With the ability to quickly create working AI prototypes that intelligently move, see, hear and speak, designers can go beyond the cliches of AI, and bring collaborative systems into people’s lives that are more humane, more personal, maybe even more inspiring.
Research Fellowship in Delft, Netherlands
In Fall of 2017, I was in residence at TU Delft on a research fellowship to develop concepts and prototypes of a tool for designing smart, collaborative things. Funded by Design United, I worked with Professor Elisa Giaccardi (department of Industrial Design Engineering) to start developing the Delft AI Toolkit visual programming environment for the interaction design of AI.
This summer I’m conducting a research project on new approaches for AI in a Mixed Reality context. The project, extends my work with Animistic Design, but takes a different approach to AI embodiment, using the integration of virtual AI entities with “Real Reality.”
I’m working with five ArtCenter students from our Media Design Practices program: Stephanie Cedeño, Xing Lu, Godiva Reisenbichler, Nan H Tsai, Nicci Yin.
Note: The project completed summer of 2017. Initial work is summarized here:
This 2017 summer research project will explore how AI based, non-anthropomorphic animistic entities could work as colleagues and collaborators in Mixed Reality.
In a newly published paper, “Animistic design: how to reimagine digital interaction between the human and the nonhuman” (Digital Creativity – Special Issue: Post-Anthropocentric Creativity), my co-author Betti Marenko and I argue that a new model is needed for design in an Internet of Things world. We think it’s time to rethink the standards of Human Centered Design, AI, and interaction design, especially for open-ended, creative contexts, whether that’s directing a self-driving car, planning a vacation, or solving a hard legal problem.
See my Medium post “Rethink IxD” on this topic.
Technology as the designer’s material
I would argue that the modern designer’s primary material is technology. And to effectively design and make digital things, you need to deeply understand technology’s affordances, characteristics, and limits – i.e. the grain of the material. Immerse yourself in serious making with technology, and you will become a better designer, able to invent new approaches and designs through your understanding of the material.
SIGCHI 2013 paper
AniThings: Animism and Heterogeneous Multiplicity
Joshua McVeigh-Schultz and I presented our paper at SIGCHI 2013 in Paris. It presents ideas and a project on using animism as a metaphor for interaction design, something I’ve been exploring for the last few years.
I wrote this article on interactive story telling in 1992 for a group called Interactive Expression, a group of us in the Los Angeles area who worked at Philips and other early “multimedia” companies. We got together to discuss the new medium of Interactive Media.
This spring’s New Ecology of Things course in the Media Design Program had the theme of animism, and explored how interaction design can utilize the natural tendency to imagine that inanimate objects and spaces have motivation, intention and/or consciousness.
Nokia Research recently gave me a small grant to conduct a research project in Summer, 2011. Here’s the basic description:
This project explores the design opportunities in objects that seem to have inner lives through their expressive behavior.
An Emerging Landscape in The New Ecology of Things
An updated, illustrated, and edited version of this post was published in the JohnnyHolland.org magazine about Interaction Design.
With the Apple iPad launched and scores of other tablets and e-readers hitting the market, I think it’s important to step back and look at the larger trends. We’re in the middle of a major shift towards ubiquitous computing, cloud based personal storage, and tangible interaction. It’s a shift away from the generic computation typified by the “personal computer,” which never really achieved the individuality or specificity implied by the term “personal.” In short, we’re experiencing the emergence of The New Ecology of Things, where a network of heterogeneous, smart objects and spaces create opportunities for a more personal and meaningful landscape. This is what I’d like to explore:
- Where we’ve been and how the personal computer has made us soulless
- Where we’re about to be #1 with the emergence of digital slabs
- Where we’re about to be #2 with a new form of design that’s a hybrid of software and product
- Where we may be going and the future of the designer in an era of bespoke objects
A lot of doubters are making a classic mistake in evaluating Apple’s iPad. They did the same thing after the initial announcement for the iPhone, or for that matter the Toyota Prius. The mistake is thinking in terms of existing categories and value propositions. For the iPad, the doubt seems to boil down to: “I don’t like it because it doesn’t fit my ideal for a great laptop.” The critiques don’t always state it those terms, but I think that’s where it’s coming from. No camera, no keyboard, no multi-tasking, no Flash (okay, actually Safari on the iPad really does need that), etc. – these are standard expectations for a laptop.
A couple days ago, RISD president John Maeda tweeted that “Design is a solution to a problem. Art is a question to a problem.” Perhaps he was kidding, but I have to object. To me, good design raises new questions. If designers simply solve problems, we deaden design and culture by making things that operate at the most mundane level. Instead, we should create things that inspire, challenge, provoke, surprise, satisfy, engage and open up opportunities. The best design changes the context around it and allows people to see and feel the world in a new way. What problem did the Porsche 356 solve? What is the impact of the new Seattle Public Library? Why is the iPhone important? What’s interesting about Paula Scher‘s posters? What makes a great hammer?
Each of these play a role in people’s lives with broad effects in terms of activities, emotions, thinking, tactility, social interactions, creativity, work, play, and more. Even the “functional” hammer does more than solve the problem of putting nails into wood – it feels right in the hand, it gains a patina over time that makes it personal, in a pinch it will open a beer bottle, and you can use it to repair a church after Katrina.
In particular, if we think about Interactive Design, the highest goal should be to empower people to create their own meaning spaces, not solve pre-determined problems or even make great experiences. As I’ve discussed in my Productive Interaction paper and in The New Ecology of Things, design plays a greater role than serving tasks and solving problems. The things in our lives communicate, create social exchanges, and enable us to manipulate both the tangible and the idea. They afford creative abuse and invention. Forget solving problems, design things to be productive, embodied, mythological, meaningful.
I just read a couple interesting posts on something called The Implicit Web which relates ideas of the Semantic Web, social computing, “clickstreams“, folksonomies, sophisticated search systems, intelligent software assistants, crowdsourcing, etc. By tracking the activity of people and analyzing semantic content on the web the Implicit Web can automatically discover networks of people and interests without the explicit kind of work one does in Twitter, Facebook, or Google search.
In other words, by tracking what you and others do and create (emails, blog entries, tweets, browsing activity, shopping, etc.), and by scouring the web and analyzing its content, these systems make sense of the web in a much more sophisticated way than the brute force kind of searching that Google does. So it could find correlations, generate connections, optimize searches, make you aware of implicit networks of interest, and generally act on your behalf to both filter the incoming avalanche of data, and provide better/faster means to get to interesting information that you might not otherwise find.
While this idea is related to the kinds of recommendations that Amazon and other sites do, it is stronger because it aggregates a lot more activity and content beyond the silo of a single site. Plus, the ultimate expression of the implicit web (I hope) is that the user will have more control, and can “dial-in” the criteria of a search or automated task to their specific interests at that moment, rather than being stuck with some company’s idea of your interests. This idea relates to my essay on Productive Interaction, where the design of these systems is not about creating enveloping, persuasive experiences (as experience design dictates), but designing contexts where users are empowered to create their own meaning spaces.
Related LINKS below
I just wrapped up my The New Ecology of Things class at Art Center’s Media Design Program. The class addressed the design of ubiquitous, massively networked systems – i.e. emerging ecologies of things. Our topic this term was “anti-homogenous” and we looked at heterogeneous alternatives to the mouse, keyboard, screen for specific work and play activities. This continues the idea mentioned in my Microsoft Future 2019 video post, where interactions should adapt to the type of activity, rather than the person adapting to the same type of interaction for every task. The 13 students designed and prototyped projects ranging from a special table for art directors to a lamp that receives and projects video messages from your friends. The projects addressed different affordances as well as the relationships between tangible, embodied things and their meta-data/meta-content. More details and links to project websites below the photos.
How can we make computational design and code understandable to design students, and how can they define the designer’s role in regard to coding? I was recently explaining to a student the importance of timing when a project responds to a user – a difference in milliseconds can make a big impact. We were also talking about how designing and developing code requires a different way of thinking and abstraction compared to visual design. In interactive design, the 4th dimension of time and the definition of behavior in code is very different from the see-it-all gestalt one can get from looking at and refining a 2D visual design.
I think the way to go is to cast it in terms of designing behavior. There are many principles and concepts of designing interesting, rich, meaningful behavior that I think could be developed, some of which is instantiated in code, other aspects in the mechanical design (the turning of a doorknob or the page of a book for example), and others in the conceptual design. This shift to behavior design as an overarching concept that encompasses computation may make it more interesting and relevant to designers.
The “bullet-time” scene in The Matrix dramatically slows down time while the camera pans around Neo, allowing us to see how he expertly avoids bullets as they fly by. It seems to me that, at it’s best, interactive media can be like this, with the important addition of user control. Rich, productive interaction enables the user to freeze things, examine the topic in detail, move through the content, and have control over what they perceive–time, perspective, focus, sight, sound, juxtaposition, etc. Further, having taken control of perception, the user can move and change elements, affecting the meaning directly, and creating a personally meaningful version of the work.
I’m not arguing that interaction should be cinematic, as Steven Spielberg recently suggested to students at USC’s program in gaming. Film is one medium, interaction is another with it’s own grammar, character, and means of communication. What I am suggesting is that interaction designers should provide users with the sense of magic, power, and real-time manipulation implied by the bullet-time technique.
Designers often struggle with the distinction between design and art. Perhaps one is instrumental and the other is not. Or design is for a client, and art is for oneself. I’m beginning to see the two more as points on a continuum. Early filmaker and theorist Dziga Vertov wrote that the possibility for film was “making the invisible visible, the unclear clear, the hidden manifest, the disguised overt, the acted non-acted; making falsehood into truth…” I think that this is the goal of both art and design, but that the emphasis is different for each. We could look at art and design along these lines:
art: making the invisible felt
design: making the invisible known
Of course, art and design strive towards each other in varying degrees. A landscape painting reveals a truth in a known as well as a felt manner. And a poster design reveals its topic in both an explicit and felt way. But I think it’s fair to say that the emphasis in art is the felt, and the emphasis in design is the known.