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interaction design

A quote I used in Dan Saffer's session on smart devices using data collection to attempt predictions around what their users might want:

“Today's devices blurt out the absolute truth as they know it. A smart device in the future might know when NOT to blurt out the truth.” - Genevieve Bell

Also got to point everyone there to Steffen Fiedler's fantastic 2011 project "Instruments Of Politeness"

I’m interviewing Brian & Peter about their new generative music app, Scape – and much more besides at the Regent St. Apple Store, London, 5.30pm on October 5th.

I’m looking forward to it immensely, but not without trepidation…

Come along!

Ben Bashford’s writing about ‘Emoticomp‘ – the practicalities of working as a designer of objects and systems that have behaviour and perhaps ‘ intelligence’ built-into them.

It touches on stuff I’ve talked/written about here and over on the BERG blog – but moves out of speculation and theory to the foothills of the future: being a jobbing designer working on this stuff, and how one might attack such problems.

Excellent.

I really think we should be working on developing new tools for doing this. One idea I’ve had is system/object personas. Interaction designers are used to using personas (research based user archetypes) to describe the types of people that will use the thing they’re designing – their background, their needs and the like but I’m not sure if we’ve ever really explored the use of personas or character documentation to describe the product themselves. What does the object want? How does it feel about it? If it can sense its location and conditions how could that affect its behaviour? This kind of thing could be incredibly powerful and would allow us to develop principles for creating the finer details of the object’s behaviour.

I’ve used a system persona before while designing a website for young photographers. The way we developed it was through focus groups with potential users to establish the personality traits of people they felt closest to, trusted and would turn to for guidance. This research helped is establish the facets of a personality statement that influenced the tone of the copy at certain points along the user journeys and helped the messaging form a coherent whole. It was useful at the time but I genuinely believe this approach can be adapted and extended further.

I think you could develop a persona for every touchpoint of the connected object’s service. Maybe it could be the same persona if the thing is to feel strong and omnipresent but maybe you could use different personas for each touchpoint if you’re trying to bring out the connectedness of everything at a slightly more human level. This all sounds a bit like strategy or planning doesn’t it? A bit like brand principles. We probably need to talk to those guys a bit more too.

Scrambled Hertzian Tales. Apt!

From Tony’s preface to the 2005 edition:

“The ideas in Hertzian Tales were developed between 1994 and 1997 while I was completing my Ph.D. thesis in the Computer Related Design department at the Royal College of Art in London. The first edition was publisjed through the Royal College of Art in 1999.

It is interesting to look back and think about the technological developments made since then. Bluetooth, 3G phones, and wi-fi are all now part of everyday life. The dot-com boom has come and gone. And in the United Kingdom, large parts of the electromagnetic spectrum are about to be deregulated.

Yet very little has changed in the world of design.”

I requested a copy of Hertzian Tales from MIT Press as ‘payment’ for reviewing a draft of an about-to-be-published interaction design book. I was familiar the the work, but had never read the whole thing.

I was very glad I did.

Tony’s ideas from 1999 held up incredibly strongly in terms of the practice of interaction design and design in 2009 I thought.

It seems to me that his 2005 fear – that very little has changed in design since he first wrote the book – might now be dispelled by the breaking down of silos between digital and physical designers, and the advanced towards the mainstream of ‘the internet of things’.

Jack of course studied at the RCA and I’ve taught there a few times, and I like to count Tony as a friend, but despite those influences, it really does seem like a key text to return to if you are working in the emerging field of digital/physical interaction, product or service design.

Tony’s wonderful line “All electronics products are hybrids of radiation and matter” alone has enough pertinence, poetry and punch to fuel a revolution in design!

Here’s a few quotes from the ‘dog-eared’ pages that stood out for me:

p16

“Another form of dematerialisation is defined by electronic objects’ role as interfaces. With these objects the interface is everything. The behaviour of video recorders, televisions, telephones and faxes is more important than their appearance and physical form. Here design centres on the dialogue between people and machines. The object is experienced as an interface, a zone of transaction.”

p17

“The material culture of non-electronic objects is a useful measure of what the electronic object must achieve to be worthwhile but it is important to avoid merely superimposing the familiar physical world onto a new electronic situation, delaying the possibility of new culture through a desperate desire to make it comprehensible”

“How can we discover analogue complexity in digital phenomena without abandoning the rich culture of the physical, or superimposing the known and comfortable onto the new and alien?

p19

“No effort need be made to reconcile the different scales of the electronic and the material. They can simply coexist in one object. They can grow obsolete at different rates as well. Robert Rauschenberg’s Oracle has had its technology updated three times over thirty years, but it’s materiality and cultural meaning remain unchanged. Cultural obsolescence need not occur at the same rate as technological obsolescence.

Perhaps the “object” can locate the electronic in the social and cultural context of everyday life. It could link the richness of material culture with the new functional; and expressive qualities of electronic technology.”

p33

“A range of possibility exists between the ideas of the “pet” and the “alien”. While the pet offers familiarity, affection, submission and intimacy, the alien is the pet’s opposite, misunderstood and ostracised”

p71

“In the case of electronic products, hte “unique qualities” of the object of interaction is their potential as an electronic product to persuade the users as protagonists, through the user’s use of the object, to generate a narrative space where the understanding of the experience is changed or enlarged. By using the object, the protagonist enters a space between desire and determinism, a bizarre world of the “infra-ordinary” where strange stories show that truth is indeed stranger than fiction, and that our conventional experience of everyday life through electronic products is aesthetically impoverished.”

p89

“The space of the model lies on the border between representation and actuality. Like the frame of a painting, it demarcates a limit between the work and what lies beyond. And like the frame, the model is neither wholly inside or wholly outside, neither pure representation nor transcendent object. It claims a certain autonomous objecthood, yet this condition is always incomplete. The model is always a model of. The desire of the model is to act as a simulacrum of another object, as a surrogate which allows for imaginative occupation. (Hubert, `1981)”

p90

“From a product design point of view these models lack industrial realism; they look like craft objects, hand-made and probably one-off. But an expanded view of the conceptual design model might regard it as embodying the essence of the design idea, a “genotype” rather than a prototype, constructed from the materials at hand. If taken up for mass manufacture its construction and structure would undoubtedly change. The object’s “content” or “genes” are important, not it’s appearance. In the context of design, the conceptual model as genotype rather than prototype could allow it to function more abstractly by deflecting attention from an aesthetics of construction to an aesthetics of use.”

p101

“It might seem strange to write about radio, a long-established medium, when discussion today centres on cyberspace, virtual reality, networks, smart materials and other electronic tehcnologies. But radio, meaning part of the electromagnetic spectrum is fundamental to electronics. Objects not only “dematerialise” into software in response to minituarisation and replacement by services but literally dematerialise into radiation. All electronic products are hybrids of radiation and matter. This chapter does not discuss making the invisible visible or visualising radio, but explores the links between the material and the immaterial that lead to new aesthetic possibilities for life in an electromagnetic environment. Whereas cyberspace is a metaphor that spatialises what happens in computers distributed around the world, radio space is actual and physical, even though our senses detect only a tiny part of it.”

p111

“Objects designed to straddle both material and immaterial domains arouse curiosity about the fit between these worlds. Many military aircraft are now “teledynamic”, designed to fly undetected through fields of radar-frequency radiation. But teledynamic forms are not aerodynamic and to remain airborne their outline needs to be constantly adjusted by a computer. These aircraft fly through fusions of abstract digital, hertzian and atmospheric spaces.

Objects that I call “radiogenic” function as unwitting interfaces between the abstract space of eletomagnetism and the material cutlures of everyday life revealing unexpected points of contact between them.”

p111

“Aerialness” is a quality of an object considered in relation to the electromagneic environment. Even the human body is a crude monopole aerial. Although in theory precise laws govern the geometry of aerials, in reality it is a black art, a fusion of the macro world of perception and the imperceptible world of micro-electronics.”

Which I’ve written a little bit more about over at the S&W Pulse Laser.

I felt I rushed the talk, which was probably not wise as I was giving it in English to an Italian audience, but there’s stuff in there I want to dig into further in the coming months for sure. If you for some reason feel the need to punish yourself and want to see my lack-lustre performance it’s captured forever here, but deep thanks to (most of) the audience for indulging me and not falling asleep or wandering off chatting into the gorgeous Italian sunshine… I know I would have…

The concept of “Thingfrastructure” in the talk is something I’ve found myself scribbling in the margins of my moleskine for a few months now, and it’s something I want to come back to: resilience in services, especially when connected to things – and whether it’s possible to design ‘things’ that generate resilient services for themselves. I think it’s been in the back of my mind since Ryan Freitas gave an excellent talk on the subject at MX last year in San Francisco. Anyway – as I say, I’ll keep scribbling, and hopefully others will too.

Thanks very much indeed to Leander, Matteo, Manuela and all the team behind Frontiers for the kind invitation to speak and a wonderful time in Rome.

UPDATE:
The good folk at Adaptive Path have pointed out that (unbeknownst to me) Brandon Schauer was walking this path a few months ago. He’s a smart cookie is Brandon.

Umeå

I got invited to northern Sweden by the lovely folks at Umeå Institute of Design and Tellart.

Umeå Design School

It was a fantastic couple of days, where ideas were swapped, things were made and fine fun was had late into the sub-artic evening…

Umeå

It was their first (and hopefully not the last) Spring Summit at the Umeå Institute of Design, entitled “Sensing and sensuality”.

Umeå Institute of Design Spring Summit, "Sensing and Sensuality"

I tried to come up with something on that theme, mainly of half-formed thoughts that I hope I can explore some more here and elsewhere in the coming months.

It’s called “Data as seductive material” and the presentation with notes is on slideshare, although I’ve been told that there will be video available of the entire day here with great talks from friends old and new.

Thank you so much to the faculty and students of Umeå Institute of Design, and mighty Matt Cottam of Tellart for the invitation to a wonderful event.

RCA Tribes tutorial day

Last year, I took my first, terrifying steps into teaching. Last November I was happily invited back to work with the students on the Design Interactions course at the RCA on another short project.

This time it was all 1st years from the course, and in collaboration with Vodafone, with Ian Curson and others from their User-Experience group helping set the brief and getting involved with workshops set by the students.

The brief was deliberately wide and intended to steer us all from thinking about mobile phones. It was entitled “Tribal Futures”, and asked the group to:

“…focus in on the mundane and the extremes of our behaviour in groups and propose design interventions to support, subvert and celebrate our tribal connections. We encourage you to extrapolate the current trends in mobile, social and other technologies in terms of their failures as well as successes, and examine what technologies intended and unintended consequences might be.”

I quoted Clay Shirky later on in the brief:

“Groups are a run-time effect. You cannot specify in advance what the group will do, and so you can’t substantiate in software everything you expect to have happen”

Clay made time on a trip to London to give a talk to the group and answer their questions, early on in the project. Enormously grateful to him for that!

Clay talking to RCA Design Interactions

It was a short project, just 4 weeks – and the wide brief inspired a wide range of responses, from  Andy Friend’s “Nuisance Machines”: playful devices for creating incidental groups…

…to some that found a theme of flocking and swarming in group dynamics such asHiromi Ozaki’s swarming, archigram-inspired tribal search engine…

And Louise O’Connor’s lovely The Singing Flock which I really hope gets pursued into a larger project.

 

Louise OConnors Singing Flock

 

 

There were projects that encompassed the poetic, the playful and the semi-practical: like Derv Heaney’s “Constructive Hold Space” – part audio-architecture and part social network for those stuck on hold for call centres…

…to the pure poetic-playful –  like Helge Fischer’s Ceremonies for Agnostics

21st Century Festivals

Despite the punishing time-scale of the project, a few of the students managed to get out and do some design research in the field, including Oliver Goodhall’s investigation of Jaywick

…and Alison Thomson’s fantastic Waltz of the Orange Men – she actually got certified as a member of the local council waste disposal crew she spent time with! Dedication!

All of the projects can be found at http://beta.interaction.rca.ac.uk/ft/ and we’ve kept the project blog that the group used for research and work-in-progress live (but with comments closed) at http://beta.interaction.rca.ac.uk/futuretribes/ to show some of the process along the way.

And, talking of which, the Design Interactions course is having it’s annual Work-In-Progress show this week, along with the Animation, Architecture and Industrial Design Engineering courses  (sorry, can’t find a better link), where both the 1st and 2nd years will be showing off their work so far. Looking forward to it.

Now it’s all going to get a bit Kate Winslet.

Many thanks to Anthony Dunne, Onkar Kular, Noam Toran and Nina Pope from Design Interactions for the invitation, the support and the great conversations about the Jason Bourne movies; Ian Curson and his group at Vodafone for all their support, Clay Shirky, Will Davies and Richard Pope for being great speakers to kick-off the project with – and of course, the students for both putting up with me and creating such great work and surprises along the way.

Hopefully I’ll get to do it again…

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