Saturday, April 29, 2006

CHI2006

Last week was all about CHI 2006. This year the conference was held in Montreal. Even though I have been in the field of systems and interaction design for many, many years, this was my first CHI. I found it very stimulating. I met a lot of interesting new colleagues and old friends. I even found some of the papers and panels interesting.

The field is changing. A lot of discussion about the relation between design and research, between ethnography and design, between practice and reearch, between theory and practice. These issues are of course not new, but it is interesting to see how they play out in different sessions and discussions. And, of course, the issue if the field is really about information and not computers. The answer to this last question is for me neither information nor computers. It is all about the material -- bits as material (see earlier postings).

Maybe the most stimulating intellectual analysis was provided by the closing plenary key note speaker Scott McCloud, the cartoonist. His analysis of cartoons as a form of expression, its deep structure, its purpose and formats, was examined in his talk in a clear and entertaining way. We need more of this this kind of theoretical analysis, grounded in a close understanding of practice in HCI.

We need more challenging intellectual and theoretical ideas in the field. Even though McCloud was fun and good -- we should be able to achieve similar provocative and theoretical analysis by someone within the field. I would like to see a keynote that can make claims on the same level as McCloud but on the field of HCI. Claims that will be heard by all in the conference, and that can serve as a common discussion thread throughout the conference. Who can provide that?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Everyware

Adam Greenfield has recently published a book with the title "Everyware -- The dawning age of ubiquitous computing". The book is an unusual well written and insightful reflection on the new age of computing sometimes called ubiquitous, ambient or pervasive computing. Greenfields own label is "everyware". Greenfield manages to introduce his ideas in a simple but still intriguing way. He never falls back on technical jargon or buzz words, he substantiates his claims with relevant sources (at least in most cases). The claim that we are entering the age of everyware is not new, but Greenfield makes the claim more grandiose and encompassing than many of predecessors. He expands the idea, explores its consequences and takes on difficult questions, such as, who will design the new environment, ethical dilemmas, and the ultimate questions if it will make us happier.

Since Greenfield covers so many aspects of this new phenomenon, naturally each aspect is treated somewhat short and in some cases not with the depth the aspect deserves. This is more than ok. Greenfield's purpose is probably not to be comprehensive and complete. The book is not a theoretical treatise of the subject. Instead we should enjoy the book as a call for more deliberate intellectual attention. There is undoubtedly a technological shift happening right now. A shift that will provide us with extraordinary design challenges. We have to take on this challenge in a serious way. This might be a shift that will influence people's everyday lives in ways we cannot yet even envision and understand.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

HCI and the "material turn"

One of the major changes we are experiencing today in the field of HCI might be called the "material turn". This turn has been predicted and explored by concepts such as pervasive and ubiquitous computing, tangible computing, ambient computing, and very recently with the term "Everyware" by Adam Greefield. One aspect of this material turn is that digital material is literally everywhere, the other aspect is the fusion and blending of materials. Physical materials become dynamic materials or transmaterials with the capacity of changing form, shape, color, and texture. Some of these materials will have the characteristics of being both digital and physical. This is not really something to be surprised about, but it seems as if HCI has not fully grasped this change. The prevaling idea that interaction with digital material is through "windows" on screens is so dominating that the common notion is even that these "windows" reside on our desks in the form of personal computers. To be in the field of HCI is right now more exciting than ever. The changes and challenges to come with the material turn are extraordinary and intriguing. And the fun part is that the interaction design space suddenly and radically grows and we have the opportunity to design our environments in a new and hopefully more human way.

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