Showing posts from 2009

Journal of Information Architecture

There are many academic journals around and new ones are emerging all the time. One quite new that seems to have quite interesting content to anyone in HCI and interaction design is the Journal of Information Architecture. All the content seems to be free online, at least the current issue is.

It is also interesting to see how the field of HCI, interaction design, information architecture, experience design, are all blending into something new. Even product design and "real" architecture is part of the mix. All this is of course a natural reflection of the technological development where physical material is combined and infused with digital material and all products become a new form of artifacts that needs to be designed as a whole.

And since it is that time of year. Happy New Year!

Milton Glaser

My son Adam showed my this short video about the famous graphic designer Milton Glaser. Just watch it. Nothing more to say.

"GOMS: Get out of our head and in situ"

This is link to a great video made by two of our wonderful HCId students. Thanks Nina and Anna!!

2nd annual HCI CONNECT at IU

[I am posting this on behalf of our program]

Is your organization looking to recruit high-quality User Experience Designers?

Did you know that the School of Informatics and Computing at IU has one of the top Master’s degree programs in the nation in Human-Computer Interaction Design?

Please consider joining us for the 2nd annual HCI CONNECT.

How do we describe this event: It’s a ‘day of interaction,’ or a ‘chance to experience talent,’ or a ‘relational on-ramp’ with some of the top students in the field. Visit for details, registration info, and pictures of last years event.

Who is Invited

User Experience Design Managers and Team Members - each organization may bring up to 3 people (We highly encourage attendance of HCI-Design Alumni)

All the graduate students and faculty in the HCI-Design Program (About 75 students)

Event Details

January 21 & 22, 2010

21st: 7:00-9:00 pm: HCI Faculty, Student, and Employer Reception

22nd: 9:00 am - 3:00 pm: CONNECTing students and fa…

Design Thinking Readings

I was recently asked by a friend if I could make a short list of good readings on design thinking. I tried and here it is. This is a first attempt. The criteria for choosing a text has been if the reading has meant a lot to me. I have also picked texts that are not for the moment but are useful for many years (more or less timeless). So, this is a list of design thinking readings that I constantly use and go back to (I have probably forgotten some really important ones :-)

Alexander, C. (1979). The Timeless Way of Building. Oxford University Press.

Buchanan, R. Wicked Problems in Design Thinking. In The Idea of Design. V. Margolin and R. Buchanan (eds). MIT Press, 1995, 3-20.

Buxton, B. (2007) Sketching User Experience – getting the design right and the right design. Morgan Kaufman.

Cross, N. (2007). Designerly Ways of Knowing. Birkhauser, Basel.

Dewey, J. (1934) Art as Experience. New York: Perigee Books.

Dorst, C. H. (2003). Understanding Design. Amsterdam: BIS Publisher.

Dunne, J…

Good Interaction Design Magazine web sites

I have followed a thread on the IxD list about good places on the web to read about interaction design. I collected the suggestions so here is a list. These sites are more like magazines, that is, they are not just personal blogs. On the list they were asking for sites for interaction design that had the same status as CORE77 for product design, that is, well designed sites with a lot of good content. If you have more good links, please let me know.

Johnny Holland Magazine
Design Observer

Design and Sketching

Anyone doing design knows the importance of sketching. Sketching is in design the tool for thinking. Most designers sketch all the time in different ways and forms. In a short blog post, Spencer Nugent describes the levels of sketching. The levels are related to different purposes and lead to different forms of sketches. This post is an example of what I believe needs to be done much more in design which is to develop a language that makes it possible to talk about what designers do and how they do it and how they use their tools. It is so easy to talk about sketching as one activity which in design is far from what it is. Sketching is a concept that covers a huge amount of activities. Sketching is, in this case, on paper and by pen, but today we also have sketching-in-hardware and other forms of sketching. Bill Buxton, Bill Verplank and others have argued strongly for the place of sketching in design, and theoreticians like Donald Schön and other have argued convincingly that sketch…

Evolution of interactive technology (again) and Buxton

In todays technology climate it is easy to believe that everything you have not seen before is also something “new”. This is understandable since it is quite difficult to know the background history of every technological solution and design and even more difficult to know how contemporary applications of that technology have evolved over time. Bill Buxton writes about this issue in a short but very good article in BusinessWeek. He makes the case that “touch technology” is not the solution to every interaction design problem. In his effort to show this, he conducts a very simple but excellent design critique of four different watches that all to some degree uses touch technology. He shows how details matter in design. He also shows quite convincingly that touch technology is not in itself a good thing but has to be designed into a compositional whole to provide a good user experience. Buxton also discusses the notion of technology development and reminds us all that touch technology …

Book review: "Dangerous Games" by MacMillan

I am almost finished reading the book "Dangerous Games - The Uses and Abuses of History" by the historian Margaret MacMillan. This is not a book about interaction design or HCI or technology, but it is definitely a book on design, and in this case, the design of history.

MacMillan shows the importance of history in todays society, for instance as a "tool" designed to deliver comfort, identity, or nationalism. MacMillan really makes a strong case with numerous examples on how history can be misused and be a dangerous tool in the hands of those who want to control our present and future. It is fascinating to see MacMillan's examples of how history is, and has been, designed to serve certain particular purposes. The real historian has a different responsibility, according to MacMillan, and that is to simply explain what actually happened, when it happened and to present some explanations of why. This is a delicate task and requires a professional competence.
It is …

The Evolution of What Is Easy to Use

Today I found this short blog post by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang (thanks to odannyboy who linked to it on twitter). I really liked the post. The author makes a good argument for the dynamic and complex reality of what we consider to be "ease of use" or "user-friendliness". Pang points out that what makes a thing easy to use is not something given and stable over time. The example he uses is the development of the computer mouse. This realization also reveals that the methods and approaches used to measure usability and ease of use can also quickly become outdated. This means that neither what we consider to be correct design solutions, important design qualities, or our measurements of these qualities, or our methods to design such qualities can be fully captured, understood, and prescribed (at least not for any substantial time period). The reality of design becomes, again and to no surprise, more dynamic, more complex, and never predictable :-)

Tim Brown at TED -- and the future of design thinking

Tim Brown who is the CEO of IDEO gave a talk at the TED2009 conference. The talk is about 16 minutes and Brown makes the case that designers should think big instead of small. Brown does have a solid and good understanding of design and designerly thinking. However, when I listed to him I realized some things I had not thought about. Before I discuss them I need to say that I really appreciate the basic message of Brown's presentation and agree with him. So, my discussion below is less about his talk as much as a comment on the field of design.
It is obvious that Brown comes from a design tradition that is usually described as the art & design school tradition, that is, it is the understanding and process of design as it is taught within traditional design fields, such as product and industrial design, interior design, fashion design, etc. Even though he comes from this tradition, Brown is joking about it by calling the people within this tradition as the "priesthood"…

Book review: "Design Expertise" by Lawson and Dorst

A couple of days ago I got the copy I had ordered of the book "Design Expertise" by Bryan Lawson and Kees Dorst. I have so far only quickly read (skimmed) through the book, but it is obvious that this is one of the best introductions to design theory out there. The authors presents design as a journey. They discuss design from different perspectives, starting out with their notion on how to understand design. They discuss design expertise, how to start your journey to become a designer, what it means to be a professional designer, and how to educate designers.

The theory of design that the authors presents is stable and rests firmly on a deep understanding of design as a basic human activity, and even mroe as a professional activity. Even though the book has architecture as its primary field of design when it comes to examples, the authors do a good job in being open and broad, which means that the book can be read by anyone interested in how to understand design no matter w…

Design Research and the 'coolness' factor

Lately I have been engaged in some different forms of evaluations of interaction design research. I have read papers, watched videos and demonstrations. All these forms of research outcomes have their own merits and issues. One thing that I have reflected upon is when I read, watch or experienced these contributions is that I have experienced some problems with something I would call the "coolness" factor.
Many contributions present some design research outcomes that have qualities that make me react think: "that is pretty cool!". The problem with this reaction is that it also triggers a sense of suspicion, and I keep asking myself "am I seduced by some superficial 'coolness' factor or does this outcome really represent some more substantial contribution?"
There has been some interesting scholarly work on what signifies "interesting" research results as a contrast to "uninteresting" research, and some people talk about the &quo…


I just have to write a few lines about the application Dropbox. It is amazing how much this extremely simple application has changed my everyday life. I am constantly moving between a number of computers and have always struggled with keeping my computers as similar as possible when it comes to all the material I am working on. I used to email myself, use servers to save stuff, etc. With Dropbox all that is gone! Conceptually Dropbox is a simple design. From a use perspective it is also very simple. I find this to be an excellent example of a particular type of designed artifacts and a close examination and design critique of Dropbox would be fun to read. Anyhow, this design makes my days easier!

The Complexity of the Particular

While preparing for my teaching I am doing some reading and some thinking. I have this reoccurring idea that I know is not new to me but it keeps coming back, and that is the idea of the complexity of the particular. In our book "The Design Way" we use the concept of the "ultimate particular" when we discuss the nature of design. We write:
"The outcome of a specific design process, such as a car, a curriculum, or an organizational structure, is an ultimate particular. It is something unique. It is not the universal car, the universal organizationalstructure, or curriculum. We are creating a particular, which, when taken together with other particulars, makes up the whole of our experienced reality."
we also give some examples of this:
"Distinctions between what is true (e.g., universal or general) and what is real (e.g., particular, full particular and ultimate particular) can be made in the following ways. A painting by Cézanne is real; the atomic wei…

A brief book review

I have for some time had on my desk the book "Design -- history, theory and practice of product design" by Bernhard E. Burdek. I have planned to read it since it seems to give a great overview of design history. So, now I have tried. Unfortunately, I found that the book is far from good. The structure is confusing, the theoretical discussion is quite shallow and without any rationale behind the way the content is presented. It jumps back and forth through history. It is illustrated with many images of products that is quite difficult to relate to the text and does not add anything extra to the content. So, overall it is not a book worth buying or reading. Sorry ....

Design, details and craft

Today I found this little video from Peter Belanger who has documented the process behind the design and creation of a cover of the magazine MacWorld. It is a fun and highly interesting video. It shows the high level of craft and detailing that goes into one cover and especially the photo. This is a reminder for all of us who have problems with doing things fast (and sloppy).
Take a look:


I have not written much lately which is of course a result of the fact that it is summer and I try to relax from work. However, today I found the UXmatters web site. I am not sure if I have seen it before, but I found some really interesting writings there. So, this short post is only a promotion of the UXmatters site at

HCI online resources

Yesterday while looking for some HCI readings, I found a site called PhilPapers ( It is a new resource for publications in philosophy. I really liked what I saw. It is a thoughtfully structured and designed site and it has a wonderful coverage of philosophical publications. It seems also to be quite easy to use (even though I did not try much). I would like to see something like this in HCI. There is no HCI resource site out there today. One of the reasons is of course that to create something like PhilPapers takes a lot of work and maintanance. PhilPapers just got a substantial grant to continue to build and develop the site.

There are of course some attempts in HCI out there. The most known is probably the HCIB managed by Gary Perlman. Degraaf is also doing a good job with his HCI Index. While looking for more resources I also found a number of web sites that since a few years are no longer being updated, but they all started out with good intentions and ambit…

Limits of Interaction (Patti Maes & Andy Rutledge)

I have earlier written about the "cost of interaction" and on that theme I want to recommend you to watch this video from the TED conference by Pattie Maes, maybe some of you have seen this before, it is quite fun and interesting. The demonstration really does, what I also have recently written about, open new design spaces.

When you have watched it, you can read this highly critical review of Maes' demonstration by Andy Rutledge. He argues that Maes' "demonstrates a measure of irresponsibility, misrepresented facts, and shallow thinking".

The demonstration itself and the review taken together shows us what we will see much more of in the future since the imagination among designers and the development of technology seems infinite. It is inevitable that with such a development, questions will be asked. How interactive do we want our environment to be? In what ways can interactivity that helps me be intrusive for others? Who has the resposibility when it…

Interactive Innovations and Design Spaces II

In my last post with the same title as this one, I discussed how new technology and new ideas opens up new design spaces. Today a student of mine, Sarah Reeder, tweeted about another example of new technology that also leads to new explorations when it comes to interaction design. And as Sarah wrote in her tweet, "flexible OLED displays excite me". I could not agree more!

Interactive Innovations and Design Spaces

Quite often I am surprised by some new form of interactive artifact, with a technology, form, or function that I have not been able to forsee or imagine. For instance, today I saw the Moixa Sphere. It is not the thing in itself, even though the Sphere is fascinating, that is the most interesting aspect of this new artifact, instead it is that when I see the Sphere, I can imagine a whole new space of possible interactive artifacts, functions, uses, etc. The design space increases.

But, even though I am easily fascinated by new technology, when I see these new innovations my reaction is usually the same. I am surprised and fascinated by the technology and the new design space, but quite disappointed with the function or application that is used to introduce the technology. This is a consequence of the fact that the innovative design is technology driven and not neccesarily human centered. But, what I have learned over the years is that the worst mistake is to dismiss a new innovation as…

The Cost of Interaction

It is obvious that a growing number of things and environments are becoming increasingly interactive. This means that we as humans in these environments have to interact with these things in a more sophisticated and deliberate way. At the same time we know that any interaction, or interactive session, requires some time, effort, and attention. This means that there is a cost of interaction. A really simple exmaple of this is when I am looking for something on the web, and I find a page but in order to get the stuff I am looking for I have to interact and to create an account etc. Of course, the purpose is that with an account I can get more and better service, but it comes with a cost of interaction, and in many situations I judge to cost to be too high and leave the page (even though the "cost" was only to write my email and straightforward info).

Is the overall interaction cost increasing since our things and environments are increasingly becoming and requiring interaction…

"The Three Paradigms of HCI"

I recently found the paper "The Three Paradigms of HCI" by Steve Harrison, Phoebe Sengers, and Deborah Tatar from CHI 2007. Strangely enough I have not seen this paper before, which is too bad. I very much like the basic idea of the paper and the way they describe three paradigms of HCI. I like it because they make definitions, categorize things, creates a conceptual map, that is, they theorize about theory in HCI. Something that needs to be done much more! And they do it in a way that makes me want to discuss the paradigms further and to continue to develop the ideas . These are signs of a good paper. There are of course arguments that I don't agree with, but that just makes the paper even more valuable :-) Find it and read it!!

Thanks to Kevin here is a link to the paper!

Good Design

The latest issue of the magazine "Metropolis" has the theme "What is good design?" with many interesting interveiws and articles. It is interesting to see what the aspects of good design they have chosen discuss, some of them are: sustainable, accessible, functional, well made, emotionally enduring, beautiful, etc. There are some essays (for instance by Bruce Sterling) and some interviews (among other of Don Norman). I have not read it all, but it looks good.

Reading news for confirmation

We are all experiencing a new world of news were we on our own, or within our communities, search for news using new interactive techologies. We are no longer fed news by some institution (commercial or public). Interactivity makes this "search and find" not only a possibility but a prefered way of getting news. It is fast, easy, and we get only the stuff we alreay know we are looking for and from sources we already trust and like. News becomes a personal confirmation system. I was reminded about this discussion by an article in an article in the New York Times today.

This is a case of a technological development where the technological development, experienced as positive small steps ahead, are seen as great and promising, but where we one day we may be asking ourselves "how did we end up here".

One of the most thoughtful books I have read about the relation between the new world of communities and news and information, is Cass Sunstein's book "the republ…

What theory in HCI is about II

My last post led to a number of really good comments and they are all helping me to sort this out. This is what I wrote in the last post

"I need to know what are the (common) categories of theories in HCI. So, this is where I need some help. I have decided that the categories should be based on what the theory is about, that is, defined by its object of study."

I also suggested three categories and have now received several proposals for other categories. First of all, to understand how I think about this, what I wrote above, that I want to "defined by its object of study" is important. There are several other ways of categorizing theories, for instance Jodi suggested that they could be categorized based on their "matureness", and Tanykim suggested that theories can be categorized along a dimension of micro-macro, or objective-subjective. These are all interesting suggestions and would probably lead to interesting and useful results, but I would like to sta…

What theory in HCI is about

I am developing a theory of interaction (!). In the process of doing that, I am trying to categorize my theory. To do that I need to know what are the (common) categories of theories in HCI. So, this is where I need some help. I have decided that the categories should be based on what the theory is about, that is, defined by its object of study. As a first draft, it is possible to distinguish three kinds of theories with three distinct objects of study.

The first category are theories that has human computer interaction as the object of study, that is, theories that say something about the interaction between humans and interactive artifacts.

The second kind of theories are those that have the design process as a core object of study. Based on intuitive statistics (!) I think this is where we find the major part of theories in the field.

The third kind are theories that address how interaction and interactive technology changes society and environments, that is, theories that have the…

Tangible interaction -- Siftables

Well, if you have not seen this yet, take a look at the Siftables. I am always skeptical to presentations like this, but despite the worth of this particular solution and technology, I think this proves that, with some good design, it will be possible to find infinite applications where tangible interactions are suitable and superior.

I am looking forward to what good designers can do with this and similar technologies in the years to come. Advanced technology does not always lead to complex interaction!

iPhone again...and how to understand it...

I read today an interesting post on a blog that discussed the design of the iPhone in relation to other phones and especially the relation or difference between seeing a cell phone as a device or as a platform. I think this discussion is of interest to anyone designing interaction and digital artifacts.

Buxton and basic research

Bill Buxton writes in a recent issue of BusinessWeek about "The Price of Forgoing Basic Research". His major argument is that return on investment is actually higher on basic research than on applied research, "the return on investment goes down as the R&D budget shifts from basic to applied research". He finishes with writing "..academics should get back to long-term work". Interesting ideas.....I agree..

Rapid Expert Design

Lately there has been (and still is) an ongoing discussion on the IxD discussion list about the notion of "Rapid Expert Design". The discussion is about definitions and meanings and the debate is between those who argue that RED is something new and those who says it is the same old thing but in new clothes. It is quite interesting since the discussion and the arguments reveal some deep philosophical core assumptions about the nature of the design process and design competence. These assumptions are of course not revelaed in an intentional way but are visible in the way the arguments are structured and lined up. For instance, it is possible to see the old debate between the importance of the designer in relation to the importance of the method, and of course, some really deep asumptions about the very nature of design. Interesting readings!

Relation between concept design and visual design

In their patent application for the iPhone, it is interesting to see the sketch from Apple that shows the interface. It is very clear that it is the iPhone as we know it, even though it is a very simple sketch without any efforts made to make the appearance aestheticlly pleasing. For interaction designers there is a lesson to be learned here about the relationships between ideas and manifestations, between sketches and final designs. Almost anyone could have made this sketch of the iPhone with the purpose to portray the ideas. This is comforting for those of you who are afraid that you do not have enough visual skills. If you can do this, you can then get help from someone to make this into a full and beautiful deisgn.

HCI and Aesthetics

Again I want to point to a blog post by my colleague Jeff Bardzell. He has done an excellent analysis of the latest issue of ToCHI (Transaction of Computer Human Interaction), considered to be a top journal in the field. This is a special issue on aesthetics and Jeff has examine what sources these researchers have used when they deal with the notion of aesthetics. Very interesting!

[Re]Searching the Digital Bauhaus

I was happy to find the book "[Re]Searching the Digital Bauhaus" today in my mail. The book is edited by Binder, T., Löwgren, J. & Malmborg, L. and published on Springer in their HCI Series. The book is put together as a dedication to my dear friend Pelle Ehn on his 60th birthday and his work in design and interaction research. I am happy to be the author of a chapter myself, in the company with many highly distinguished colleagues. The content seems very interesting and I am looking forward reading all the other contributions.

What User Experience is NOT

I found this good note on "10 Most Common Misconceptions About User Experience Design" by Whitney Hess. I like the points she is making about what "user experience" is not.

The Year of Interaction!

So, we are at the beginning of a new year. I just read a list of dominating trends in information technology development. There was nothing really new on the list. I guess we all understand and can see that the "cloud" takes care of storage, that we are moving into the era of "streaming" instead of downloading, and that we will have internet connection everywhere and all the time.

With these trends, the rest is all about interaction! With ever present access and with streaming data and information, use becomes all a question of how will we interact with this world of bits.

So, my prediction of when it comes to the future of computing (not unique in any way) is that most of what we see as traditional computing issues (computation, storage, access, etc) are moved into the background and becomes invisible infrastructure and services. For the individual user, these services will not be interesting since they will be always there. For the individual, it will be vene mor…

Becoming Physical --Blended Competence

Around this time of year it is easy to find people trying to predict the new year or a longer future. Everywhere I read about the future of interaction, the same theme reappears. We are moving into the era of "natural user interaction". In most cases this means that the traditional mouse and keyboard is replaced by touch, haptic, sensors, etc. Interaction becomes physical.
This is of course not a new trend, but just over the last couple of years we have seen it being manifested in real products on a mass market scale. I have written many times on this blog about this new blended reality, the challenge of dealing with a new form of "material" (the physical/digital compound). 
But even if this is not a new trend, it means many things for anyone involved in interaction design. Maybe the most important one is the realization that there is nothing anymore that is either purely physical or digital products. This is a realization that deeply influences how we think about co…