The Ahistoricity of Interaction Design

13 Dec 2009 - 11:51am
4 years ago
20 replies
1879 reads
Dan Saffer
2003

What do we think about Adam Greenfield's challenge to us?

"The ahistoricity of interaction design – the notion, implicitly held or otherwise, that rich interactivity is an entirely new topic in design for human experience, perhaps with the Doug Engelbart demo as Year Zero – has always driven me nuts. When even an old-school HCI stalwart like Don Norman fails to deliver useful insight, perhaps it’s time to start looking further afield for inspiration.

Let’s face it: brighter and more sensitive people than us have been thinking about issues like public versus private realms, or which elements of a system are hard to reconfigure and which more open to user specification, for many hundreds of years. Medieval Islamic urbanism, for example, had some notions about how to demarcate transitional spaces between public and fully private that might still usefully inform the design of digital applications and services. By contrast, the level of sophistication with which those of us engaged in such design generally handle these issues is risible (and here I’m pointing a finger at just about the entire UX “community” and the technology industry that supports it).

A bookshelf that runs no deeper than John Maeda, in other words, isn’t going to get you very far, or help you in the true crunch, and nothing makes me sadder than coming across someone engaged in the design of user experiences whose blogroll or Twitter follow list extends no further than the usual UX names...my feeling is that there are better and deeper sources of insight available if you dig a little in the history of adjacent design disciplines.

You can learn to do a decent card sort (excuse me: “content affinity analysis”) in ten minutes, and work competently with Arduino in a good solid month of effort, but if you’re genuinely concerned with improving the quality of interactive experience, I believe you owe it both to yourself and to the people downstream from you who’ll be using the things you make to gain a richer acquaintance with the thought of other, older design traditions."

Read the whole article: <http://speedbird.wordpress.com/2009/12/11/dimensions-of-design/>

Dan Saffer
Principal, Kicker Studio
http://www.kickerstudio.com
http://www.odannyboy.com

Comments

13 Dec 2009 - 12:22pm
Christian Crumlish
2006

I agree with many of the sentiments but find the world-weary superiority
tiresome. The promethean hero brings news of history and humanities to the
blogroll-deprived whos down in whoville.

On Sun, Dec 13, 2009 at 8:51 AM, Dan Saffer <dan at odannyboy.com> wrote:

> ... nothing makes me sadder than coming across someone engaged in the
> design of user experiences whose blogroll or Twitter follow list extends no
> further than the usual UX names...
>

Really, Adam? I wonder. Nothing makes you sadder? Not even hyperbole,
posturing, or sophistry?

...but that's just shooting the messenger: of course I agree that we should
draw on the widest range of educational and informative sources we can
reach. Oh for better teachers.

I suppose as one of the decrepit IA-interested folks in the benighted UX
"community" I can at least take some comfort that Adam has moved along in
his public process of redefining himself in terms of his inferiors.

-x-

13 Dec 2009 - 12:45pm
Dave Malouf
2005

It's so funny he says this when you look at who we have brought to
attention at the first IxD08 conference.
Yes, we had 2 people who you could call luminaries in software, but
I'm not sure either of them Cooper or Buxton really are as limited
as that. But our two other keynotes were from Industrial Design and
Architecture. In fact, the latter, Malcolm McCullough has written one
of the best examples on the convergence of IxD & Arch in Digital
Ground (seriously people if you haven't read this book you really
need to.)

But the real point is that every discipline had its moment where it
looked inward to create a base before looking outward to gain more
influences. And we all know that nothing has a true bounded
beginning. There is always influence. And it is funny that this piece
decries Norman and then does the same thing he did, which is to
wrongly create definitions that fit the argument instead of building
the argument around reality.

What's funnier for me is going back to last year's keynote by
Robert Fabricant and looking at the ancient stone that Robert called
one of the earliest pieces of IxD. Jeez, Adam, you're about a couple
of thousand years late in your examples and a whole year late in
relevance.

So much of the IxD community has moved forward, but the reality is
that all the reading in the world is not going to get people to be
better designers and this farce of academic chauvinism flies in the
face of the real practices of design, which well exist as practice
first and foremost.

That being said, I would agree with his generalization in so far as
it is that, and thus ignores the great work that is going on in
expanding IxD beyond the confines of the history of HCI. Good
programs are doing work outside of classical interactivity including
my own. But the real issue is not practice, but rather education.

IxD is not solidified in education as a research discipline. Yes
there is HCI, but that is not IxD. And by its name fits the very
issue that Adam brings up. Thinking about "computers" today is
irrelevant. Mice, monitors, keyboards, even gestures and tablets is
irrelevant indeed.

But it is only irrelevant for those that have this luxury. You can't
expect the 5-10yr. designer (who in our world is often called SENIOR)
and who has little to know design education (and whose design
education is at the level that Adam wishes) to do more than
accomplish the tasks put in front of them.

Because we have so few people who are engaging IxD at the 15-25 yr.
experience level there is no critical mass of true masters for us to
be mentoring from. Just look who is writing our books today (and no
offense to any of them, as I have deep respect): Both Kolko and
Saffer who I feel have made the best attempts to bring a solid
literature to IxD are less than 20yr. veterans at that. The work of
Buxton and Moggridge in the last period are good contributions, but
are purposeful in their sphere.

The last point I want to make is the ahistoricity thing b/c I think
it points out to something important. I don't see urbanism or
architecture of history directly connected to IxD. yes there are
lessons to learn in all the disciplines of design. Hell, we have
coopted Alexander's patterns in the UX field quite completely, no?
But why we look at D. Englebart as a "moment" is because of the
addition of intelligence in the systems, not because of the focus on
UI. Architectures don't behave. They afford possibilities. We can
analyze patterns and use them to better predict, but the systems
themselves are non-responsive. They can be manipulated, but that is
not the same as respond intelligently. It is this intelligence and
the moment in time we are still spanning through which constantly
increases the intelligences of the systems we are designing that
forces us every day to re-define what it is we are doing. But Doug's
demo was that moment when we saw for the first time what it meant for
ME what an intelligent system can do and that an intelligent system
needs to be made to behave.

So yes, I still look at that time as A beginning for IxD. But I also
think our beginning is constantly folding on itself and starting
anew.

I also think that as McCullough said, "IxD is the humanities of
design" (paraphrase), and thus to study humanities correctly one
must be well versed in a survey of ideas. You can't only rely on the
discipline's own.

-- dave

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Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=47932

13 Dec 2009 - 12:48pm
Mark Schraad
2006

well...

Stylistically... I wish I was that impressed with myself and my
vocabulary. Serious attempts at hair splitting specificity throw
roadblock in front of the reader. Plain speak please... that is if
your intended audience is the broader section of designers... and not
the intellectual elite.

With heavy influence from my mentor I use these four simple rules...

1) Read everything in the domain. Yes, there is a lot of crap and
drivel written in the interactive space. Emerging and growing
industries with high salaries will always attract folks using books to
further their career. Use your passion and your wits to filter out the
BS.

2) Do most of your reading outside of your domain. A wider selection
of ideas is better... and most innovation is about slight variances
and reapplication of existing theories. If you want to really make a
difference in your domain, bring something fresh and applicable.

3) Have a life. The critical component to what we do is our insight
into human nature. Machines are relatively predictable. I do not
believe confining yourself to the studio for 70 - 90 hours a week is a
recipe for excellence.

4) Find your own voice. Have a passionate point of view. Know what you
think. You don't have to write about it... frankly, you might be
better off not writing about it. This has huge implications for number
1.

There are a tremendous number of bright folks in our industry. When I
talk to those doing the work I find that the people with the most
insight apparently don't feel the need to express it in a blog or a
book. I love working with smart passionate people.

Mark

ps... I did not miss the article's point, just picked the portion that
was of interest to me.

"Trust me, I’m not trying to pat myself on the back for some notional
superior acuity."

On Dec 13, 2009, at 10:51 AM, Dan Saffer wrote:

> What do we think about Adam Greenfield's challenge to us?
>
> "The ahistoricity of interaction design – the notion, implicitly
> held or otherwise, that rich interactivity is an entirely new topic
> in design for human experience, perhaps with the Doug Engelbart demo
> as Year Zero – has always driven me nuts. When even an old-school
> HCI stalwart like Don Norman fails to deliver useful insight,
> perhaps it’s time to start looking further afield for inspiration.
>
> Let’s face it: brighter and more sensitive people than us have been
> thinking about issues like public versus private realms, or which
> elements of a system are hard to reconfigure and which more open to
> user specification, for many hundreds of years. Medieval Islamic
> urbanism, for example, had some notions about how to demarcate
> transitional spaces between public and fully private that might
> still usefully inform the design of digital applications and
> services. By contrast, the level of sophistication with which those
> of us engaged in such design generally handle these issues is
> risible (and here I’m pointing a finger at just about the entire UX
> “community” and the technology industry that supports it).
>
> A bookshelf that runs no deeper than John Maeda, in other words,
> isn’t going to get you very far, or help you in the true crunch, and
> nothing makes me sadder than coming across someone engaged in the
> design of user experiences whose blogroll or Twitter follow list
> extends no further than the usual UX names...my feeling is that
> there are better and deeper sources of insight available if you dig
> a little in the history of adjacent design disciplines.
>
> You can learn to do a decent card sort (excuse me: “content affinity
> analysis”) in ten minutes, and work competently with Arduino in a
> good solid month of effort, but if you’re genuinely concerned with
> improving the quality of interactive experience, I believe you owe
> it both to yourself and to the people downstream from you who’ll be
> using the things you make to gain a richer acquaintance with the
> thought of other, older design traditions."
>
>
> Read the whole article: <http://speedbird.wordpress.com/2009/12/11/dimensions-of-design/
> >
>

13 Dec 2009 - 9:23pm
Stephen Holmes
2009

Ah, did anyone read the full article?

Taken in context it makes more sense and frames the articel much
better than just reading Dan's cut and paste!

The article starts with the except from "From Responsive
Environments: A Manual for Designers" (Bentley, Alcock et al.,
1985):
---------------------------
How does design affect choice?
The design of a place affects the choices people can make, at many
levels:
- it affects where people can go and where they cannot: the quality
we shall call permeability.
- it affects the range of uses available to people: the quality we
shall call variety.
- it affects how easily people can understand what opportunities it
offers: the quality we shall call legibility.
- it affects the degree to which people can use a given place for
different purposes: the quality we shall call robustness.
- it affects whether the detailed appearance of the place makes
people aware of the choices available: the quality we shall call
visual appropriateness.
- it affects people%u2019s choice of sensory experiences: the quality
we shall call richness.
- it affects the extent to which people can put their own stamp on a
place: we shall call this personalization.
---------------------------

It does kind of remind me of the sort of teachings I got back in my
industrial design days in the 70s with Dieter Rams (Braun) and Knut
Yran (Philips) as the European standard bearers of the idea of
philosophy of design (as opposed to a design philosophy).

As noted above, nothing is new, and Adam is right in being bugged by
the idea of setting such a recent year zero for interactivity, and I
am too for that matter! The phrase "standing on the shoulders of
giants" comes to mind.

Stephen Holmes
ID/ID
(former Industrial and now Interaction Designer)

PS: To set the record straight, interaction design started in about
400,000 BC when our neanderthal ancestors first raised a finger in
dissension! (TFIC)

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Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=47932

13 Dec 2009 - 4:38pm
Anonymous

I don't know. You guys feel like you're under assault - with a good
deal of justice, given that I explicitly use the phrase "pointing a
finger" - and you're responding in kind. So I cop to more or less
asking for that.

A big part of me also doesn't want to say, "You know what? It's a
blog post." I thought those thoughts, I expressed them in public,
and I believe in standing by the things I say. So sure, I'll own up
to that too.

But given all of that...you know what? It's a blog post.

It was a post on my blog, a post where I tried to give voice to some
of my sorrow that things turned out the way they have, and to tease
out why the conversations I have with junior designers feel so
airless and inward-turning. You don't much care for what I have to
say, and that's fine. It's just one random guy's opinion. It's
literally worth the paper it's printed on.

Where I really sharply disagree, though, is with the idea that I
write for some "intellectual elite": this is how I talk in real
life, this is how I structure my thoughts on the page, and this is
how all the people I respect structure their spoken and written
thoughts as well.

Would I need an editor, if I intended these words to wind up in
print? Absolutely. But is my writing *inherently* arcane? No, it
isn't. It's about par for the kind of material any undergraduate
can expect to confront at any university worth the name, and if you
have a problem with that, mark schraad, then maybe you should
consider that the problem is yours and not mine.

Christian, yes, I genuinely do find it very sad whenever someone adds
me on Twitter, and I have a glance at their "following" list and
it's all the usual suspects. I can't imagine why you'd think that
was posturing or hyperbole.

Some of the other points Dave makes above I can't respond to -
because, with all due respect, Dave, I can't quite figure out what
point you intended to make. Much of what you've written here, and in
our past correspondence, looks like word salad to me; I read it and I
re-read it and the words never quite resolve into a coherent picture.
You'll have to forgive me for that.

So where do we stand? I said some not-particularly-diplomatic stuff
in a not-particularly-constructive way, possibly because I don't
particularly believe that the burden is on me as a blogger to be
either diplomatic or constructive.

Some of you, predictably, don't like my take on things, and I invite
you to ignore me. Or, hell, make use of whatever you can glean from
it, even if it's just the juice to go on doing what you've been
doing.

Some of you think I'm coming off as a pompous and self-regarding
jerk, speaking only to his anointed peers in the triple-sekrit
intellectual elite. I can't do anything about the first part of
that, but the second part truly makes me very sad indeed.

For my part, I'm going to keep on doing interaction design, in my
rather stolid and workmanlike fashion, and I'm going to keep on
writing and expressing the things I believe to be true. I like to
think I'm a better writer than I am an interaction designer, but
there are clearly those who wouldn't agree. Or would believe that I
do neither particularly well. Or who couldn't care less. I can live
with that, all of it.

For those two or three of you who *did* get something out of the
piece, I'm delighted. I imagine that you might share with me the
sense, contra Dave above, that the history of urbanism is nothing but
the history of human interaction with large-scale, dynamic, adaptive
systems, with very obvious resonances with and implications for any
body of endeavor calling itself "interaction design." I look
forward to sharing insights with you and working together toward the
improved human experience of systems like this, of whatever type and
in whatever context we encounter them.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=47932

13 Dec 2009 - 12:42pm
Anonymous

Well, I'm sorry you feel that way, Christian. I'd ask you to reread
that again, if you're so inclined, and tell me just where you see
"world-weary superiority" or "posturing."

Because the piece doesn't come out of nowhere, right? I mean, I have
no idea what you do for a living, but my work (both at my day job and
on my own initiative) brings me into close contact with hundreds of
junior interaction designers every year. And it seems overwhelmingly
to be the case that their instructors have somehow neglected to
introduce them to the sort of work I refer to in the post. And, at
least by my lights, their output demonstrably suffers as a result.

As for the "community," I've got a challenge for you: name me a
piece of seriously good interaction design work produced in the last
ten years that was the effort of someone who belongs to this
organization or posts to this list.

This isn't a rhetorical question. I'm sincerely willing to be
convinced that organizations like this, and the discussions they
support, nurture talent, help in the development of expertise, and
generally raise the level of discourse and shipped work. I just
haven't seen any evidence of it.

So feel free to be as snide as you like in your characterization of
what I write; I'm a big boy and I assure you it won't hurt me. But
you might want to take a few minutes to consider why all the
professional organizations and conferences and journals don't seem
to be producing any net improvement in the quality of work. *That*'s
my real challenge to this community.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
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14 Dec 2009 - 2:00am
Christian Crumlish
2006

I may or may not meet your challenge, Adam, but - as I said - it's not the
sentiments (that this work we do ought to be informed by a wider range of
sources than is often the case) I objected to but the sweeping
characterization of, I gather, junior practitioners in general.

Frankly, it seems to me that people I've met doing this work, both beginners
and those like myself who drifted into it when the web was young, respond
eagerly and hungrily to insights, metaphors, processes, and themes imported
from myriad older, longer traditions.

I guess i'm just not seeing the wasteland of self-reference you decry, at
least not beyond the ordinary spectrum of abilities and interests I'd expect
to find anywhere.

If you were Jimmy Page I'd expect you to complain about up and coming hair
metal bands and how they need to study Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf instead
of copping Yardbird licks all the livelong day, and you'd be right, but my
primary gut response to the excerpt Dan pasted was, as I noted up front, a
dislike of the tone, which feels to me less like the hortatory invitation to
a broader conversation I would hope for and more like a cranky reaction to
the callow youth of today.

-x-

On Sun, Dec 13, 2009 at 1:42 AM, Adam Greenfield <
studies.observations at gmail.com> wrote:

>
> So feel free to be as snide as you like in your characterization of
> what I write; I'm a big boy and I assure you it won't hurt me. But
> you might want to take a few minutes to consider why all the
> professional organizations and conferences and journals don't seem
> to be producing any net improvement in the quality of work. *That*'s
> my real challenge to this community.
>
>
I'm amazed you haven't seen a net improvement in the quality of interactions
on the Web (which is where I work).

-x-

--
Christian Crumlish

MY NEW BOOK: Designing Social Interfaces.
http://designingsocialinterfaces.com
Get It. Read It. Love It. Review it. on Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/dp/0596154925/

14 Dec 2009 - 7:26am
nuritps
2010

Adam,
Should good designers read %u201Cin the history of adjacent design
disciplines%u201D? Yes. My guess - all responders here agree with
that notion. So actually the debate is not around what I perceive as
your main point. It is more about tone, language, twitter lists,
whose fault it is etc...
You say you meet many juniors who do not read outside recent Ixd more
practical stuff. Well you are probably right; they are probably not
great or even good designers. Some of them will never be. Others will
mature, read more, have the talent and experience and become good
designers. Are all designers really good? Do all designers read
great, inspiring books? Hey we%u2019re (as for designers) human, so
for me the obvious answer is NO. The same answer is true for other
design disciplines. Do all Architects read these books? I don%u2019t
think so. Is reading in the history of adjacent design disciplines
part of education programs? Is it part of the agenda on conferences
and journals? Now that is important and it should be there (and
usually is)! %u2026 but you wouldn%u2019t know %u2026
%u201CI don%u2019t follow those names, pay any attention to the
various sites and journals people like me are supposed to read, or
attend the community%u2019s events%u201D
So for me, on your main point %u2013 we agree.
I would like to address two minor issues that came up as part of your
responses here. One %u2013 you are disappointed from people%u2019s
twitter list for not having any inspiring people there. Do you really
mean I will get more deep and inspiring knowledge from someone%u2019s
twits? 140 characters of inspiration- that%u2019s it? Well as for me,
I look elsewhere for inspiration. My twitter is more about fun and
practical info. I think you are looking in the wrong place.
And about language %u2013 I actually envy you for your large
vocabulary. How to write your blog, well that is, as you probably
know a question of goals. Do you want others to read your blog and if
so who are these others. Only you can answer that. I would like to
note that %u2013 some of us actually went to a %u201Cuniversity worth
the name%u201D but the teaching language was not English. I definitely
think that it is not only looking outside our discipline but also
outside our culture, don%u2019t you?
-Nurit
www.nuritperes.com

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Posted from the new ixda.org
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14 Dec 2009 - 7:26am
Jack L. Moffett
2005

On Dec 13, 2009, at 8:38 AM, Adam Greenfield wrote:

> So where do we stand? I said some not-particularly-diplomatic stuff
> in a not-particularly-constructive way, possibly because I don't
> particularly believe that the burden is on me as a blogger to be
> either diplomatic or constructive.

Here's where we stand: the discussion group has raised your "not-particularly-constructive" post as something worth thinking about. It's going to look at it from many different angles, digest it, and excrete a bunch of differing opinions about it. Then it will be up to each individual person to decide what to take away from it. That's how this machine works.

You ask for "a piece of seriously good interaction design work produced in the last ten years that was the effort of someone who belongs to this organization or posts to this list." What are your criteria? Does Adaptive Path's Charmr count? What about 10/GUI? Those are a couple of very public examples, and I know there are others that aren't coming to mind at the moment. Most of the work isn't so open. I'd like to think that I've done some "seriously good" work in the past ten years, but as a lot of it is for the military, I can't show it. The only way you are likely to see it is if you are defusing bombs in Iraq or maintaining an aircraft carrier. I know that a lot of my colleagues on this list are in the same boat.

Best,
Jack

Jack L. Moffett
Senior Interaction Designer
inmedius
412.459.0310 x219
http://www.inmedius.com

The details are not the details.
They make the design.

-Charles Eames

14 Dec 2009 - 8:16am
Dave Malouf
2005

Adam's challenge:

Jef Raskin - MacOS/rchi
Aza Raskin - Enso, Ubiquity

I know, they they will have to deny it for Apple policy reasons that
there are Apple members of the iPhoneOS on this list.

R/GA - Nike ID

Cooper - Visual Basic

Evans - Kayak

Andre H. - CS Suite Adobe

But even b4 I started this list. What about all the great IxD going
on at levels we don't consider. Enterprise work that I've done
recently at Motorola EMb. You would never care about.

Then I thought, OMG what a waste, b/c even all the stuff I wrote up
there could all be squashed as "software", well except for Nike ID
and deemed not good IxD (for some reason or another) by you.

The truth is quite honestly there has never been an Frank Lloyd
Wright of IxD. We haven't had our Gearhy. We haven't even had our
Dietr Rams. The reason is that the points of critique are constantly
in flux. Even by other discipline's standards.

But whether they are in the community or outside the community is
well meaningless compared to what value the community holds for
meaning for each other.

Adam,

You made 2 points in your piece that I got:
1. that everyone should be reaching outside of their direct medium
for knowledge. Who in their right mind would ever argue that? Of
course, you posited this against an "observation" which I would
call incomplete data at best that most in this community don't do.
Or that the community itself doesn't do. That is rubbish to the nth
degree.

2. that IxD has existed for time and memorial and looking for a point
Zero at the advent of the GUI is a mistake. While, I agree that the
advent of technology required the focus on that technology's effect
on how we think about design is core to IxD, I don't think there is
a point zero ever discussed by anyone in any literature I've read in
the IxD community. We venerate Engelbart, Verplank, Moggridge, etc.
But we also see them in wider contexts.

I can't imagine any IxD worth their salt not knowing the
multi-disciplinary and contextual history of their discipline.

And, excuse me. "it's just a blog". AND this is just a bunch of
people also talking in a public forum. And I think we all know that
you are not "just a blog writer" and I doubt you would ever want to
be considered as such. You've earned enough respect through your
thought leadership that you cannot hide under such anonymity of
"just a blog".

-- dave

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Posted from the new ixda.org
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14 Dec 2009 - 8:38am
Mark Schraad
2006

Adam I did not find your blog entry difficult to understand I found it
cumbersome to get through.

Making information easily and accessible to a wider range of audience
would seem an obvious approach someone in this business. We have not
had the opportunity to have a verbal conversation so I wouldn't know
how your writing reconciles. But I would grade any undergraduate paper
(or above) with it's ability to communicate as secondary only to core
content. [ http://tinyurl.com/ydqtcje ]

I'm not a critic and far from an expert in the written word, just a
focus group of one offering an observation. But I am pretty sure I
share many attributes of your intended audience.

mark

On Dec 13, 2009, at 1:38 PM, Adam Greenfield wrote:

> Would I need an editor, if I intended these words to wind up in
> print? Absolutely. But is my writing *inherently* arcane? No, it
> isn't. It's about par for the kind of material any undergraduate
> can expect to confront at any university worth the name, and if you
> have a problem with that, mark schraad, then maybe you should
> consider that the problem is yours and not mine.

14 Dec 2009 - 11:03am
Matt Nish-Lapidus
2007

It's unfair to expect junior designers, coming straight out of school
(or maybe never having gone to design school at all) to be at this
level. Does that mean they're not interested? No. But they need the
chance to grow. This is the same for almost all disciplines of design
(or any other profession with a rich and diverse history), this is not
a problem (is it even a problem?) unique to IxD.

Instead of pointing fingers and bickering, shouldn't we be focussing
on how to impart this knowledge and passion on the next group of
designers just getting started now? New grads are often nieve, and
take time to adjust to not being the smartest person in the room.
Let's give them what they need to move out of that phase without
getting angry or condescending about it.

As for the IxD community as a whole not knowing it's history and
adjacent history, I just think that's wrong. As Dave pointed out,
the Interaction conference has always been cross-disciplinary
(trans-disciplinary?). We speak a lot about architecture, industrial
design, design theory, foundation, etc. The more experienced
designers among us have done extensive learning in other fields and
bring all of that together in their practice, and teaching/mentoring.
For us younger practitioners, we're just waking up to the
possibilities offered by the multitudes of design disciplines out
there and are eager to absorb as much as we can.

There will always be people who live in a bubble and are not
interested in learning at this level. That's okay, but it's not
everybody.. certainly not everybody in this amazing and diverse
community.

Matt.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
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14 Dec 2009 - 11:46am
Steven Johnson
2009

Thanks, Dan, for sharing that.

I think what will stick with me is...

"A bookshelf that runs no deeper than XXXX" will not get us very far.

This is a great takeaway.

Top-notch Interaction Design is necessarily inclusive of disciplines that themselves have evolved from other traditions. That's why we have such heated discussion about what "it" exactly is.

(That's why it's not completely crazy that you can get an MFA in Interaction Design or an MS in HCI, and still be employed in the same field.)

* * *

In addition to working in product development at my company, I teach a new media and online publishing class in the master's journalism program at USC Annenberg.

One of my goals is to introduce them to IA, ID and usability as the salvation of Journalism in an online world.

Along with HTML, CSS, SEO, metrics, etc., I teach wireframes, site maps and other basics. In every class, I try to keep ID best practices and usability top-of-mind.

I also include companion readings to get them to think further afield.

For example, I pair several chapters in the Moggridge (the mouse, the desktop, etc.) with Thomas Kuhn's "Structure of Scientific Revolutions to get them thinking about "Paradigm Shift" -- what is and what isn't, and what's going on in journalism right now.

Along with readings from the Polar Bear book -- and before my lecture on directory structure, site hierarchy and categorization -- I have them read the first chapter of Deleuze & Guattari's "Thousand Plateaus" called the "Rhizome" to challenge not only their patience, but also their organizational thinking.

When we talk about micro-blogging and social networking, I bring examples of 18th century epistolary literature and I show them the Crunch Gear video "Twitter is down again, Mein Führer".

We talk Jeremy Bentham (and Foucault) when we talk about online privacy.

In other words, every practical lesson and reading has a non-vocational companion piece.

At IxDA in Vancouver, Jon Kolko paraphrased Robert Buchanan saying (more or less) that ID, UED and IA are the new liberal arts of technological culture.

I think it's worthwhile to embrace this expansive "liberal arts" thinking in what we do, who we read and how we outwardly communicate our discipline.

Sincerely,

Steven Johnson

-----Original Message-----
From: new-bounces at ixda.org [mailto:new-bounces at ixda.org] On Behalf Of Dan Saffer
Sent: Sunday, December 13, 2009 12:51 AM
To: discuss at ixda.org
Subject: [IxDA Discuss] The Ahistoricity of Interaction Design

What do we think about Adam Greenfield's challenge to us?

"The ahistoricity of interaction design the notion, implicitly held or otherwise, that rich interactivity is an entirely new topic in design for human experience, perhaps with the Doug Engelbart demo as Year Zero has always driven me nuts. When even an old-school HCI stalwart like Don Norman fails to deliver useful insight, perhaps it s time to start looking further afield for inspiration.

Let s face it: brighter and more sensitive people than us have been thinking about issues like public versus private realms, or which elements of a system are hard to reconfigure and which more open to user specification, for many hundreds of years. Medieval Islamic urbanism, for example, had some notions about how to demarcate transitional spaces between public and fully private that might still usefully inform the design of digital applications and services. By contrast, the level of sophistication with which those of us engaged in such design generally handle these issues is risible (and here I m pointing a finger at just about the entire UX community and the technology industry that supports it).

A bookshelf that runs no deeper than John Maeda, in other words, isn t going to get you very far, or help you in the true crunch, and nothing makes me sadder than coming across someone engaged in the design of user experiences whose blogroll or Twitter follow list extends no further than the usual UX names...my feeling is that there are better and deeper sources of insight available if you dig a little in the history of adjacent design disciplines.

You can learn to do a decent card sort (excuse me: content affinity analysis ) in ten minutes, and work competently with Arduino in a good solid month of effort, but if you re genuinely concerned with improving the quality of interactive experience, I believe you owe it both to yourself and to the people downstream from you who ll be using the things you make to gain a richer acquaintance with the thought of other, older design traditions."

Read the whole article: <http://speedbird.wordpress.com/2009/12/11/dimensions-of-design/>

Dan Saffer
Principal, Kicker Studio
http://www.kickerstudio.com
http://www.odannyboy.com

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14 Dec 2009 - 11:56am
Anonymous

Adam's Challenge:

I need to back up Dave's most recent post on this thread. Most, if
not all, individuals who are IxD or HCI professionals on this list
work for either companies or consultant agencies (or are free
lancers), all of which comes with NDA's and confidentiality.

The only thing I can tell you is that I formally worked for RIM and
made some significant impacts there. I can't tell you what or how
for fear of legal repercussions. I now work for a consulting agency,
and I can't even tell you our clients.

I would hazard a guess that most people on this list would LOVE to
brag about the significant impact of their work on the field of IxD
and HCI. it's our jobs to change how human computer interfaces are
perceived and used. We just can't talk about it.

Interaction Design happens. It's all over the place and is occuring
every day. the iPhone is a great example. It's people on this list
that makes these IxD advances come to fruition.

At least, that's my opinion on Adam's challenge.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
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14 Dec 2009 - 5:15pm
Christopher Fahey
2005

Thanks for sharing your course, Steven. That looks like a fun class.

Adam, I like to think that in my own course at SVA, and the others in the curriculum, we are going *way* afield of Polar Bears, far beyond O'Reilly and New Riders. And for god's sake, no Maeda. I'd love to run the curriculum by you to see what you think is missing (or misincluded). The usual suspects are there, but as with Steven's course, they're well escorted.

So, to a lot of people I think your article feels a lot like a strawman argument, against a boogieman we simply don't recognize.

I suspect you see your own pet topics of urbanism and architecture insufficiently represented in the UX conversation, and in the fog of your disappointment you (seemingly) overlook all the other fields frequently crossing this fields' collective lips: psychology, game studies, graphic design, anthropology, literature, theater, business (sorry), biology, cartography, cybernetics, information theory, the list goes on and on.

I've pored over the curricula for over a dozen other IxD academic programs over the past two years, and I've been surprised at the diversity of the foundational material. Yes, it could be even broader. And yes yes, the discourse of the active profession (this list) could draw on that material more, rather than seeming to leave it to academia. Insofar as your post calls for that, I concur.

What is off-putting is the idea that you can judge a person, in any way, by their "following" list or even their bookshelf. I didn't expect such sentiments from you, especially the former.

Cheers,
-Cf

Christopher Fahey
Principal / User Experience Director
____________________________
Behavior
biz: http://www.behaviordesign.com
me: http://www.graphpaper.com

14 Dec 2009 - 6:02pm
bminihan
2007

It just goes to show: You can't judge a rook(ie) by its follower.

But seriously...

Adam, your blog post struck a few nerves for me, but also got me thinking,
so thank you for that.

1) Re: The woeful state of IxD role models and practical academic lessons

I see your point, but argue that such is the state of nearly every academic
discipline today (well okay, narrow that to IT). After a 20 year "senior
hiatus", I'm 2 classes away from my bachelor's (so I'll be 3/4 computer
science, and 1/4 info technology). So I've had to slog my way through
project management, software and enterprise architecture, vector
illustration, and a host of other Info Tech courses - all of which I could
have taught.

While there were nuggets of useful information in each course, none of them
were very practical in my day-to-day work-life. None were as useful as,
say, the 2 hour conversation I had with one of our users last Thursday,
which triggered five small design changes that will improve her productivity
50%.

I can summarize my collegiate experience this way: Academic courses are
entirely too silo'd in their approaches to their respective subjects,
whereas the positions in which I am most successful require me to work
across those very silos to actually execute my design vision. If that means
giving up my coveted "designer" role to someone who thinks they know what
they're doing, just so I can get my changes through, so be it. If I have to
write the code because our offshore folks are better Oracle programmers than
CSS wizards, then so be it. If I have to position the department's
portfolio pipeline so my dream user interface will come together with the
least effort and cost, then so be it.

So while you make a valid point, and I agree that IxD as a formal academic
area needs improvement, I would argue against using the state of IxD
academia as the bell-weather for the discipline. As many have mentioned,
some folks are just good at what they do, no matter who they follow, what
they read, or how much they blog.

2) Re: You are who you follow

This is by no means aimed at you, but it's a broader pet-peeve of mine:
You're not a good designer unless you follow so-and-so, and if you haven't
read whatsisname, you're a hack or poser, at best.

I am what I can only describe as a "stealth designer". I am successful at
my work because I believe not only that good design is invisible, but also
that a good design process is invisible. That is, my executives don't
really care if we have a design process, just as they could care less
whether we have a formal architecture definition, a normalized database,
running control charts, SEO-optimized meta-data or a leveled project plan.
They want their business needs met. The more I shout about lacking a
designer, the less they listen, and frankly, I don't blame them. I can't
say I'm a great designer, but I can say I'm an effective designer, within
the context and constraints provided by the business. I fail when the
project fails, and succeed only when all these moving parts work together
(tortured groans, but it's true).

All that said, I don't blog about usability, or follow notable IxD
visionaries (I follow Steve Martin, if you're interested), or buy and read
every design book that hits the shelves, because 99% of what I read is
either known already, or not yet useful. So my dedication to keeping up
with my trade equals the amount of value it provides to my day to day life.
I eagerly read most of what passes through IxD (both high and low-level),
and rely on you folks to lead the way and make names for yourselves. I have
no illusions that I will design the next [insert app here], but I do intend
to keep delivering the best design-driven project methodology for my clients
and employers, until they want me to start doing something else (so far, no
takers on that point).

Bryan Minihan

14 Dec 2009 - 6:05pm
SemanticWill
2007

"So, to a lot of people I think your article feels a lot like a
strawman argument, against a boogieman we simply don't recognize"

Amen.

There were two fundamental problems I had with the article. When Adam
claims that he 1. reads no ux/ixd material; 2. doesn't consume the
books; 3. attends no conferences & no ux/ixd related events; I for one
wonder where are the assumptions and formulations he has derived
coming from -- guessing? clairvoyance?

"My own guilty secret is that I don’t follow those names, pay any
attention to the various sites and journals people like me are
supposed to read, or attend the community’s events, and (to some
reasonably approximate value of “never”) never really have."
http://speedbird.wordpress.com/2009/12/11/dimensions-of-design/

My Second problem is that of metaphor. Spatial metaphors are
pervasive, perhaps owing to some coupling of the original xerox star
and William Gibson's Neuromancer - but it is by no means the only
metaphor best suited for engaging with content or sociality in
networked publics (again with the spatial metaphor - but it's no
better than mediated spaces). There are some the have used other
metaphors to describe the way we engage with content objects or social
behavior through interfaces - for instance Vander Wal's personal and
social info clouds - where users - us - don't "go out into places" but
actually subscribe and pull objects and conversations to us - best
exhibited by things like the amount of content we consume using RSS
readers - or subscribing to people's public streams on twitter. I
wonder if the article itself is limited by spatial/architectural
metaphors - when you have a hammer, everything looks like urban
planning.

So while I think reading from more than just the UX Canon - which is,
by the way, far richer than just Maeda (at last count over 110 books
and thousands of published articles both inside ACM CHI and outside
it); there are also fields as rich as architecture to look to. From
linguistics to sociology and psychology to theater and film - many of
which are represented in the Canon. I am not advising that people feel
a necessity to go out and read Korbzynski or Walter Benjamin, but for
that point - I agree with Greenfield.

Just my 2 cents.

~ will

"Where you innovate, how you innovate,
and what you innovate are design problems"

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Will Evans | Director, Experience Design
tel: +1.617.281.1281 | will at semanticfoundry.com
http://blog.semanticfoundry.com
http://www.linkedin.com/in/semanticwill
aim: semanticwill
gtalk: semanticwill
twitter: semanticwill
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

On Dec 14, 2009, at 5:15 PM, Christopher Fahey wrote:

> So, to a lot of people I think your article feels a lot like a
> strawman argument, against a boogieman we simply don't recognize

14 Dec 2009 - 8:43pm
Folletto
2009

I read Adam's post and I say: "true".

For me that's "true" for two different reasons.

1. CONTEXT
I live in Italy, and I'm a Lead Interaction Designer here, while I'm probably quite young for such role. I will talk about Italy because I don't know how it works outside this country (with the exception of what I could read on the web).

I think that the context is really important, but that's something that pushes every day toward the "new" books. "New knowledge".
This means that every day my "fellow" designers here, but also web specialists, are all pushing toward that recent books and people you're citing.

Two examples:

1. I'm working since 2007 on a methodology called Motivational Design, that's a form of UCD enriched with psychology. This research confronted me with an interesting behavior: people telling me "How dare you talk about social networks without citing X, Y and Z!" (a little emphasized), where X, Y and Z are english-speaking "gurus". :|

2. I often study social psychology, and this allows me simple forms of knowledge (nothing complex, really) about useful experiments and theories. Milgram, Tajfel, and others were people studied in Social Psychology 101 and still they are less considered than "social network gurus" that are practically trying to do social psychology ignoring about 10 years of literature! It's like doing Interaction Design ignoring gestalt theories. You know why "Fan" pages of Facebook work? Most people don't, but Tajfel could tell them! :)

That's why I find that one of the criticism of Adam is true. It has a contextual nature: you can't learn something if exist a form of social pressure to learn vertically instead of horizontally.

2. QUIRKS OF THE HUMAN MIND
The human mind behaves in some peculiar ways, and that's why it's easier to learn a topic similar to a one we already know. It does exist something called frustration and it happens every time we are learning something.

People that love to learn are people able to overcame that frustration very well.
Most people don't.

Learning something new completely different from our professional field is harder than doing the same inside our field.

We also have an attraction for what's new. I find very difficult to tell my friends: "Why should we pay 10%u20AC to see a crappy movie to the cinema every time? Let's offset our views by 6 months and we'll spend 1%u20AC to see it in our home!". No. Why? Social pressure again, but also a form of new pressure.

If it's new, it should be better no? A new book surely learned from all the old book, right? That's how usually our mind work. That's normal.

That's why few read books of Munari, for example. Because they're old. Yes, he's got talent, but it's old.

3. FINDING
Finding something is easier if it's near. It's obvious, I know. But that means that if I'm an interaction designer, surrounded by interaction designers, it will be easier to read something about interaction designers.

You know how much is hard to find good psychologists and social psychologists, compared to find a good interaction designer or visual designer or programmer? :D

~

Well, ehm... how to improve it?

Well, first of all, I tend to suggest old books, if they are good. But I often suggest modern books, since we also need a pragmatic approach, strictly related to the field and everyday work.

I try to do it following interesting people. People that can suggest me something outside my box. Maybe... also a different but interesting book. And of course, another different but interesting people. ;)

I know, this is obvious too. Suggestions are welcome. :)

~

So, I think that they are deep and very articulated problems, and we've just scratched the surface. I've tried to see a bit out of the interaction design field, I hope it's an interesting addition to this discussion. :)

14 Dec 2009 - 9:14pm
Anonymous

Thank you all for your comments. I only have two things left to say:

One, Steven, your class sounds like precisely the sort of journey
I'd like to see junior designers take. So I apologize for my lack of
awareness of it, and therefore my characterization that no such
education was happening.

Dave, I completely and thoroughly reject your characterization of me
as a thought leader. I don't believe in thought leaders. It's a
debased and an offensive concept. In my view we all have the
responsibility (and burden, and joy) of thinking for ourselves.

So, yes: my writing can occasionally be unsupported, tendentious,
splenetic, ill-informed, or simply driven by my own issues and
problems. In other words, it's a blog. Like I always say, I'm
delighted if anyone gets anything at all out of it...but I write it
for me.

And by my lights, then, you don't have the right to say or imply
that I have some kind of special responsibility by dint of my
"thought leadership." I *am* just another voice, and clearly (in
this instance at least) one tangential at best to this list's sense
of the world and its role in the world. I'd rather you, or anyone,
understood my writing as I intend it to be understood: as one human
being's opinion, for whatever that is worth.

Sometimes that will be "not very much," and as I've indicated
above, I'm OK with that.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from ixda.org (via iPhone)
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16 Dec 2009 - 9:40pm
Nickgould
2009

I'm just a "business guy" lurking on this thread, but... Come on!
It's not what you know - it's what you do. Neither depth nor
breadth of knowledge is a guarantee of success - or even of baseline
competence. This is *especially* true in interaction design because
it is fundamentally about understanding human behavior and
experience. So why couldn't a designer with only limited exposure to
the Canon come along and rock all our worlds simply by virtue of her
sensitivity or empathy?

There may very well be a "problem" with the interaction design
community - but I suspect the problem is not that its members don't
read enough. It might be that they talk too much... (Kidding! Sorry,
couldn't resist.)

Respectfully.

Nick

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