Friday, August 24, 2007

Design Is Rocket Science

A discussion and review of Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction ...

"I remember reading those Scientific American magazines when I was a kid. I liked them because the design of the magazine was funky, almost a 50’s image brought into the 80’s. It had a flair for interjecting human qualities, humor, lifestyle issues, even cosmetic thinking, in a way that no other ‘serious magazine’ really did. I, like so many other people, did not read it or even just look through it, for the amazing scientific breakthroughs that they reported, but because it was well designed. So, for me, it wasn’t a science magazine, it was good design, and that was rocket science.

“Rocket Science” is one of those expressions that conjures up a lot of thoughts, but mostly it means something is incredibly smart, basically breaching the impossible. Now, I find “The Impossible” breathtakingly exciting, the idea of something not being able to happen just somehow thrills me to bits. For example, it really makes me tick that it’s practically impossible to design a reasonably easy to use, or aesthetically interesting, computer interface. But, there are a thousand good suggestions on how to get started on such an endeavor this in this book.

Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction [1] is cunningly released at a time when acceptance of Interaction Design as a discipline is reaching a critical mass. The book precipitates a huge turn in the creation of interactive technologies toward the more research/creative or human-centric model, approaching the subject of this change from different angles and illuminating historical insights.

The concept that practical research leads the way to good design is a good thing, but Interaction Design misses an opportunity, in some ways, by highlighting so many decent designs from only a research or technology-driven perspective. I never really understood how the field of Human-Computer Interaction is scientific anyway, so I’m glad to see the subtitle, “Beyond Human-Computer Interaction,” on the book, meaning a move toward “design and creative” in the discipline from a focus on hard-nosed research. It always struck me as an art form, to design computer software, and not a viable practice for using measurements and methodologies. Call me biased, but I feel science does a lot of legwork in trying to justify itself in the design of computer interfaces. Whereas, most people understand that designing a screen interface requires a creative approach.

The book sheds light on this aspect of HCI being a creative endeavor, but stays within the realm of the research, or semi-scientific, approach. Even as a social science, the dominant belief HCI research as the most effective way to design interfaces leaves too little room for real creative design talent. This book serves as a sign of the times by reflecting on this outlook.

It’s not that research isn’t appreciated in the design world (especially the findings), but my position is that some results could be found through sheer design approaches. The majority of successful applied designs include the conceptual, aesthetic, and semantic as well as input from the research-based approaches in this book. In my mind, however, sometimes the results of the research can be talked out in a few good casual conversations with other designers about the technology, placement, and end users.

The book does highlight quite a few good approaches that I use as a practitioner, so it certainly covers the reality of doing interaction design. In fact, every possible ethno-social-human-factors method under the sun is in this book, and it would be impossible to integrate many of them, even partially, into a real world project. It’s an excellent reference book for the shelf, and I know that I’ll refer to it often, even if I can’t use every approach in my projects."    (Continued via Boxes and Arrows)    [Usability Resources]


Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction


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