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Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Models of Experience
Jodi Forlizzi gave a lecture on Experience and User-Product Interactions last week.

Essentially, there are three models of experience: product-centered, user-centered, and interaction-centered. (And possibly a fourth: system-centered.) Jodi is most interested in the interaction-centered models, which explore the roles that products serve in bridging the gap between designer and user. A very Dewey-centric look at products.

One interesting take-away was the three types of interactions people have with products:

  • Cognitive. These are usually interactions with new and unfamiliar products or sometimes problem products. Users are focused a lot on the product, not the task at hand. These sorts of interaction result in either knowledge (learning a new skill) or confusion and errors.
  • Fluent. Nearly automatic use of a product while performing a task.
  • Expressive. These are interactions that help users form relationships with a product, like modifying or personalizing a product. Like, say, customizing a car or putting new wallpaper on your desktop.

Jodi also discussed the three types of experience:

  • Experience. The constant stream of "self-talk" that happens while humans are conscious. How we constantly assess our goals relative to our context.
  • An experience. In the Dewey sense of the word. Has a structured beginning, middle, and end, and could contain a number of interactions and emotions around an ordered whole.
  • Co-experience. Activities and tasks with a social aspect to them, like cooking a meal or IM chatting.

We also talked about the scalability of experience, how smaller experiences over time grow into larger ones, shaped by goals and by how people relate to their products over time. The presence or absence of other people, products, or interactions can have a profound affect on the experiences we have.

posted at 12:40 AM in design theory | comments (1) | trackback (0) | link


Sunday, February 1, 2004

Design and Emotion
Design Seminar this week was about design and emotion: how can designers use emotion in the creation of products? Designers generally lack a shared understanding and language about emotion in the context of design.

Emotions form the "basement of experience," to use Jodi Forlizzi's phrase. It is integral to plans, actions, outcomes, and our interactions with products.

There are two types of emotion: emotional responses and mood. Emotional responses are the brief, sharp waves of feeling that cause measurable activity in the nervous system and are attributable to some direct cause. Mood is longer, and free-floating, with a less intense effect. Designers are more likely to design for mood than for emotional responses.

Emotional responses are less representative of the environment and more representative of the self. The opposite is true of mood.

Emotion supports feelings (seconds and minutes), moods (days and hours), and changes in behavior (weeks, months, years). Emotions shape plans, how our future actions might be. They coordinate planned activities with artifacts in the environment and evaluate the outcomes of activities. For example, if you have a terrible experience with a car and associate it with feelings of anger and disgust, you probably won't plan to purchase that car any time soon. Conversely, as Don Norman points out, we think that attractive things work better.

Products support both our functional and aesthetic needs, yielding different emotions. These emotions can change over time, and because they do, humans tend to develop complex relationships with certain products. Emotions affect more than just aesthetics; they can affect everything about a product.

Implications for Design
It's difficult to apply the theories of emotion towards the creation of products. Two forms of data that are currently useful to designers: self-evaluating ("I'm feeling happy") and physiological (heart rate, etc.).

Products can shape emotional experiences in three ways:

  • Stimuli for new experiences. Interaction and sensory stimulation are catalysts for new emotional experiences.
  • Extenders on ongoing experiences. Style, utility, enjoyment and other sustaining qualities extending ongoing experiences. I call this the "cigarette after sex" effect.
  • Proxies for past experiences. Associations with products can form proxies for previous experiences.

There are a lot of issues around designing for emotion. For one thing, it's fairly untested. For another, there's not much methodology for it. Social relationships are ignored, and there's been no examination of whole systems.

This is an interesting area, but without the methodologies or even solid case studies where designers have set about to create specific moods to draw upon, it's tough to put this stuff into practice, except on the highest of levels, which likely most good designers do anyway. This should be a rich area of study over the next couple of years though.

posted at 11:22 AM in big ideas, design theory | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Tuesday, November 25, 2003

The first art of interaction design is invention. But once you have an idea, you have to express it through visualization. Thus, the second art of interaction design is that of visualization, and that's where tropes come in.

A trope is a figure of speech, thought, or action that is a way of turning something literal into something else, something figurative. Design is all about changing the literal into the figurative. Applying tropes is a way to do that. They suggest other possibilities. There are hundred of tropes, but all of them fit into what Kenneth Burke calls the Four Master Tropes: Metaphor, Metonomy, Synecdoche, and Irony. They are all ways of getting at "the Truth."

Metaphor is about perspective. Finding the that in this. Current interface design is all about metaphor. The problem with them is that they decay rapidly and can quickly become meaningless.

Metonomy is about reducing ethereal things to their physical embodiment. A heart for love, for example. This is a favorite among young designers.

Synecdoche (pronounced sin-ECK-doh-key) is about connected views; a part representing the whole or the whole a part. Micro-and macrocosm. A map is an example.

Irony tries to capture the difference between opinion and truth, revealing two levels of meaning: a literal one and a deeper one. Irony doesn't work until you see the second meaning. Minard's famous map of Napoleon's Russian campaign is an excellent example of irony.

The Four Master Tropes are used to open up possibilities as to what an image could be. You take the raw material, then use the tropes to begin your interpretation. They orient you to a way of thinking and help give visualization shape.

posted at 10:09 PM in design theory, visualization | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Very odd Seminar class today on a very odd topic: topics (topi, or locus, or commonplaces or proper places).

There are very few writings about topics; a lot of people don't see them as useful. Almost anything can be turned into a topic, and that's part of the problem: they are difficult to define.

Up until now in Seminar, our readings and discussion have been about constructing meanings and arguments. But topics are about the opposite: they are about destabilizing for the purpose of invention. Topics are about breaking the fixed meaning of things to look at them in new ways, about turning the commonplace into the novel. Topics are all about asking, "What happens if...?"

There are four master places that just about everything falls into: Things, Thoughts, Words, and Deeds. By shifting something from one of these places into another (looking at a Thing like a chair as a Word, for instance), it allows us to get a new perspective. As Kenneth Burke says, we gain perspective from incongruity. Designers often have many of these places (topics) from which to view the world.

Dick cautioned us that using topics can have harmful psychological effects. When you start to go down those paths, you can lose your way. It opens the door to chaos and madness. You need some means to get out, and that means is judgment. Judgment is all about viability: is what I'm considering even possible? Not only does the idea have to look promising, it has to look viable. We test viability through prototyping.

Humans want to fix the meaning of things to make them commonplace. We do this by categorization. To invent, you need to turn categories into topics. You do this by emptying the topic of its categorical meaning. You need it to be "finite but unbounded," that is, you need the topic to have a slight sense of category ("a sight contour of meaning") because it still needs to make some sense and continue to function.

Kenneth Burke in "The Five Key Terms of Dramatism" describes this process with a metaphor. You have to sink conventional meanings down to the core to melt them down, find new meaning, then rise it up again, where it cools and stabilizes. You need to get out of the molten middle! In there is total chaos and no meaning. Another thing that typically happens is that you don't get all the way down to the center, and when you again rise up, you have the same meaning and are in the same place. It takes courage to wrestle with the molten.

The point of all this is so that you can see slight changes that can have significance. When you get a problem, search around for its topic, then shift the topic to look for a possibility. Stand it on its head, intellectually or literally. Look at it, as G.K. Chesterton advised, "inappropriately." People may, as Dick warned, "look at you as though you've lost your mind," but this is how we invent.

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Friday, November 14, 2003

Grammatical Design
Dick noted that there are two ways to create anything: imagination (creating new forms through invention) or through fancy (fitting together existing forms). Grammatical design is concerned with the latter.

Grammar is not like Rhetoric, which is all about invention. Grammatical design is concerned with interpretation and finding meaning. It is all about discovering the least elements, the smallest parts of communication (word and image), then adding the complicating element of rules to form not an argument (which would be rhetoric), but instead meaning and resonance. The model of grammar is another triangle, with thing, thought, and signs as its three points.

As an example of grammatical thinking in design, we looked at Philip Meggs' book, Type and Image. The book begins with the basics of typography and images. Then each section successively adds complications, adding something new to the concept of Design. The pinnacle of Design for Meggs is resonance, the drawing on feelings and memories of the past.

posted at 08:01 PM in design theory | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Monday, November 10, 2003

Rhetoric and Poetics in Design
We started applying the four essential arts to design today, starting with Rhetoric and Poetics.

Communication and interaction are closely related in our work. Depending on what interpretation of interaction design you're using, to interact is to communicate or to communicate is to interact. So this diagram springs from putting communication at the center of design:

Poetics is the art of creating complete, emotionally satisfying experiences. The poetics of a work of art is its completeness.

Rhetoric is the art of persuasion through invention. It is not manipulation; it persuades by inventing arguments, arguments that the audience uses to draw their own conclusions. Rhetoric is not the decoration of messages, but the creation of arguments. Products are arguments about how we should live our lives.

Products have three characteristics: Ethos, the voice of the product, or its desirability; Pathos, which addresses the values and expectations (physical, cognitive, and cultural) of the audience--its affordances and adumbrations; and Logos, the technological reasoning, or how the product works. We are persuaded by all three aspects, sometimes one more than the others, sometimes all in balance.

Designing rhetorically is a radical method because in this model, there are no fixed truths or things. These exist only in the beliefs of the speaker and the audience. This model doesn't deny Truth; it is just held within the communication between people. Echoes of the existentialist interpretation.

posted at 10:12 PM in design theory | comments (1) | trackback (0) | link


Wednesday, November 5, 2003

What is Information?
In the past, designers didn't talk much about information. The focus was on the physical artifacts, and information was just part of the object. Now, information is the object. Information seems more complex, rich, and diverse now. We look at information from the point of view of someone using the information, and it is this perspective that controls much of the experience.

And now, as Dick Buchanan said, we need "a little bit of a lecture on the history of Western culture." Some 300 years ago, there was a great effort by folks like Descartes, Spinoza, and Newton to understand the nature of things, to understand the principles of first things. Then came a period of trying to figure out how our minds work, attempting to delve into the faculties of the mind. Then, around 1890, what we say and what we do became the focus of thought, our words and our deeds came to be examined. We are still in this period and it shows no signs of slowing down. Western thought is now dominated by experience and expression. We're in a time when how we experience things is the key to how we think. Even discussions about things we can't experience are framed this way, such as death. A similar period was from the time of Cicero up until the time of St. Augustine.

How does this relate to information? In experience and expression, information is key. Information is an ambiguous word that either means data or the facts built on that data. We are obsessed by facts even though they are often ambiguous and contradictory.

We deal with the constant bombardment of information we get daily in two ways: we find connections among those facts, and we build principles.

Dick broke information down like this:

  • Data: 1 term, meaningless. "blue" or "seven"
  • Facts: 2 terms, a sentence. "It's blue."
  • Connections: 3 terms. "A is B. B is C. A is C."
  • Principles: N terms. Lots of connections.

Design, as Ralph Kaplan famously said, is all about making connections. Designers are judged on the quality of their connections. Facts are only useful when they are connected into a coherent argument. Knowledge depends on connections. Principles help you understand many connections. Wisdom depends on understanding principles and is about being able to compare conflicting principles and to make decisions between them.

There are three areas of information in design:

  • Information architecture: large structures of information
  • Information design: specific areas of information
  • Information typography: fine tuning in very small detail

Related entry: What is Data?

posted at 12:26 AM in design theory | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Thursday, October 30, 2003

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


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


Thursday, October 23, 2003

Cosmic Design

We started the fourth and final interpretation of interaction in Seminar: Ontological, or Person to Cosmos. This is a spiritual approach, focused on the human spirit/soul and its relationship to the cosmos, cosmos being an orderly whole and bigger order. We cannot know what the core of this large system is. It is a mystery, one we constantly try to solve through religion and philosophy and other means (interaction?).

This interpretation is about participation, with people becoming part of the environment.

We looked at Kevin Lynch's "City as Environment" as part of this approach. Lynch creates a World City by blowing up an actual city, showing it big to magnify its problems. But when he talks about big, he's also talking about small. "City" is a metaphor for wholeness.

I won't pretend I understand this interpretation yet. We have another week to grasp it, so hopefully it'll come to me.

Interesting to note that Dick thinks that you have no choice as to the dominant approach you take in interaction design. You can know about the others and consciously use them, but you won't naturally gravitate towards them. To be honest, I have no idea which one I use most often. I'm still thinking about it.

posted at 10:11 PM in design theory | comments (1) | trackback (0) | link


Wednesday, October 8, 2003

Aristotelian Design

Dick Buchanan:

"Design has changed in recent years. Design, in the early part of the 20th century, was about form and function. And while design is still very much concerned with function, the driving theme is now form and content. Designers now control the content of experiences as well as the form. And if we are taking more responsibility for content, we need to understand what that means. There is a lot at stake when shaping content."

Aristotle's "Poetics" is about the art of poetics. Or, in other words, about how to create emotionally-satisfying experiences.

The essence of tragedy is an action (interaction). Tragedy only comes to life in the form of action, not in narrative. It is only through (inter)action that all parts of the whole are brought together for the purpose of evoking emotions for catharsis. Catharsis is not in the audience: it is in the Tragedy itself. Bringing it to design, catharsis is contained and expressed in the object itself. The audience is aware of this, and views it as beauty. It doesn't force emotions upon the audience; the qualities of the object contain those emotions.

For me at least, it's a very different way of looking at design.

posted at 07:42 PM in design theory | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Monday, October 6, 2003

The Nature of Forms

Building off Dewey's thoughts on Having an Experience, we looked at Kenneth Burke's thoughts on form.

Burke is more practical than Dewey; he offers more clear examples and is more tactical in his approach. Form is "an arousing and fulfillment of desires." It springs from the subject matter. There is something in the content that binds it together.

As an essentialist, Burke believes we're shaped by these patterns, both natural and social. He calls it priority of forms. Patterns (or forms) are there to be found and used.

Burke describes five aspects of forms, one of which is the syllogistic progression. In this form, an action occurs and something necessarily has to follow. It is the purest form of Dewey's experience.

We also did another exercise in class where we watched classmate Jennifer Anderson navigate through How Many Bugs in a Box?, a children't CD-ROM from ~10 years ago. We then had to break down the experience using the three interpretations of interaction that we've learned (entitative, existential, essentialist).

posted at 04:37 PM in design theory | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Thursday, October 2, 2003

Having an Experience

Seminar was all about a close reading of John Dewey's "Having an Experience." Frankly, I could have used an even closer reading, because I'm still struggling with this (essentialist) interpretation of interaction design. But I'll try to summarize and hope at least half of it is correct.

For Dewey, forms exist in nature and in society. A mountain is a form; so is the Democratic Party. They are created by processes and energy (intent). Living beings, and especially humans, interact with these forms. We make them into experiences. Forms are the raw matter for our experiences, which then themselves become forms. Its a paradoxical position.

Forms are who we are as human beings for Dewey. For Bergson they are conventions that get in the way of our inner life. We have to turn forms into experiences by a process called reconstructive doing. We have to remake the form in our minds. Unlike earlier interpretations of interaction design, the environment resists. It is difficult to reconstruct certain things. Like this article.

Most experiences are what Dewey calls inchoate: they are unfulfilled, they get interupted; there is no closure, just a stop. In short, these are both frustrating and not significant. In order for an experience to be fully formed, it needs a beginning, middle, and end (closure). Three things have to come together to create an experience: the aesthetic, the intellectual, and the practical. Depending on which one of these dominates is the type of experience you have. Some are intellectual, some practical, some aesthetic. They are differentiated by the intent we bring to them.

How do you make an experience? By crafting an aesthetic. Form comes from the subject matter itself. But, importantly, the artist makes, and the audience remakes. The audience takes your experience (form) and, through reconstructive doing, remakes it into their own experience (form). And this is how interactions work: they are a constant process of both doing and undergoing.

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Monday, September 29, 2003

Essentialist Interactions

We finished up our look at existential interactions ("transactions") today by discussing Henri Bergson's "Time and Free Will," then moved on to the third interpretation of interaction, essentialist interaction, discussing our reading from John Dewey's "Democracy and Education."

But first, a quick recap of the first two interpretations.

Entitative ("interface") interpretation: Reality is the entities around us. What interacts in this view are bodies in motion. Interface is how these bodies relate to other bodies: they only send signals back and forth. Emotions, values, and beliefs are all deemphasized.

Existential ("transactional") interpretation: What interacts in this view are sentient beings, who are able to make sense of the world. The focus here is on making sense, adding meaning, then projecting it into the world. What a person says and does is important.

Henri Bergson's views fit in this view. Bergson is all about space, time, and motion. Motion is made up of discreet moments that we connect. Motion is created in our consciousness.

There are two ways of looking at the world, according to Bergson: one in space and one in time. Time can be seen in space, however. Even though it is deceptive, we use space as a way of talking about time. Dreams are the one place that space doesn't dominate.

There is a second time that we do not measure: duration. Duration is the flow of our consciousness.

For Bergson, interactions take place in two ways: either they are put into space, or they dissolve inside the mind.

It's deep, deep stuff. I won't claim to understand it entirely.

We then moved on to the Dewey readings and entered into the third interpretation of interaction: essentialist interaction.

In this view, unlike the entitative view, communication and interaction aren't the same thing. What is interacting here are people and their environment. Environment, according to Dewey, isn't just our surroundings, it is physical and social, natural and cultural. The external world, unlike the existentialist interpretation, is not absurd: it has meaning, or essences. The environment "pushes back" in this approach.

In other words, here subject matter counts. Subject matter has essences; it has persistence and significance.

This view feels that we might not have all the answers, but we do have some, and they can exist in forms: art, institutions, design, etc.

Interaction occurs in this view as exchanges of energy and in the forming of experiences.

posted at 08:30 PM in design theory | comments (4) | trackback (0) | link


Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Facial Engagements

When some of us weren't trying an unsuccessful coup of Seminar, we were discussing Erving Goffman's "Facial Engagements" article.

In Goffman's work, the relationship between the participants is what is important, not the content of what is communicated. Communication is the behavior, not the content. Content has no significant structure: all the form is created by the manner of communication.

Facial engagements consist of an opening, then maintaining a conversation, then a leave-taking. We have facial engagements (or "encounters") because it serves our self-interest to do so. It's part of the social contract.

The more articles we read, the more communication and interaction become intertwined. For some authors like Shannon and Weaver, communication is interaction. But for Goffman, it's the opposite: interaction is communication.

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Monday, September 22, 2003

Design and Social Progress

Dick Buchanan is back from Australia and teaching Seminar again. We revisited the Dean Barnlund article "Communication: The Context of Change" again. It is the introduction to the second interpretation of interaction design: Transaction: Existential Interaction.

Barnlund is an existentialist. He feels the world is meaningless, that the meaning we give to things is only what we give it ourselves. There is no regularity; the world is absurd. Context is only relevant based on your perception, as is subject matter. But how we deal with subject matter is important.

Barnlund argues that we need other people. Otherwise, the world would be stagnant. Another person with a different point of view provokes change. (In the same way a design point of view can change the fixity of a subject.)

Communication breakdowns are caused by source (people who threaten us), content (subjects that threaten us), and manner (the way the subject is presented).

What does this have to do with design? It's about people and the exchange of their ideas through dialog, through interaction. Whatever is created in interactions is created by us. And why bother? Because interactions create social progress. It's how things change.

posted at 05:16 PM in design theory | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Monday, September 15, 2003

Assumptive Worlds

Dick Buchanan is still in Australia, so for today's Seminar guest lecturers, we had Shelley Evenson and John Rheinfrank teaching us. Shelley is a new faculty member at CMU and John, is her husband and business partner and former Master Stategist for Sapient.

Ostensibly, today was about Dean Barnlund's article, "Communication: the Context of Change," but we spent a lot of time talking about lots of other stuff as well. But first, the article.

Barnlund's main point is that every human has a unique view of the world that is constructed inside. Meaning comes from us: we provide the meaning to the world. Our beliefs about the world are only challenged (or reinforced) by talk or by argument. It's only through conflict that deeply held beliefs can be changed. It's only through conflict that we can grow.

Barnlund is all about empathy: seeing how other people think. To me, he's like the father of user-centered design. You examine how people think of things (conceptual models) and build towards those. Knowing the users goals would be right up his alley.

He's also about the importance of dialog in communication: making sure that communication goes both ways, between things. It's important to create an atmosphere where this sort of dialog can take place.

He's also a big fan of groups and group thinking as a way of problem solving. And while there is value in groups, sure, some of his reasoning is dubious at best.

Launching off from the reading, we talked a lot about metaphor. Metaphors are used to systematically construct a rolling notion of reality. They are good in that you don't have to explain much (a whole world can be conjured up easily), but also bad ( can trap you into a way of thinking). If you want to think differently about something, shift the underlying metaphor. Marketing was used as an example. Marketing language is all about warfare: campaigns, targets, etc. But instead, think of it as landscaping: growing an audience, plowing a field, etc. There are three different types of metaphors: Orientational ("the peak of his life"), structural ("coming out of a coma"), and ontalogical ("let's combat inflation").

John and Shelley then asked us to shift our metaphor for communication, to instead think of it in terms of learning, both passive and active learning. Wrapping up the article and the discussion was this: You have to design things so that the users can use what is already inside them to figure it out.

posted at 10:00 PM in design theory, faculty | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Thursday, September 11, 2003

Influence and Force

Seminar this week concluded our look at the first interpretation of interaction, an entitative or material approach. Broadly speaking, this interpretation has a lot to do with parts of systems: cognition, communication theory, anthropology, semantics. It's a view wherein humans are not overy complex: it is the outside world that is complex. How we process the world is what is important, the methods used to control the outside world. The world is filled with triggers that we act upon.

We took a field trip to the men's bathroom to look at the half-walls between urinals. The walls are a form of adumbration. Adumbration is a term coined by anthropologist Edward Hall to describe the cues around messages that indicate how the messages should be received. Adumbration is about influencing behavior and results in a certain kinds of interaction. Enough influence becomes a force, and a force is how one enacts change in the world.

posted at 12:59 AM in design theory, field trips | comments (4) | trackback (0) | link


Monday, September 8, 2003

What thinking is

Dick Buchanan is away on a consulting gig, so this week Seminar is being taught by Carl DiSalvo, a 3rd year PhD student in Design.

Today's discussion centered on the ideas of Herbert Simon, a pioneer in the fields of design, artificial intelligence, and cognitive science, and author of several books including Sciences of the Artificial. (He was also, incidentally, a CMU professor.)

Seminar is all about discussing four interpretations of interaction design. The first interpretation we're considering is one about interface, where the inner and outer meet. Or, to put it another way, where the encoder and decoder meet. Interfaces are a way to make sense of the world. Simon's work provides a way of designing interfaces, but cutting and vividing information in understandable ways (chunking). Chunking is a tactic for managing data. Design's huge problem is managing and organizing information. Simon's cognition theories provide a powerful and clear approach to dealing with that problem.

Simon believes that it is information processing that makes us human (what he calls Thinking Man). And that thinking is composed of modular mechanisms and processes. One of these processes is Satisfice: making "good enough" choices given the short amount of time and huge amounts of data we have. Satisfice is a mechanism for managing the world, because, Simon argues, there is too much information and thus it is impossible to model the entire environment of any given problem.

And what does this have to do with design? It's a way of approaching problems: focusing on how humans process information.

posted at 08:59 PM in design theory | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Wednesday, September 3, 2003

Mathematics of Communication

Seminar today was all about deconstructing and analyzing William Weaver's article, "The Mathematics of Communication." This dense essay, written in 1944, offers several meaty ideas about communication:

  • Information is not facts; it's data that is chosen from among many possible messages.
  • The more choices we have for communicating, the more chances we have for miscommunication and confusion. But, the more choices we have, the more information we can convey.
  • Stereotypes and convention (metaphor) help to create redundancy, and redundancy makes sure the message is received. The English language is 50 percent redunant.
  • Noise can cause misinterpretation and ambiguity. (But sometimes, as a designer, you want that.)
  • Entropy is to be avoided.

One side conversation: Design, unlike Art, degrades over time. Designers serve people at a specific time and in a specific place, and the farther removed we are from that, the less likely a design artifact will have any meaning.

posted at 07:56 PM in design theory | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link





All straight lines circle sometime. - The Weakerthans