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 "..design 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 :-)

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