Saturday, February 7, 2009

Reading List: Interactions, January & February 2008

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a few weeks now. The hectic pace of our do-more-with-less, post-financial-crisis, and always-on/always-connected world, has kept me from finding two spare hours to devote to this simple endeavor.

This month's edition of Interactions magazine featured several interesting pieces that are well worth the read. Here is brief overview of the most interesting ones, along with a link to the original article online.

Social Network Sites and Society: Current Trends and Future Possibilities
Written by Nicole Ellison, Cliff Lampe, and Charles Steinfield, this article focuses on exploring how social network sites are transforming society. As this technology becomes adopted by a greater swath of the population, it impact becomes more pronounced. The information available in social networks lowers the barrier to social interaction, helping individuals forge connections that would have otherwise not taken place. Social networks also make it easier for people to manage weak ties by lowering the amount of effort required to keep these relationships alive.

Social networks also help counteract the increasing isolation created by the proliferation of mobile communication and entertainment devices such as iPhones, PDAs, iPods, PSPs and the like. These technologies inhibit opportunities for engagement between people in public spaces. The ability to connect people with similar interests or concerns makes social networks ideal places to assist the coordination and mobilizing of social actions.

Some interesting questions for research are raised by the authors: “how can the power of social network sites be leveraged in other contexts, including formal organizations? How can social network sites support individuals as they make life transitions, such as moving to a new city or starting a new job? How can the mobilizing power of social network sites increase community and political engagement, especially among traditionally disenfranchised groups?” [link to article]

90 Mobiles in 90 Days: A Celebration of Ideas for Mobile User Experience
This article, written by Rachel Hinman, explores a personal project she undertook to come up with a new idea related to mobile design and user experience every day for 90 days. This process, though daunting at first, provided the author with several interesting insights. First, this prolific creation of new design ideas provided a "template for creative practice" by shifting the focus from an attempt to find the right idea to a process of idea generation and exploration, which carried with it a unique momentum.

As part of this shift in perspective, the author had to come face to face with her own inner critic that served as a barrier to the daily idea generation work. The last insight imparted bythe author is how this process of idea generation helped her gain a deeper understanding regarding the source of inspiration, which can come from pretty much anywhere. So now the question is: when will embark in similar project of my own. [link to article]

The Washing Machine That Ate My Sari – Mistakes in Cross-Cultural Design
This article, written by Apala Chavan, Douglas Gorney, Beena Prabhu, Sarit Arora, adresses common mistakes and issues in the design of products for emerging markets. Their main premise is that designers have had to deal with the challenges associated to launching products across markets and cultures for a long time but have only recently begun to adapt their processes and approaches to support the specific challenges related to developing for products for emerging markets. “Successful design for emerging markets requires radical innovation. It demands culturally sensitive and sometimes unorthodox approaches that can throw a designer off balance.”

Designers and marketers are touching the lives of people who a few years ago were not even on the radar. These people from emerging markets have specific needs. First, they demand affordability. However, they are also more cautious than “consumers” in the West because of their limited income. This means that products must be durable, as people will avoid products that seem to be of low quality or disposable. To complicate matters, culture has a large impact on a product’s success on functional and emotional levels. As a consequence, designers need to understand the specific needs of each emerging market in which they plan to launch their product. [link to article]

The Heterogeneous Home

This piece, written by Ryan Aipperspach, Ben Hooker, and Allison Woodruff’s, discusses the homogenization of domestic environments, potential negative effects of this phenomena and interesting design concepts for addressing this trend. The homogenization of our homes is caused in large part by the pervasive technology that provides us access to the same “virtual environment” at home as in the office. This phenomena is extended by time shifting technologies that modify our experience of time, and mobile devices that provide anytime, anywhere access to work and home.

The main negative impact that arises from this increasing homogenization of our domestic environment is that it squeezes out our restorative spaces. The concept of the “Heterogeneous Home” was developed to explore solutions for leveraging design and technology to create environments that are offer variations, and are thus able to provide restorative space. You can download the complete Heterogeneous Home sketchbook. [link to article]

Design Versus Innovation: The Cranbrook / IIT Debate
In this interview, Scott Klinker and Jeremy Alexis explore the two contrasting approaches to design education embodied by the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and Cranbrook Academy of Art. These oposing perspectives have evolved over the past 20 years into "design" and "design thinking" (also referred to as "innovation"). The former is an experimental and semantic approach, while the latter is methods driven and scientific one. In other words, ITT places stronger emphasis on the importance of observing user needs and behaviors as the basis of design, whereas Cranbrook focuses on the role that artistic inspiration and cultural impulses play in the creation of great design.

Here are some of the interesting questions adresses in this piece: what I'd the role of design in innovation? Or innovation in design? Is design being led astray by too much business thinking? Is design thinking useful without design making? [link to article]

What is Interactions? Are There Different Types?
This was my favorite article from this issue of Interactions. It provides a valuabl overview regarding interactions (including a summary of common interaction models. For my own selfish reasons I am going to provide a slightly more in depth analysis of this piece. There are three different perspectives on interaction that are outlined by the author:

The design-theory view: This is a broad perspective that views all design as design for interaction. It stipulates that all objects created by humans are developed for some type of interaction because to use a product one must interact with it. For example, a chair and a book are designed for interaction, the former for sitting the latter for reading.

The HCI-view This perspective views all interactions as an instance of a feedback loop. "information flows from a system (perhaps a computer or car) through a person and back through the system again." in this view of interaction it is assumed that the person has a goal and that his/her actions are carried out with this goal in mind. Their actions have an impact on the system or environment, which is measured and compared against the goal to determine the next action.

The HCI definition of interaction focuses on dynamic systems only. Static systems such as chairs and books are not considered interactive. There are several variations on the concept of feedback loop. The most well known variation that reflect an HCI perspective are Don Norman's and Bill Verplanks models of interactions.

The Systems-Theory View: simple feedback loop models are useful but somewhat abstract. In these models the person and the system are closely coupled and the nature of the system (and the person) is left unspecified. Once you begin to characterize the system and the person involved in an interaction you can distinguish between various types of systems that emerge. The systems-theory view explores and maps the relationships between these various types of systems.

According to this school of thought, “the process of clicking on a link to summon a new webpage is not “interaction”; it is “reaction.”” In a reaction, the coupling between input and output are fixed. This means that a given action will always produce the same effect. For example, when you click a link on a standard webpage the server acts in pretty much the same way as an automatic door when you walk within the range of its sensors – it reacts. The term interaction only refers to systems where the coupling between output and input is dynamic. There are several other different types of systems explored in this article, including linear, closed-loop, recirculating, self-regulating, first-order, second-order, self-adjusting, and learning. [link to article]

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