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Bertelsen, O. W. and Pold, S. (2004) Criticism as an Approach to Interface Aesthetics
I found this paper while doing work for another class. What caught me was a nice, reasonably easy to digest bullet list which I have reproduced below. Seems like the kind of process one could easily point to when trying to explain the critical approach to an employer.

  • Analyze stylistic references in the interface.
  •  Identify the use of standards and the conformance to tradition.
  •  Materiality and remediation. Consider the materiality of the interface (e.g. code, algorithms, pixels) and discuss how it is used. Consider how the interface draws on the materiality of other media (e.g. text pages, photography, cinematic language, control panels). Discuss immediacy and hypermediacy in the interface.
  • Identify and consider various genres in the interface.
  •  Discuss the interface as a hybrid between the functional (control interface) and the cultural interface.
  •  Identify representational techniques and analyze how they work (e.g. realistic and naturalistic representations
  • vs. symbolic and allegorical representations).
  • Identify challenges to users’ expectations.
  • Consider the developmental potentials. How is development in use supported? How may the interface
  • support the development of unanticipated use?

This is purely from the hip, seeing where it goes kind of stuff. You have been warned.

So, I’ve been a little obsessed with the camera market lately, and although I am usually against this sort of thing, I’ve started reading/watching reviews and commentary about the recent release. A shocking amount of the rhetoric involved seems to be a bit like this:

Now, I have no desire to engage in a debate about which brand is better; what I am interested in is the line of thinking that leads to this type of debate. Put simply – there is a built-in assumption that it is important to have “the best camera,” and that this is reflective of “the best photographer.” This is partially technological determinism, and more specifically a subset that, for lack of a better term, I would call technological fetishism. I’ll focus on the former mostly, because in this case it is more appropriate to a Marxist interpretations, but will try to tease out the latter as a special case afterward.

One of the most notable features of both of these cameras is that they both his around the $3,000 point. This seems to denote a level of importance that requires discourse – if someone is to put down that much money, it should be warranted by a certain amount of value. Correlated with that price is a notion of “professional” – both are listed as professional cameras. Partly, this is an aspect of the denotation of professional – one who gets paid for something. If one gets paid for something, that offsets the expense. If the ROI crunches in the black, then the investment is justified. However, the connotation of the term “professional” is someone who is proficient at something to the extent that they deserve money. Therefor, there is a tie between money and aptitude – this shouldn’t be tremendously surprising. What is more interesting, and where technological determinism comes in, is the association that having a professional camera will make someone a professional, and therefor
will somehow increase aptitude. Add to this an aspect of scarcity (due to the speed of production) and suddenly the camera not only increases proficiency, but also makes the owners part of an exclusive group whose proficiency has been increased in this way. Now, this is not to take away from any of the features that a camera has and how those may be valuable in certain circumstances, but a large amount of the rhetoric seems to be based around generalizations that are rooted in the social-technical-economical mentality described above.

Now is when I will request that the audience dawn their foil hats. Technological fetishism (again, poorly thought out wording) would be the move from it merely being a mistaken removal of agency to something that actually manifests as a self-fulfilling prophecy. This seems easiest to detail in a creative sphere, although it could be argued in other situations as well. If we are to accept the idea that art is somehow related to emotion (I concede this in some circumstances, but do not exclude non-emotional content from art) then confidence would play a role in that form of expression. If one were to take the technologically deterministic perspective that the camera does make them a professional, then by having it they would be granted the confidence of a professional. When it comes to societal reception of their work, the audience may look at it differently knowing their ownership of professional equipment. If the artifact itself is abstracted away, then the work conceptually is improved. Now, there are numerous counter-examples to this – people who buy an expensive camera and continue to take crumby pictures (I am not too ashamed to say that I fall into this trap), but there is definitely a mental and emotional state brought on by new technology, and it can have an effect on output. What’s more, while I feel like the other theories account for aspects of this, none of them covers it holistically.

I’m still not certain that this is a distinct flavor of technological determinism or even just propaganda to sell cameras, but it seems like there is something there, albeit ill-defined at this point. As an addendum, this seems to be part of the divide on perception of the pen tool (which I will admit to over-criticizing, along with Adobe). However, I would point to the kind of mentality described above being an aspect of the divide on that tool – a $500 professional design program that many who do not have it would believe could produce a better designer. The divide on the pen tool (which comes from my observations when hiring a graphic designer) stems from the same technological determinism that states that a better camera will produce better photos. Again, what’s interesting is that the tool’s capabilities are built into a professional program, and that those capabilities are then tied to be a professional – meaning that some people may learn to use them to reach a goal, but that others may learn them to increase their professional tool-set, and then define goals off of that set. This again brushes with Marxism in that the professional needs an edge over the amateur (think proletariate and bourgeois fashion) and so Adobe continues to add more features to, extending the analogy, stay one step ahead of the Joneses.

Really rough, but if you read this and feel your time was wasted, watch this and all will be better:

While working on another project, Tony Pattin and myself came across this nice little sequence analysis worksheet. If you can get past the super-awesome-in-the-1990s background, it’s actually a pretty nice set of fill-in-the-blank questions to guide a sequence analysis.

So this is a bit of an extension of the idea of “appropriateness+” (I’m bad at term-making) taken from Cupchik and applied to Interaction Design critiques of Adobe products:

Consider the pen tool, bane of new designers and indispensable tool of the professional.

Pen Tool

A staple of Illustrator (and a valuable footnote to Photoshop) the pen tool allows for the creation of curves. To see why there is such a steep learning curve, let’s look at the instructions for the paint brush compared to the pen tool.

Paint brush – move the mouse to change position, click to make mark

And then the pen tool has this:

Pen Tool Cheat Sheet
Pen Tool Key

Now, to be fair the brush tool is a little more complicated than what I’ve presented, but it’s mostly through non-diegetic menus that are equally applicable to the pen tool. So why does one tool require a cheat sheet while the other is dead simple, and why would a tool that is so vexing to one group be so important to another? The answer lies, partially, in the notion of appropriateness and maybe a little into the difference between art and commerce. The pen tool creates a line by defining a bezier curve – a set of points that have location and pitch and connect to form a solid line. From the perspective of an “artist,” this would be very inappropriate, given Collingwood’s (I can’t believe I’m siting this in a positive light) idea that the “artist” does not plan, but just does as an act of discovery. The pen tool is prohibitive to exploration due to the density of the actions required just to make it work, and it’s use requires planning to help handle the extra cognitive load. Why would anyone use such a thing? One reason (there are others) would be the specificity required for professional work – while the brush is great at flying by the seat of it’s pants, it doesn’t really afford any kind of mathematical precision.

So, two tools that are appropriate to different audiences (fulfilling the last two qualities that Cupchik presents as defining beauty for their respective groups), but which one fulfills the first quality? My argument would be that neither does. One of the reasons that I have a love/hate relationship with Adobe products is that they make interfaces that are appropriate in one aspect, but don’t really represent the pinnacle of facilitating creative intent. This leads me to think that the relative aspects of appropriateness are the aspects that these interfaces get right, but the actual experience of use (the extra bit that makes something beautiful) is lacking. Now, I don’t know the answer as to how to make these tools more useful, off hand, but I do see this as a justification for focusing on user experience.

So, this is a rough correlation, and I present it only as such, but this seems like it could be a possible direction (or proto-direction) for sequence analysis in Interaction Design – experience maps.

Chris Risdon's Rail Europe Customer Experience Map It’s not a perfect example, but it does help to illustrate the idea of a standard unit of analysis comparable to the scene (unit of time) in film sequence analysis as well as a means of lending relevance to those units as a whole.

An experience map is made up of “touch-points,” a term used in service design. What makes touch-points compelling as a way of analyzing an experience is that while they can be tied to chronology or hierarchy, they are not not inherently tied to either of those ideas. However, they can help to serve a similar purpose to the discrete units of time in sequence analysis – they are used to find larger patterns and places that those patterns break down.

What is also interesting about this approach is the “map” nature of the experience map. Since the interactions are dynamic and often iterative (how many clicks does it take to get the Shopping Cart of an e-commerce site) it would follow that the method of representing the analysis would take a different form. While Chris’ example is time-based (on the horizontal axis) it does have iterative elements in the initial phase. Here is another example, in the form of a mind map, that disregards chronology altogether and presents more of an ecosystem.

Now, to make this useful a more codified definition of what a “touch-point” is in terms of interaction design would be necessary as would a careful look at how this analysis of a service could transition to a more specific, single interaction or artifact.

Unfortunately applying this is a little beyond the scope of what I am capable of doing in a blog post, but the takeaway would be that “touch-points,” in an abstract sense, could be useful as a means of approaching a definition of the unit of analysis for interaction and that visualizations (ie a map) would be necessary as a means of representing findings.

This was what I was referring to in class (I was wrong, it is Archimedes, not Pythagoras).

Behold the coffee lid – gateway to hot caffeinated energy for the drinker on-the-go.

Signifier – the text used on the lid serves as an interface between the contents of the cup and eyes of the user (coffee drinker). In this sense, the lid itself (sign) is a specifically formed hunk of plastic that simultaneously maintains temperature within the cup and prevents spilling. It is a seal, separating the contents of the cup from the outside world. It is also an interface, creating a small point of interaction between contents and the outside world for the express purpose of consuming what is inside.

Signified – The lid, as a whole, represents the contents of the cup. The text on the lid itself is representative of its contents. Although this particular lid has no marks on it, labels are present so that the coffee can be marked as decaf or regular. More broadly speaking, the lid represents the fact that the contents of the cup are something that is desirable (due to it’s ability to interface) but that also should be kept contained. The label of it as a “traveller” lid points to the fact that the contents are meant to travel. This speaks to the social context of the consumption of the contents. This is not something that should maintain a high degree of attention (to avoid spills) nor is it something that should always be enjoyed in the same place. The lack of ornament and the general cheapness of construction speaks to an item that is disposable – it serves its purpose briefly, and then can be tossed aside, only to be replaced by another just like it.

Monaco reminded me of a part of the title section of the book the Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat; this is pretty much just a cute video about a part of the book. Anyway, the book details an account of a musician who begins to “see things.” The specific intersection of the book and Monaco is that the musician’s problem was not in the mechanism of seeing (eyes still functioned properly in physiological terms and there was no severing of the connection between eye and brain) but instead it was the brain’s interpretation of those signals which was causing him to literally see his wife as a hat.

I’m not quite sure how, or even if, this fits into the idea of reading an image. While it does support the notion of interpretation of visual stimuli, this particular ailment has no ties to culture (unless there is some culture that I haven’t encountered where the trappings of 70s Western culture are entirely interchangeable).

Riddle me this: 2 videos, one of them definitely has greater acceptance as Art in the Art World, but I would argue one that it is the other that has a more visceral (ie emotional) impact. How would this fit, or not fit, in Collingwood’s definition of emotion in art?

sorry for the ad before, stupid Vevo

sorry for the quality / recording of video – the subject in question is the video playing in this video

I’m going to try to hit two points and do it in a short fashion, since I do tend to prattle on.

1) This is the first part of the movie Primer. As far as I can tell it is available in its entirety on YouTube. It introduces an aspect of science fiction that is absent from most contemporary SciFi – the combination of hard science in the context of social issues.

2) I also want to point to the dialogue at approximately 6:19 – the story about the US wasting billions of dollars to create a zero-g pen, and Russia solving the same problem with a pencil. I would argue that is a strong argument for defamiliarization as it pertains to design: the ties of what a pen means in business, science, and society in general and how rooted that these biases are that they can cause the cost of billions of dollars.

Also, the movie presents it as “a story,” so it may not be true. I would say the premise still holds, however.