02 Aug

Human-Centered Design Considered Harmful

Don Norman’s rethinking of Human-centered design.  He proposes that activity-centered design is in fact more useful as it avoids the trap of having to accomodate all user feedback.  Tools don’t adapt to the user, users often adapt to tools.  And this, he points out is not always a bad thing. 

Yes, we all know of disastrous attempts to introduce computer
systems into organization where the failure was a direct result of a
lack of understanding of the people and system. Or was it a result of
not understanding the activities? Maybe what is needed is more
Activity-Centered Design, maybe failures come from a shallow
understanding of the needs of the activities that are to be supported.
Note too that in safety-critical applications, a deep knowledge of the
activity is fundamental. Safety is usually a complex system issue, and
without deep understanding of all that is involved, the design is apt
to be faulty.

In short, he asserts that giving people want they want isn’t always the most innovate approach to design.  Consider teaching.  Do we give students what we want, or do we give them what they might not know they want?  There’s a fine line here that may be clarified with ACD.

Link: Human-Centered Design Considered Harmful.

01 Aug

Interface Realisms

In Søren Pold’s article "Interface Realisms" in the new issue of Postmodern Culture, he suggests that the interface is now a central aesthetic form conveying digital information of all kinds.

"This circumstance is simultaneously trivial, provocative, and far reaching – trivial because the production, reproduction, distribution and reception of digital art increasingly take place at an interface; provocative because it means that we should start seeing the interface as an aesthetic form in itself that offers a new way to understand digital art in its various guises, rather than as a functional tool for making art (and doing other things); and finally, far-reaching in providing us with the possibility of discussing contemporary reality and culture as an interface culture" (2).

The article begins with an interesting look at the history of HCI, including a brief reference to Alan Kay,  Engelbart’s Online System NLS and Sutherland’s Sketchpad.

There’s a great mention of my new favority acronym, WIMP (Windows, Icons, Menus, and Pointers) and a few other references worth noting.

He then delves into a lengthy discussion of three texts: a computer game (Max Payne), a net.game modification (Jodi’s SOD) and a software artwork (auto-illustrator).  He makes the point that in each, there is attention paid to the interface and the possibilities for critical engagement.  He suggests that these functions move beyond the medium in which they originate.

An interesting point from Frieder Nake, one of the pioneers of computer graphics, is that computers are an instrumental medium that we use as a tool while communicating with it as a medium.  He runs with this idea and suggests that "we can see the computer as a new kind of machine that mediates the instrumental or functional and functionalizes the representational medium" (28).

27 Jul


User-illusion, a term dreamt up by the good people at Xerox PARC desribes the manifestation of metaphors in the experience of interface.  For instance, desktop, rooms, shopping cart, etc, are illusory metaphors that make the interface legible.  I wonder if calling the experience of metaphors illusory is accurate.  It would imply that there is a possibility of experiencing interface outside of metaphor, that there is such a thing as "authentic user experience." 

It has become increasingly clear to me lately that all interaction with space is mediated through interface.  There is a framework (cultural, logical) that every user carries into every interaction.  User-illusion suggests that interaction is possible without interface.  It seems high time that we abandon the notion of illusion in describing interface; every interaction is mediated, but not every interaction is illusory.  By altering perception or background or design, I can manipulate a user’s experience. This is true with video games just as its true with the neighborhood park.