I was really happy to see this morning that several of you have posted on the blog your ideas/concerns about the writing assignment. Doing so makes it possible for me to jump in and try to help! Now I will share, not necessarily in any order, some of my reactions and advice about the kinds of things people were asking (and have asked in the past).

  • Categorize your blog posts, or the devil in a black dress (i.e., Shad) will reap your soul or, worse, possibly make you listen to him read beatnik poetry out loud to you.
  • Just as a good design emerges from an embodied process involving analytic (e.g., data analysis) and synthetic (e.g., sketching, affinity diagrams) reasoning, so does a good piece of writing. Both, after all, are material compositions! Implication: good ideas emerge through and by means of the (pre-)writing process, not in advance of it! You do not first have a great idea and then write down what is so nicely there in your head. Neither do finished design concepts pop into your head. Believe me, it’s never nicely there in your head, even when you think it is. So it is OK if your ideas are half-baked right now: they only get baked when you put them in the oven, and in this case, prewriting and writing processes are the oven.
  • There is a single formula to Interaction Culture: take a concept or group of concepts from an interpretative tradition and apply that concept to an interaction or an aspect of an interaction. If you do it right, you will generate creative and original thoughts about that interaction. This in turn will make you a more intuitively sophisticated designer. But the actual process is simple (to describe, if not always execute): pick a concept and apply it to an interaction. That has started to happen on the blog, but all of you would be well served to do it more often and to iterate on it. But just as doing some user interviews or observations, affinity diagrams, and a bunch of sketches doesn’t guarantee a good design, so too does the application of theory not guarantee a good critical reading. As film critic Pauline Kael writes, “it takes extraordinary intelligence and discrimination and taste to use any theory in the arts, and that without those qualities, a theory becomes a rigid formula.” Thus, it is practice and critical feedback that will help you improve your skills in this area.
  • Just as designers typically develop several competing design directions in response to the same problem (as a means of critically exploring the space and helping them frame their own problem), so writers often play with competitive ideas to explore a space. It’s OK if you have two or three plausible paper ideas right now. You can, for a little while, pursue all three. In most cases, either (a) one of them will clearly emerge as the most interesting one, or (b) you will begin to see your problem space more deeply, and a fourth idea will emerge that is the 2.0 version of the previous three ideas. Either one of these outcomes is, as the great philosopher says, “a good thing” (Martha Stewart).
  • I said this in capstone, but I will say it again here: trust your intuition. One way that I have seen criticism defined is that it is the rational investigation of your wisdom/intuition (this comes from Stanley Cavell). Murch trusted his intuition more than anything more analytic (remember how he would just press his finger in real-time to make a cut, rather than go frame-by-frame and choose the cut “more carefully”?). If something feels interesting, appealing, or somehow juicy to you, then it probably is. You should trust that instinct and then pursue it: why exactly does it interest or appeal to you? The interpretive methodologies we’ve studied should help you pursue those vague but appealing intuitions.
  • Related to “trust your intuition” is the idea that good papers can have different starting points. For example, if there is an interaction that really excites you, and you just want to understand it better, then you could start there, maybe try out (in a playful, exploratory way) a few theoretical strategies to see where they lead you. Alternatively, you can also start with the theory. If there was a reading that really struck you as exciting or powerful, then you can commit to doing that kind of critical “reading” yourself, and then you could maybe try out (in a playful, exploratory way) a few different interactions to see how the theory seems to speak to you.
  • I reiterate that I am really open-minded about what you want to consider an “interaction.” If, for example, you use a social media site as your interaction, you can by all means include user data populating that–otherwise, it is impossible to see it as a social media application! In other words, “interaction” need not be defined as a single person inputting commands and perceiving outputs at a terminal. If I submit a question at Yahoo! Answers, and someone answers me, and there are point systems and ratings, then all of that can be seen as part of the interaction.
  • I might add to this list over time if I have additional Deep Thoughts(tm) about it.

So the short version of all this is to try to relax a little bit (from the standpoint of stress) but also to work hard (from the standpoint of playing around with ideas without, initially, worrying about composing them into a paper). Do this on the blog where possible, and you are likely to get targeted useful feedback.