Wednesday, September 20, 2017

When design philosophy becomes reality

One of the things I "preach" in my class on Design Theory is that everyone who designs act based on some kind of design philosophy. It may be explicit or implicit, but it is there. A design philosophy influences how you think about design, its role, its purpose, how to do it, etc. I push my students to do four things.

First, to examine and reveal their own (existing) design philosophy, to make it as explicit as possible, in an honest way (usually they do not think they have one).

Secondly, to critically examine their own design philosophy, what it means, its consequences for practices, its strengths, and weaknesses, etc.

And then thirdly, to reflect on if their existing philosophy is what they want. What are they missing, what do they want to emphasize, and what do they see as their future strength as a designer.

And finally, to reflect on how they can change and develop their design philosophy in a desired direction.

I think this article about how Logitch has changed their design philosophy is a great example of the importance of knowing your design philosophy. This is how design philosophy becomes reality.

The Meaning of Interactivity—Some Proposals for Definitions and Measures

Is it possible to define interaction and interactivity? And is it possible to measure it in some way? My colleague Lars-Erik Janlert and I have developed some concepts and definitions that we believe can help us answer these questions. In our article (that you can download here)

Lars-Erik Janlert & Erik Stolterman (2017) The Meaning of Interactivity—Some Proposals for Definitions and Measures, Human–Computer Interaction, 32:3, 103-138, DOI: 10.1080/07370024.2016.1226139

we present our work. [Even though this article is recently published, some of the materials in the article has been reworked and further developed in our new book. "Things that keep us busy -- the elements of interaction" (MIT Press, 2017). ]

What I like about this work is that we take the question "what is interaction" seriously and in detail try to define it, or at least frame it, in a way that makes sense and also makes it usable. I know that the way we do it seems strange to some (we have already heard that), but even in those cases, it seems as if our attempt opens up for new questions and invites to a conversation. And this is really what I think our field needs, we need some serious efforts and attempts to carefully frame and define what interaction is since it is our core object of study.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Book note: "Making Design Theory" by Johan Redström

It is great to see books being published by people you respect as scholars and thinkers. I am especially happy to see my colleague and friend John Redström's new book "Making Design Theory". Johan is one of the most thoughtful scholars in the world today when it comes to how to understand the relationship between design practice, design research, and knowledge production. Johan is one of the few who can, in a scholarly and successful way, grapple with fundamental questions around design as an approach of making things and of making theory.

One of the most important features of this book is that it presents a foundation of concepts and definitions that are philosophically sound and practically useful.  I am convinced that his thoughts around design research: what it is, how to think about it, but also how to actually do it, will soon be regarded as a fundamental corner stone in the field of design research and research about design.

This is a book I strongly encourage every PhD student who is involved in any form of design research to carefully read. It will provide them with an understanding that is solidly grounded and practically useful. It will help them to defend the way they do (design) research and it will lead to new kinds of theory development that will seriously improve the field.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Things That Keep Us Busy -- elements of interaction

Ok, now it is only a week or so until our new book is available (at least according to Amazon). Here is the title and short overview of the book.

Things That Keep Us Busy
The Elements of Interaction

By Lars-Erik Janlert and Erik Stolterman


We are surrounded by interactive devices, artifacts, and systems. The general assumption is that interactivity is good—that it is a positive feature associated with being modern, efficient, fast, flexible, and in control. Yet there is no very precise idea of what interaction is and what interactivity means. In this book, Lars-Erik Janlert and Erik Stolterman investigate the elements of interaction and how they can be defined and measured. They focus on interaction with digital artifacts and systems but draw inspiration from the broader, everyday sense of the word.

Viewing the topic from a design perspective, Janlert and Stolterman take as their starting point the for manipulation by designers, considering such topics as complexity, clutter, control, and the emergence of an expressive-impressive style of interaction. They argue that only when we understand the basic concepts and terms of interactivity and interaction will we be able to discuss seriously its possible futures.
interface, which is designed to implement the interaction. They explore how the interface has changed over time, from a surface with knobs and dials to clickable symbols to gestures to the absence of anything visible. Janlert and Stolterman examine properties and qualities of designed artifacts and systems, primarily those that are open

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

The limits of critique

My colleague and friend Harold Nelson sent me a link to a very interesting article. It is a review of Rita Felski's new book "The limits of critique". I have not read the book but just by reading the article I get a good sense of the major argument Feltski makes. And it really resonates with my own experience and thinking, of course, not so much when it comes to literature critique, but critique in general. Interesting!

Friday, July 14, 2017

How designers can know about the future

I have written on my blog earlier about one of my favorite books, Donald Schon's "Beyond the stable state". Unfortunately this is a book that is almost forgotten. Probably because people see it as 'old'. It was first published in 1971.

The core idea of the book is that there is no 'stable state' in the world and never will be. Change is the normal, stability is abnormal. Schon makes the case that any form of knowledge that can support designers, therefore, need to be based on the notion of 'no stable state'. I will here only point to the most wonderful pages in the book where Schon presents his notion of 'projective models'. This is a concept that captures what designers do and in his language an 'existentialism' approach instead of a 'systems analysis' approach. He develops this briefly in a subchapter called "Other ways of knowing". He does this on only 10 pages, p 227-237.

It is possible to read the argument in this book as a challenge to more scientific approaches that are built on the idea that knowing about potential future solutions (designing) can best be done by engaging with and extrapolating what we know is stable in the world. Schon's proposal presents an approach that takes the full richness and complexity of everyday reality into consideration. It leads to a realization that 'knowing' as a designer cannot be disconnected with who you are and your experiences and your ability to capture the ultimate particular conditions of each design situation.

I can't write more just know, but I am working on this idea of 'projective models' from Schon and hopefully, it will become a chapter in a book I am slowly working on.

(By the way, if you know someone who has written about this concept, please let me know.)

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

HCI research contributions to the world of knowledge

Here is a fun exercise:

make a list of the knowledge contributions that HCI research has produced over the years.

First some definitions:
Assume that HCI research is about the interaction between humans and interactive computational objects.

The human part is quite straightforward. It refers to any human being, groups, organizations or societies of human beings.

The "computer" part is less clear, but to me, it makes sense to see that as interactive computational objects. Both interactive and computational seem to be part of a general understanding in our field. There are many objects that are not computational but interactive, or the other way around, but we mainly focus on those type of objects that are both. The notion of object is of course complicated. Traditionally it refers to physical machines, but it has changed and can now be any composition and manifestation of functionality that anyone sees as the part a human is interacting with. Ok, these definitions are not enough, but a simple starting point for the exercise.

So, if this is what HCI research is studying with the purpose to understand, explain, reveal, challenge, and improve etc. then what are the major contributions that the field has produced over the years? What do we know about this interaction between humans and interactive computational objects?

Of course, there is a huge pile of knowledge that our field has produced about details when it comes to interfaces, interaction, design and development, technological aspects, etc. But, what if we try to formulate contributions at a very high level of abstraction.

For instance, if the field of HCI is stating that interaction with computational interactive objects is different than interacting with non-computational interactive objects? If so, would that be a major contribution?

It would be exciting to see the field try to formulate some major knowledge contributions that would complement the world of knowledge. Of course, it does not mean that the field would agree on these contributions but at least they would be seen as some kind of substantial knowledge that other fields and the world would benefit from knowing.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Jerker Lundequist "Norm och modell"

[This post will be in Swedish]

Jag sökte en bok idag. I en av mina hyllor hittade jag istället Jerker Lundequists doktorsavhandling från 1982. Titeln är "Norm och modell - samt ytterligare några begrepp inom designteorin". Jag vet inte hur många som har läst Jerkers avhandling, men den var enormt viktig för mig. Jag hade precis startat min doktorandutbildning och sökte förtvilat efter texter kring designteori och kanske ännu mer efter exempel på hur designforskning skulle kunna utföras. Jerkers text och ansats passade mig perfekt. Han arbetar med en filosofisk metod, analytiskt, begreppsanalys, definitioner, etc. något som jag hade troligen sökt men inte tidigare sett.

Jag blev så betagen av Jerkers ideer att jag reste till Stockholm för att träffa honom. Jag var nervös och visste inte riktigt vad jag skulle säga när vi träffades. Men det blev ett bra möte. Han var pratsam och vi diskuterade designteori i ett par timmar på arkitekthögskolan där han jobbade. Jag träffade honom ett flertal gånger senare under årens lopp.

Nu när jag bläddrar i hans avhandling kommer en massa minnen tillbaks och en massa ideer. Det är så tydligt nu hur påverkad jag blev av hans arbete och hur mycket det formade mitt eget tänkande, och fortfarande gör.

Nu när jag läser lite här och där i hans avhnadling blir det tydligt för mig att hans text, ideer och tankar är relevanta än idag. Fler borde läsa honom!

Friday, June 02, 2017

Why designing is not irrational

Any approach that is aimed at changing our reality is an expression of a specific understanding of what it means to be rational, to think and act in a rational way. Most people strive to be rational in some sense, but it is obvious that what it means to be rational varies.

When I look back on my own research over the years, the notion of rationality has always been at the core of my studies. Actually, my Ph.D. dissertation had the title "The Hidden Rationality of Design Work". The core idea of the dissertation was that as long as we can't reveal the hidden rationality of designing, it will stay difficult to describe and understand, and even more important...teach. The study of designing has since then made huge progress in revealing the 'hidden rationality' of design (see Schon, Cross, Krippendorff, etc).

One of the major problems with the notion of rationality is, to me, that people confuse what being rational means with one specific interpretation. This narrow understanding of being rational is highly influenced by what is seen as the highest form of rationality--the scientific process. But most people do recognize that depending on what we are trying to achieve, we need to embrace different forms of reasoning. It is crucial to understand that we have to embrace the notion that rationality comes in many flavors, each bringing certain strengths and weaknesses. If this is not understood, it becomes a problem.

For instance, some people argue that design thinking means not being rational. Some even argue that designers are, or even have to be, irrational in their thinking and doing. This is however only true if we understand 'being rational' in a very narrow sense. 

To argue that designing is irrational is, therefore, a mistake. Designers are rational and have a well-developed rationality (if they are good at what they do). Designing requires both logic and rationality, but it is a logic and rationality that is aimed at exploring and developing new ideas that can lead to not-yet-existing designs. This means that what is rational as a designer is not the same as what is applied by someone involved in trying to explain how reality works or create an understanding of some particular aspect of our reality. Design thinking is aimed at changing reality into something that we do not know what it is,  into something that is only an imagination. Such a process requires certain forms of thinking and acting, it requires a certain form of rationality. The 'hidden' rationality of designing. 

Ok, this is already too long, but as a takeaway idea, I would propose that anyone involved in the study of designing or has ambitions to improve designing spend a bit more time trying to understand the notion of rationality. It is a theoretical tool that is extremely important in any exploration of human approaches of inquiry and action.

Stuff to read:
Robert Nozick "The nature of rationality" 
John Dewey "How we think"
Horst Rittel "The reasoning of designers"

and if you want something really good
Joseph Dunne "Back to the rough ground"

and here is an article to download that I wrote a few years back about this topic

Stolterman, E. (2008). The nature of design practice and implications for interaction design research. in  International Journal of Design, 2(1).

Friday, May 26, 2017

Book note: "Homo Deus" by Yuval Noah Harari

I am apparently one of the few that has not read Yuval Noah Harari's first book "Sapiens". I did not even realize this until I got his new book "Homo Deus: a brief history of tomorrow". Now after I have read "Homo Deus" I understand why the first book got so much attention and praise. It is not often you find a book that takes on the biggest possible perspective of humanity, its history and future, and manages to do it without completely making a mess of it.

After I read the book, I read several reviews of it, most of them were quite bad. They do not really seem to get the basic ideas in the book and therefore end up with arguments and critique that clearly David Runciman in the Guardian. Runciman presents the book in a way that, in my view, represents the ideas quite well. I will therefore not here write much about the book, instead, just read his review.

A couple of my own thoughts about the book. Harari introduces the notion of "Dataism" at the end of the book. I found the chapter "The Data Religion" to be fascinating. The way he describes dataism, what it means and what it leads to, opens up many questions and challenges especially related to my own field. Of course, Harari is extraordinary bold, uses the biggest possible brush to paint his picture, which means that as a reader you easily react on details that you may find incorrect or problematic. That is unfortunate since it means you might miss the bigger picture. To get something from a book like this, you have to engage with it at the level of the big ideas it tries to explore. Anyway, the notion that dataism is the next religion and that it can make humanism extinct is quite an ambitious and maybe to many a scary idea. Harari states that if this is correct then humans are not 'needed' anymore.

One strength of the book is, of course, the way it is written. It is easy and fun to read. Great examples and clear arguments. The text is full of conclusions and statements that most would not even dare to express. I truly enjoyed reading the book and I agree with Daniel Kahneman who write on the back of the book "Homo Deus will shock you. It will entertain you. Above all, it will make you think in ways you had not thought before".