Should we stop using the term "Interaction Design"?

I got this last month from Michel, a lovely student from Eindhoven:

“I am currently looking for an internship in HCI/ID, but I am suffering from a “typecasting”-effect. Many companies ask for “interaction designers” when they really mean “graphics designers” or “css monkeys”. The fact that I have a background in computer science just makes things worse by adding “programmer” to the list of stigmas. My interests lie in the more physical kinds of interaction, but it’s really hard to find the right positions for that. Do you have any advice as to how I might better find the right places? Any help would be greatly appreciated!”

This felt deeply familiar of course as when I graduated in 2006 and it was a problem even then (I ended up working as a visual designer / information architect for a year even if my portfolio of work was much more product-based).

I try to explain to people what an interaction designer is in the way that I understand it, and in the context of the business I built, it makes sense. But in isolation, it no longer means anything on the market. Physical computing is too embedded in academia and is starting to feel old. Bill Verplank had suggested Physical Interaction Design, but it sounds a little clunky. So should we be concerned by this? As per Michel’s email, i think so. Graduates become senior designers, strategists, creative directors, etc. rarely interaction designers.

Lack of terminology ultimately leads to lack of identity and the dilution of a field into the market, unnoticed. Something to think about for the start of the week :)

The beauty of forgetting

Read one of Wired Uk’s 20 ideas worth considering for 2010 and one of them caught my eye. Clive Thomson reported on ideas from the author of Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age and I can’t help but think that we have naturally adapted to what we so often call “information overload” in a way that doesn’t require us to design for forgetting.

One of my theories is that we’ve built up the internet as a way of finding rather than as a way of remembering, naturally allowing us to forget most of it. Digital stacks of papers and bookshelves. We’ve built up the equivalent behavior of “oh I’m sure it’s in that pile”. Digital synapses dying every day.

Just as an example, here are some things I do now as ways of forgetting:

– Use Delicious to store rather than as a reference point. I rarely look at my own bookmarks.
– Not actually remembering where a link came from, but who tweeted it instead.
– Check RSS feeds in a “watching TV”-like trance: I just click through the channels and stop on the stuff that visually catches my eye. I open my RSS reader once a week at best, and the stuff that’s at the top gets read, the rest kindof gets ignored.

We have more ways of archiving than ever but that doesn’t mean we’re interested in that archive. I was a guest lecturer last month in a design school and was shocked to find that most of the research students were pulling out was from the past 3 years at most.

Archiving doesn’t have the same qualities as a library quite yet. Maybe that’s a design opportunity, or maybe the FluidData metaphor needs to be reexamined.

In any case, I think we’re better at forgetting now than we used to and that has raised the profile of “knowledge” and “opinion” over “information” (also probably explains why blogging is not quite a dead art). The people who take the time to remember will rule us all. The rest of us, will rely on our “devices” and Google.

Rewiredstate "hack": a new petitions site design for Number 10

I’m giving out a prize in about half an hour to whoever made the best thing today at Hack the Government day in the lovely offices of the Guardian. In spite (I say this as I’m surrounded by very serious looking data wranglers) of not being a coder, I made something too.

Number 10 has a lovely website, they’ve made an effort it must be said, however, their petitions site (one of the best ways to express yourself to the government) is somewhat hidden (under the overly formal “Communicate” tab and it’s actually called E-petitions…yuck) and essentially a very heavy collection of lists, formal and legal requirements and generally not web2.0 friendly at all. The thing is there are a ton of really interesting petitions in there and some great stories about the UK and how it works and sometimes doesn’t. It would be great to get to see that and browse through these stories in a more interesting way.

Inspired by Wordle, Digg, Pledgebank, Upcoming and other things I use, I thought I’d revamp it a little, so here’s what I’ve done:

– Pushed Petitions to the top level navigation.
– Used a tag cloud for people to randomly explore content and get them engaged.
– Added an element of timing to push people who created these petitions to share them and get as many people signed up as possible within a given timeframe. People work well within a small number of constraints.
– It could do with a better info viz then this graph but hey, this is what you get after 3 hours of work, build on it if you’re not happy :)
– Rearranged content for each petition to that the description comes first, the signing up after.
– Added the ability to comment, which is always a nice add-on (wasn’t sure as to whether digging + or – each petition was the way to go so left it aside for now)
– Added tagging to each petition which should create a nice richness of information
– Added a whole bunch of tools that someone might use after they actually write up a petition, if they were engaged enough to write it, they’re probably engaged enough to link to it or email their friends or shout it out on Facebook.

So there, a little pixel pushing which did me a world of good but killed my back (stupid Aeron chairs). There are a bunch of things to add on that would complement this I suspect, but it is a Saturday :) Happy Weekend!

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Know your food

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After Open Sauces in November, I got interested in food again, especially the way food is presented and communicated in the context of supermarkets. There’s something deeply depressing about the presentation of fruits and veg in the UK and there is also something cultural about that presentation. When I lived in Italy, access to certain vegetables was nearly impossible. In the UK, some of my American friends can never find the right types of chilis. In a way, global is a term more easily referring to people than our food, and I consider that a good thing.

Following on from that, I wanted to get back to the essence of what food was before it reaches our markets or our local corner shop. There used to be a simple understanding not only about where food came from, but how it actually grew and how it was harvested.

2 ideas surfaced: New guerrila food labels and a new way of displaying fruits and vegetables. In a day I managed to make the first one happen, the second one I would need a partner company to try this out. If you own a cool organic fruit and veg store or stall in London please get in touch!

Idea 1:

I thought I’d design a simple food label that would come on top of existing labels, something you could keep if you wanted to that would give you at least 4 pieces of information you didn’t know.

1. What the name of the item is, and its latin name. Why? I thought it was odd we’re quite willing to learn about plants and flowers in this way and not everyday items. Is it because they’re not posh enough?

2. What the item looks like “in nature” or in its more natural environment, with roots, leaves, the whole lot. The idea is to show how it looks before it’s been cleaned up for public display. We often may forget that some thing grow under the earth or on its surface, as a fruit in a tree or hanging from plants. Zuccini for example, is more or less and un-ripened pumpkin that is picked early enough for it to still be soft. Its the same family as the cucumber, but people don’t usually eat it raw.

3. When and where it was discovered. Fruits and vegetables don’t carry history with them, but it’s fascinating what you’ll find out about how Ancient Egyptians treated the onion.

4. Any other piece of random information or history. I wanted to make sure to pique someone’s interest enough that they’d want to know more or keep the label. I found out that the asparagus plant is protected by the tomato plant from insects for example.

All pictures of the project are on Flickr and were professionally executed by Matt Biddulph :)

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Map of interaction design education in Europe

So I thought I’d map out the interesting academic environments where one might find a course that relates in some way shape or form to interaction design in the broadest sense possible (notice there aren’t any web courses here). I’m interested in how these schools form the professionals of tomorrow and how the field will find it’s way on the overall market. I’ll evenutally try to do the same with the interaction design businesses.

Note that this map is publicly editable so if I’m missing something, do add to it!


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Constant Setting

This is a little project of mine that was born over a year ago in Amsterdam but went into hibernation for a while for obvious reasons. I’m happy to consider this is my first actual contribution to the web2.0 conversation.

I’d like to thank D’arcy Saum, Richard Groenendijk and Nicholas Land for helping me out on this project.

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Constant Setting:

Communications technologies allow us to be connected globally but there is nothing more deeply moving than the natural and uncontrollable motion of the day. Every hour of the day, somewhere in the world, Mother Nature offers us that symphony of color, and we take pictures of it.

Constant setting is a simple website that displays in real time, any sunset images taken and posted to Flickr as creative commons that correspond to the cities where the sun is setting at the moment.

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You can see the city where the image was taken (which you can click to be redirected to the Google maps location, if you don’t know where in the world that is) as well as its geographical information (long / lat) and the local time in that city.

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You can also see who took the picture and get redirected to the original picture to add to your favorites! There’s a little timer to let you know how long to the next one, and because this is crowdsourced in a way, it might go back to the same image, until it finds an image tagged with “sunset” for the next location.

Enjoy and do let me know what you think! Consider this version1.0 :)

Personal ubiquity

It took me a while to digest Janne’s post on why ubicomp is a broken concept, mostly because on principal I tend to disagree. It’s also a bit in response to Tom Coates’s altered version of his talk with Matt Jones that he gave at Foocamp called “Personal Informatics”.

Firstly I think the starting point for thinking about ubiquitous spaces, objects etc is not necessarily that they are meant to be smarter, but perhaps more that they are meant to report better. Not smart, just less dumb :) Andy’s house is the obvious example of this. I think there is tremendous interest at the moment about being able to gather more efficiently stuff that is just lying around, invisible and not particularily useful. Innovation often comes from taking things we know and mashing them up with things we didn’t know we didn’t know. Someone pointed out the other day that we’re ultimately creeping towards AI with all these “clever” systems, but I think it might just be the reverse, we still hold the brain, we’ve just outsourced the synapses.

Also I think there are plenty of areas to think about in regards to the results of ubiquitous systems, information and data. One of the most important things, in my opinion has to do with evaluating the amount of behavioral or operational change based on the digestion and synthesis of all this data. It’s no use collecting the temperature and light levels inside a building if it isn’t with the aim to perfect your heating system or prevent collective seasonal depression for eg. Even on a personal basis, its no use me being able to monitor my heartrate everyday, because it only puts me in the “now”, an ephemeral place of thought and decision-making. One thing about technology, is that it tends to make people generally lazy about their levels of commitment. Perhaps we should push instead for the development of technologies and applications that encourage people to invest time and effort in an activity (think Honey we’re killing the kids).

Furthermore, what’s interesting about this idea of personal ubiquity is that some of it could possibly be shared online, so no longer relying on a sturdy and professional infrastructure other than the internet itself. Seeing people play around with Pachube and the Ethernet Arduino shield, makes things really exciting.

All in all I think the ubicomp ideas of the future will be more personal, more persuasive and lighter than what we’ve seen so far.

Uneasy intimacies

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I never thought ubicomp would come out of an iPhone app. If anything, Exposure has the power to connect us with objects and lives that were lived around us in the past, as long as they’ve been geotagged first. Matt and I had a look, sitting on our couch at home, and found pictures of people who are probably our neighbours having a bbq, portraits, etc. There was something uneasy about seeing pictures of people who cease to become strangers yet aren’t familiar at all. A whole future of perception lies ahead.