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This will probably be a short post (well see). Mainly, I wanted to point out why I think we read this chapter from Carroll. In short, we read this to give us an example that designing for affect, particularly humor or horror, is possible. Not only is it possible, Carroll lays out some of the mechanisms by which we experience this emotions and feelings. We have been talking a lot in class about individuality and connectedness between audience, designer, user, person. What Carroll’s account of horror and humor does is give us evidence that people respond to certain stimuli in very similar ways.

Carroll’s notion that we find a monster repulsive , impure, or threatening (Carroll’s necessary condition for a movie to be of the horror genre) is a recognition that we all, for the most part, agree what is repulsive, impure, or threatening. This suggests, strongly, that we are so constituted that there are simply uniting dispositions that allow us to experience horror and humor together. There is a commonality among our perceptions, understandings, and affect that allow for our shared reactions to horror or humor.  For design, this means that we can, sincerely, design for certain affects — and it works. The evidence of centuries of storytelling that have successfully engendered these emotions and feelings and audiences is enough evidence for us to move forward with this idea in our HCI work.

But, there are certain questions we must ask as we move forward. Literature and film are two different mediums though which humor and horror are achieved, UX design is a third. What are the cues, styles, stimuli of UX design so far as they can engender horror or humor? Are these different from film or literature, are they the same? How will we develop our language of affect for UX design? Has it already been developed? Are there formal criteria by which we must measure our UX design?


During Tuesday’s class Jeff talked about how HCI messes up the notion of the User. We didn’t really go into it all that much, but it really piqued my interest. I think Jeff was bringing up the User as being defined as Addressee or Receiver, and the effect of understanding the User in each office.

The Thwaite reading defines Addressee and Receiver as the following:

“Sender and receiver are actual people. Addresser and addressee, on the other hand, are purely constructions of signs. They are like fictional characters in that they have no existence other than in signs, and they may bear very little resemblance to the actual sender and receiver.” (p.17)

To me, what Jeff was talking about, although briefly, is this struggle between constructing fictional characters (The User) and responding to the actual people who use the design in the real world. The idea that these fictional characters as users can be highly different or “bear little resemblance” to the actual users (receivers) of the design is problematic on a fundamental level. In current HCI discourse and practice, it seems more likely to encounter design for User as Addressee than it is User as Receiver.

What is problematic about this, to me, is that activity of constructing the fictional character that represents the User. This sounds an awfully lot like a persona, something against which I have been preaching since day one in IDP. Constructing an idea of a person is no simple task. I will go as far as to say that anyone trying to accurately portray a person through a fiction or persona will get things wrong, leave things out, and do this by bending to normative notions and stereotypes. This creates false ideas of who people are and who people ought to be. More, we become further and further removed from the real person with everything we design in this way.

I was on reddit this morning and came across a post about Nyota Uhura, a character on the original Star Trek television series. The post was a TIL about this:

“Nichols planned to leave Star Trek in 1967 after its first season, wanting to return to musical theater.[6] She changed her mind after talking to Martin Luther King Jr.,[7] who was a fan of the show. King explained that her character signified a future of greater racial harmony and cooperation.[8] As Nichols recounted, “Star Trek was one of the only shows that [King] and his wife Coretta would allow their little children to watch. And I thanked him and I told him I was leaving the show. All the smile came off his face. And he said, don’t you understand for the first time, we’re seen as we should be seen. You don’t have a black role. You have an equal role.””

I would have to do more research about the context of Star Trek and possibly the public reaction to Nyota Uhura as a character, but I immediately thought about the power of future thinking when I read this. I like to think that Nichols was able to be an equal role character in the show because the show was about the future where powerful social influences and a tyrannical majority hold less power. The audience is invited to imagine a world they all perhaps want, a world with less racism and more equality. Because the rest of the world is already vastly different from the current world and is highly imagined, it becomes easier to accept change.  There is also a notion of hope at play here. Proposed futures can stand as “signifiers” for a better future, a future we as designers can mold and remold to express different values. People can recognize these values and attach hope to them, hopefully integrating them into our daily lives. Indeed we have seen just this phenomena through media in the past 50 years. Art of all kinds has helped promote better futures, specifically, and the point of the original reddit post, through helping minorities gain a voice by subverting existing powerful normative structures.

This could raise some interesting questions. If there were normally racist television viewers who preferred African Americans to be in “black roles” but in the case of Star Trek seemed not to mind an equal role played by an African American, what kind of work is being done by that racist viewer? Is his racism momentarily suspended permitting him to see a black person as an equal? If so, why?  An easier question is to question why one of the first equal roles for a black person (and a woman too) was in a science fiction genre in a time when both women and people of color were marginalized.

This post will largely be about the role of intention in Design, whether on the part of the author, critic, or audience.  More, the notion of intention is necessarily relied to the meaning making that occurs when participating in design in any of the three roles (designer, critic, audience). Because design’s project is about proposing a new world, a world found to be new by the rethinking of moral systems, emotional responses to stimuli and greater emotional capacities, or the Beautiful, no one person or group of people can provide an argument that hinges upon truth value. Rather, design aims for the plausible, the new, the better, or the unexamined. If design’s project was similar to finding the hardest rock in a box full of rocks, agency and truth value would not be contentious. It is because design wrestles with the fundamental questions of what it is to be a person in this world, that design cannot obey truth value. In this way, design escapes (as Jeff said) the attraction of demonstrating some objective truth, but rather supplies a plausible interpretation of what it is to be human or how life can be lived.

“Design, too, is far more about changing the world than representing it, though certainly it makes heavy use of knowledge representations (e.g., market data, user studies, and social science) to do so.” (p.619)

If Design is said to be about future-making, in the quote as “changing the world”, then design’s main project begs an important question: what, if anything, can we really know about the future? That is, what can we say we know, here engaging Knowledge in a philosophical tradition, about the future. The conditions under which we subscribe something to knowledge don’t exist for future-thinking. At best, all we have for the future are predictions or fantasies we create. This idea is encapsulated by David Hume:

“That the sun will not rise tomorrow is no less intelligible a proposition and implies no more contradiction than the affirmation that it will rise.” – David Hume

Because future-building is the project of design, there is a certain sense of arrogance in the intentions of a critic or designer, if these intentions are characterized by only their truth value.

“Criticism, as I argued earlier, is committed to raising our perceptual ability, our ability to notice and make sense of the relationships between the formal and material particulars of cultural artifacts and their broader socio-cultural significance. ” (p.619)

Here the notion of audience agency is central. All of us, together, have an operator’s role in the meaning making of our future worlds. I forget which author said this but its the idea that we all create mini-Utopias rather than obey some authoritative notion of a utopian world. But this only works if we restrict Criticism to the role of finding value in relation to future-building. In this way, Criticism can improve our perceptual abilities — here making it a possibility for audiences to supply their own perspective on topics of moral systems, the Beautiful, emotional capacities, and other parts of life that have successfully evaded truthful definition for millennia. When it comes down to it, making a normative claim about any of these things limits the agency of audience (users for HCI).

Now, there are limitations to this. I am not saying intentions are valueless. Indeed artistic or designerly intention is vital to understanding a horror film as something enjoyable rather than a seriously disturbed perspective on the way life should be.

I am going to tie Carroll’s reading and his account of criticism in with my capstone project for this post. My capstone project is an investigation into Problem Framing as part of the process of designing. Currently, I am analyzing, and yes critiquing, different HCI domains like Ubicomp, mobile, HCI4d, and Critical design to try to suss out how academics who publish in this area go about their problem framing. Namely, I want to try to connect the process of problem framing with Carroll’s account of criticism as an activity that exposes value to an audience.

So far I have noticed trends in Problem Framing like relying on expert opinions in certain domains, designing for particular demographics by following specialized constraints and assumptions, and, overall, the focusing on exposing the true nature and subtleties  of some affliction people are experiencing. In short, seemingly most of the design processes I read can be characterized by designers who identify some pain point, inequality, or lack of comfort X (taken from some other demographic or culture) and then try to solve for these ‘situations’.

These designers try then to design for these ‘situations’ by a similar process Carroll laid out in his first chapter namely the description, elucidation, contextualization, classification, interpretation, and/or analysis of the situation so as to lead to insights as how to solve the ‘situation’ or problem. Where I think there can be a contribution made to Problem Framing is that, instead of being problem-focused, what if designers focused on using Critical Evaluation to find value in certain “situations” and to then use their power of criticism to foster new understandings and manifestations of this value in terms of designs.

I understand Carroll’s account of criticism to be the following: “…criticism is primarily committed to the discovery and illumination of what is valuable in artworks.” (p.46) More, this type of evaluations is based on reason. Carroll goes on to explain that the other activities involved in producing a critique are hierarchically subservient to evaluation, that is they play a special role in providing good reasons and justifications by which the evaluation can be made.  Carroll’s main contribution is fore-fronting the importance of evaluation as part of the critique process. Indeed, Carroll claims that the evaluation is the end product of criticism in that “criticism is strong criticism insofar as it renders its evaluation intelligible to audiences in such a way that they are guided to the discovery of value on their own.” (p.45) If I am planning on using this framework as something, in someway, is related to problem framing I need to answer a few questions that came up while I was reading Carroll.

First, what type of evaluation, as the primary activity of critique, would be appropriate for trying to understand problem framing? Carroll gives a few accounts of evaluation: political, ideological, artistic, negative, or positive. Each one of these types of evaluation has different motivations. Carroll talks about motivations for evaluation in his discussion of the ‘lack-of-general-criteria’ argument. In that, without general criteria by which an evaluation of an artwork could occur, “something else” must take the place of reason as a basis for evaluation.

“Historically, some of the leading candidates for that “something else” have been emotion, subjectivity, or political motivations (either politics in the large sense, as in the case of classism, racism, or sexism, or politics in the sense of interpersonal power relationships).” (p.30)

Earlier in the introduction Carroll identifies the outcomes of some of these candidates in that they “frequently pave the way for negative evaluations of candidates in terms of sexism, classism, logo-centrism, etc.” (p.5) What struck me with this characterization is the admittance that evaluating in these terms often produces negative evaluations. “This design is too Western” “This design is patriarchal” “This design inflates the capitalistic ideal” are all examples of the negative type of evaluation designs can received when evaluated using any of the candidate motivations laid out by Carroll. While these evaluations are important, and often apt, they firmly voice problem framing in terms of the current status quo, even if it is the negation of the status quo. In this way, these candidate motivations for evaluation of design framing excludes alternative future thinking.

Carroll draws a distinction between negative evaluation and something I call “value-finding” evaluation. Carroll sees the project of negative criticism as:

“Indeed, a constant diet of negative criticism–relentlessly pointing our the bad and the ugly in artwork–would be so impoverished that I suspect it could not be sustained for very long. For it is the promise of contact with what is valuable that we ultimately hope for from criticism.” (p.47)

Drawing out the value in design opportunities or spaces rather than characterizing them in negative terms is analogous to Carroll’s account of negative and value-finding evaluation of an artwork. Because evaluative criticism, which is based on reason, can help find value in a design space, it can be supportive of designers who wish to provide for alternative futures the kind of which do not depend on existing problems.

I haven’t fully flushed out the place of reason and its relation to how I want to propose Criticism as a tool for problem framing, but I do want to engage with Carroll’s account that emotions need not compromise critical evaluation. He goes into his account on pages 30 and 31 if you want to check it out, but I offer no summary of his argument other than its ok for some emotional aspect of evaluation to exist in concert with any reasoning aspect. This is paramount for critiquing a design space. Since we design for value and for people, affect is a necessary part of whatever experience we design for. In this way, Carroll’s account of critical evaluation neatly accounts for the type of evaluation needed in design work. More, since Carroll’s account of evaluation hinges upon value-finding and value-illuminating, his type of evaluation maps nicely to the sort of relationship design has with ethical values. In this way, criticism in design can do important work in value-finding and value-illuminating specifically in an ethical realm.

There is a ton more I could write, but as this is already a 1,000 word blog post, and most of you probably wont even get this far I am going to stop. But, I want to make a list of other things that need to be considered:

-The relation between the critic, criticism, and the audience in design criticism. Who are these parties, what is their relation?

-What types of values are to be found for identifying and illuminating in designs?

“Nothing could be deeper or more meaningful than the objects that surround us, what are “more numerous, more sound, and more subtle” than all the portentous symbols dredged up in sessions of Jungian analysis, about which ordinary people know nothing and regarding which artists may be deluding themselves in supposing they know more.” (Danto, p.79)

That quote comes at a point in the reading where Danto is describing the historical context, both in art and philosophy, surrounding the creation and publication of the Brillo Box. The abstract impressionism movement promoted a rejection of the daily culture in preference for a connection with the subconscious and primal expressions of humans. Pop art, in Warhol’s words “is about liking things” (p.74) The philosophical community was having a similar debate when it came to language and what kind of language we should be using to describe things, along with demoting the importance of common sense and “ordinary language”. Yet J.L Austin (Oxford Philosopher) makes a remark similar to what Danto says in the quote at the top of this post, and similar to the Pop art movement, saying:

“Our common stock of words embodies all the distinctions men have found worth drawing, and the connexions they have found worth making, in the lifetimes of many generations: these are surely likely to be more numerous, more sound, since they have stood up to the long test of the survival of the fittest, and more subtle, at least in all ordinary and reasonably practical matters, than any that you or I are likely to think up in our arm-chairs of an afternoon.” (p.78)

What this means to me, and in connection with the top quote, is that everyone, together, as an active role in the meaning making of how we interpret, interact, or perceive the world. Our objects we make are like the words we create to draw ‘distinctions and connexions’ with the world around us. Because of this, no artist, philosopher, or psychologist can tell us what is art, what is a well-designed object, or what language is truly appropriate for certain spheres.

This impacts my understanding of HCI design because we make digital objects. But like the artists, philosophers, and psychologist who cant tell us what to think, we can’t tell our users what a well-designed digital object is. This idea means a greater responsibility not to create dull, temporarily useful, objects that take up time in our daily lives and add little to them. But rather to approach designing objects, perhaps as ‘meaningless’ as another app or website, as you would creating a new word that will be added to the dialogue of humanity, perhaps standing the test of time.

My capstone project is about problem framing, and its relation to design or the design process, and reading Danto’s piece made me think about framing in a different way. If I think about an object like I would a word or piece of language, then there should be a clear reason for it to exist. While I can armchair my way through hundreds, maybe even thousands of potential new words (objects), this is in now way an effort equaling “all the distinctions men have found worth drawing, and the connexions they have found worth making, in the lifetimes of many generations” (p.78) THis gives me a new analogy to work with when trying to understand the link between problem framing and the design process. I think critical design can work in some ways like the Brillo box in that, while the Brillo box served to challenge nearly everything we understood art to be, critical design can serve to challenge designs as they solve a problem. Critical design can then challenge not only some finished design, but the problem framing and perhaps even the process itself.

I also think that this highlights the mandatory inclusion of outside perspectives in the design process, beginning with framing. We cannot sit in a room and think of the problems that exists in the world. At best, these problems will be cursory, much different from the complex, real problems that need actual solving. In understanding problem framing, I think this can be used to explain some of the problems of assumptions in the framing of problems, as well as bias in its many forms.

Here it is from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

“The groundwork for institutional definitions was laid by Arthur Danto, better known to non-philosophers as the long-time influential art critic for theNation. Danto coined the term “artworld”, by which he meant “an atmosphere of art theory.” Danto’s definition has been glossed as follows: something is a work of art if and only if (i) it has a subject (ii) about which it projects some attitude or point of view (has a style) (iii) by means of rhetorical ellipsis (usually metaphorical) which ellipsis engages audience participation in filling in what is missing, and (iv) where the work in question and the interpretations thereof require an art historical context (Danto, Carroll). Clause (iv) is what makes the definition institutionalist. The view has been criticized for entailing that art criticism written in a highly rhetorical style is art, lacking but requiring an independent account of what makes a contextart historical, and for not applying to music.”

It helped me to revisit this so I know what he is talking about when he uses the term. Enjoy!


Check that out. Its on the market, and its fully functional. Yet, I think this makes us think in similar ways that critical designs do. Is this simply a product, or is it critical design?

We spent a lot of Tuesday’s class talking about what art is and what art is not. Also discussed was why certain objects were art and why others were not art. I want to talk here about the role of the object in what we call art. Here ‘object’ means the object with which we engage when we participate/consume art including paintings, movies, music, sculpture etc… First, I want to dismiss the idea that an object has to be pleasing or pretty to be considered art. Objects we consider to be art range from pleasant to repulsive, affirming to challenging, and offensive to pleasing. When we try to identify unifying physical or structural characteristics of objects of art we begin to realize that the body of work is so diverse as to render any project of identifying unifying physical or structural characteristics of objects of art impossible. Instead, I like to think about objects of art in a similar way Seel:

“Objects of art are a medium for an experience that takes place as a process of an understanding that is not oriented towards a result of an understood. .. . Understanding art is more about an otherwise impossible meeting with otherwise impossible possibilities of perceiving ourselves” -Seel

When we were answering the question “Why is the Brillo Box art?”, it took 10 or so comments to get to a comment about the inherent qualities of the Brillo box. The vast majority of  our commentary was about the way the Brillo box made us think, or feel, wether it be confusion, anger, laughter, etc… We struggled equally while trying to figure out why TBBBR was design and not art. I don’t have an answer for that; Dunne and Raby claim its necessarily design and not art. Here, the intention of the artist is brought into question. I think intention in art is a great topic, along with the correlative topic of consumer agency, but Ill save that for another blog post soon.

What does this have to do with design then? Most of us will be making digital objects, wether they be websites, apps, or some other interface. Does the object matter more in design than it does in art? Are designed objects more intentional in their purpose?

Do objects even exist, that is, as an object-in-itself? Or, is everything out there part of a perceptual world, and not actually part of a world that ‘exists’? When I see a green shirt, is it really ‘green’? Or am I simply perceiving something, then projecting what I understand as ‘greenness’ to the shirt? Do objects even have inherent qualities, or are all qualities given to the objects through our sensory engagements with them? This is a rant in question form, but I really just want to throw out some questions for everyone. I think these questions highlight the power and place of our perceptual faculties and how we make sense of the world.