Do we need to understand the history of Interaction Design?

6 Jun 2011 - 2:16pm
3 years ago
25 replies
3911 reads
David B. Rondeau
2003

I recently attended the CHI2011 conference and one thing stood out for me. It was Bill Buxton's talk on "Creativity and History" and the Buxton Collection. For anyone who doesn't know, the Buxton Collection is Bill Buxton's personal collection of digital technology, collected over the past 30 years, which was on display at the conference.

Buxton's talk was about the need to understand the history of digital technology, which of course got me to thinking about the history of interaction design.  In his talk, he argued that just by introducing digital technology, we are in fact designing culture—whether we mean to or not. He looked at other fields of cultural importance, like art, music, dance, or architecture, and found that in each, learning and understanding the history is a core part of the field. This however, is not the case with digital technology, which is why he’s made the Buxton Collection available to everyone.

I think the same is true for Interaction Design. Most interaction designers don't know the history of the field, I'm not sure much of it is taught in design schools (please correct me if I'm wrong), and we certainly don't talk about it. I'm fortunate to have been designing for over 20 years, but I still include myself in this criticism. I don't feel like I understand our history as well as I should.

I've tried to articulate my reasoning in a blog post: http://incontextdesign.com/blog/chi2011-understanding-our-interaction-design-history/

Personally, I think this an interesting topic that is obviously relevant to IxDA, but most importantly—I'd really like to hear what others think.

 

  • Do you think it's important to understand our history? Or do you think it's just a waste of time?
  • How much history do you know? Has knowledge of the past helped you as a designer?
  • Should we do more to capture and record our history? If so, what? Do you know of any good resources on the subject? Did you learn any history in design school?
  • What should the IxDA's role be in promoting history?

 

 

-dave

David B. Rondeau
Design Chair
InContext Design ( http://www.incontextdesign.com )

http://twitter.com/dbrondeau

 

Comments

6 Jun 2011 - 2:53pm
Dave Malouf
2005

Hi David,

a) there are way more IxDs practicing w/o design edu than with, so I wouldn't rely on des edu for an answer here short term.
b) There are few classes in design history, let alone interaction design history in most curricula I have seen at both the graduate nd the undergraduate levels.
d) your most important question is, is it important is a resounding yes!

This isn't just history though. But it has to be engaged critically. I don't care who Douglas Engelbart is nearly as much as understand why his contribution changed the face of computing till now? What have we learned from it? How has it improed? What has stayed the course and why? How can we develop a language of criticism through this analysis that can be applied to other aspects of IxD?

so yes, we need to understand our past and present and future, but throuh a lens of critical analysis.

-- dave

6 Jun 2011 - 5:05pm
Fredrik Matheson
2005

In his book http://bit.ly/GeeksBearingGifts Ted Nelson presents a personal history of computing and shows where all of these circuits and screens come from. 
Repeatedly, he drives home the point that the systems we currently use result from conscious choices, not an invisible hand.
It's hard to see this if you've only lived in a web world or used a WIMP system. It'll likely be even harder for our kids to fathom a digital interaction genre not based on touch and speech. But if we familiarize ourselves with previous contexts, opportunities and solutions, we'll see that many of Jef Raskin's ideas about the Humane Computer have been woven into modern OS's, tablets and mobiles. Of course, much is missing, partly because we're not familiar with different concepts of computing and interaction design.
WRT critique, I encounter stellar conversations about genres, approaches, mechanisms and methods all too rarely. Reflective practice and a lot of hard work got us the tools we have today. Blindly copying them will zero out their capacity to augment human intellect (re Engelbart).
But, siding with Dave for a moment, how are we to develop this language of critique?

6 Jun 2011 - 4:40pm
David B. Rondeau
2003

Dave,

I totally agree that it has to be through the lens of critical analysis. (I think that critical analysis in general is another thing that's missing from the field, but that's a separate topic.) I was clumsily trying to make the same point In my blog post. Since I've only recently started thinking about this issue, I'm afraid my ideas are not yet fully formed. It sounds like you've been thinking about this for a while though.

As for developing a language of criticism, I've been hearing various calls for this over the last few years from various places, but nothing ever happens. I suspect that many practitioners just don't care, so it's difficult to convince them of the need and therefore build any momentum. If you, or anyone else, knows of any efforts to start doing this more formally or even good examples of people doing it, I'd love to hear about them. 

 

-dave

David B. Rondeau
Design Chair
InContext Design http://www.incontextdesign.com

http://twitter.com/dbrondeau

 

6 Jun 2011 - 8:53pm
Matt Nish-Lapidus
2007

David, thanks for bringing up this topic.

I'm in complete agreement that we need to put more effort into learning out history. The history of interaction design includes the history of computer interfaces (ie. Engelbart), but also the history of industrial and graphic design. The object that we use and design for would not exist without the foundations of those disciplines, and I believe it's part of being a rigorous designer to understand that lineage. 

Before I get blamed for trying to expand interaction design into a meaningless behemoth, I'd like to say that I don't think you need to be an expert in absolutely all aspects of theory and history to be a good designer. HOWEVER: We all have the responsibility to build a foundation, and in a time where phyical objects are becoming more interactive, and interactive objects are becoming more physical and graphical/visual we really need to know our place in the larger lineage of design.

Our history includes so many things, part of modern design education really needs to be a survey of how we got here that draws from all disciplines. The complexity of our world makes the job of designer more complicated.. and even if we're not all experts in everything we need to at least know enough to know what we don't know and collaborate with those experts.

This all falls within Dave's thoughts on developing a critical discource. In that regard, I believe we need to start looking more carefully at the work of new media art theorists such as Lev Manovich, who developed a rich critical language for a new form of art.

These themes came up throughout Interaction'11 in Boulder, and will continue to as we mature as a community and discipline... you can read my initial thoughts from that on my blog. 

Matt

7 Jun 2011 - 4:09am
fj
2010

We need to know our history if only so that when we re-invent the wheel we at least do a better job of it instead of repeating the same mistakes because of ignorance. In an industry where there is so much PR emphasis on the new young kids, we need to instill a discipline of knowing the past as a baseline behavior so that newcomers simply make better stuff sooner.

7 Jun 2011 - 9:00am
David B. Rondeau
2003

Matt,

Great blog post! I will definitely check out Lev Manovich and David Rokeby.

Glad to hear that these topics were discussed at Interactions 11. Of course, now I'm really depressed that I couldn't go to Interactions 11. 

I'd also like to reiterate Fredrik's statement again, "how are we to develop this language of critique?"

And also ask again, how do we start doing more to learn our history? 

-dave

7 Jun 2011 - 5:05pm
Tom Hobbs
2004

This is an excellent post and the responses are great. It's a topic I think a lot about as there's a rich history to the discipline that is not sufficiently recognized, perhaps particularly by its practitioners.
As regards the two questions "how are we to develop this language of critique?" and "And also ask again, how do we start doing more to learn our history?". Today, there are educational institutions that do the above but a) given that the majority of interaction practitioners don't have the same backgrounds and b) interaction design is part course with a variety of historical relationships (e.g. HCI, graphic design, industrial design, library sciences etc.) and c) interaction design means different things to different industries in different parts of the world, they're desperate and decentralized.
Therefore, perhaps that becomes the responsibility of organizations like IxDA to bring this together? (Which this discussion and Interaction 11 perhaps is already demonstrating.) In other design fields (architecture, industrial design, architecture) it is has been driven by similar organizations like the AIGA, ISDA, RIBA etc. that centralize a lot of that discourse and drive in back into educational institutions.
Obviously, there would need to be some formalized how this would be documented and made available, but there's probably a significant part of this discussion, that's about collectively recognizing it is not as 'new' as we collectively might think. As Matt suggests, it does expand beyond digital technology and its history. For instance, Vannevar Bush outlined a hypertext machine in the 40s (Memex), graphic designer Anthony Froshaug talked about 'interaction' and included exercises in his curriculums in at Central in 60s, and Karl Gerstner wrote 'design programmes' in 1964.
-tom

On Tue, Jun 7, 2011 at 7:34 AM, David B. Rondeau <david.rondeau@incontextdesign.com> wrote:

Matt,

Great blog post! I will definitely check out Lev Manovich and David Rokeby.

Glad to hear that these topics were discussed at Interactions 11. Of course, now I'm really depressed that I couldn't go to Interactions 11. 

*I'd also like to reiterate Fredrik's statement again, "**how are we to develop this language of critique?"*

*And also ask again, how do we start doing more to learn our history? *

-dave

(((Pl
11 Jun 2011 - 2:07am
Prof. AProfeta
2009

David R, What a timely and exciting post. I would have responded sooner but was on my way to teach a 6 pm class when I received your first 4:30 post. Coincidentally the class: Web Design — Structure, Function + Analysis at the University of the Arts Continuing Ed department. I have been waiting to chime in since that time, but the work of actively teaching the subject that is itself in question here, ironically prevented it. So with the weekend finally here, my answer to the first question is a big I sure hope so!

  • Do you think it's important to understand our history? Y Or do you think it's just a waste of time? N
  • How much history do you know? >I've forgotten Has knowledge of the past helped you as a designer? Y! " A man needs to know where he has been in order to determine where he will go" --Franklin
  • Should we do more to capture and record our history? I think great leaps have been made in this area since the initial 320x240 px videos I first saw Engelbart's Magical Shopping List on. If so, what? Same thing that we do for clients collect and archive video, documents and pictures Do youknow of any good resources on the subject? I think Stanford would be an excellent place for an archeological dig from Bucky's papers to Kelley's napkin. Did you learn any history in design school? Animator by trade and can say that the Disney legend, process etc is well documented (have been in their archives)
  • What should the IxDA's role be in promoting history? Positive and supportive.

Though I have been championing Interaction Design (vs. Graphic or Interactive Design) as the basis for Web Design instruction for the past 2 and half years, this is the first time that I have gotten to officially make it the core of an adopted syllabus. Thanks to Uarts' Robert Craig! Up until now I have been sneaking (yes sneaking as if it were contraband) Buxton, Raskin, Dertouzos, Hasso Plattner, Marzano, Goto, Ideo (Kelley, Bennett, and Moggridge), Adaptive Path, Engelbart, Don Norman, Spool, Dan Brown and Schaffer, works into Web Design and Usability lectures, projects, syllabus and curriculum into 2 major Universities (undergrad, grad and continuing ed), a trade school, and Adobe User Groups. Student projects that emerged from these early trials include, ZUI archive applications, Android development to improve quality of life and BlackBerry's that improved urban planning and cityscapes, UCD planning and interaction design discovery documents for BBBS.org's 400 site CMS roll-out strategy and even an Disaster Management Plan for effective communication between First Responders ( amazing what a little tufte of green onions can do to an open mind ). Former students of these early trials are now not only with with web and mobile companies and agencies, but with Oracle, Siemens and the next big start-up as well. It was not until this semester that I officially acquired a class that allowed for the full restructuring of a course to introduce the foundations and processes involved in rapid UX development. In this 10 week course 12 students from various backgrounds (print, interactive, marketing, operations, education) are introduced via lecture and readings to concepts in design thinking, HCD, the role of a designer as a problem solver vrs decorator, and are armed with the documentation skills to envision and describe architecture, layout and functionality via both independent and collaborative work assignments. Culminating in a full rapid redesign proposal in the final 3 weeks. Weekly web reviews engage the student to explore techniques illustrated via classroom demonstration and deconstructs. While hands on development of artifacts (heuristic review/ recommendations, persona, site map, wireframe) will support findings that drive student design decisions. I opted for Harold Hambrose's Wrench in the System (for context) and Brown's iconic Communicating Design as the required books. The course is supplemented with additional readings and lecture from the web. Although Hambrose's book relies heavily on ERP and software development, the Electronic Ink's CEO, Founder and fellow Philadelphian provides a great introduction to the history, process, roles and insight to successful UX development in collaborative teams. I find that the lesson's from early ERP systems can easily translate to challenges faced by RIA's and the pending mobile boom as the rise in “new” form factors becomes increasingly important and ubiquitous. Despite new formats, it is the well constructed arguments for the need to place the designer in the design that I hope my students will take away from the class. Additionally, I am thankful for sections such as Form Function and Spirit and Easy as Pie: the tale of a tool, as they are the type of stories that have been elevated to level of folklore in the UX world, where everybody seems to have heard the story, but cannot point to where it was first heard. I applaud the author for collecting these important stories along with his own into one concise text, for an industry yet to be defined and not allowing them to fall victim to an oral tradition.

The book Wrench in the System only reinforces what I have witnessed in real-world design teams as a designer, developer and IA for companies such as SAP, Johnson and Johnson, expensewatch.com, Lincoln Financial, Comcast and owner of PDA Media. Yes, I am a practitioner so please no “those who can...” jokes. I instruct the way that I practice, holistically and technologically agnostic the only right answer is the one that works for the user on time and on budget. David thanks again for your post!

Regards, tonyPRO

-----Original Message----- From: David B. Rondeau Sent: Tuesday, June 07, 2011 10:29 AM To: tpro@pdamedia.net Subject: Re: [IxDA] Do we need to understand the history of Interaction Design?

Matt,

Great blog post! I will definitely check out Lev Manovich and David Rokeby.

Glad to hear that these topics were discussed at Interactions 11. Of course, now I'm really depressed that I couldn't go to Interactions 11.

*I'd also like to reiterate Fredrik's statement again, "**how are we to develop this language of critique?"*

*And also ask again, how do we start doing more to learn our history? *

-dave

(((Please

7 Jun 2011 - 10:39pm
Dave Malouf
2005

I'll put out something that myself and a few of the people who have been leading the Student Competition have been thinking about. How can we add an academic component to our community without being redundant.

Let me be clear that academic design is different from academic HCI. There are plenty of examples in other disciplines where "research" looks different than it does at the average CHI event. Design-centric research is more akin to the humanities than the sciences. It proposes frameworks and works more within rhetorics. The conference happening in Hong Kong this coming year might be a model to consider: http://www.icidconference.com/ - Of course this conference is a pow wow of big schools trying to shore up their own "Leadership" and is far from independent as something like IxDA would do, but I think an academic conference on IxD instead of HCI might be really useful as a side track, similar to how there is a "research" track as part of the IA  Summit or an education track that is part of IDSA.

But this type of language on our design has to come from here. It will never come from practice itself as it requires a pause that practice never allows itself. It is the outsider's perspective where criticism is created. 

Anyway that is my thought for now. I'd be interested in talking to others about this I'd love to talk to others. Maybe there is a journal we can consider starting, or some other project around this. I'm reachable at dave.ixd (at) gmail.com ... David, I'm particularly hoping you'll contact me.

-- dave

8 Jun 2011 - 2:07am
Jonas Löwgren
2003

A quick note from the camp of academic interaction design (whatever
that is):

The history of interaction design is important and should be taught as
part of any interaction design curriculum, much like design schools in
more mature design disciplines study the canons of their respective
fields.

Why? Because (1) the conceptual development of the field forms a
progression, and in order to contribute to it in your turn, you will
need to understand its trajectories; (2) lots of good work has been
done that serves as inspiration in upcoming design situations; (3) it
is embarrassing when you make something and claim it to be innovative,
when the idea has in fact been around for 10-20 years.

In my experience, the one resource that works best for intro-level
teaching of "canonical interaction design" is the following book (mini- review from http://webzone.k3.mah.se/k3jolo/idBookshelf/):

> Moggridge, B. (2007). Designing interactions. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT
> Press. [D] > > A truly remarkable book, painting a rich picture of interaction
> design practice by means of some forty journalistically rendered
> interviews with outstanding designers and a substantial piece of
> reflection on the author's own experience as an interaction
> designer. There are several strengths to the book: It adopts and
> illustrates a consistent design perspective (as opposed to, e.g., a
> HCI perspective); it gives roughly equal weight to hardware and
> software design; it covers the history of interaction design for
> personal computing as well as related fields including games,
> multimedia and service design; it is well designed and produced in
> itself, with a beautiful flow between sections and with generous and
> appropriate image material. The appended DVD provides interview
> segments and, more importantly, some demos to illustrate key topics.
> The only drawback I can find is a slight bias towards Silicon Valley
> people and practices, which is certainly historically justifiable
> but still constrains the overall picture somewhat. Nevertheless, I
> would consider this book to be required reading for all students,
> teachers and practitioners who need a comprehensive and up-to-date
> view of interaction design practice. >

It is not a design history book as such, but it provides accessible
introductions ot many of the canonical works in interaction design.

Re the need for criticism, I couldn't agree more. Again, like more
mature design disciplines, we would be well served by growing a
community of interaction criticism working in synergy with design
practice. This is not really happening in interaction design so far
(with the exception of game design, which might be seen as related to
interaction design). An exception is Jeffrey Bardzell of Indiana State
University, who has done a lot to further the idea and techniques of
interaction criticism. See, for example, http://interactionculture.wordpress.com/2009/04/19/interaction-criticism-how-to-do-it-handout/

A brief article on the subject was published as: Bardzell, J., Bolter,
J., Löwgren, J. (2010). Interaction criticism: Three readings of an
interaction design, and what they get us. interactions xvii(2):32–37. (http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1699783&CFID=27795053&CFTOKEN=99329528 )

Best, Jonas Löwgren

8 Jun 2011 - 8:07am
Ted Booth
2004

As note from the practioner world - this is a great thread.

To David R.'s point:
"I suspect that many practitioners just don't care, so it's difficult to convince them of the need and therefore build any momentum."

I'd suggest we're all too busy and while this is important it's way down on the list of things to do. The lack of a coherent way to review and assess interaction is a huge problem for me as a practioner looking to grow a practice and team, particularly one that integrates well with other more established design disciplines. It's particularly challenging when bringing in new team members who come from one of the many different realms of IxD practice.

If the folks on this thread could muster the energy - and Dave M. I know you have it in spades - then I for one as a practioner could really use it. And for the record I'm up for helping during those 5 min slots between meetings, client work, new biz, team management, thought leadership and all the rest of it that makes up my day.

Thank you for the thoughtful discussion.

Ted Booth
Interaction Design Director
Smart Design, New York

8 Jun 2011 - 8:45am
Matt Nish-Lapidus
2007

This thread is indeed interesting.

Thanks for piping in, Jonas. I agree that Moggridge's book is a great overview of some of the seminal interaction works. On the theory side, Dick Buchanan's Discovering Design is a really good intro to critical theory reader.

As Dave and other's have mentioned, criticism is usually based outside of the practitioner community. This often comes form academia or even journalism of some type (ie. the film press). Bruce Sterling's keynote at IxD11 was a great example of an outside voice offering relevant and insightful critique in a way that only somebody from outside the community could have. We need to encourage and foster this type of critique and feedback, it will help legitimize IxD outside of our own practice based community.

As Ted and Dave mentioned, it's hard for practitioners to pause to consider criticism, theory, and history, even though it is important and will make them better designers. This is complicated even more in IxD where a large number of practitioners do not have formal design education. A practicing industrial designer may not have the time on a day-to-day basis to consider these things, but they (should) have the foundation in it form school. IxD education, or integrating IxD into design education as it may be, is still very young and the options are limited.

In my mind this means that we need a certain group of practitioners who are far enough along in their careers to take some of this on. It's great to have some academics as part of our community, but there clearly aren't enough of you to support this task on your own. How can we harness the knowledge and energy of experienced practitioners to show young designers why this is important and give them a place to start. On the other side, as IxD education becomes more formalized we need to make sure this becomes a part of the standard pedagogy. People like Dave and Jonas are already doing this, and there are some schools with existing programs that are relatively mature.

The real key to this is making practitioners who are not educated in design understand the importance of theory and history. We do a terrible job communicating how it will make you a better designer and how to use it in your daily work. It's not something outside of practice, it's the essence of practice... it's the "why" to our existing "how." 

8 Jun 2011 - 8:48am
fj
2010

I suspect the reason this language and practice of design criticism hasn't happened among practitioners is because it hasn't made a case for creating more effective products or better ROI or generating more efficient billable hours or actual things like that. In the end, we're trying to get shit done here, with the question here being what we can do to our field so that can get that shit done slightly better than we did last time.

Literary criticism, which Jeffrey Bradzell's work on Interaction Design criticism is based on, has not made that case -- Lit-Crit has not made writers write faster, clearer (god), or more popular. As such, basing ID Criticism on that model would not be very interesting to me (except maybe to point an laught at in tweets if someone ends up writing a Ph.D. deconstructing the post-modern meaning of Habbo Hotel in a Focaultian paradigm, and then gets the degree.)

We are not just a design or art discipline. We are engineering and building too. That's what makes us special inside both computing and design fields. I think I'd look at the field of Architecture to try to find a successful tradition of disucssing their designs in a way that has moved that field forward, if Architecture actually has one.

8 Jun 2011 - 12:05pm
Jonas Löwgren
2003

Dear fj,

I wouldn't dream of trying to tell you what you need to do to "get
that shit done slightly better than you did last time." And of course
I agree with you that there are examples of scholarly criticism that
are quite far from practical applicability. Not only in literary
criticism, but equally so in architectural criticism, game studies or
any other field where criticism is an established practice.

However, I would suggest that not all criticism should be judged by
the most extreme cases. Here is a couple of other arguments and
examples that you might want to consider.

  • In upstream design phases, when you toss around multiple ideas, how
    do you decide which way to go? Prototyping and testing all the
    possibilities is clearly impractical. Talking about what qualities you
    want to engender in the user's experience, perhaps pointing to
    exemplary user experiences in other products, seems like a common and
    sensible assessment technique in those stages. That is an example of
    critical practice (advocated by Jeff Bardzell, among others), and
    there are critics who produce and communicate knowledge of that exact
    nature.

  • Concepts like mapping, direct manipulation and tight coupling became
    commonplace long ago, and their historical impact on best-practice GUI
    design idioms is obvious. Formulating and communicating them were
    clearcut acts of interaction criticism, even though the scholars in
    question (Norman, Shneiderman, and Ahlberg) probably never thought of
    it that way.

  • For a more general, high-level example, consider how the critical
    notion of situated action that originated with Suchman in academia
    helped turn the whole field of decision-support systems away from
    "expert systems" towards empowerment and collaboration platforms.

I guess what I want to say is that interaction criticism is possible
without reading Foucalt. It may be even be better that way ;)

Jonas Löwgren

8 Jun 2011 - 3:05pm
AndrewHInton
2007

Establishing a common understanding of how IxD came to be, and the work that went before (and why) is really important for at least 2 reasons: 
1. Provides needed perspective that helps avoid blinkered design thinking; i.e. knowing that there wasn't always a WIMP interface opens the possibility that it's ok to consider something different (or even bring back the best facets of previous design paradigms). Also helps remind practitioners that design wasn't always considerate of users, and that DNA of many existing design approaches is still stuck in the days of rigid/scarce technology requiring high flexibility & training for users. 
2. It's an essential element in strengthening the professional identity in the community of practice. Having a shared story is very powerful. Note how many of the messages in the thread reference "our history" ... that "our" is very telling. That sense of identity helps fuel efforts people put forth in the community for furthering learning, innovation, etc. 

However, hopefully there will always be some openness about the story -- it's a living, breathing thing, not to be nailed down to some orthodox version. Otherwise you end up with religious flame-wars & practitioners labeled as heretics. Hopefully the organic leadership in the community can help nudge the conversation away from calcifying the story into dogma. 

Quick points about whether people have been "educated" properly: 
1. note what I said above about the toxicity of orthodoxy;
2. this education happens because people want to learn it, not because they were made to sit through a survey class in some "IxD 101" course. I'm a big believer that people learn things because they're motivated to, in situ. We can't make anyone learn anything. People learn this story through the conversation in the community of practice; some won't be motivated to learn -- fine, they'll drop away from the conversation and be less relevant over time. But those who want to contribute and understand the "lore" of the ongoing practitioner community will find this stuff out and learn it ... the best thing the community can do is make it easily available for as many people who want to learn it as possible. 

8 Jun 2011 - 12:05pm
Jonas Löwgren
2003

Dear fj,

I wouldn't dream of trying to tell you what you need to do to "get
that shit done slightly better than you did last time." And of course
I agree with you that there are examples of scholarly criticism that
are quite far from practical applicability. Not only in literary
criticism, but equally so in architectural criticism, game studies or
any other field where criticism is an established practice.

However, I would suggest that not all criticism should be judged by
the most extreme cases. Here is a couple of other arguments and
examples that you might want to consider.

  • In upstream design phases, when you toss around multiple ideas, how
    do you decide which way to go? Prototyping and testing all the
    possibilities is clearly impractical. Talking about what qualities you
    want to engender in the user's experience, perhaps pointing to
    exemplary user experiences in other products, seems like a common and
    sensible assessment technique in those stages. That is an example of
    critical practice (advocated by Jeff Bardzell, among others), and
    there are critics who produce and communicate knowledge of that exact
    nature.

  • Concepts like mapping, direct manipulation and tight coupling became
    commonplace long ago, and their historical impact on best-practice GUI
    design idioms is obvious. Formulating and communicating them were
    clearcut acts of interaction criticism, even though the scholars in
    question (Norman, Shneiderman, and Ahlberg) probably never thought of
    it that way.

  • For a more general, high-level example, consider how the critical
    notion of situated action that originated with Suchman in academia
    helped turn the whole field of decision-support systems away from
    "expert systems" towards empowerment and collaboration platforms.

I guess what I want to say is that interaction criticism is possible
without reading Foucalt. It may be even be better that way ;)

Jonas Löwgren

8 Jun 2011 - 2:43pm
Dan Saffer
2003

One thing that has been an interesting experiment this year is doing a series of readings with UX Bookclub in San Francisco, all based around interaction/UX design history. Every couple of months, we read a set of readings: one set from 1945-1989, another from 1990-2000 (this month) and, later this year, 2000-present. It's an easy, fun, mostly-painless way to review and discuss history via documents. The IxD Library can help. http://theixdlibrary.com

Dan

 

 

8 Jun 2011 - 2:48pm
jeffreybardzell
2011

Very interesting and relevant thread. It's true, I've done a lot of work on interaction criticism. So have many others, including Jonas, Anthony Dunne, Carl DiSalvo, Jay Bolter, etc. It's not at all that this conversation isn't happening. But figuring out how to integrate the respective demands of good design practice and good criticism is certainly a difficult nut to crack, so I'm not surprised that there aren't yet any fully satisfying works out there.

As a minor correction/justification: In my own work, I do draw on literary criticism, but not just that: I also use lots of film criticism, design criticism, fashion history, art history, and aesthetics to think about interaction/design criticism. My reason is simple: they've all been doing criticism for a long time and presumably we can learn from them. But as I've also stressed many times, of course we can't just use such critical practices out of the box: appropriation requires retooling and reworking. I also own up to loving Foucault. However, I certainly do NOT believe that more than 0.05% of interaction designers should worry about him, and indeed I've recently advised certain Ph.D. students of mine that they might be reading Foucault too much... :)

All of that said, I definitely believe that good critical practice can be made accessible to people not actively in academia and that practitioners not only can do criticism, but they do it already! All the time, in fact! So one of my goals is to find ways to help them do it better. (I also think the converse is true: I have a lot to learn from practicing designers, and I spend a lot of time with them as well.) On my blog, I  wrote a guide called "Interaction Criticism: How to Do it" that is written *not* for Foucault-reading 3rd wave feminist neo-Lacanian postmoderns, but honestly mainly for my Master's students in interaction design. Many of them have used it with results that pleased them and me.

You can download this handout here, if you like, and I would appreciate any constructive feedback:http://interactionculture.wordpress.com/2009/04/19/interaction-criticism...

9 Jun 2011 - 12:24am
alotofmath Mich...
2011

When colonies gain independence, and form nations, there quickly follows a desire to define a national identity, a history that helps define the present.

Because of the ubiquity of media, technologies and products become a part of everyone’s identity—ignoring spaces of the digital divide that persist, for a moment, our lived experience of rapid technological innovation has at least meant that we have memories of what now seem like antique products (walkmans and their associated mix tapes) and archival web documents (with frames and guestbooks).

For a first graduate course in the Interactive Design and Media Program at Philadelphia University (taught by Anthony Profeta), our first assignment was to create a series of collages, depicting our digital past, digital present, and digital future. This assignment required us to construct our own history with technology and media. Professor Profeta interwove the history of HCI and interactive media throughout the entire course.

As professionals, we are asked to move beyond our lived experiences to define what someone here has termed a “language of critique”. Another part of that course was to develop a product or concept related to interactive media; a very exciting assignment. I took the assignment to be one that was research intensive, so that one could properly understand the domain and past attempts to understand interaction within that domain. This research led to having a deeper understanding of the history of interaction design, and, more broadly, the integration of sociology and media which underpins HCI. There was, and continues to be, a rich research tradition; when we read work by Lesyia Palen, Gerry Stahl, Bruno LaTour and Lucy Suchman, we become inspired to create a social discourse around products and media we design and develop: one can ask sophisticated questions about new products being designed.

This perspective, and analytical ability, are, I think, what make interaction designers unique. Research and history are like meditation: they build mindfulness. In life this mindfulness is revealed in moments of crisis and moments of social interaction; in design, this mindfulness is revealed when approaching a design problem or when working with other designers to develop a design.

An education or working life in this field without this context is much like a story I heard of an American woman who studied the grammatical elements of the French language obsessively, with the goal of traveling to Paris and pretending to be French. She traveled there, and passed off as French, but, when she overheard a conversation about her, she realized she wasn’t exactly obtaining the reputation she wanted. She overheard one of her new French friends say to another, “This new woman, she speaks perfectly, and doesn’t seem to know our history, stories, jokes…I don’t understand.” The other French friend replied, “Maybe she never finished school. She’s probably a high school drop-out”.

To know development is to speak a language in its strictest sense with precision; to know the less definite, more abstract areas of research, philosophy, and history is to be able to enter into a dialogue. A field needs this dialogue to be a serious field of inquiry.

9 Jun 2011 - 9:13am
Dave Malouf
2005

I also think another of our issues is that we have been reluctant to codify schools around types of criticism. I.e. Bauhaus. I mean what is the "bauhaus" of interaction design? I don't agree w/ the Microsoft's twist on that, by saying "no chrome = bauhaus". It is so much more than "minimalism". 

My point is also, maybe it isn't about an ixD Bauhaus so much as schools of thought carved out of critical analysis towards the creation of principles.

-- dave

9 Jun 2011 - 10:42am
Matt Nish-Lapidus
2007

To Dave's point, there is an overall lack of critical perspectives in our community. People seem reluctant (scared?) to put forth an philosophy on design, even their own personal practice. Schools like the Bauhaus had a very well defined philosophy. Not everybody agreed, but at least you knew what they were all about. The same can be said about the most revered designers throughout history like Dieter Rams, George Nelson, Le Corbusier... the list could go on. 

I believe that to a certain extent the postmodern idea that there is no objective truth has led us to a place where everybody considers all opinion/ideas equal... nobody can be right or wrong anymore, and thusly, nobody has a strong philosophy or perspective about what they do. We change philosophies so frequently that we've lost our guiding principles. This is an extreme statement, and obviously the reality is more nebulous.. but I see this general theme in our current discourse around many topics, not just design.

We're trying hard at my place of work (Normative Design) to develop a philosophy of design for ourselves that encompasses our vision of the future, our practice, and our outlook. It may change over time, but if we don't take a stand how will we know if we're on the right path?

This is a little tangential to the history/education thread, if anybody is interested in discussing this in more detail we can start a second thread.

9 Jun 2011 - 12:36pm
neylano
2007

I had a really great design history class in my MFA program at the University of Washington (UW). It was required of all design students, graduate and undergraduate. However, it was broadly focused on graphic design, industrial design, and to some extent, architecture. We didn't talk much about interaction design.

I taught an interaction design history + theory post grad school at the UW's Master's of Communication in Digital Media program, using Moggridge's book as the main text. I would love to be part of a curriculum development committee for something like this. I'm now teaching in an undergraduate design program at UMBC near Baltimore. The students do take an art history course that touches on design, but is sorely lacking in design in general, let alone interaction design. But this is one of my goals as a professor there; to help develop a comprehensive design history course. Actually, more like a series of design history courses. Our field is maturing and becoming more and more complex.

I think design history is very, very important. History in any discipline serves as a point of reference, provides important societal and cultural context, and can be invaluable when inspiration and guidance is needed. 

Does IxDA have an active education arm? 

Callie Neylan / @neylano

IxDA Baltimore Chapter Leader

10 Jun 2011 - 9:14pm
Dave Malouf
2005

The short answer is that Education is an initiative that has not gotten its legs yet. It has had many masters and many visions.

I would say that traditionally the IxDA board (and I don't disagree) has taken the approach that IxDA should not create curriculum but should support the conversation that brings criticism to what others are doing.

That said, I do think that this platform can be used by any group of people to spawn their own initiative. That initiative can be used to discuss many different facets of ixD education towards creating many different deliverables. I know that I am a part of a stalled group of peers who took on not a "curriculum" document, but rather a skills document. Basically, an artifact that will try to declare that these are the minimum goals/outcomes that any program claiming interest in IxD should have in order to be valuable to the consumers of the program (the hiring managers of their students). As noted it got stalled, but consisted of good people from IxDA and IDSA's Human Interaction SIG. 

How do we maintain energy on issues like this. Another one that is being worked on that I am not a part of so I don't know where it is going, is related to the creation of 21st century publication models for academics that include video and video referencing. 

What I have noticed about every major initiative run within or around IxDA is that the best ones are the ones that are spearheaded by a single person or a small group. This very platform (that many people have problems with, I know) was spearheaded by an individual. The IxDA conference, the IxDA Student Competition, the IxDA Awards. heck IxDA itself was spearheaded by one person, Challis Hodge, or more accurately Tog, but then flown by Challis who at some point handed me a set of keys and I ran w/ it. Now we are a true group organization with all the blessings and flaws that go with it. 

I will say that I am spread too thin to "run" anything right now that I am not damn inspired to do so and this topic while inspiring is not damn inspiring. I give it support, but won't lead. Thanx for the vote of confidence Ted, but I'm trying to mellow. ;-)

-- dave

12 Jun 2011 - 9:37am
Prof. AProfeta
2009

David R,

What a timely and exciting post. I would have responded sooner but was on my way to teach a 6pm class when I received your first 4:30 post. Coincidentally the class: Web Design — Structure, Function + Analysis at the University of the Arts Continuing Ed department. I have been waiting to chime in since that time, but the work of actively teaching the subject that is itself in question here, ironically prevented it.

So with the weekend finally here, my answer to the first question is a big I sure hope so!

* Do you think it's important to understand our history? Y
Or do you think it's just a waste of time? N
* How much history do you know? >I forgot
Has knowledge of the past helped you as a
designer? Y!
* Should we do more to capture and record our history?
I think great leaps have been made in this area since the initial 320x240 px videos I first saw Engelbart's Magical Shopping List on.
If so, what? Same thing that we do for clients collect and archive video, documents and pictures
Do youknow of any good resources on the subject? I think Stanford would be an excellent place for an archeological dig from Bucky's papers to Kelley's napkin.
Did you learn any history in design school? Animator by trade and can say that the Disney legend, process etc is well documented (have been in their archives)
* What should the IxDA's role be in promoting history? Positive and supportive.

Though I have been championing Interaction Design (vs. Graphic or Interactive Design) as the basis for Web Design instruction for the past 2 and half years, this is the first time that I have gotten to officially make it the core of an adopted syllabus. Thanks to Uarts' Robert Craig! Up until now I have been sneaking (yes sneaking as if it were contraband) Buxton, Raskin, Dertouzos, Hasso Plattner, Marzano, Goto, Ideo (Kelley, Bennett, and Moggridge), Adaptive Path, Engelbart, Don Norman, Spool, Dan Brown and Schaffer, works into Web Design and Usability lectures, projects, syllabus and curriculum into 2 major Universities (undergrad, grad and continuing ed), a trade school, and Adobe User Groups. Student projects that emerged from these early trials include, ZUI archive applications, Android development to improve quality of life and BlackBerry's that improved urban planning and cityscapes, UCD planning and interaction design discovery documents for BBBS.org's 400 site CMS roll-out strategy and even an Disaster Management Plan for effective communication between First Responders ( amazing what a little tufte of green onions can do to an open mind ). Former students of these early trials are now not only with with web and mobile companies and agencies, but with Oracle, Siemens and the next big start-up as well.

It was not until this semester that I officially acquired a class that allowed for the full restructuring of a course to introduce the foundations and processes involved in rapid UX development.

In this 10 week course 12 students from various backgrounds (print, interactive, marketing, operations, education) are introduced via lecture and readings to concepts in design thinking, HCD, the role of a designer as a problem solver vrs decorator, and are armed with the documentation skills to envision and describe architecture, layout and functionality via both independent and collaborative work assignments. Culminating in a full rapid redesign proposal in the final 3 weeks. Weekly web reviews engage the student to explore techniques illustrated via classroom demonstration and deconstructs. While hands on development of artifacts (heuristic review/ recommendations, persona, site map, wireframe) will support findings that drive student design decisions.
I opted for Harold Hambrose's Wrench in the System (for context) and Brown's iconic Communicating Design as the required books. The course is supplemented with additional readings and lecture from the web.

Although Hambrose's book relies heavily on ERP and software development, the Electronic Ink's CEO, Founder and fellow Philadelphian provides a great introduction to the history, process, roles and insight to successful UX development in collaborative teams. I find that the lesson's from early ERP systems can easily translate to challenges faced by RIA's and the pending mobile boom as the rise in “new” form factors becomes increasingly important and ubiquitous. Despite new formats, it is the well constructed arguments for the need to place the designer in the design that I hope my students will take away from the class. Additionally, I am thankful for sections such as Form Function and Spirit and Easy as Pie: the tale of a tool, as they are the type of stories that have been elevated to level of folklore in the UX world, where everybody seems to have heard the story, but cannot point to where it was first heard. I applaud the author for collecting these important stories along with his own into one concise text, for an industry yet to be defined and not allowing them to fall victim to an oral tradition.

The book Wrench in the System only reinforces what I have witnessed in real-world design teams as a designer, developer and IA for companies such as SAP, Johnson and Johnson, expensewatch.com, Lincoln Financial, Comcast and owner of PDA Media. Yes, I am a practitioner so please no “those who can...” jokes. I instruct the way that I practice, holistically and technologically agnostic the only right answer is the one that works for the user on time and on budget. David thanks again for your post!


Regards,

tonyPRO

13 Jun 2011 - 7:28pm
Dave Malouf
2005

I have been on the advisory board of Interaction-design.org's attempt to create an enclyclopedia for people working in the areas of HCI, IxD, Usability, blah blah blah.

There could be a great place for history in this encyclopedia for sure and critical analysis of history of both research and design.

Here's the URL directly to the Encyclopedia. With so few articles you can see they are very rich and deep with information. Great resources. http://www.interaction-design.org/encyclopedia/

-- dave

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