PhD school

Seminar: Research by design

Friday, December 5th, 2008 | Design and research, Events, General, PhD school | 1 Comment

The Research by Design seminar was arranged yesterday as part of the PhD school at AHO. It was a rather long day of presentations, more or less relevant to my project. The image below is from the last presentation, many had left at this point.

Research by design seminar

Chris Rust (webpage) presented A Hopeful Marriage: Artistic Inguiry in the Academy 1993-2008, and shared experiences from the UK on practice-based research. Some key points: good research practice is the one important criteria, avoid excess of theorizing, don’t create a monster, build theory through practice, own your research and argue for it, a thesis must be visible and permanent, research should be a single inquiry.

Timo Arnall & Einar Sneve Martinussen presented Touch: Designing an Internet of Things, and gave a general overview of the Touch project at AHO, described through a series of themes.

Birger Sevaldson was Being Specific about Practice Based Research in Design: An Attempt at Mapping the Field, and is in the process of mapping the field of Practice Based Research. A difficult but important task.

Michael Weinstock gave a presentation on Forms and Process in Nature and Civilisation, and showed how we can understand the emergence of cities, civilisation and information systems by looking at processes of metabolism and evolution in nature.

Michael Hensel is Constructing a Research Programme: Performance-Oriented Design along a Biological Paradigm. He is investigating the possibility of going from a function-oriented architecture to a new paradigm inspired by biology, where performativity is a key issue.

Mick Eekhout presented an example of Designing and Prototyping of a New Generation of Composite Sandwich Structures for Free Form Architecture. We got to see how technological research may be carried out in real world projects.

Børre Skodvin (Jensen & Skodvin) gave insights From Architectural Practice, on the relationship between practice and research seen from a practitioner.

Pattie Bell Hastings (webpage) presented The Misuse Manifesto, related to her artistic work in progress, with ideas related to technology and mobile misuse.

The seminar was a bit long, and except of Chris Rust and Birger Sevaldson’s presentations, there were few attempts to discuss and problematize the concepts and practices of ‘research by design’. We saw many examples that were interesting in themselves, but without being placed in a theoretical context it is hard to see how they help us to develop better theories or practices of ‘research by design’.

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My project presented with Cooliris

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008 | General, PhD school | 1 Comment

Maziar Raein, one of the external lecturers in the PhD course, gave us the task to choose about 15 images related to our PhD project, and write something about them. As I understood the task, we were encouraged to experiment with modes of presenting text and images together.

I chose to use the Cooliris interface for giving a general presentation of my project. In my opinion, this form of presentation encourages a “non-linear exploration”. The presentation itself serves as an example of what the project is investigating: interfaces that make use of visual movement in navigation. I believe it also demonstrates how the presentation form (or the interface) can radically alter the understanding and experience of the content.

Click here to go to the presentation.

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Technological and aesthetical aspects of my project

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008 | General, PhD school | No Comments

In the PhD school at AHO, we were asked to write a short text about how and in what ways technological and aesthetical aspects will be a concern in our projects, and in what ways we plan to approach them. This is my text:


The object of my study is the computer interface, which is made possible only through the relatively recent discovery and ongoing developments of computer technologies. I focus on the interface as a medium that communicates certain values, knowledge or beliefs. I adopt a socio-cultural perspective on media, technology and communication, and see technology related to tools through which we can express ourselves and mediate information and meaning. Even though technology is not the main concern in my research, I relate to it in two important ways:
– Theoretically: understand how interfaces and the design of these relate to technology. How do digital development tools facilitate the inclusion of certain interface features at the expense of others? How does this affect the aesthetic qualities and possibilities for communication in the interface?
- Practically: in my own work I will have to deal with the possibilities and limits of contemporary technology and emerging technologies connected to dynamic interfaces. Especially, in doing “research by design”, through designing artefacts myself, I will have to use available technological tools, which naturally will affect the results.
A general challenge in researching something based on digital technology is the rapid development in the field. Doing proper research appears to be a rather slow activity, so there is a challenge of how to follow the technical development at a practical as well as theoretical level. The object of my study is continuously in movement, so to speak, as are designers’ aesthetic expressions and choices embodied in interfaces that explore and innovate aesthetically and communicatively by way of changing technical parameters and computer applications.


Aesthetics is a historically complex field, and I will need more time to understand its different interpretations, and how it relates to my project. According to Ludwig Wittgenstein(1), beauty is not a property of the object itself, as an experience always involves interpretation on behalf of the viewer. Taking this point further, the aesthetic experience may also be seen as relational to the cultural and social context, rather than existing in an independent and private space(2). I am particularly interested in the communicative aspects of aesthetics, and how interfaces communicate multimodally through aesthetical means, i.e. through visual movement. However, aesthetics is not only bound to beauty or visual perception. It may relate to our rational or irrational interpretations, to different senses such as touch and hearing, or to the experience of interacting with an interface over time. In the evolving field of interaction design, the emphasis on user-centered design also poses new questions regarding aesthetics and the role of the designer. The field needs greater clarification of aesthetics and dynamic interfaces at the level of communication and not only information and systems design.

The PhD course has so far given some valuable and specific insights into the concepts of technology and aesthetics. However, to relate this to my project I will need to carry on studying these fields and concepts, and get more specific to the approach and object of my own research.

1. Wittgenstein, L. (1966). Lectures and conversations on aesthetics, psychology and religious belief. Oxford: Blackwell.
2. Bourriaud, N. (1998). Relational Aesthetics. Les presses du reel.

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