You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Design’ tag.

The discussion we had on Tuesday reminded me this morning of a quote from Stolterman & Nelson in The Design Way:

“We are lame gods in the service of prosthetic gods.”

The word “prosthetic” was, I think, carefully chosen. According to the dictionary, a prosthesis is, “A device, either external or implanted, that substitutes for or supplements a missing or defective part of the body.” It’s an approximation, at best, of an organic limb or organ.

We closed class by establishing that Kieślowski used formalistic techniques to approximate the inarticulate felt experience of longing, and that this formalistic approximation was analogous to what we do as designers.

In the same way Kieślowski at best could only approximate that inarticulate felt experience, we can only approximate how people will react to and use our designs. Because of our education and experience we can make a pretty damn good guess, but a guess is the best we can hope for.

Technology is a means by which we can create prosthetics for our bodies and minds. We can remember things better, communicate over greater distances, and access information more readily than ever before in human history. But in the same way a prosthetic arm can’t communicate a sense of touch, our technology only can increase our abilities so much.

The best we can hope for is an approximation: there are a million to-do list mobile apps, but I still manage to forget to post on this blog; I can FaceTime with Hillary in Philadelphia, but it can never compare to sitting across a dinner table from her;  I can look up Nelson Mandela’s birthday with Wikipedia in an instance, but the same article could also describe Mr. Mandela as the spawn of Cthulhu. I think this relates heavily to several of Dennis’ posts from earlier in the semester regarding the danger/necessity of normative thinking in design practice.

We build prosthetics, supplements, substitutes, extensions…but nothing more. But my question is: Why not? Why can’t we do better than that? Is it a human shortcoming? Is our technology not “advanced” enough?

The philosophical version of that question could be this: If we could easily manipulate the very fabric of our reality, would we then be able to design the ‘perfect’ prosthesis? What do you think?


Carroll’s discussion of descriptions and categorization reminded me of an issue in game genres and the various discussions regarding the role of genres for this function. It may be that games are aspiring towards art in their classification (or as Carroll put it, the lack of adequate classification descriptors), but the industry still seeks to strongly attach itself to genre descriptions. While this may seem like a non-issue, genres in games do not follow a consistent description like in other forms of media. So, while they were created to serve the same functions as categorization of games, it seems to have created issues in the description and development of games. Much of this can be attributed to a lack of consensus on genres in the community.

While not complete, if you want to see a quick list of game genres, check out the Wikipedia page: <;

Genres descriptors as a category for games are often loaded in meaning and not mutually exclusive. As noted in some of the articles posted below, the genre’s categories do not lead to a complete or consistent identifier for games. Often, critics are challenged to come up with new genres to account for the adaptation of games. What we find now is that traditionally exclusive genres such as platformer, action, ect. are being mashed together to try and describe games in a meaningful way to consumers since the traditional category boundaries have been bridged. However, games often contain many genres that make the use of these descriptors ambiguous (fantasy fps rpg platformer, scifi action adventure, ect.). This begs a serious question: what is the real function of genres (and sub-genres) for games? Carroll is a proponent for using these categories despite the constant conflict and reevaluation that takes place in games. Is it a fault of the critics use of “genre” in game descriptions or the nature of the art? And to some, is the system of categorization/genres salvageable or important anymore to critiques for games?

Here are a few interesting articles on genre issues and genre-based thinking in game design. Some of these are deeply tied to game design (read: interaction design) as well.

RPG genre ambiguity:


Handling broad ambiguous genres:


Has a section of the talk that looks at 13 design methods to develop a new genre in games:


The images below are of handrails. A common object seen alongside many stairwells and inclines, a common object that I use everyday. But the below handrails are different from what I have come to expect as a handrail. On their top-side is text written in grade one Braille. I found this subtle change to a familiar object thought provoking.

It lets me see that a handrail can be used for something other than support. With just a slight, subtle change:

Now it’s an object that makes me remember that there are people different from me, that not every one has sight.

Now it’s an object that can convey an aesthetic experience through touch.

Now it’s an object that can communicate.

Braille handrail

Braille handrail

Braille Rail @

Image one @

Image two @

In Dunne’s article (In)Human Factors the author speaks to several different ways that design can help provoke people in ways that are not unfriendly to users. He purposes 4 distinct ways in which design can provide aesthetic experiences: Defamiliarization, Design as Text, Bypassing the Self, and Functional Estrangement. I would like to quickly talk about an example, the iPad, of a Design as Text.

In the article Dunne uses Roland Barthes definition to explain Design as Text:

a space of chains and layers of meaning between the object and the viewer, continuously expanding with no fixed origin or closure.


image by author, taken on 10/15/2010


I think that the iPad does exactly this with it’s interface of a grid of icons for applications. These applications are purposely installed by the user. It’s unlikely that there are any two non default iPad’s with the same set and arrangement of applications. This means that this set of applications is likely unique to the user creating a layer of meaning for that particular users. Furthermore, these applications are arranged on several different screens by the users themselves. So, the spacial relationship of the application icons become important and meaningful themselves. If we take this into account with the fact that most users are constantly adding and deleting applications, moving around icons, and starting and ending on different gridded icon screens. If this is the case, I think that it can be said that the iPad’s screens of gridded applications, with the spacial, meaningful relationships become a Design as Text.

In the same way, I’m wondering how this might fit in to what we know about “an experience” and how Duey(?) explains that “an experience” has a discrete beginning and end. I’m not sure how the two might, if at all, fit together.

Folks. I don’t know how to explore this so can you help me tease out the “binary” conversation we had yesterday?

Classical or Baroque?
Rap or Hip Hop?
Loud or Quiet?
Tall or short?

“Wolfflin {blitzer} suggests that Classical and Baroque paintings may be distinguished in terms of their ‘absolute’ and ‘relative’ clarity (176, Barnard). What I hear is that there are these absolute terms, removed from the context of the art(ifact) itself.

Let’s use Rob’s example of the iPhone. Stripped of social context, looking at the iPhone from an absolute perspective I think I could make this list about the way to look at smartphones. Insider tip: I’m really opposing the iPhone to some Android phones.

Touch Screen/Button input
Russian Doll Navigation (digging deeper and deeper into an app)/ Singular back button
Single service carrier/Multiple service carriers

I could continue making the list but I think the point is made. So, let’s look at the Russian Doll Navigation. In an the tweetie client for example, I go to my feed, click on a link, see the profile, click on the link again, load the browser, and to go back to my feed I need to go back, back, back back. It’s like a Russian Doll stack. But, the iPhone also has that big round button that lets you get to the home screen at any time. It also has some new multitasking features.

That being said, the binary argument doesn’t work. Perhaps that means I haven’t reduced the interactions low enough. Maybe there always is a way to reduce it to binary. Even so, I think that still doesn’t get at many of those ooh, ahh wonderful feeling when our phones do something that seems magical. That “experience” thing.

Tech Crunch has been digging and buzzing to find out everything they can about the “facbeook phone.” Early this morning, Michael Arrington posted his interview with Mark Zuckerberg about their “mobile platform.” It’s been buzzing about the twitterverse all day.

Mark Zuckerberg: I think it’s different in different places. For example, take Instant Personalization. Our goal is to make it so there’s as little friction as possible to having a social experience. So you go to some apps, take Rotten Tomatoes, which we just launched last week. If people had to click this blue button to Connect, then some percent of them would, but it would be the minority because you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get before you click it. If you had to put up some modal dialog then that would be crazy from a UX perspective. But the fact that they can do that instant integration for the users that want it means that everyone has a good experience as soon as they get there.

On phones we can actually do something better. We can do a single sign-on if we do a good integration with a phone, rather than just doing something where you go to an app and it’s automatically social or having to sign into each app individually. Those are the two options on the web. Why not for mobile? Just make it so that you log into your phone once, and then everything that you do on your phone is social.

Michael Arrington: You’re turning on a layer…

Mark Zuckerberg: That’s what we’re trying to do. The reason I just gave that example is that some things, like the implementation is different on mobile.

One thing that I think is really important — that I think is context for this, is that I generally think that most other companies now are undervaluing how important social integration is. So even the companies that are starting to come around to thinking, ‘oh maybe we should do some social stuff’, I still think a lot of them are only thinking about it on a surface layer, where it’s like “OK, I have my product, maybe I’ll add two or three social features and we’ll check that box”. That’s not what social is.

Social – you have to design it in from the ground up. These experiences, like what Zynga is doing or what a company like Quora is doing, I think that they have just a really good social integration. They’ve designed their whole product around the idea that your friends will be here with you. Everyone has a real identity for themselves. And those are fundamental building blocks. Now, I don’t know how long it’s going to take to get the mobile environments that you see today to a state where you can build really robust social applications on top of it. So that’s the biggest driving force for us — to try to work with these folks and see how deep we can get on our own to make sure that we can build that plumbing. Our goal is to make it exist.

Okay, apologies for the enormous quote. The context was important.

I want to talk about the social layer and in some ways link this to expression theories. Mark Zuckerberg does not want to build a social layer. I think that’s what we have now. You go to a website, click the connect button and some social integration is slapped on top.

But, I’m thinking about Bell. I’m thinking about our invisibile states of mind and the way that Zuckerberg has to translate his vision to his developers and to interviewers like Michael Arrington. He has to translate an abstract idea, this social shell that will integrate into our mobile lifestyles, into something that will make sense to us.

Photoshop uses layers, lasagna uses layers. We understand what layer means. It seems to me that Mark Zuckerberg wants to penetrate our lives with the social interactions and connections that does so well right now.

So, I guess my question is, for people like us, and Zuckerberg or anyone who is working on a concept or idea and has to sell it. How do we translate these invisible states of mine into a material form?

We do this through criticism, sketching, designing, writing and many other forms of communication. But, essentially, it comes down to this: how do I make sure the designs our teams work on get developed the way we want them to? I think expression theory can help. Can it?

I now feel a lot better about “this stuff” after reading Jeff’s article. I feel like it helped explain a lot better what this class is supposed to be about (I’m looking at you Nina).

So now, after reading this, I’m thinking to myself… why the hell is criticism NOT presented like this and here at IU? Yes, we talk about critique and how good/useful/blah blah etc it is, but we don’t go anywhere near this kind of heavy thought process about criticism, art, understanding, and so on. It seems that interaction criticism is … well more than a tool at our disposal.

If the HCI community really started to engage in criticism, can we see a major shift within HCI? From reading this paper it certainly sounds that way. It just sounds way too important to not create some sort of black whole in the universe. I’m really curious as to how much influence it’s going to have in the future and what direction (if any) it leads or has an impact on HCI.

So I also am going to put up what I have been thinking about for the mock outline exercise. The interaction (again) I was thinking about looking at phenomenologically is the Rock Band character creator:

So I won’t be able to give the “whole” outline here, but the topic I would be talking about is that creating rockers are a painful and reflective experience. The “pain” and “reflective” aspects are the things I would like to attempt to work out phenomenologically. In terms of the actual game experience, the pain comes in through what type of controller you are using to create/edit your rocker, how much time you can dedicate to your rocker, when/where you play Rock Band, and also if you can actually find anything in the rocker’s closet that will please your tendencies.

In terms of a reflective experience, I find this interaction to allow one to reflect on what it means to be a rocker for his/herself, reflect on the achievements done in game, listen and take action on other players’ comments about your rocker, how one can continuously keep reforming their “rocker identity” to the world, and how one can keep pushing themselves to make a better rocker.

So I’ll have to go back to my notes and see if I can find anything to support this (which I believe so, as this came from a reflection on my notes), but I was wondering what the class thinks of at large about how to pull this off in a written form.


transparent toaster

transparent toaster 2
Ever fretted over burnt, over-toasted bread slices in the mundane toasters ? Here are two different toaster designs that attempt to solve that problem… although both of them are more or less transparent toasters, they differ in their form and function. The first one is stylish, uber cool and chic but unfortunately would toast just one slice. I was wondering how easy would it be to take the toast out of the slot. Cleaning this seemingly expensive stylish appliance is another worry! The other one is bulky, shows off the heating coil inside but can toast two slices at a time. Popping out the toasted slices seems much more easier in this toaster and so does the cleaning. It also very closely maps the mental model the potential users may have of how a toaster should be used. The addressee in the first toaster example would be some person who would like to make a fashion statement through his/her gadgets whereas in the second example, the addressee is a homemaker who wants something advanced as well as equally functionally efficient.

As designers its essential to strike a balance between form and function of a design based on the phenomenological understanding of the potential users of that design product.

I was reading the “some aspect of sign” by Thwaites, Davis, & Mules. The “functions of address” it talked about provided a clear way to understand the “interaction” between sender and receiver, which equivalent to designer and user in design.

It was always a pain to think about the relationship and “interaction” between designer and users and their interpretation of each other, because they don’t directly communicate with each other but by the media of product. It could become frustrating when you trying to understand the “communication” between them two by themselves psychologically. However, using the methods in this article, we avoid this pain by two separations – “the separation of addresser from sender and addressee from receiver is what lets us do semiotics rather than psychology”. The understanding of interaction between sender and receiver then became the one of addresser and addressee, the understanding of “sign’s function of address”.