitable to the context and circumstances. I am sure there are many design situations that would not be suitable to approach by the Human Centered Design process that Norman describes. I have seen numerous design process carried out in an excellent way that in no shape or form resembles that process. So, design thinking, is about thinking, not about particular tools or methods, it is the thinking itself that is the tool!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Interface tile designs--evolution or fashion

I guess you have already realized that one of the most popular interface design styles today is tile design. The examples are many, Pinterest (maybe where it started), Windows 8, USA today, etc. Even "older" designs are changing their design to become more tile like. Ebay is trying to look like Pinterest.

The tile design has an immediate appeal. It is clear, structured, appears to be highly organized and of course, is in many cases visually appealing. We have over the years seen many "styles" come and go, usually they have been seen as evolutions of the interface--new paradigms. GUI is seen as superior to command based interaction for instance and not as a style or fashion. Touch and gesture is seen as developments away from traditional keyboard interactions--not as a fashion. But is tile interfaces the next step in the evolution of interfaces or is it only a style, a fashion? And if so, does it matter?

My own very personal and unscientific analysis of tile interfaces has led me to the conclusion that the positive aspects I mentioned above does not come without problems. The dominating visual aspect of tiles seems to make it difficult to create distinctions between different types of content and also between differences in importance (apart from size). It also seems to be difficult to create a supporting browsing structure that does not "force" the user to inspect all tiles in the same way and with the same effort. I have to admit that I have not done enough examinations of this to be able to argue for any of these observations, but I am sure that they could use some study.

If tile design is less an overall evolution and improvement of the interface and more of a fashion, it does not mean that is necessary bad or less valuable. Styles and fashion are common in every area where it is difficult to make serious developments on the fundamental qualities of an artifact, for instance, clothes. New styles and fashions can be seen as ways to keep things from becoming boring and repetitive. And that is maybe what the tile design paradigm is all about.

I would like to hear what others think about this. Maybe interaction design, at least some aspects of it like traditional screen design, is at  a stage where style and fashion will become even more important and truly new interaction paradigms will be less common.

Personally, I am already a bit tired of tile designed interfaces. They do not work well for me. USA Today is a good example where I do not see any positive improvements when it comes to the overall user experience. But, I may be wrong.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Interfaces of not?

During the last few years we have seen a drastic change in what is usually seen as the interface of interactive artifacts and systems. There are many who examine this change, such as this article about "Why The Human Body Will Be The Next Computer Interface".

I am excited to see speculations about this since I am working with Lars-Erik Janlert on a new article about this topic. The article is to some extent based on our previous article "Complex Interaction" even though it hopefully breaks some new ground when it comes to the big questions of "what is an interface"  and the future oriented question of "what is the future of interfaces".

There are a number of interesting questions that we try to investigate int the article, for instance, what is the most useful definition of interfaces, does the Kinect have an interface, when interfaces are everywhere how can we think about them, etc. These questions are important since if answered they may help and support designers who on an everyday basis make decisions about the manifestations and materializations of interfaces. Questions like "should we try to make the interface smaller", "should we try to remove the interface" or "are gestures a good form of interaction in this case". The consequences of all these decisions are not obvious even though for a particular device they may make be. When we look at the landscape of interfaces that we all live within, every decision regarding one interface will influence the use and usefulness of all the others. There is an 'ecosystem' or landscape effect of all design decisions. Anyway, in our article we deal with all these issues and also relate them to the history of interfaces.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

"The Design Way" --- a review

Yesterday we got a nice review sent to us from MIT Press that has been published in "Computing Reviews". You can find the review here. What I like about the review is that it is by someone who is not a designer, who is not already in the field of designerly thinking, but still a positive review. The reviewer, Joan Horvath, does a good job in introducing the book and explaining how and why it can be read by someone who is not yet familiar with design in this more theoretical and philosophical way. Horvath makes the argument that the book is valuable if you are an engineer and have to work with people that are more designerly or artistic. It creates an understanding of the different approaches, I could not agree more.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Growing Critique of 'Big Data'

It is interesting that we can already see critique against the 'big data' movement (just search for critique of 'big data'). One good example of the more recent voices came in NYT the other day (link).  It is always the case that anything that evolves into a buzz word and get hyped inevitably will face critique, but this critique has come earlier than I expected.

It seems as if the notion of 'big data' and its proponents will face some resistance from the start. Of course, 'big data' has been around for a long time but it has been invisible and not very 'cool'. It has been seen as number crunching and serious computation of large datasets or databases. It has been seen as an activity in the background and as an infrastructure that feeds information into front-end systems. Now 'big data' is its own thing, bringing promises and creating hopes of new possibilities. With the new popularity and the promises of potential wonders that it can deliver, it will be interesting to see how the 'big data movement' will be able to handle the hype and the growing critique at the same time. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Misconceptions about the Science of Design

In a New York Times article, Lance Hosey writes, "A revolution in the science of design is already under way, and most people, including designers, aren’t even aware of it." The articles reports on recent research that has shown how different aspects of color, shapes, patterns, motives, etc lead to particular reactions in humans. For instance, the color green can boost creativity  motives from nature can make people more efficient. Hosey mentions some more examples. The author makes the case that "if every designer understood more about the mathematics of attraction, the mechanics of affection, all design — from houses to cellphones to offices and cars — could both look good and be good for you."

This is an amazingly confused and misguided article. I will soon post a more detailed critique.

[Ok, I wrote this about a month ago and I have not yet posted "a more detailed critique", I think it is quite probable that there will not be any such posting.]

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

New look and Claude Levi-Strauss

As you may recognize, I have slightly changed the design of my blog. We'll see if I like it. It may soon change again. Since this is only a matter of changing structure and not the content, I am appropriately reading "Myth and Meaning" by Claude Levi-Strauss at the same time. I have not read this book before but have always suspected that I would like it--and I do. He writes for instance "it is absolutely impossible to conceive of meaning without order." I agree. And he also writes "science has only two ways of proceeding: it is either reductionist or structuralist". Simple and clear, think about that!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

DRS 2014 – Design’s Big Debates

Since I am involved in the organization of the DRS 2014 conference, I am posting some information about it hear. We are aiming to develop the conference to even more become the premier international general design conference. We are changing many aspects fo the conference to both better reach a broader audience while also enhance the quality of submissions. So, read and plan!!

DRS 2014 – Design’s Big Debates
Preliminary Call for Participation
Umeå, Sweden, June 16-19, 2014

Design Research Society’s 2014 conference invites you to engage in discussions and debates on the future directions of design and design research. We welcome you to join us in Umeå, Sweden, June 16-19.

We believe there is a shared discourse in design, one that includes all areas of design research, and that is of vital importance for our understanding and development of the foundations of design. This discourse is something we share and cultivate over long periods time, as it tells stories of past, present and future trajectories of design and its role in society.

With an ever-increasing demand for academic specialization and increasing numbers of highly specialized conferences, there is now a bigger need than ever for a venue where the design research community can address significant challenges that cut across domains and big issues that will influence the way our field as a whole develops. The main purpose of the DRS 2014 conference is to foster and support a shared design discourse. By focusing on key big issues in design, we want to create a forum where the questions that have the potential to change the way we think and do design – its philosophy, theory, practice, methodology, education, profession and history – will be discussed and debated.

To create this platform for discussions and debates we want to open up a wider set of possibilities for engaging and participating. Thus, the DRS 2014 conference will make use of multiple publication and presentation formats, including both established ones such as ‘papers’ and new ones such as ‘conversations’, each with it's own submission and review process. Now is the time to begin asking yourself 'What do you think are the big debates in design?' What would you like this exciting conversation to be like to really matter to you – and, how will you contribute to make that happen?’

DRS 2014 is hosted by Umeå Institute of Design, Umeå University. The conference week will give you an opportunity to experience the nightless nights and sunny days of the Swedish Midsummer, and the many cultural events of Umeå, Cultural Capital of Europe 2014.

Warm welcome!

Johan Redström, Erik Stolterman and Anna Valtonen (General Chairs)
Carl DiSalvo and Jamer Hunt (Conversations and Debates Chairs)
Youn-kyung Lim and Kristina Niedderer (Papers Chairs)

Preliminary deadlines:
Papers: October 1st, 2013
Conversations: November 1st, 2013

More information:
DRS 2014,
Design Research Society,
Umeå Institute of Design,
Umeå 2014:

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