Thursday, December 08, 2016

Things That Keep Us Busy

Well, the production of our new book is under way.

Janlert, Lars-Erik & Stolterman, Erik. (2017)
Things That Keep Us Busy -- the elements of interaction
MIT Press.

It builds on these articles, but is much developed and extended.

Janlert, L. E., & Stolterman, E. (2016). The Meaning of Interactivity—Some Proposals for Definitions and Measures. Human–Computer Interaction, (just-accepted).


Janlert, L. E., & Stolterman, E. (2015). Faceless Interaction—A Conceptual Examination of the Notion of Interface: Past, Present, and Future. Human–Computer Interaction30(6), 507-539.

Janlert, L. E., & Stolterman, E. (2010). Complex interaction. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction (TOCHI)17(2), 8.

Janlert, L. E., & Stolterman, E. (1997). The character of things. Design Studies18(3), 297-314.

If you are interested in reading them, just let me know and I will email them to you.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Three schools of thought about designing

Yesterday in my class I was asked by a student if there are any major schools of thought when it comes to design, in particular, how to understand designing (that is as a human activity and process). I really liked the question. I did answer the best I could right there, but since it was not something I have really thought about, it was just a tentative answer. I said that there are at the moment three major schools of thought when it comes to designing.

The first school of thought is very close to what I teach in my class, it is based on a broad understanding of design as an activity that is defined by such thinkers as Schon, Rittel, Cross, Krippendorf, Nelson & Stolterman, etc. It is a school of thought that sees designing as an open, complex and highly non-linear process determined by the particular situation and governed by the designer's judgment.

The second school of thought seems to see designing as a process that is in need of more structure and explicit rationality, as a process that is in need of being 'formalized' and maybe even 'scientized'. Attempts to achieve this can be found in almost every design field and is quite common among design researchers who see as their task to improve designing by increasing its predictability usually by becoming less dependent on the designer's judgment.

The third school of thought is what is today commonly called 'design thinking'. It is mostly found in the business world and in academic fields that has no tradition of design. Design thinking is in many ways a highly simplified version of the first school of thought mentioned above (with some aspects of the second school). It has reduced designing to a simplistic process consisting of some phases with attached tools or techniques. Design thinking usually portrays designing as a process where the steps and phases and its iterative nature in combination with some very simple 'tools' is the core, while the designers judgment is not seen as crucial. Usually this school advocates for crash courses or workshops as a way of mastering designing. This school of thought has been highly successful in making designing popular in the business world and in academia. It has raised the awareness of design as its own tradition, however, in many cases by promising too much and delivering too little.

Ok, so this is the answer I gave the student in my class. I have not really thought more about it. It is obvious though, that these schools of thought only relate to a specific aspect of design, that of design as a process, as designing. But even so, I think it is something that would be really exciting to develop more. It would be a great help to all of us to are navigating the world of design theory. Maybe something that could lead to another book!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Design is not Art

It is comforting to hear from a distinguished designer that "design is not art", something that Harold Nelson and I have argued in our book "The Design Way". Unfortunately there is a common misunderstanding that design is close to art or a type of art. Milton Glaser makes the clear statement that this is not the case in a brief article. I wish more people would take this position, it would make a huge difference in how we think about design and how it would be positioned and organized into a university structure as well as a company structure.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Book sent to publisher!

So, today my colleague Lars-Erik Janlert and I sent our final manuscript to the MIT Press publisher. The book is titled "Things That Keep Us Busy--the elements of interaction". The chapter in the book look like this:

1 The things that keep us busy
2 Thought styles and Use paradigms
3 An approach to interactivity
4 Interaction
5 Complexity
6 Control
7 The character of things
8 Expressions and impressions
9 Faceless interaction
10 Taking measures
11 Full speed ahead

I am not sure when it will be published, but I am sure it will take a while.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Do design researchers really know the work of Donald Schön?

It is well known that Donald Schön is one of the most influential design scholars in the last few decades. His ideas are often referenced and we can almost always assume that most people engaged in research about design is aware of these ideas. However, there is this suspicion that I have heard from several colleagues over the years that even though Schön is commonly referenced, researchers do not necessarily read his work carefully.

My PhD student Jordan Beck has together with a colleague, Laureline Chiapello, published a great paper in which they have examined how design researchers cite the work of Schön. The results are quite fascinating and actually confirm the suspicion mention above. From other work (Chai and Xiao 2012), we know that Schön is the most cited author in design research (at least in the venues examined). But how is Schön cited and for what purpose?

In the article "Schön’s Legacy: Examining Contemporary Citation Practices in DRS Publications" by Beck and Chiapello, it becomes clear that most citations are fairly superficial and almost none of the researchers engage critically or scholarly with Schön's ideas. After their serious examination (described in the paper) they write:

"We found very few instances of citations that function as critical engagements with Schön’s work or those that function as building upon his work. Moreover, where supporting and credit functions are concerned, we found that scholars tend not to expand on or discuss the concepts or works they cite. For example, “reflective practice” or “reflection-in-action” may appear in a text with no additional explanation or discussion" (Beck and Chiapello, 2016).

They discuss what these findings may mean and comments:

"Does a lack of critical engagement and building citations mean that the scholars publishing at the DRS conference are less interested in argumentation or cumulative knowledge building?" Based on these findings we may ask the question if this is a problem for the field or not? Personally I find it disturbing that the most cited author in the field is 'used' in this way. It suggests that there is an unwillingness to engage with fundamental theoretical assumptions. Even though I am personally someone who deeply appreciate Schön's ideas, these ideas can not be left alone. They have to be challenged and critically engaged with. Who will do that?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Relating Systems Thinking And Design 5

Last week I had the pleasure of participating in the "Relating Systems Thinking And Design 5" symposium. This conference is for researchers and practitioners who are devoted to either systems thinking or design thinking or preferably both. This is an interesting and important topic. There is no design today that does not have to struggle with systems. And systems are usually not of interest unless as a way of understanding something for design. The ambition to do good and to change this world into something better among the participants is extraordinary. In some cases overwhelming since it leads to projects that almost crumbles as a consequence of their scope and complexity. But if you have are someone who believe that difficult and complex societal problems have to be approached by systems thinking and design, then this is the place for you!

Anyway, I had the opportunity to give a Keynote presentation on "Interactivity Fields and Systems" based on our forthcoming book "Things That Keep Us Busy--The Elements of Interaction". It seemed as if the topic resonated with the participants. I think a video will be available at some point.

Friday, October 07, 2016


The title of this blogpost is the same as a paper that my PhD student Jordan Beck and I have published. The question in the title is to me a difficult one and a question that is not taken seriously enough by those who produce knowledge about design or those who develop methods and tools for design.

The abstract of the paper is short and says:

"This paper asks, Can there be scientific theories of design that do not scientize design? And it answers in the affirmative. Not only can there be scientific theories of design that do not scientize design but also that a scientific lens can potentially reveal important aspects of the design process. We apply Karl Popper’s criteria for the scientific status of a theory to four seminal theories of the design process: Bounded Rationality, FBS Framework, Figural Complexity, and C-K Theory. We demonstrate that (1) some theories about design can be construed as scientific in Popper’s terms, and that (2) these theories do not “scientize” the design process."

I am aware that this kind of research is to many too abstract and theoretical and not 'useful'. However, I am convinced that if we did engage more with this kind of questions, it would seriously help us to better understand the relation between design and science. This relation is today filled with tension. This tension is emerging everywhere. All around campus. It threatens the traditional understanding of disciplines. It challenges what we consider to be valuable knowledge and what is accepted ways of producing knowledge.

Anyway, this is a tricky area. Any PhD student who studies in a field where science and design live together experience this tension on a daily basis.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

When the interface disappears--interesting article about Ives

I read this article today in which the argument is made that Jonathan Ives and Apple has been so successful so they "designed themselves out of existence". Here is the article.

This article and the topic really resonates with our work around "Faceless Interaction" and "The Meaning of Interactivity" (if you are interested in these articles, just email me).