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Thursday, October 30, 2003

Spring '04 Classes

We have to register for our spring classes in two weeks, so everyone is starting to piece together what their class schedule will be like. As my classmate Brian Haven noted, "All classes here are precious. Choose them wisely." And it's true. When all is said and done, I have less than 20 classes here, less than 10 of them electives.

Thanks to my professional experience, I passed out of what is normally a required class, Research in Design. So along with my two required classes, Design Studio and Design Seminar, I'm in the process of finding two classes to round out my schedule. Adding to the mix is that I don't know what my assistantship will be next semester, so I have to leave a block of time open for that.

posted at 11:33 PM in classes | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


What is a product?

Products are created as a result of an art or many arts.

A product can be characterized by its means (how it is made), material (what it's made of), form (shape and style), and function (how it works). There are four classes of products:

  • information/signs
  • artifacts/physical objects
  • activities and services
  • organizations and systems

There are lots of crossover between these classes in contemporary design.

The nature of products has changed. Designers used to think of products from the outside (form and function). The "Good Design" movement is an example of this. But then, in the latter part of the 20th century, designers began to look at products from the inside. A chair isn't a back, arms, etc. It is the form of a person sitting. Designers began to learn (and do) new things from going inside the experience of the person using the product.

Now we ask of a product: Is it useful? Is it usable? Is it desirable? Useful is about logos (technological reasoning, quality of argument). Usable is about pathos (appeals to beliefs of the audiences, about affordances). Desirable is about ethos (the character we present). The trickiest is desirable. Desirability is that quality of a product that makes us want to have it be a part of our personal lives. We identify with it. The product's voice is its desirability.

Placing products in a social context introduces rhetoric. And when we look at form, we also get rhetoric.

A triangle can be drawn with the product, its makers, and its community of use at each point. The design process synthesizes the voice of the makers with the needs of the community of use.

posted at 10:15 AM in design theory | comments (1) | trackback (0) | link


What is an art?

We started the third part of Design Seminar yesterday. This part has to do with the Arts, Methods, and Techniques of Interaction Design. Dick began with asking What is an art? and giving us his definition:

An art is a habit of thinking, doing, or making that demonstrates systematic discipline based on principles.

An art is not random behavior; it is orderly and has connected concepts. It is a habit: done often and often unconsciously. They can be treated as subject matters to be studied themselves, but the art must be acquired as a habit, so that its practitioners become "unconsciously competent." Typically, all three of the actions of an art (thinking, doing, and making) go together.

Most arts have subject matter (the Art of Archery has archery as its subject, for example), a nature of working, and a goal. Design, however, is an art that has no subject matter. Designers make their own subject matter, or are given it. We tend to treat subject matter too seriously. It prevents us from seeing the art.

Skill in an art is acquired in three ways: natural genius, imitating people who do it very well, or formal schooling to learn principles and practice. Graduate school is typically about this last way.

Arts are based on principles, whether the practitioner know them or not. An art is not just a series or procedures or methods. There can be many methods inside an art. Art gives strategic purpose to methods.

Arts are about connections, how we connect things. Understanding the connections between things allows designers to accomplish their goals. Great problems arise when we aren't abel to make connections. We call these connections themes.

Two examples of arts are archery and chariot steering, both of which, strangely enough, still having meaning for us in design. Archery is about never losing sight of the goal while designing. Chariot steering is about knowing how to get the group to where it needs to go. Strategic planning, in other words.

There are four essential arts in Western culture:

  • Rhetoric is about persuading people by discovering an argument that moves them.
  • Grammar is about constructing an interpreting meaning.
  • Poetics is about making necessary connections among elements that lead to an organic conclusion.
  • Dialectic is about discovering truth from the opinions of people.

These four arts are the threads of culture. Innovations happen when one of these arts crosses into another.

Dialectic is common in the Far East, South America, Africa, and Eastern Europe, but not so much in the US. Early in the 20th century, grammar and poetics held great sway in the West, but then in the last 60 years, rhetoric has emerged as the central intellectual art.

Poetics is concerned with what is necessary, with logic. What must follow as a result of a set of contitions. Rhetoric is concerned with what is possible. Grammar is about definitions and working against contingencies. And Dialectic works against impossibility.

Both tradition and innovation are focused around arts. The ability to use the arts in new ways to change the way people think is what interaction design is.

posted at 09:29 AM in design theory | comments (2) | trackback (0) | link


Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Illegibility Project

After many, many, many hours of work, my visualizing information space project is finished. My object to visualize, the book Illegibility by Peter Bilak (who, by the way, urged me to do another project when I contacted him via email), has more of an aesthetic and emotional space than a deep information space, so my final movie (large set of Flash files) reflects that.

posted at 10:38 PM in projects | comments (1) | trackback (0) | link


Monday, October 27, 2003

Ontological Interaction

We ended our look at the four interpretations of interaction design with a deep reading (as if there could be any other kind) of Plato's "Phaedrus."

Each interpretation of interaction is really a different interpretation of reality. Each gets a different answer for the question "What is Real?" The first interpretation, interface or thing to thing, says that what is real is matter/forces of nature. What processes underlie interactions. In the transactional interpretation, what is real are individuals. And in the third interpretation, person to environment, the environment, social and natural, is what is real. In this last interpretation, it is the cosmos that is real, a higher system or organization. Over the next few weeks, we'll be learning how they can all exist together and how they can all have value.

A main point of "Phaedrus" and the center of this interpretation: What is a soul? A soul is a thing that is ever in motion. And what is the motion? Either moving yourself or being moved. The goal of interaction in this interpretation is to make the user self-moving (as opposed to moving by necessity). The goal is to provide freedom and inner determination. And the nature of self-determination is space to think, just like the "open spaces" in Kevin Lynch's "City as Environment." The environment of the city is really the environment of the soul. We need to design for that, providing open spaces so that the things we make are not so rigid. We need escape valves in the things we make; otherwise they are alien to us. We need to make products that are respectful, sustainable, so that working with the product makes us something more, something more than selfish. The products we make encourage us to find our own way. The users need to be able to reason for themselves; they should not be forced or tricked into doing anything.

This type of interaction depends upon a core concern for love. The fundamental emotion that should come out of an interaction: love. A love that connects to the whole cosmos. Agape.

Designers are responsible for creating this connected action. Everything connects to everything else. The goal is to increase and enhance participation in the world. Why? Because everything is interconnected. If we don't participate, we are pushed and pulled by external forces. The product encourages activity, but it is only part of the story. Its effect on the user's soul (and thus on the cosmos) is the other part.

Knowledge in this view is fundamental. You need to understand the product and the people using it. The design must be intelligent, because it connects to the intelligence of everything else.

Dick ended the lecture with a story about the Museum of Civilization. Apparently, a tribe elder came to the museum to request some artifacts back that the museum had. But, the elder wanted to know, will the artifacts still speak to us? Can they still talk and, just as importantly, can my people still hear? And these two questions remain: how can artifacts bring about culture? Do the things we design bring us in touch with the values of our culture?

It is a lot to absorb. I am no where near finished digesting it.

Next time in seminar, we turn our attention from the interpretations of interaction to the Arts, Methods, and Techniques of Interaction Design, specifically the nature of products, what is information, and how do we make stuff.

posted at 09:52 PM in design theory | comments (2) | trackback (0) | link


Product and Information Readings

Some Design Seminar readings on products and information:

posted at 08:46 PM in readings | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Mo Money

I had to take out another student loan. Seems I didn't count on CMU charging me the $6000 I owe for family health insurance this year up front.

Note to future student loan applicants: if you say that you need the money for two semesters, they dole it out over the two semesters. This might seem obvious writing it this way, but it wasn't. My $10k was split into $5k chunks, leaving me to put the balance of my health insurance on a credit card and hope that eventually, it all comes out in the wash.

Another note: getting these things requires a lot of jumping through hoops and faxing them strange stuff like a copy of my driver's license. There has got to be an easier system. It needs some designers.

posted at 08:34 PM in money | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Sunday, October 26, 2003

Walker, (Texas) Robot

Before he jetted off to New Zealand for a conference, Andy did some user testing on the paper prototype (pdf 619k) we did for the robot walker project. There were some minor tweaks and some interesting things noted (as there always are in user tests--what seems so clear to you is often so not to users...). Based on those, I need to revise the wireframes (pdf 176k), and then Jeff and I need to get cracking on visuals.

After Wednesday, though, since I'm still cranking out my Studio project, a seven-part, five-minute Flash movie series.

posted at 11:09 PM in projects | comments (1) | trackback (0) | link


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All straight lines circle sometimes. - The Weakerthans