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Saturday, February 21, 2004

Bowling for Undergraduates
Thursday night, Haven and senior Chris Thomas arranged an evening of bowling for design grad students and seniors. Needless to say, the $8 buckets of beer did little to improve my already idiosyncratic bowling technique.

posted at 09:59 AM in classmates, extracurricular | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Rich Carlson
Richard Carlson, professor of psychology at Penn State, and author of Experience Cognition, was our guest for Seminar this week, talking about environmental support for intentions.

Intentions are the mental representations that specify a goal or a desired outcome that are active at a particular moment in time. It is a short period of time: mental states typically last 1/10th of a second or as long as 2-3 seconds only. They typically change several times a second.

The structure of an intention is as follows:

Agent intends to achieve outcome by acting on objects (when conditions are met)

Intentions select affordances. Affordances being (in a traditional cognitive psych definition as set out by James Gibson) aspects of the physical or mental environment that support action.

Intentions are also fragile. Human beings have a very limited cognitive capacity. We forget things very rapidly and have a very limited amount of data we can store in short-term memory, a la George Miller's Magic Number Seven. Thomas Metzinger calls this the Window of Presence. We can only focus on one item at a time, measured in tenths of a second, and there is evidence we can only keep one goal at a time in mind. Switching between tasks both takes time and is error-prone.

Intentions have to be active in order to control behavior. Active meaning a sort of conscious awareness. The more "active" something is, the more powerful it is.Working memory is the systems or strategies we have to keep information active.

Importantly for interaction designers (since we create environments that support actions), intentions are also environmentally supported. Humans use the environment to organize and act upon our intentions. Environments remind us of what we want to do. For example, a place setting at a dinner table reminds us we want to eat. There are explicit memory aids and support for goals such as signage and instructions. Even when we could do a task with working memory (like remembering a small string of letters), we prefer to rely on the environment for the information.

We also talked about some cognitive failures, what Don Norman calls action slips. There are a couple different types of slips: errors of formation (when you mistake something for something else, like by putting orange juice on your cereal instead of milk); faulty activation/loss of activation (when you forget what it was you were doing); and faulty triggering (when you fail to distinguish between having an intention and acting on it).

posted at 08:46 AM in cognition, special guest stars | comments (0) | trackback (1) | link


Liz Sanders
Liz Sanders, president of design research firm sonicRim, was our guest in Studio last Wednesday, discussing participatory research.

Research has become involved in all phases of product development over the last 20 years, but particular attention is being paid to generative research; that is, research being done before the ideation phase. Which is to say, at the very beginning of the design process.

Over the last 20 years as well, there has been a change in what we call those who use the products, from customer to consumer to user to participants to adapters, and now, to co-creators. A more participatory culture is emerging, and "ordinary" people are starting to become more creative and express the need to be creative. SonicRim's philosophy is that everyone is creative, and that anyone involved in using and producing products should be involved in creating those products. Their principles are as follows:

  • All people are creative.
  • Everyone has dreams. Everyone can imagine their life in the future, even if that life is difficult to express.
  • People will fill in what is unseen and unsaid based on their past experiences and imagination.
  • People project their needs onto ambiguous stimuli because they are driven to make meaning.

The process sonicRim uses to harness this everyday creativity is:

  1. Immerse subjects into the experience for a week or two to warm them up to the subject and its context.
  2. Use an activity like collaging to activate feelings and memories about past experiences.
  3. Use more abstract methods to imagine a future scenario, to dream about the future.
  4. Use activities like velcro modeling for bisociation and expression of new ideas.

Ambiguity and play allow adults to express things they otherwise wouldn't. That's where making comes in. In research, you need to look at three things: what people say, what people do, and what people make. What people do is good for understanding the present, what is happening now. What people make (with, say, collages or velcro models or drawings) is good for expressing feelings and memories from the past as well as dreams and fears about the future. (What people say falls somewhere between what people do and make.)

You take with you a toolkit of visual and verbal components composed of clip art, words, magazine images, cutouts, shapes, etc. etc. You don't have to explain much when you give people the toolkit--they already know how to express themselves in their own way with the tools. And, importantly, that is what you are looking for: expression of needs, latent or otherwise. The subjects aren't creating designs.

All this stuff encourages people to explore their experiences. Experience is where memory and imagination meet, not just how you feel right now. Innovation requires a full understanding of experience.

This sort of research begs some questions (with Liz's responses):

  • Are designers losing control of the design process? Yes, but we are opening it up to others. We're entering new design spaces where designers let go of their own control to amplify the creativity of others.
  • How much do we want everyday people to drive design? To the extent of their expertise, abilities, and interest.
  • How will the tools and methods for research and design change? They will continue to blur. Research is becoming more creative and design becoming more relevant.
  • If everyone is creative, what is the role of the designer? To amplify the creativity of others. Designers will create scaffolds upon which everyday people will express their creativity. Designers will create more of what Ivan Illich's calls convivial tools: tools that allow users to invest the world with their meaning, to enrich the environment with the fruits of their vision, and to use them for the accomplishment of a purpose they have chosen.

more ››

posted at 01:39 AM in special guest stars, techniques | comments (0) | trackback (1) | link


Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Nerd Alert
I sometimes forget that CMU is a giant magnet school for nerds and geeks of all sorts: drama, band, computer, engineering, and, yes, design. But then, something always reminds me.

posted at 11:12 PM in cmu | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Monday, February 16, 2004

Norman and Sanders Readings
Readings in preparation for two upcoming guests this week: Richard Carlson and Liz Sanders.

  • "Harnessing People's Creativity: Ideation and Expression through Visual Communication," by Elizabeth Sanders and Colin William
  • "Categorization of Action Slips," by Don Norman from Psychological Review, volume 88, no. 1
posted at 09:23 AM in readings | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Adaptive Worlds
John Rheinfrank, a self-described "trickster," was our guest during design seminar last week, and his topic was adaptive worlds and how to design for them.

John defines a world as a meaningful cluster of activities and objects that form around extended groups of people and that contain multiple, meaningful living structures. Worlds are full of static objects that force us to adapt to them or that we adapt for use. But surrounding the world of static objects are adaptive worlds that contain things that learn, react, respond, do meaningful things, and understand context. They respond to humans by changing shape (ie their form and content) depending on the context of use. We co-create adaptive worlds with these sorts of tools.

In these co-constructed adaptive worlds, people and objects adapt and respond to each other. There is flow (in the Csikszentmihalyi sense), state changes depending on context, and mutual sensing and responding. We co-evolve as dynamic living structures, able to coordinate complex activities, and affect powerful transformations.

Design has slowly moved from user-centered (not for use or meaning) to activity-centered (task-oriented) to ability-centered (both the users' abilities and the product's abilities). "User-Centered" is no longer adequate, because the purpose of objects and systems isn't only to serve the user. The term (and way of designing) doesn't provide for unconceivable, unknown needs. It is about using products in particular ways. Designers need to understand that once a product is launched, users will use them in unexpected ways for unexpected purposes. And as these adaptive tools are launched, more and more the products we design will be out of our control. (Obviously, the ethical implications of this are many.)

So how do you design for adaptive use? In general, you have to build for autonomy, yet retain control over some of the parts. Designers will need to understand the deep structure of their products, but allow the surface structure to be adaptable and responsive. Some guidelines (from a user's viewpoint):

  • Let me do. Make sure the activity is of real value. Let my actions and changes in the resulting array feel as though they have been designed for me personally.
  • Orient me. Give me a journey I can take. Don't steer, just give me a map to help me visualize what I want to accomplish and plan where I want to go.
  • Let me win. Reward me when I accomplish something.
  • Push me. Help me learn. Help me reveal my potential, don't let me get by. Combine doing with understanding. Skill me.
  • Sense and respond. Personalize it for me. Let me feel the artifact is alive. Make its operation transparent like a window.
  • Connect me. Help me make connections with the subject matter or across destinations with other people.
  • Immerse me. Plunge me into the experience. I can't tell the difference between me and it, it is so much a part of me.

A successful design will be one where the experience of using it fits. By engaging users in co-discovery and co-creation of these adaptive worlds, we'll transform their work, their business, their community, and their lives.

posted at 08:47 AM in big ideas, special guest stars, techniques | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


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All straight lines circle sometimes. - The Weakerthans