Due to the quantity and quality of your sublime insights into Run Lola Run yesterday, we got a little behind and didn’t talk too much about the Crampton Smith reading, “Designing for Everyday Life.” I thought I’d use the blog to catch up on that a little bit.

Much of its argument rehearses the argument in favor of what is now known as “third wave HCI,” that is, that HCI can no longer just be about creating usable systems, as measured by fast task completion times, low error rates, high learnability, high subjective satisfaction, etc. Rather, now that computers are part of everyday life, they have to serve our every needs as individuals, as social beings, as people with aesthetic and experiential and not just functional needs, etc. Since that is familiar to most of you by now, we don’t need to spend too much time on it.

There were a few juicy quotes that I would like to share, however:

However, after twenty years of drawing on existing expressive languages, we now need to develop an independent language of interaction with smart systems and devices, a language true to the medium of computation, networks, and telecommunications. In terms of perceptual psychology, we’re starting to understand the functional limits of interaction between people and devices or systems: speed of response, say, or the communicative capacity of a small screen. But at the symbolic level of mood and meaning, of sociability and civility, we haven’t quite achieved the breathtaking innovativeness, the subtlety and intuitive “rightness,” of Eisenstein’s language of montage. (xviii-xix)

In many ways, this paragraph is the challenge that Interaction Culture is accepting, the point of why we are doing all of this, arguably the central question of my own intellectual life. To help elucidate it, I’ll define a few key words in it.

“Expressive language” is a metaphor that we’ll talk a lot about this semester, particularly in the second of the four “ways in” that I talked about yesterday: work- or artifact-centered perspectives. The idea is that every medium of expression has units of meaning and rules for combining them: words and grammar for poetry and prose; paint strokes, perspective, conventions of representation for painting; shots, actors, lines of script, soundtracks, and editing conventions for film; etc. So Crampton Smith is saying that interaction designers can of course borrow other expressive vocabularies (e.g., from animation, typography, page layout, etc.) but that we really also should be trying to discover vocabularies unique to digital interaction.

Sergei Eisenstein was an early theorist of film, who is known for developing a theory of montage, which refers to the technique of cutting different shots together and how when shot 1 and shot 2 are placed together, a new third meaning appears as we make connections between the two. A classic example in early Soviet cinema was editing together shots of laborers protesting and shots of animals being slaughtered: a third meaning, suggesting that capitalists are doing violence to the working class, emerges–a common Marxist theme popular in the heady early days of the Soviet government, which was financially supporting Eisenstein. Regardless, montage became after Eisenstein one of the most fundamental considerations/techniques in filmmaking and film theory: the early theorization of montage represented a massive breakthrough for film. Crampton Smith is challenging us to be the Eisensteins of interaction design. No problem: we’ve got 16 weeks….

Elsewhere, Crampton Smith raises the concept of “qualities,” as in this example:

The interactive systems we design have implicit as well as explicit meanings. A design may communicate its purpose clearly, so that it’s obvious what it is and what we should do with it. But its qualities, its aesthetic qualities particularly, speak to people in a different way. Consciously or not, people read meanings into artifacts…. Artists and designers are trained to use the language of implicit meanings to add a rich communicative element over and above direct functional communication. (xiv)

This is a chance for you to engage the reading. Can you point to an example of an implicit meaning that is used to improve a particular design’s aesthetic quality? Reply to this post with your example. It would be really cool to have a small inventory of this sort of example.

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