Genevieve Bell continues to inspire

Dianna Miller : Which areas of research do we still need to put more focus on?

Genevieve Bell : I think we have a great deal more work to do, which is good because I like research. We have spent a lot of time focusing on the obvious and the obviously sexy stuff – mobility, gaming, social networks, and of course the individual and youth. We have, as a consequence, neglected the other stuff of daily life – religion, spirituality, love, child-care, anyone over 40, who does the dishes, who puts out the recycling, community, the nation-state, changing ideas of citizenship.

Transcend the Material

This is the challenge designers and vendors of interactive products face: Experience or User Experience is not about good industrial design, multi-touch, or fancy interfaces. It is about transcending the material. It is about creating an experience through a device.

Read the full post at InteractionDesign.org

Steampunking it Up

As I continue to muddle through all my interests, struggling to find a valuable design situation, I keep coming back to Steampunk. While talking with my roommate far into the early morning hours, I suddenly had a vision. And it was glorious.

If I follow through with the capstone idea centered around the Steampunk culture, I should embrace it fully. I own a white scarf, check. I have some Victorian-esque shirts, opera gloves, and could wrangle together some brass welding goggles. Sure, why not? I have a small desk fan to run so that my scarf billows behind me as I expound upon my Steampunkish theories and design concepts to my professors and peers.

What am I trying to say? Only that I could (and most likely should) adopt the clothing aesthetic of Steampunk, thus emphasizing my dedication.

My presentation could very well be the whimsical yet informative event that I’m hoping for. The only thing missing are the zeppelins. I feel a sketch coming on…

Whistle While You Work

It seems to me that once you get into the thick of design philosophy, you can never escape designing.  However, I’m beginning to realize that while this graduate program certainly encourages and incites the designer in me to be a bit more active, Interaction-Designer!Binaebi was by no means silent in the first place.

In the Kitchen

Whenever my roommate leaves town she returns with the expectation that I’ve moved something. This is a semi-nervous tick of mine, completely intentional, but not malicious. I don’t like clutter, especially on kitchen counter tops. So when I open the kitchen cabinets and find empty spaces, I move the items from the counter top to the cabinet so the kitchen looks cleaner.

The thing is, I don’t remember to tell my roommate I’ve done this… and half the time it’s with her food in the first place. Thank goodness it’s something of a game to her. “Hmm… I wonder where Binaebi put the [fill in the blank] this time?” is a question she utters frequently, she admitted just the other day.

Now, this information concerned me. Was my shifting redesign of the kitchen’s organizational structure making her interaction with the kitchen frustrating due to my need for bare counter tops? Worse yet, was it hurting our interactions as roommates?

No, actually, because it turns out my shifting redesign has a pattern to it. I place all the baking items together on one shelf, the chips on another. All the Tupperware is in that bottom drawer. Unopened juice is placed in the fridge so the first glass will be cold. In the long run, it seems to work out for us, because my reorganization has an intuitive bent to it.

Which is good. The act of me rearranging items may not be time-efficient, but it is intuitively-efficient for when we need to find said items later.

Side note: This is an interesting concept I recently thought of… “time-efficient” vs “intuitively-efficient.” I should come back to this, see if it’s worth pursuing.

In the Arts

When I have any sort of emotional upheaval, I turn to my artistic roots and let the muses fly. I have, in the last month, upcycled two chairs that my roommate and I found by our dumpster. Solid wooden chairs with a screw or two missing, left for me to play with in the evenings after work.

The process is what makes these chairs amazing, not the end result. Though, I will admit, the chairs turned out pretty sweet. I sanded the chairs by hand, getting to know their shape, their feel, their character.

Argyle Chair: Finis!

“Argyle,” the first one screamed at me, “you must reupholster me in argyle.” When I bought the fabric, it was the end of the bolt, so I got three yards instead of one. Which was perfect, because the next day we found the second chair, and it was just as eager to have an argyle redressing.

I have also sculpted a little android, a paranoid little android who, despite his best intentions and careful planning, lost his heart and is absolutely befuddled by the realization. This project was a true design experiment, as I had no plans when I began to work the Sculpey clay. I simply rolled the clay into a ball, broke off a piece here and there while watching the movie Dogma, and by the end of the movie, I had a mini-Marvin the Paranoid Android from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Marvin the Paranoid Android loses his heart

But I’m never one to simply mimic. My Marvin needed something special, something which made him especially down. So I poked out his heart. For artistic purposes, of course.

Side note: I don’t know why Marvin lost his heart. He’s much too sad to go into the details with me.

I have turned to my music, listening to new and old favorites constantly, while psyching myself up to play the violin again after a three-month absence.

I have, for the first time in ten years, painted my toe nails. This may not be a big deal to you, but to me, every little bit of artistic expression counts. Like my Hot Topic earrings, which are currently little gray skulls. It’s the little things that make me laugh.

In Me

What am I trying to get at here? The fact is that all these little things…

  • Rearranging the kitchen
  • Reflecting on the interactions between my roommate and me
  • Upcycling a couple of discarded chairs
  • Sculpting a hilariously depressed robot
  • Preparing to practice violin again
  • Painting my toe nails
  • Buying and wearing goofy earrings

…these are things that point to me redesigning myself. Everything we do affects us positively, negatively, neutrally. When I began these projects, my motivation was lackluster at best. But as with anything, the more time I invested into the project, the more I cared about it. The more I cared, the more motivated I became. The higher my motivation, the more I poured my creativity into the project, the more I pushed myself to try something new.

The Moral of the Story

Interaction Design isn’t always just about man vs technology. Sometimes it’s about man vs man, or man vs self .*

How do we design and redesign ourselves? What goes into that decision-making process? And what can we learn from that process to help inform our design process, professionally?

I don’t know yet. It’s a work-in-progress.

*Borrowed from creative writing theory

Joyful Design, or, On Apple Products

I was raised to be a Windows fan; it was the only system people take seriously and where the “real work” happens. I believed this, in full, up until three weeks ago.

What happened three weeks ago? I began my summer internship, where I am expected to work on a MacBook (brand new!). A Mighty Mouse and a keyboard were provided. Just opening the boxes for these products had me oohing… the cardboard was so smooth! This was definitely one of those instances where Apple created a user experience through remarkable details. The smells, the feel, the way it was visually packaged… See Emily’s post on her love of the Apple packaging for more explanation.

Now to the little things that suggest I might defect to Apple Lovers Anonymous. I had the laptop on, and I plugged in the keyboard. It worked instantly. I turned to my co-workers in astonishment. “You mean I don’t have to restart for the keyboard to register?” Now, I realize this is true for all or many USB keyboards, but I’ve had bad luck in the past. Same thing happened with the mouse, which, by the way, plugged into the keyboard, so I didn’t have to sacrifice a USB port on the laptop. And get this, my Wacom Graphire 4 tablet worked instantly! Sure, I had to download a driver so that it configured to the screen size, but other than that, I didn’t have to worry about drivers, restarting, random error dialogs…

But the most remarkable detail so far, for me at least, is the log in dialog during start up. The screen is very simple. It lists all the users registered on the machine, and you can select your username and type in your password. One morning, when my fingers were fumbling, I typed my password incorrectly.

Lo and behold! On a Windows machine, the screen would have churned, trying to process this incorrect password, allowing me to think I was logging in when in actuality, I was about to have a little dialog box beep at me with a message that my password was incorrect. On the MacBook, the process was simple: the dialog box shook back and forth, the password text field cleared, and I was allowed to try again.

I mean it when I say I giggled, imagining the MacBook was shaking its head at me (perhaps sighing, even). I shrugged, tried my password again, and logged in properly this time.

This is what I mean about joyful design. Technically, I made an error and typed my password incorrectly. Rather than making me feel at fault, or stupid, the clever designers at Apple subtly told me I made a mistake, but hey, no worries, just try again. Remarkable details. Simple. Clean. I’m loving it.

Capture the Remarkable Details

Though I’m a computer engineer studying to be an interaction designer, and should feel more comfortable with technology than anyone else (it seems), I often feel overwhelmed and frustrated. The great thing about technology is that almost any information I could care and/or want to know is at my fingertips. The worst thing about technology is the very same. It can easily turn into noise-information.

How many hours have I wasted on Wikipedia learning information I didn’t actually need to know? How many hours have you wasted?

This noise problem, I feel, has similarities with the act or craft of writing in an explicit manner*. When writing a scene in a chapter, you could, if you wanted to, write every single detail. Your reason for doing this? To immerse the reader: they will have to feel like they are there with the characters if they can sense every detail about the surroundings, clothing, scent, etc. Right? Wrong. If you were to do this, it would be noise. Your readers would skip over that paragraph because it was fluff-laden information. Where is the meaning? As an example, why tell the reader the exact color of the clouds if…

  1. The character isn’t looking at the clouds in the first place,
  2. Even if the character was looking at the clouds, they probably don’t care, and
  3. The reader probably cares even less?

This is my problem with technology. Life as we know it today is riddled with the noise of knowing every detail about everything. We have lost the poetry of life. And maybe I’m a romantic, but I miss that poetry. I want my life to be poetic in the way of meaningful interactions and experiences.

Modern poetry is more often than not the written word at its most succinct, sparkling form. It takes the remarkable details of a moment and arranges them in a way that often conveys more meaning than an entire chapter describing the same thing.

So this is my question: can we do the same thing with technology? Can we create human-computer interactions in a way that emphasize the poetry of life? Can we create technological objects that capture the remarkable details that make something meaningful?

However we do this, I feel it must tie back to creating “an experience,” as described by Dewey, and it’s a challenge I look forward to undertaking.

*I received an undergraduate minor in English, and am taking a creative writing course for graduate credit this semester.

See my sketchnotes from the Discussion Club session that inspired this post.