Monday, November 28, 2016

Design is not Art

It is comforting to hear from a distinguished designer that "design is not art", something that Harold Nelson and I have argued in our book "The Design Way". Unfortunately there is a common misunderstanding that design is close to art or a type of art. Milton Glaser makes the clear statement that this is not the case in a brief article. I wish more people would take this position, it would make a huge difference in how we think about design and how it would be positioned and organized into a university structure as well as a company structure.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Book sent to publisher!

So, today my colleague Lars-Erik Janlert and I sent our final manuscript to the MIT Press publisher. The book is titled "Things That Keep Us Busy--the elements of interaction". The chapter in the book look like this:

1 The things that keep us busy
2 Thought styles and Use paradigms
3 An approach to interactivity
4 Interaction
5 Complexity
6 Control
7 The character of things
8 Expressions and impressions
9 Faceless interaction
10 Taking measures
11 Full speed ahead

I am not sure when it will be published, but I am sure it will take a while.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Do design researchers really know the work of Donald Schön?

It is well known that Donald Schön is one of the most influential design scholars in the last few decades. His ideas are often referenced and we can almost always assume that most people engaged in research about design is aware of these ideas. However, there is this suspicion that I have heard from several colleagues over the years that even though Schön is commonly referenced, researchers do not necessarily read his work carefully.

My PhD student Jordan Beck has together with a colleague, Laureline Chiapello, published a great paper in which they have examined how design researchers cite the work of Schön. The results are quite fascinating and actually confirm the suspicion mention above. From other work (Chai and Xiao 2012), we know that Schön is the most cited author in design research (at least in the venues examined). But how is Schön cited and for what purpose?

In the article "Schön’s Legacy: Examining Contemporary Citation Practices in DRS Publications" by Beck and Chiapello, it becomes clear that most citations are fairly superficial and almost none of the researchers engage critically or scholarly with Schön's ideas. After their serious examination (described in the paper) they write:

"We found very few instances of citations that function as critical engagements with Schön’s work or those that function as building upon his work. Moreover, where supporting and credit functions are concerned, we found that scholars tend not to expand on or discuss the concepts or works they cite. For example, “reflective practice” or “reflection-in-action” may appear in a text with no additional explanation or discussion" (Beck and Chiapello, 2016).

They discuss what these findings may mean and comments:

"Does a lack of critical engagement and building citations mean that the scholars publishing at the DRS conference are less interested in argumentation or cumulative knowledge building?" Based on these findings we may ask the question if this is a problem for the field or not? Personally I find it disturbing that the most cited author in the field is 'used' in this way. It suggests that there is an unwillingness to engage with fundamental theoretical assumptions. Even though I am personally someone who deeply appreciate Schön's ideas, these ideas can not be left alone. They have to be challenged and critically engaged with. Who will do that?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Relating Systems Thinking And Design 5

Last week I had the pleasure of participating in the "Relating Systems Thinking And Design 5" symposium. This conference is for researchers and practitioners who are devoted to either systems thinking or design thinking or preferably both. This is an interesting and important topic. There is no design today that does not have to struggle with systems. And systems are usually not of interest unless as a way of understanding something for design. The ambition to do good and to change this world into something better among the participants is extraordinary. In some cases overwhelming since it leads to projects that almost crumbles as a consequence of their scope and complexity. But if you have are someone who believe that difficult and complex societal problems have to be approached by systems thinking and design, then this is the place for you!

Anyway, I had the opportunity to give a Keynote presentation on "Interactivity Fields and Systems" based on our forthcoming book "Things That Keep Us Busy--The Elements of Interaction". It seemed as if the topic resonated with the participants. I think a video will be available at some point.

Friday, October 07, 2016


The title of this blogpost is the same as a paper that my PhD student Jordan Beck and I have published. The question in the title is to me a difficult one and a question that is not taken seriously enough by those who produce knowledge about design or those who develop methods and tools for design.

The abstract of the paper is short and says:

"This paper asks, Can there be scientific theories of design that do not scientize design? And it answers in the affirmative. Not only can there be scientific theories of design that do not scientize design but also that a scientific lens can potentially reveal important aspects of the design process. We apply Karl Popper’s criteria for the scientific status of a theory to four seminal theories of the design process: Bounded Rationality, FBS Framework, Figural Complexity, and C-K Theory. We demonstrate that (1) some theories about design can be construed as scientific in Popper’s terms, and that (2) these theories do not “scientize” the design process."

I am aware that this kind of research is to many too abstract and theoretical and not 'useful'. However, I am convinced that if we did engage more with this kind of questions, it would seriously help us to better understand the relation between design and science. This relation is today filled with tension. This tension is emerging everywhere. All around campus. It threatens the traditional understanding of disciplines. It challenges what we consider to be valuable knowledge and what is accepted ways of producing knowledge.

Anyway, this is a tricky area. Any PhD student who studies in a field where science and design live together experience this tension on a daily basis.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

When the interface disappears--interesting article about Ives

I read this article today in which the argument is made that Jonathan Ives and Apple has been so successful so they "designed themselves out of existence". Here is the article.

This article and the topic really resonates with our work around "Faceless Interaction" and "The Meaning of Interactivity" (if you are interested in these articles, just email me).

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The meaning of interactivity

Just got a message that said that Lars-Erik Janlert's and mine article "The meaning of interactivity—some proposals for definitions and measures" will be published in the HCI Journal.

Here is the abstract of the article:

"New interactive applications, artifacts and systems are constantly being added to our environments, and there are some concerns in the HCI research community that increasing interactivity might not be just to the good. But what is it that is supposed to be increasing, and how could we determine whether it is? In order to approach these issues in a systematic and analytical fashion, relying less on common intuitions and more on clearly defined concepts and when possible quantifiable properties, we take a renewed look at the notion of interactivity and related concepts. The main contribution of this article is a number of definitions and terms, and the beginning of an attempt to frame the conditions of interaction and interactivity. Based on this framing, we also propose some possible approaches for how interactivity can be measured."

If you are interested in the article, just email me and I will send you a copy.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Good complexity and design judgement

It seems as if a lot of people today see the world as difficult place to fully understand. The complexity of reality is frequently mentioned. Our culture is complex. Contemporary technology is definitely complex. And our everyday lives are complex. The notion of 'complexity' is in many cases used as a negative descriptor. meaning that things are difficult, hard to understand, and that it presents challenges to us. It seems as if the solution instead would be things are simple and easy to understand. I see this strive for simplicity as a mistake or at least not as trivially correct. My colleague Lars-Erik Janlert and I commented on this in our article "Complex Interaction" when we wrote:

"Complexity is not just a necessary evil and not just instrumentally good. Given the right circumstances, encounters with the very complexity of some systems and behaviors can give us fullness, entertainment, aesthetic and sublime experiences, spur and develop our abilities and ambitions, and give depth to our experiences and understandings [Nelson 2007; Csikszentmihalyi 1990]. 
Rather than being a universal human ideal, simplicity is often disapproved and derided in our everyday lives. Being simple can provoke condescension and even contempt. On the other hand, humans seem to seek and enjoy certain experiences of complexity. Sometimes complexity may be understood as richness, generally found to be a positive and wanted quality. The experience of being in a forest with its overwhelming profusion of different life forms and natural structures is seen as richer than being in the controlled and simplified park. The simpler an environment is, the easier it is to understand and handle, but at the same time it lacks the richness and stimulation that we appreciate and enjoy. (Gardner et al. [2002] discuss similar aspects when examining what constitutes “good work.”) Many natural phenomena, such as a river or the weather, are in our daily lives not experienced as problematically complex, but when we want to control them or understand them in a scientific sense we need extremely complex tools, systems, and explanations. These natural phenomena are of course extremely complex, even though humans live with them without feeling intimidated by their complexity. 
There is something intriguing about complexity. It constitutes a challenge, something we can explore and experience, something we can attempt to learn and attempt to master, and something that we know can send us off into new and unpredicted directions, something that promises adventure.We can gladly spend a lot of time and energy trying to figure out the mechanisms behind a complex behavior or system. We can even be prepared to devote our life to the complexity of something such as wine or music."

If our reasoning is correct then complexity is not by default bad, or at least not always something we should try to simplify, reduce or remove. We have to be careful when dealing with systems that people are engaged with. Reducing complexity may lead to reduced richness which in turn may lead to poor and simplistic human experiences with those systems. It is of course true that some systems may be better with less complexity, sometimes simplicity is truly what is needed. But when is complexity good and when is it bad? And how is it possible to know the difference?

First of all, there is no guarantor when it comes to this kind of questions. There are no 'correct' answers. Designing a complex interface may be a solution to a safety issue, while the same design may be cumbersome when the task at hand in a everyday repetitive 'safe' task. The challenge is not to be able to make everything simple, the challenge is to know what is an appropriate level of complexity given a particular task and situation. And then, of course, to be able to design that level accordingly.

This all leads to the notion of design judgment. There is no other guarantor in design than the judgment of the designer. There is nothing 'out there' that can tell a designer what the 'right' design is. There are no correct solutions. There is no design principle, approach, method, or tool that will deliver the 'best' design. There are no patterns or templates that can reduce the risk of designing. There is only the ability of designers to make good judgements.