Friday, November 30, 2007

"Design Research Now"


I just got a new book that I had ordered, it is called "Design Research Now" edited by Ralf Michel. It is new book and a beautiful book! It is with excitement that I am looking forward to read it since some of my favorite design thinkers have contributed chapters on topics that look promising. Without having read the book, it looks like a perfect book for a more advanced design theory or design philosophy course. However, the bad thing is the prize,on Amazon it is about $95!

I will come back with some kind of review when I have had more time to read it!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Amazon Kindle

Jeff Bezos and Amazon.com offers a new digital book reader tool. It is called the Amazon Kindle. Just by looking at the descriptions and videos you get quite a good idea about the design. I think this is a design that deserves examination. The Kindle has some new technology, such as the use of e-ink. I have no idea if and how the Kindle will work as a reading tool. But from a design point of view it raises some interesting questions. It is for instance clear that the design is intentionally not aimed at adding as much functionality as possible. There are several serious limitations, but they are all intentional and based on a clear design idea, which is that this is first of all (and maybe only) a reading device. It is not a phone, a pda,it does not contain a browser, etc, it seems as if it is not even a calculator! Does it have a clock :-) It comes with free wifi but only to the Amazon e-bookstore and Wikipedia. Anyhow, is this a sign of what we will see in the the coming years of interaction design? Devices and tools that are designed for very specific purposes, ignoring opportunities and features that would be so easy to add? Well, we'll see. There are no real good reviews yet of the Kindle, mostly descriptions, so we will wait and see....

Sunday, November 18, 2007

My iPhone .....after a while...

Well, I have used my iPhone now since August. It is becoming more clear all the time that it is a great design for me. It is so nice to use. Of course, I have realized some things that I miss, but I am convinced that those functions will be there soon. The most interesting observation is that some people show me or try to convince me that there are other phones with the same or even more functionality, and I know that is true. But the overall experience of the iPhone makes those comparisons quite uninteresting. The overall interactive gestalt of the iPhone is what makes it unique. To me the iPhone as a design shows that design is about the whole and the relations between details and the whole. It is a design that shows that less functionality (or what some would call compromises) does not have to be a negative thing if it is designerly composed into the whole and fits the overall design.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

HCI and Human Robot Interaction

These last weeks I have met people from the Human Robot Interaction research field (Jodi Forlizzi, CMU and Peter Kahn, UW, and our new colleague Matthias Scheutz, IU). It has been highly interesting and I have learnt and realized things that I had not thought about. It is clear that the two fields are moving closer to each other with a growing overlap. If HRI has primarily been addressing the internal workings of a robot, HCI has been all about interaction. When HRI now actually can build robots with quite interesting and sophisticated qualities, the design challenges between the fields are becoming similar. Interaction design is becoming more aware of the dynamic and interactive (even intelligent) environment that people experience as part of their reality. Maybe the only difference is that robots move and environments do not! A "smart" home is a form of non-movable but highly interactive robot. Interaction with a robot with some kind of human persona is getting more common, as well as interaction with environments that have human characteristics when it comes to interaction (if not in their appearance). Anyhow, all this brings the two fields together in a way that is exciting and promising and, I think, good for both fields. So, let's study human interaction with robots or environments in whatever form and shape they come. We have only seen the beginning....By the way, this is also what Don Norman's new book is about (see my last post!).

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Don Norman: "The Design of Future Things"

Today I got the new book by Don Norman, "The Design of Future Things". After having read the book tonight I have some words about it. As usual, the book is a typical Norman. It is easy to read, full of good stories and great examples. It also addresses issues that are clearly becoming some of the most interesting emerging design challenges in our society, at least when it comes to technological aspects of our everyday reality.

The basic question in the book is based on the assumption that we are at a point when we are able to develop "intelligent" and autonomous devices. The question is then how to live and interact with such devices? What if the car "takes care of us" and makes decisions that override our own actions as a driver. How can we establish a symbiotic relationship (a concept that Norman uses and likes) with the smart car? The book is full of examples of smart technology that in most cases just seem annoying and terrible to live with. Norman gives very few examples of designs where the symbiotic relationship is designed in such away that it works. His favorite example is the relation between a horse and a rider. He suggests that such a relationship is what we should strive for. He also proposes a number of Design Rules that he says "designers and engineers can implement [them] in the innards of machines".

The book is of course stimulating to read. Just the number of examples and Norman's ability to create a good story around the use of a specific technology or device is an enough reason for reading the book. He raises issues that are at the forefront of interaction design today. Of course, there are also aspects of the book that is not fully in line with my way of thinking. For instance, I think he focuses too much on the notion of "intelligence" and on the idea of "smart machines". I prefer to see most of the issues he is raising less as a question and consequence of "smartness" as a question of intentional design of interactivity. Any move towards "smartness" and autonomy must be dealt with in the design of the interaction. Many of the examples of smart devices in the book are (also in the eye of Norman) bad and lead to situations that no one would see as desireble. I am not sure that these examples are consequences of the level of smartness, instead I see it as examples of simply bad design. We have the same situation with non-smart devices, i.e., regular physical things. Some designs fit perfectly well in their environment and people enjoy them, while other are just annoying and create frustration (see Norman's earlier books). We do not see this as a consequence of the device's non-smartness, instead we see it as a question of how well the designer can shape their functionality, form and appearance in relation to the purpose and environment (and of course in relation to their smartness"). Anyhow, this is not a criticism of Norman's ideas, it is more an example of the kind of thinking and discussions the book will lead to.

I recommend it for anyone who is involved in the design and development of any kind of interactive artifacts. It is a fun and stimulating reading!

HCI theory and HCI practice

This semester I am teaching a course on philosophy and theory of design. The course also covers theories in HCI and how they can be understood from a design perspective. The more I work on this, the more I realize that the field is not paying enough attention to the difference between theories/methods/concepts to be used in HCI research and theories/methods/concepts intended to support interaction design practice.

It is to me obvious that these two forms of activity, HCI research and design practice are so distinctly different that they have also distinct different requirements for what can constitute useful intellectual support. This distinction that has to be made more clear. There is nothing that says that an intellectual tool that works well for HCI research would support design practice, or vice versa. For instance, the theory of distributed cognition, is an intellectual tool that, used in the right way, can be quite useful in a research setting, while as a tool for practice is quite cumbersome, time consuming, technical, difficult, etc, to be useful. At the same time, in design practice, an intellectual tools such as brainstorming can be quite useful, while it might not provide the rigor and rationale for the outcome that is needed in a research setting. This is of course quite obvious, but the literature in HCI does not address this distinction in a clear and serious way--which causes a lot of confusion....

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Real world design by game designers

It is fascinating to read this little story. In the new Nissan GT-R there is a new multifunction dash display designed in collaboration with the game designers behind the game Grand Turismo. So, is this the first case where game designers move their design skills into the real world? It raises many interesting questions and ideas.....
(Thanks Daniel Fällman for the link)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The history and genealogy of interactive artifacts

It is time that someone writes the history of interactive artifacts. I would love to find books similar to what is available in architecture, product design, and art. Large wonderful books with beautiful pictures covering the important and significant exemplars in our field. In these books we would be able to find pictures of the first command line, the first Visicalc version, the first Word, the first Tetris, etc. This would of course reveal earlier and present design philosophies and design styles influencing our field during different time periods, and would/could lead to extensive theoretical debate and discourse, all valuable for anyone in the field.

This could further be developed into a genealogy of interactive artifacts, which is something I have frequently discussed with my colleague Jeff Bardzell. This would mean that we would analyze how artifacts over time have influenced other artifacts, how "design genes" live on from "generation to generation". Such a genealogy is needed if we want to create a common understanding of the history and development of the field. It would, of course, be a core part of any education in the field.

So, where can we find these books, and the genealogy of interactive artifacts. Who is working on this today and what is already done?

Cooking -- scientific design and design space

In a recent article in Wired magazine, "the father of molecular gastronomy" is portrayed. This is a really interesting text. First of all it is fascinating to see how you can approach cooking as a scientific enterprise. Herve This is the scientist who invents new dishes based on scientific analysis of ingredients and their chemistry. He is looking for, what he labels "cooking precision" leading to "molecular gastronomy". According to the article Herve has been able to create some new dishes that are loved by customers. Of course, the formal system that Herve has created does not prescribe how to cook and even less what to cook :-) But, it can stimulate our understanding and imagination of what is the possible design space for new dishes. To me, this story shows the power of "frameworks" in design. Good frameworks can support the exploration and opening up of possible design spaces. This is radically opposite to the idea of developing prescriptive guidelines aimed at reducing the design space. Anyhow, to me this example also supports the idea that interaction design needs much more of interaction studies (i.e., studies of the qualities of designed artifacts).

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Design-driven business

There is today a growing interest in how design thinking can change the way businesses approach their challenges. Design is becoming the new "thing" in some innovative business schools. This is also being recognized in media, see for instance this article in Business Week, and here is one from Financial Times.

I find this development encouraging and am looking forward to the day when there are business programs that fully embrace a design driven approach. I think we are still not there. Even though many talk about design, claim to be design oriented, few have a deeper understanding what it actually means and entails in practical educational settings. It is in relation to this development good to be involved in a program that for several years have developed a strong sense of design and that produces highly skilled interaction design students that are successful on the job market. An education that takes design as the premier approach seriously is still difficult to implement in the existing academic system. This is less a problem for students, it is however a serious problems for any teacher/researcher who want to be true to design as an approach and at the same time have to "live" in a scientific environment with its different measure of success. This is why design in academic environments in many cases loses its true design character and becomes a simplistic and streamlined predefined process that borrows the basic thinking from science, with serious and disastrous consequences.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

More Schön...

In a recent blog post, Dan Saffer writes a nice little piece on the importance of Donald Schön. It is obvious that some texts, if they have substance, stay important over time. I am please to see that Schön is finding new readers that also see it as important to spread his ideas further.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Interaction Research as Societal Critique

Lately I have been involved in some discussion about by the idea of design research as critique, especially as a critique of societal phenomena where interactive artifacts play an important role. This is of course not easy, since such research has to "compete" with traditional research that has been refined for a long time for just that purpose, such as media studies, cultural studies, etc. But, I think there is a place for societal critique based on a deep understanding of interactivity. I would like to see someone being able to conduct such studies in the tradition of Marcuse, and his "method" in the "One dimensional man". This is a wonderful book, that I have praised here before. So, who can, in the tradition of Marcuse, based on an understanding of interactivity reveal the one-dimensionality that we are all trapped in? Is there anyone out there who know about work that would fit that vague description?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Jon kolko "Thoughts on Interaction Design"

Finally I have read the book "Thoughts on Interaction Design" by Jon Kolko. It is a book filled with great essays on the nature of interaction design. The chapters cover important aspects of design and is written in a personal and easy to read language and from a perspective of someone who knows the field well.

I really like this book and I strongly recommend it to anyone who is within interaction design, either as a researcher or a practitioner. But even more, I recommend it to students in interaction or HCI design. This is such a nice introduction to the core of what it means to be a designer and how to think about digital artifacts.

Kolko addresses many of the issues discussed in the field today, and he does it from a perspective that I really like, which is a perspective grounded in a strong respect for practice, and the true nature of actually doing design. He knows design. Read it!!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Zimmerman, Forlizzi and Evenson

I had to go back and re-read the CHI paper by Zimmerman, Forlizzi and Evenson from 2007 "Research through design as a method for interaction design research in HCI". It was a pleasure to read it again and it made me more sure and convinced about their basic argument, which is that there is a possibility for people with design competence to use that specific design competence when doing research. They do a great job in proposing how such (design) research can be carried out, and maybe even more important, they discuss how to evaluate that kind of research and how it differs from "real" research. I think there are way too many HCI researchers today who do not do "real" research, instead they perform a sloppy version of design research, but without understanding the relation between design and research in the way that these authors propose. I hope we will see a change in the field. Read their paper!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Foundations of Interaction Design

Thanks Tyler for guiding me to the post by David Malouf where he writes about the foundations of interaction design. I like his text and especially the way he frames the question of foundations. I agree that we do need to develop a notion of foundations.

I have done some work myself (of course :-) around this. The latest attempt is in a paper that is today presented at the DPPI conference in Helsinki by my colleague Youn Lim. The paper is called "Interaction Gestalt and the Design of Aesthetic Interactions". In that paper we try to define "interaction" as something separate from both experience on the user side and from properties on the artifact side.

Anyhow, more discussion about what interaction is all about and how it differs from other disciplines is needed, and David Malouf is right that is truly a special area of design, with its own foundations.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Reality Interactivity Index

Based on some earlier postings I think it is time to launch the concept of "reality interactivity index".

The index is a measurement of how interactive a certain environment is. An environment can have an index that is extremely low, which means that it does not react or change as a result of human actions. En environment can have an index that is extremely high, which means that every human action leads to a reaction and change in the environment. Of course, most environments are somewhere in between. One of the grand challenges for interaction design is to figure out what interactivity index fits a certain environment.

I am convinced that the reality interactivity index will become a common way of describing and defining the character of environments where humans live and act. It is a measurement that is similar to the notions of an environment being "natural" or "artificial", or "rural" versus "urban". We use these notions as a way to define the overall character of an environment. Interactivity will be, or maybe is already, one of the most important aspects of how we understand an environment.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Interaction Design Grand Challenges

A few days ago I asked here for proposals for what could be considered to be Interaction Design Grand Challenges. These challenges can be either problems that are caused by interaction designers or new technology and use of that technology. Challenges can either be seen as problems or as new opportunities that have not yet been exploited and developed.

Tyler Pace has, in a comment, suggested four challenges, he writes:

"1) Sustainability. I'm not the best person to post on this topic, but we all know it should be a chief concern for interaction designers.

2) Identity. It's fractured and seeping into and out of so many mediums that it's almost impossible to grasp.

3) Expectations of Work and Play. I'm not sure how to lump this into interaction design, but I feel/know that the expectations for work as separate from play are changing and I think the digital workforce has a large part to do with it.

4) Bleeding lines between producer and consumer and the resulting downstream issues of copyright, intellectual property, etc."

I think these are four good proposals, they are all consequences of our new interactive reality. They look and can easily be framed as problems, but can also be framed as enormous opportunities for radical and innovative interaction design.

More proposals anyone?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Big Interaction Design Challenges

In a reality that is becoming increasingly interactive we are frequently experiencing interactive breakdowns. Professional interaction designers are today in a wonderful position since the design and creation of the interactive reality seems to create more interaction challenges than it solves. This is of course good for the job market for future interaction designers :-) So, where has interaction design created more problems than it has solved. One small example is of course what we all experience every day when we try to handle the overwhelming number of remote controls in our living rooms. The living room is becoming more interactive on every possible level, and the true interaction design challenge is how to design that interactivity in a way that makes life in a living room, as a whole, simple and enjoyable. Where are the design ideas? It is an interesting exercise to try to define and make visible what can be seen as major interaction design challenges in our society today. Suggestions...?

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Argue for your design

One of the most interesting observation I have done lately, for instance at the Nordes design conference in Stockholm, is the drastically increasing demand for design argumentation. It seems that the pressure on designers are increasing, not only to come up with unique and desired designs, but also to create convincing reasons for the design. At the conference it was obvious that when the understanding of design increases among design clients, they are asking for substantial and elaborate arguments for why they should chose a specific design.

This change is interesting and creates a new situation for any design education. It is not enough to develop designs, students also have to develop their ability to reflect, reason, and argue for their design. The argumentation in design corresponds to methodological considerations in science. However, they are completely different in nature, purpose and form.

I think that all design educations need to take this new challenge seriously and include in design courses a higher awareness of design argumentation, and how to develop it.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Nordes - Design Research Conference

I have spent the last days at the in Stockholm. It is a Nordic design research conference. It was the second time the conference was held and I am surprised and delighted with the quality and focus of the papers and presentations. It was the first time I have been to a conference focused on design research that at least to some extent seriously focused on research on design. I found the conference better than most other design conferences. Thanks to the organizers!!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Peter-Paul Verbeek "What Things Do"

A while back I mentioned here that I had started to read "What Things Do" by Peter-Paul Verbeek. Now I have read more, and the book becomes more and more important to me. Verbeek presents a perspective on technology studies and philosophy of technology that deeply resonates with my own view since many years back, of course I have not written about it :-)

The point that Verbeek makes is that philosophy of technology has to focus on things and artifacts and not deal with overall analysis of preconditions and the origin of things, or Technology with a capital T. Things in themselves "do" things in relation to people. This is not a radically new perspective, but what I appreciate it the way Verbeek makes his case in a way that strongly resonates with design and interaction.

I highly recommend this book!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Time for CHI2007

Today I am leaving for CHI. It will be an interesting week as usual. It is a way to inquire into the core of the field, find our what is going on, where people are directing their interest. It is of course an opportunity to meet colleagues. And, we are looking forward to the student design competition!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Rediscovered Buchanan's article

Tonight I have re-read Richard Buchanan's article "Wicked Problems in Design Thinking". I have not read it since 92-93. In my memory it has always been an outstanding paper. Now when I read it again, it makes me inspired and stimulated. It is an unusually insightful text on design. I highly recommend it.

Richard Buchanan. (1992) "Wicked Problems in Design Thinking", in Design Issues, Vol. 8, No. 2. pp.5-21.

Favorite Books in Design Theory

I had a meeting today with a PhD student from another department and was asked what to read if you want to get into the more theoretical and philosophical aspects of design and that had influenced my work. It was a good exercise and I came at least up with a few books, even though I am sure I have forgotten some that might be even more influential on my thinking. So, here they are, not full references but some with links:

Lundeqvist, Jerker. (1982?) "Norm och modell" (Norm and Model). in Swedish
This was Jerker's PhD thesis and it really opened the door for me to design theory!

Simon, Herbert. "The Science of the Artificial"
Simon's book is a must in the area.

Schön, Donald. "Educating the Reflective Practitioner"
Maybe the most influential book for me.

Lawson, Bryan. "How Designers Think"
Lawson's book really helped me to form my own understanding of design.

Dunne, Joseph "Back to the Rough Ground"
Probably the best book ever on practical knowledge and judgment.

Krippendorff, Klaus. "The Semantic Turn -- a new foundation for design"
The best contemporary book on design theory.

and of course the "best" one :-)

Nelson, Harold & Stolterman, Erik. "The Design Way - Intentional Change in an Unpredictable World"

Well, I will maybe update and add more later.....

Monday, April 23, 2007

CHI2007, Nordes, Design, and Marcuse

Well, next week I am going to CHI. I am looking forward to see what the new trends are. I am hoping that the interest and focus on design that really started last year will this year take on even more. I am especially looking for papers and presentations that take a theoretical and philosophical view on design. So far, at CHI and the field as such, design is mainly connected to more practical views of doing design and less with conceptual reflection. This is fine, but I hope that this can be complemented with a deeper and more insightful theoretical understanding of design.

In the end of May I am going to Stockholm for the Nordes conference. The conference introduces itself with these words: "How can we understand the impact of design for people, companies and society? How can we provide design practice with appropriate and inspiring knowledge and ideas? How can we use critical and constructive design thinking to create new possibilities for the future?"

I am looking forward to the Nordes conference since many new conceptual ideas on design comes from Scandinavia. There is a strong tradition of reflection and critical examination of existing practice which seems to foster the development of new theoretical ideas that challenges the mainstream. maybe it is the case that small and self-critical countries (such as Sweden) might be a fertile ground for the kind of critique of the "one-dimensional society" that Marcuse once asked for.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Design Education

This blog posting by Dan Saffer is quite interesting and has caused some discussions among our students. The text, with it's simple argumentation, makes an interesting case on design education and opens up for a lot of questions. Read and think!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

CHI Student Design Competition--again!

As the Director of the HCI/d MS program at School of Informatics, Indiana Univeristy, I am extremely happy and proud. Our fantastic students, who have won the competition the last two years, once again dominates the competition. Out of the 12 final teams (chosen from 52 international submissions) invited to present at CHI, an impressive number of 5 teams are from our program! A big congratulations to our students!!

After four years of outstanding results in the CHI Student Design Competition it is obvious that we are doing something right with our HCI/d program. Apparently we create highly creative and innovative interaction designers, and it is a pleasure to be involved with these students in our daily work.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Moggridge -- "Designing Interactions"

Bill Moggridge has recently published the book "Designing Interactions". It is a different book, fascinating and stimulating. It is a book that from a design perspective presents a bit of the history of the field of interaction design, designers that have had an impact on the field and its most famous products. Moggridge has personally been in the center of this development for the last decades and has a lot of insights, personal experience, and knowledge. It is not an academic text, at least that is what Moggridge claims, but I find it intellectually stimulating and more to the point than most academic treatments of the field. It takes a strong design position, and that makes a difference! A good one! I highly recommend this book to any student in the field, to any instructor, and to any practitioner, with interest in where we come from, who shaped it, why they did it, etc.

The book is based on interviews and is supplemented with a DVD with all interviews in video. The only problem I have with the book is actually the design of the book. It is a beautiful book, nice layout and wonderful pictures, but it is kind of difficult to understand who wrote what, if a text is a polished transcription of an interview or what. This is especially true for the last chapter. I could not really figure out who wrote what, which influences my way of reading. Apart from that I highly recommend the book!!!

Monday, January 15, 2007

What Things Do

I have just started reading the book "What Things Do -- Philosophical Reflections on Technology , Agency, and Design" by Peter-Paul Verbeek. I have only read a few pages but I already like it a lot and am looking forward to the rest. I will be back with some comments!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Assemblies, Compositions and the iPhone

Maybe one of the least understood concepts in interaction design is composition. Many interaction artifacts have the same functionality and features, but some of these artifacts are also compositions. A composition is a whole. It is a design where the relation, balance, contrast between deatils and the whole, between funtionality and appearance, etc., are all aspects of a deliberate composition that is designed to have an overall quality -- a compositional quality. The iPod and maybe now the iPhone are examples of strong compositions. This is not easy to ackomplish, so many advanced cell phones and smart phones are just artifacts that best can be described as assemblies of functions and features, without any compositional whole. To create an artifact that manifest a strong composition is maybe the most challenging aspect of any design. In interaction design, with all the technology and new opportunities, the space of possible assemblies are (unfortunately) infinite and to create true authentic compositions are the ultimate design challenge. Let's see more compositions and less assemblies in the future.

Featured Post

Why Design Thinking is Not Enough

If you go to Youtube and look for "design thinking" you will find a large number of videos with TED talks and other talks all expl...