12 Forbes Terrace
Pittsburgh, PA 15217










Saturday, April 10, 2004

The Business of Design
Chris Pacione, VP of Interaction Design at Bodymedia, was our guest in Seminar this week. BodyMedia is a start-up company creating wearable health devices, created by a group of CMU alumni (including Chris himself), and in its brief history has had a tumultuous existence, nearly going out of business several times. A lot of what he spoke to us about was the practicalities of being a designer at a start-up. Things like great design can kill a product.

He advised us that, as pioneers in a new field, interaction designers need to be articulate and be able to articulate what it is we bring to the table, business-wise. We can't be afraid to speak: we need to say how we bring money in to the organization.

Chris also gave us his list of the essential skills for an interaction designer:

  • Good organizational skills. You have to be able to work within an organization and deal with hierarchy. You'll need to defend your designs with logic. You can't design emotionally. If you want to affect people's lives, you need to work for a business and that business needs to stay in business.
  • Exceptional typography. You need to know how to handle type very well to lay out information and do traditional information design.
  • Ability to ask the right questions. You need to to know what questions to ask--and when. Are you designing a new vase or are you designing something to hold flowers?
  • Business savvy. The best designers know how to deal with the most constraints, so it is important to know the business limitations, like the cost of goods sold. You should have your vision, but keep the work in mind.

posted at 05:59 PM in alumni, design 101, special guest stars | comments (1) | trackback (0) | link


One Day at a Time
Last week was (like many of the weeks of this semester) one to be lived one day at a time. There were things due every day of the week, including a first draft of my Seminar paper and there wasn't a day I went to bed before 1:30. It was exhausting and now I'm totally burned out and sick.

Next week's not going to be any better either.

posted at 05:30 PM in student life | comments (1) | trackback (0) | link


Wednesday, April 7, 2004

Wearables Readings
Chris Pacione, VP of Interaction Design at BodyMedia, is our guest for seminar this week. Some readings about their work and wearables:

  • "BodyMedia's SenseWear Armband: Elevating the State of Health Assessments," by Chris Kasabach and Chris Pacione in Innovation, Fall 2002
  • "TEDMED," by Brad Lemley in Discover, April 2003
  • "Armed for Success," by Bob Parks in Business 2.0, April 2003
posted at 12:00 PM in readings | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Sunday, April 4, 2004

Humility in Design
Marc Rettig was our guest in Seminar week and gave his infamous talk on interaction design history in a teeny little nutshell (3.2mb pdf).

I won't bother stepping through his presentation: the pdf is more thorough than I could be. I highly advise reading it if you haven't already.

Instead, I'd like to note some of Marc's comments that have started to become one of the major themes of this year (having been mentioned by a lot of our guest speakers) and that is on the role of humility in design. Marc mentioned it several times, saying we should embrace the overwhelming sense of confusion that seems to happen on every project because it keeps designers humble. "We're really all making it up as we go along on every project," he said.

Marc doesn't even call himself a designer. He just asks, "What's hard?" and speaks to clients in terms of the problems facing them instead of the practice of design. It's useful to be childlike and just ask questions. "I don't know anything about this project. What can you tell me about it?"

One of the major skills of designers is being able to represent abstractions concretely, so do it and post it up on the wall. Marc is a big proponent of this. Something about making the work physical and posting it changes the conversation and allows everyone on the team to make relationships between the elements of the work.

For Marc, interaction design is all about conversation: between people and systems or between people through systems. It's about creating the languages that make those conversations possible and making the representations appropriate. Through dialog, the product can change. Or people can change.

posted at 10:21 AM in big ideas, design 101, special guest stars | comments (2) | trackback (0) | link


Ethos in HCI
I cut class to attend a lecture that I thought would have something to do with my thesis. As it turns out, it didn't really, but it was interesting nonetheless.

Caroline Miller, a professor of English at North Carolina State, gave a talk on "Expertise and Agency: Transformations of Ethos in Human-Computer Interaction." The essence of her talk (as I understand it) is this: There have been two ways of thinking about HCI: machine control and computational subjectivity, each with a very different ethos.

Machine control springs from a Cold War mentality. It's about speed, efficiency, and containment and its driving force is an Aristotelian logos. Facts are supposed to speak for themselves and expertise is automated. The components of these "expert systems" are a knowledge base (with lots of if/then statements and rules), an inference engine (with forwards and backwards chaining), and an interface. Expert systems transformed logos into ethos. Expertise is the ethos.

Many of these expert systems collapsed in the 1980s. They performed as expected, but according to Professor Miller, there were rhetorical reasons as well as cultural that caused their demise. As Americans lost trust in established institutions and technology, there was less rhetorical appeal of logos. Rhetoric needs pathos and ethos, not just logos. Thus, we began to design computer systems with more computational subjectivity. With pathos.

These "intelligent agents" are rhetorically different than expert systems in that users have a relationship with them. They focus on the establishment of trust and so explain their decisions and make those explanations credible. They have to be social and adaptable, communicating through elaborate interfaces, and they must offer an ethos that offers empathy. Intelligent agents are alive with pathos, not logos, winning favor and always looking for a response. They are friendly, familiar, and sympathetic. And they seek sympathy as well. Professor Miller called this "cyborg discourse" and it requires technique and strategy to design.

posted at 09:42 AM in big ideas, special guest stars | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


‹‹ preceding entries




All straight lines circle sometimes. - The Weakerthans