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I just wanted to share some of the highlights from the cultural design talk Erik Dahl gave at the interaction conference.  There is supposed to be a place where you can download the slideshows from each presenter, so once I find that if Erik’s is there I’ll share it.  Hopefully this doesn’t seem to disjoint, and maybe Marie can add more from her notes in the next few days, but here it goes.

He began by saying that technology affect the culture of our lives.  He gave an example of the “phone stack” game, where you go to lunch, everyone stacks their phones, and the first person to touch one has to buy lunch.  This type of game highlights how technology has changed this thing that hung on our walls to something we have a dependence on now.

He continued to talk about how a good design(product) should be a window that let’s you experience life more richly.  He was advocating that we need to use culture in our designs so that they become not just things we have, but things that enrich our lives.

He had 3 building blocks of culture which were:

1. Patterns- these let us see culture, they are they form or syntax of culture

2. Stories- culture is a set of stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves.  Stories are sense-making.  They tell who we are, and how the world works.  Stories help us understand culture, they are the semantics of culture.

3.  Interpretation- we need to make complex connections, interpretations help us know, they are the pragmatics of culture.

He also talked about how culture is generative and that culture is a type of performance.  Culture is a behavior.

The idea of enculturation is that we learn culture through doing.  So if we read a fashion magazine and pick up clothing tips, then dress in that way, that is a form of enculturation.

Meaning making is culture.  So using a cultural lens allows us as designers to create what culture needs and what world we want to live in.

So all of this is just some of the notes I got from Erik’s talk which was quite good.   There is a ton I missed though.  Feel free to comment or ask questions if something isn’t clear from that.


I know there are several people in the class planning on going to Interaction in Dublin in a few weeks.  I was looking over the program and noticed two presentations that seem to be related to the class thus far. They are as follows:

Cultural Design-Erik Dahl

The products and services we design and deploy are embedded within a culture and not just a context. Culture is an important concept that is often overlooked by designers. We need to think beyond user’s goals, needs, desires, emotions, context, psychology and principles of design; we need to start designing from a place of culture.

This talk explores how cultural understanding can inform design as well as how our designs impact the cultures that use them. I define culture in terms of design and build a framework designers can use to better understand culture and it’s implications on their design work. Designers will walk away from this talk with basic cultural literacy and the tools to incorporate cultural understanding into their design process. I will also show the impact the products and services we design have on cultures.

Ultimately, design (even if data and pattern driven) is subjective and we bring our own historical trajectory to our designs. Having a deeper understanding of culture will have a direct impact on what we bring to our design decisions.

More broadly, as a design profession we need to be expanding our discourse to include culture and cultural theory into our understanding of interactions, experiences and design.


Design Language for Interactions- Michael Lemmon

You know how you can recognize a Porsche sports car regardless of the model or year? This is effective design language at work. A design language establishes the visual vocabulary, relationships and hierarchies that allow diverse products to become recognizable and unified. This tool has long been used in industrial design to create coherent families of products. But as products become digital and shift to multi-platform app-driven ecosystems, what constitutes an effective design language for interaction that can drive consistency across these varied experiences?

This presentation provides a framework for how to establish an interaction design language by sharing professional project experiences and examples.

Unfortunately I think they both occur at the same time, so maybe if the people attending are kind of split we could share notes over each of these.  Personally I’m kind of leaning towards going to the Design Language one but they both seem very interesting.