Aesthetics of IxD: Some pointers

19 Apr 2006 - 1:48am
360 reads
Jonas Löwgren

I have been trying for some time to understand and articulate what
sets the aesthetics of interaction design apart from that of other
design fields. May be relevant for the current thread -- if not,
pardon the following self-adverts.

Briefly, it seems that the key is in the spatial and temporal nature
of digital products -- they do have 2d or 3d form, but they also have
"temporal form" which unfolds in interaction. (This is why screen
shots of highly interactive products tell very little of the
experience of using it.)

My take has been to identify "use qualities" or "experiential
qualities" -- properties characterizing the feel of using a certain
product or class of products -- by systematic reasoning around
examples, by designing interaction examples to explore a certain
quality, by connecting to concepts introduced by other authors. A
kind of survey is found in reference 1 (in the reference list below)
for those interested.

More specifically, I have been looking in some depth at the quality
of pliability: "The use of a digital artifact is characterized as
pliable if it feels like a tightly connected loop between eye and
hand, between action and response. A pliable interaction is one where
the user is drawn into a sense of shaping the digital information
with her fingertips, even though the actual artifact might employ
standard, non-tactile interaction techniques such as mouse, keyboard
and a display monitor. Pliability is a sensuous quality, having to do
with how it feels to use the artifact in the here-and-now of the use
situation, and as such it plays a role in understanding the
aesthetics of interaction."

I have a manuscript in preparation [2] on pliability and what it
might mean for interaction design to talk in terms of experiential
qualities. The quote above comes from that manuscript. If anybody is
interested, please email me and I will send it off-list.

Finally, I just want to recommend the recent survey by Udsen and
Jørgensen [3] which does a great job of collecting the various
approaches to "aesthetics" and "experience" that have surfaced in the
last few years.

Jonas Löwgren

Arts and Communication
Malmö University, SE-205 06 Malmö, Sweden

phone +46 7039 17854


1. Löwgren, J. (2006). Articulating the use qualities of digital
designs. In Fishwick, P. (ed.) Aesthetic computing, pp. 383-403.
Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

2. Löwgren, J. (in prep). Pliability as an experiential quality:
Exploring the aesthetics of interaction design. Manuscript, submitted
for publication.
ABSTRACT: Digital design materials are temporal as much as they are
spatial, which means that specific concepts are needed for
understanding the use experiences of digital artifacts and the
aesthetics of interaction design. In this paper, the quality of
pliability is introduced to characterize the degree to which
interaction feels involving, malleable, and tightly coupled—and hence
to which degree it facilitates exploration and serendipity in use.
Three sets of contrasting artifact examples from different domains
(online maps, digital-image management, and online thesaurii) are
analyzed with respect to pliability. It is argued that the use of
everyday digital products, normally perceived as instrumental and
utility-oriented, has an important experiential-aesthetic dimension
consisting of temporal and visuo-tactile qualities (including
pliability). The paper concludes with a discussion of related work
and the role of experiential qualities in interaction design.

3. Udsen, L., Jørgensen, A. (2005). The aesthetic turn: Unravelling
recent aesthetic approaches to human-computer interaction. Digital
Creativity 16(4):205-216.

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