Making a Moment

As I dive deeper into the lindy hop and swing dance community, I can’t help but get a little meta about it, especially after witnessing the after-party from CBUS6 yesterday. You see, up until this past weekend, I’ve been the sort of community who attends the local events only; weekly and monthly dances.

This past weekend was CBUS6, i.e. the sixth lindy exchange based here in Columbus. It was a fantastic event, made awesome because the planning committee worked hard to make sure there was an equal number of followers and leaders. When the last official dance was over, I was invited to join the remaining locals at a committee member’s house to help eat the leftover food and hang out.

There were hardwood floors perfect for dancing in socks, so even though we had danced all weekend, we got to be really silly and dance like 1980s Cosby, do the mashed potato and the twist, and even the Jump On It dance (via The Fresh Prince of Bel Air).

I got to watch people whom I consider expert dancers talk about technique, which was certainly eye-opening because I don’t know the names to any of the moves that I do on the dance floor when I swing and lindy hop. I’m lucky in that I can pick up moves after a couple of trial runs, so I’ve never really had to take official lessons. Which is about the time the user researcher in me blinked and realized what was going on: I’ve been performing ethnographic research on this community since I joined in late August.

The swing dance community in Columbus, OH is amazing, hands down. The people are welcoming, fantastic dancers who don’t care about your skill level as long as you love to dance as much as they do. I knew there was much going on behind the scenes that I hadn’t access to, being a new member, so man, was it awesome to see these guys at work!

By the luck of simply being present, I got to watch as a new competition couple asked the advice of two veterans about their choice of song, and what they could do with it. Which brings me to the title of this post, “Making a Moment.”

As the five of us sat in a parked car on the side of a residential road listening to the chosen song of the new competition couple, one of the veteran dancers said, “This is a great song. You have the opportunity to have a lot of nice moments.”

I was struck by her choice of words. Moments? I had heard that word used before, in a very similar fashion. When I took ceramics, I made a piece called The Frog Prince. A ceramic masters student at the time walked past me while I was building the piece, complimenting me on the “great moments” I had captured.

 

I love this piece because it has humor. The prince puckers his lips, looking confident and hopeful. The girl, with her lip curled in disgust, leans as far back as gravity will allow before actually falling over. She is so desperate to reject his advances that her hair whips with the force of her movement.

I feel as though in the arts and artistic endeavors such as dance, we aim for making “moments.” The thing is, I’m still not entirely sure how to describe a “moment” to someone outside of the community, be it the ceramic, painting, drawing, or dancing community. Is it something perfectly captured in a sliver of time that triggers something in our minds and emotions? Is it something ephemeral, or is it static? I’m not entirely sure. Having heard this word used in two different, yet possibly related fields, it makes me wonder…

Could I make a “moment” in a website or physical design, i.e. something meant to be used, rather than observed? The moments mentioned earlier put the audience in a passive role: you study the ceramic piece; you watch (and cheer) the competing dance couple.

Perhaps making a moment in interaction design is too much like trying to make an experience, which just rubs me the wrong way. I can’t make an experience, because only the person having the experience knows if they are having an experience, or if they are simply experiencing something in a line of all the other somethings in their day. I can provide an environment which has a collection of variables which may very well lead to an intellectual/emotional/physical experience. But I can’t create the experience.

But it seems I can create a moment, at least with clay. So what is it I would have to do in order to capture a moment using technology as my medium?

Think, think, think…

Alive? Why yes, I am

Things are crazy hectic here. I presented my capstone and it was well-received, as was my poster. I’m working on my paper and planning to print it through Blurb for my personal copy, but I’ll do the required spiral bound copy for the department.

However, capstone is on hold for 48 hrs while I work on a pretty interesting design exercise for a job application. I won’t go into details, but I’m loving the whole doing design in a short amount of time. It’s like being in my first semester of grad school… without the whole oh-my-god-what-am-I-doing-should-I-even-be-here mentality.

I was also a part of a super secret committee that was working on the faculty gifts. We unveiled them this past Tuesday, and it seemed to go over fairly well. I’m really proud of the little blurbs I made for the covers, I tried to make them unique to each professor and played around with the names from the different papers we read for each class.

And because I think it’s important, I made a Vimeo group for capstone and experience design presentations. What better way to showcase what we do at Indiana University’s HCId, than to let people see our capstone projects?

So. I’ve gotten a lot done, I have more to do. I have this design idea that could do fairly well for a design competition, methinks…

Also, for my graduation present to myself, I think I’m going to bite the bullet and get a DSLR. Photography is one of the last artistic mediums I haven’t dipped my hand into, and I already have the composition skills down from drawing, painting, sculpture, and furniture arrangement. Low aperture (f/1.8) means less light means more detail, right? Or is it the other way around…

Binaebi and Advanced Ceramics

Last semester, I took a ceramics class for the first time. It was eye-opening, and helped me learn the one most important life lesson that I still struggle with: how to let go. I am detail-oriented, but can often still see the big picture, except when it comes to my own life. Ceramics is slowly curing me of that fault.

Today, in our first session of advanced ceramics, we were advised to think about why we were in the class. I thought the questions were applicable to why this class is important for me to take as an interaction/user experience designer. So here are my thoughts on the matter.

Why clay?

Clay is a mysterious, moody medium. You never really know how the clay will behave and feel each time you come into the studio. Much is the same for our users as interaction designers. We never know how our users will behave and feel each time they come to our designs, whether they be software, websites, interactive media, etc.

Why the human figure?

The specific topic of this advanced ceramics course is the human figurative sculpture, taught by Chris Boger (who is amazing, by the way). Now, ever since I began to teach myself to draw in elementary school, as well as the drawing and physiology classes I took in high school, I’ve always been interested in the human form. I’m especially interested in the human form as a means to communicate. For example, the way I’m sitting communicates something about my mood, how I feel about the people and situation surrounding me, etc. So much about our lives is about communication—or lack thereof. I’m interested in exploring that channel of interaction through the medium of clay because of the 3D qualities of a finished sculpture. You are able to circle it, analyze it from multiple angles and determine how its message changes depending on the way the light shifts.

We have been encouraged to be inspired by all types of human figures: Disney, anime, sports, politicians, dancers, the medicinal understanding of the human body, the psychological understanding, fashion, etc etc etc.

What do I hope to learn from advanced ceramics?

Woof. This is a tough question. I’ve gone through a lot of changes this past year. I don’t mean to be dramatic when I say 2009 was the worst year of my life, considering I’ve only lived 24 years. As such, I’d like to explore the idea of identity, personal meaning, morals, relationships, and other such abstract ideas through the human figure. What does it mean to love, and be loved? What does it mean to be autonomously happy? How can I possibly portray this through the human figure? Will my human figure be anatomically correct?

So, I suppose what I hope to learn from this class is my thoughts on how people communicate. It will be exploratory, therapeutic, and, most importantly, will allow me to get my hands dirty while working in a larger scale than I’m used to. My figures haven’t been larger than 10 inches tall. In this class, it’s suggested we work in a 3/4 or 1/2 life scale. That’s huge to me, and will be my biggest challenge. I’m looking forward to it.

Be Water, My Friend

I love quotes, because I’m a word nerd and love a deft turn-of-phrase. I invite you to enjoy this quote from Bruce Lee for design inspiration.

“Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless—like water.

Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle; you put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot.

Now water can flow, or it can crash!

Be water, my friend.”

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.