Workshop: Designing dynamic interfaces for mobile devices

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009 | Design and research, Events, General | No Comments
Apple iPhone Cover Flow

Are you compelled by the rapid development of mobile devices and their graphically sophisticated screens?

Have you noticed the increasing employment of visual motion in screen-based interfaces?

Are you interested in the possibilities and challenges for designing such interfaces?

Jørn Knutsen and I will arrange a full day workshop at the NORDES conference Engaging Artifacts in Oslo, August 30 – September 1, 2009. We will introduce participants to theoretical concepts and design techniques for prototyping screen-based interfaces that make use of visual movement. Participants will work hands-on in groups, exploring techniques for developing simple prototypes. The workshop ends with a general discussion in which we address theoretical as well as practical issues.

Full workshop description (PDF).

Conference program. NB: early registration until August 1.

UPDATE: The workshop was cancelled.

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To be presented: Social Navimation

Monday, May 4th, 2009 | Design and research, Events, General, Theory | No Comments
Social navimation: Urørt Maps

I will present a full peer-reviewed paper on the Nordic Design Research conference NORDES’09: Engaging Artefacts, which will take place in Oslo in the end of August this year. The paper is called ‘Social Navimation: Engaging Interfaces in Social Media’, and explores how visually dynamic interfaces can enhance social media applications. This potential is investigated through experimental design production, followed by a textual analysis of the resulting interface prototypes. The term ‘social navimation’ is introduced and applied in the analysis, in which I investigate how semiotic resources from navimation are connected to features of social media. Hopefully, the paper will be of interest for both theory and practice of interface and interaction design, and new media studies in general.

UPDATE: The conference program and all papers are now available here. Download the full paper: Social Navimation: Engaging Interfaces in Social Media (PDF).

UPDATE 2: See the presentation.

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Materialising gender

Monday, March 30th, 2009 | Design and research, General | 1 Comment

Some time ago I wrote a blogpost where I suggested that design (or more specifically the production of artefacts other than the traditional academic paper) can be used for intentionally communicating theoretical issues. I believe we to a certain degree can embed, present and visualise theory in artefacts by making use of specific resources for meaning-making, just like we do when we design. Of course, this raises questions of interpretation: to what degree is the “reader” able to understand what is to be communicated through the artefact? This is a huge theoretical question that I am not going to go into here. However, I will provide an example that I find interesting in terms of how designer skills and design production can help communicate a theoretical argument.

The example is from a master project in industrial design at Konstfack by Karin Ehrnberger, called ‘Materializing gender’. I saw this presented on the design conference NORDES in Stockholm in 2007, and was impressed by how the theoretical discussion was interwoven with a specific design project. The paper is unfortunately not available online, but a short description can be found here.

Drill and mixer

The aim of the paper was to investigate how products are ‘gender coded’, and bring attention to the lack of understanding of this phenomenon. This was partly done theoretically by drawing on gender studies, but also through experimental design production. Ehrnberger designed a hand mixer using the aesthetics of a drill, and a drill using the aesthetics of a hand mixer (images used with permission from the designer).

Even though these artifacts do not convey a unambiguous argument in themselves, they are to my mind highly successful in visualising and bringing attention to how gender is semiotically “encoded” in physical products. These artefacts do not reduce the need for theory and analysis, rather they demonstrate the importance for a thorough and theoretical inquiry. In addition, these products have the ability to evoke reactions from both researchers, designers, and users, and thereby increase the potential for knowledge dispersion.

In my research I intend to do something similar, that is to experiment with form of academic communication. Rather than keeping the design production and the academic text separate, I want to integrate them in a coherent whole. To put it simple: I will discuss and analyse navimation through a navimational interface. I have already done a small experiment and plan to take this further in some way or another. This is not easy to do in regards to both design and research, but I think there is a great potential for innovation in academic communication here.

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OnLive: straming navimation

Friday, March 27th, 2009 | General, Navimation examples | No Comments

This week the upcoming service OnLine was presented at the Game Developers Conference 2009. OnLine is a video game service that allows games to be streamed live from a data center onto TVs or computers, so that the users don’t need their own advanced graphics hardware. It is not even necessary to install the games, as the computer center does all the work. Welcome to cloud computing for games.

OnLive is also interesting in terms of interface and visual design. Just take a look at this video of the game interface:

As you can see, the service provides a visually rich interface. In the cinematic intro sequence, we fly through the logo and enter a new universe. The ‘virtual camera’ then flies over a globe that is filled with small tiles of videos, before it settles on the main menu. In navigating between different sections and games, a range of different animation techniques and transitions are employed. I looks like the rich environment will make it both easy and fun to find new games, friends, and other players.

I’m exited that the people at OnLive have developed a technological platform that reduces the disadvantages of employing advanced motion graphics, and that they have chosen to design such a rich navimational interface. I just hope it won’t be too long before we get this to Norway…

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Fallman on design and design research

Thursday, March 12th, 2009 | Design and research, General, Theory | 1 Comment

The 8 pages long paper ‘Design-oriented Human-Computer Interaction‘ by Daniel Fallman takes on quite a comprehensive task when it addresses what design ‘is’, how design is related to HCI, and what the relation between design and research might be in HCI.

Even if Fallman takes on an impossible task for such a short paper, he offers very interesting concepts and arguments. The paper is written from the perspective of HCI, not design as such. However, he argues that HCI has emerged as a design-oriented field. Many of the arguments and concepts presented should be relevant for design research in general.

3 accounts on what design ‘is’

Fallman presents three accounts from design theory on what design ‘is’. He calls these the conservative, the romantic, and the pragmatic.

  1. The conservative account sees design as a rational process that aims to convert an undesired situation into a desirable one, by going through rational and structured methodological steps. This account assumes that there is a ‘problem’ to be solved. Design is thought of as a scientific or engineering endeavour, and the focus is on normative design methods and generic design principles. For this account, references are given to H. Simon, C. Alexander, J. Löwgren and E. Stolterman.
  2. The romantic account gives prominence to the role of the designer, which is seen as a mastermind or creative genius. Here, imagination and creativity is seen as key abilities rather than abstract reasoning and rational problem solving. Rather then a focus on the process, the focus is on values, taste, quality and aesthetics. Art is the role model here, rather then science. References are given to R. Coyne, E. Stolterman, and P. Louridas
  3. The pragmatic account holds that design always is carried out in a specific situation, where the designers iteratively interpret the effects of their designs on the situation on hand. Design can therefore be seen as a hermeneutic process. This view draws on pragmatism and may see knowing-in-action as a specific and important kind of knowledge. Since every design situation is different, the ability to deal with different situations is more important than theories and methodology for guidance. Reference is given to D. Schön and D. Ihde.

I do not currently have the necessary overview to evaluate these categories, though I wonder if they may be a bit simplified and exaggerated. I do not think many designers (my self included) would position themselves in either one of these categories. In practice, it seems to me that design may sometimes include rational problem solving, sometimes ‘mysterious’ creativity, and most often the specificity of the situation at hand. The emphasis will vary from field to field, from designer to designer, and from project to project. However, such categories provide us with means for discussing what design ‘is’, which is essential in a theoretical inquiry. This understanding may further influence the way design education is conducted, and how the role of design and designers is understood at a general level.

Sketching as design thinking

To get closer to what design ‘is’, Fallman considers the role of sketching as an archetypical design activity. He argues that designers’ thinking is mediated by sketches and prototypes. The materials ‘talk back’ to the designer in an ongoing dialogue between the designer and the sketch.

…design involves the designer in a necessary dialogue with the materials of the design situation, from which the design problem and its solution are worked out simultaneously, as a closely coupled pair. (page 231)

In this unfolding process problem setting and problem solving (Schön) are seen as intertwined activities, in a search for a coherent, well-balanced whole.

[Design] … must not simply be seen either as a question of problem-solving, as an art-form, or as a bustle with reality: it is on the contrary an unfolding activity which demands deep involvement from the designer. ” (page 231-232)

Rather than seeing design as a hybrid discipline between art and science, design should be considered as a tradition guiding action and thought, which spans across many disciplines.

Design-oriented Research vs. Research-oriented Design

Fallman proposes a new way to distinguish research activities in HCI that involve design production.

  • Design-oriented Research has knowledge of some sort as the main contribution. This is the conduct of academic researchers, and should be conducted when the knowledge would not be attainable if design production was not a vital part of the research process. Here, the designed artefact is considered a means to an end, for example for exploring possibilities outside a current paradigm.
  • Research-oriented Design has production of new artefacts as its main motivation, not the production of new knowledge. Nevertheless, this production may relate to research in many ways. I suppose what is normally considered development would fit within this category.

Fallman argues that Design-oriented Research should include problem setting as an important part, while Research-oriented Design most often has problem solving as its main component.

Relating this to my own work, it is clear that doing a PhD entails scholarly and academic research where the aim is to produce new theoretical knowledge. The production of artifacts is subordinate. However, I think the production of artefacts can play an important role not only in informing theory, but also in embedding, presenting and visualising theory. In a social-cultural view on artefacts, the artefact does not in itself have a determined meaning. Nontheless, an artefact may play an important role in the dispersion of knowledge, as long as the theoretical argument is made clear and apparent.

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