Sunday, October 26, 2008

Cultural Aspects of Interaction Design

A detailed paper on culture and interaction design ...

"The notion of interaction design has become an indispensable aspect in any new product design and development, especially for those products with embedded information technologies. While traditional industrial design focuses on a product’s functionality and its physical features, interaction design requires different perspectives and approaches for increasingly complex design problems. New technologies such as networking and embedded technologies provide opportunities to develop new categories of products with a much wider range of services that combine many physical and informational functions. Since such products are more interactive and are more pervasive in our daily activities, design calls for much deeper understanding from more diverse perspectives of product use. This discussion applies not only to physical products but also to other forms of artifacts. For instance, communication media have gone through an astonishingly rapid transformation, from print media to digital media-–further extending their ubiquity and interactivity. This technological development has introduced new types of functionality, related for example to control, monitoring, searching, and transactions for many different applications. New technologies such as the Internet and mobile phone networks have changed the way people live and work. Such technological changes are taking place in the social and cultural landscapes of our daily life, and are fundamentally affecting many aspects of our lives.

When a group of people, no matter its scale, start sharing common ways of thinking, feeling and living, culture emerges. Culture therefore can emerge from any population segment. It is not limited to a geographic area or ethnicity. Different cultures can be distinguished by their individual and group characteristics, e.g. the mental models, behavioral patterns, emotional responses, aesthetics, rules, norms, and values that group members share. Different cultures therefore produce different artifacts and environments based on their cultural characteristics. On the other hand, artifacts, through people’s interactions with them, influence cultures and can even produce a new culture.

We all carry multiple cultures. For example, we might embrace ethnic cultures from two different regions, one from where we grew up and the other from where we live. We might also carry with us a professional culture as an academician or a designer. Some cultures manifest more dominantly over others depending on the nature of activities and situations. Different cultures also interact with each other and produce intricate patterns of human behavior in relation to given situations. Such cultural characteristics of users play a major role in their interactions with artifacts. The design of an artifact, therefore, needs to incorporate a wide range of cultural factors concerning users, organizations, practices and environments in order to most effectively perform its intended role throughout the use process.

Though the notion of multiple cultures and the cyclical relationship between culture and artifact are only two of many aspects of culture in design, they alone raise many questions in design research and practice. A few examples are: How should we consider cultural factors in the design of artifacts? How will people in a cultural group accept new artifacts or technologies? How will new artifacts or technologies impact our culture? How can dominant cultural influences be identified? How do multiple cultures interact during user-artifact interaction?"    (Continued via putting people first, International Journal of Design, Keiichi Sato and Kuohsiang Chen)    [Usability Resources]

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