Some people are evidently having trouble connecting this class to HCI. This is not an easy problem to solve, because HCI itself has limited resources when it comes to cultural approaches to interaction. Remember: HCI is new to the whole culture game, and often when it tries to do culture, it has done so scientifically. I have argued in my research and teaching that a more humanistic approach is needed. But you won’t find the kinds of resources in HCI on this the way you will find resources on psychological approaches to performance evaluation. The field is just not there yet. And that means that we have to do this translational work of figuring out how cultural theory applies to HCI. So yes, I am demanding a certain amount of effort and imagination from all of you, and I know it’s not easy (it’s not easy for me either!), and that is why we have class discussions and blog discussions to work through it all.

That said, there are some basic skills that I expect all of you to have, and I expect all of you to use.

One of them is the basic ability to take something from the reading and apply it yourself to HCI–even if you can only do so in an incomplete and uncertain way. And several people on the blog have already done this, but not everyone has.

In this post, I will model a basic strategy that ALL of you can do, no matter what art you are familiar with or care about. It is this:

  • Take a claim from the text, and ask how it applies to HCI.

That’s it. Examples:

  • Clive Bell says that if we bracket aside content, emotions, and real-world knowledge, we can appreciate the work of art on a purely formal level.
  • Is it possible to take a particular interaction design, or a type of interaction design, and abstract away all content, emotions, and real-world knowledge, and describe it simply as a form? What do you end up with? How might that be useful?
  • In the section on Wolfflinn, Barnard says that “Style is the constancy, or consistency, in the way an individual, or a group, treats the formal elements of art or visual culture.”
  • Are there any interactions created by individuals or groups that treat the formal elements of interfaces or interactions in a constant way? (Apple, perhaps?) What do we get by attempting to describe interactions in terms of style?
  • Greenberg says that every art has a distinctive feature, something “peculiar and special to” each art, something each art “shares with no other art.”
  • Does interaction have a distinctive feature, something peculiar and special to it? What exactly is that thing? How can it be leveraged? Is it being leveraged already, or could we improve on that in some way?
  • Barnard describes Bell, Wolfflinn, and Greenberg as naive, because all of them fail to offer any account of the human context of art, its meaning, the sociohistorical contexts in which it was made, etc.
  • Can you think of any accounts of technology that focus so exclusively on the intrinsic properties of interaction (what ARE the intrinsic properties of interactions, anyway?) that they cut out any reference to human or sociohistorical contexts, such as gender, race, economic class, everyday concerns, etc.? (How about some of the readings in Foundations of HCI, which most of you took, say Preece, Rogers, and Sharp’s chapter on interaction paradigms, or maybe GOMS, or …?)
  • Barnard points out the Wolfflinn’s and Greenberg’s accounts of art have nothing whatsoever to say about the tastes or reactions of actual people at the time the art was made.
  • Can you think of how this might apply to HCI? One of you has.
  • Barnard, in talking about how these formalists discuss nudes (p. 183), observes that their descriptions are so focused on form that they fail to acknowledge that male viewers of female flesh presented aesthetically may be appreciating more than just “the articulations of their limbs, their relation to the vertical and the part played by drapery in the unity of form.”
  • Does anyone ever talk about interaction design in a way that fetishes abstraction to the point that it overlooks important and obvious real life aspects of that design in the world?
  • Hebdige and Polhemus demonstrate that stylistic features are not just superficial decorations but actually express the values, assumptions, and ideals of a subculture.
  • Are there subcultures in HCI? Is HCI a subculture?
  • Can you see stylistic features in a particular interaction that you would characterize as not superficial, but actually expressing the values, assumptions, and/or ideals of a subculture?
  • The Fabe reading is about how reality is represented in film.
  • Is reality represented in HCI? Of course it is! (Think about how Oncourse models the student-faculty relationship; how might it have otherwise been modeled?)
  • The Fabe reading says that reality can be modeled in two basic ways in a film. First, there is the expressionist version, in which the reality represented on the screen is that of the subjective consciousness of characters in the film. Second, there is the realist version, in which the reality represented on the screen is meant to record, as closely as possible, the reality of the event it is recording.
  • When a given interaction design models reality, is it possible for us to characterize whether it models reality in a strict, predetermined way, versus a more open way? Does Oncourse model reality in a strict way or an open way?
  • In Fabe, film theorist Bazin is summarized as arguing that several camera styles–deep focus, wide angle, long (in duration), unmoving shots, edited with match cuts–constitute a realistic mode of capturing and presenting reality.
  • If we can describe a given interaction as “realistic,” are there equivalents of deep focus, wide angle, blah blah blah in interaction, and if so, what are they, or what might they be?

I hope all of these examples can serve as models of what I expect all of you to do. I certainly don’t expect you to come up with this particular list of connections from these readings. I don’t expect you to come up with this many connections from any particular reading. I don’t expect you to answer them the same way I might. But I do expect you to apply what you have read to interaction, since some of the readings don’t. You don’t need to get hung up on art per se–I don’t care if you can tell a French New Wave film from a French Heritage film.

But we do need to understand art or film sufficiently to understand how cultural critics analyze them. I can’t see how it’s possible to understand realism versus expressionism, and the related questions of corporate-controlled representations that influence society, if you can’t actually see what they mean by camera manipulations. I am asking you to do a single critique as the final paper for this class, and you will want models of such critiques. But these are all, by definition, engaged very concretely with the specifics of a given work (e.g., a particular film). It is hard to understand that writing as a piece of criticism if you have no knowledge or awareness of the film. But remember: we are not doing these readings because we are film studies majors, but rather we are reading them because they model critical interpretation of cultural artifacts. Many of you have never written a 9,000 word essay critiquing a single artifact, and that’s a lot to ask of you, so I am giving you models. Read them as models, and don’t worry so much about the Baroque paintings and the angry young men.

In treating these readings as models,I am asking you to give it a shot, to try out for yourself one of these ideas on an interaction you know or care about.

In doing so, you may wind up with a half-baked idea, but this half-baked idea is like a design sketch. Designers can’t be ashamed of their sketches and hide them till they’re polished. Designers share sketches with their peers, who help them iterate. That is the only way they ever become designs. Such interaction is what I am asking–and expecting–of all of you, on the blog and in the room when we meet.

In this class, there are many who are trying already, and they seem to me to be doing just fine.