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8 March 2008 / erikduval

Designing our future…

Last Thursday, it was my privilege to give the opening lecture for a series on Man-Machine Interaction. I asked participants to mention applications that annoy them in their daily lives – you can see the notes I took on slide 12. A few weeks ago, I asked my students the same question when my course on CHI (Human-Computer Interaction) started.

It is funny how it is always easy to list more annoying applications than we can cover in one session:

  • an automated tank station where the instructions on one screen say that you should pay attention to another screen and where you can’t reach your car if you park it between the lines;
  • Microsoft Word’s auto-formatting;
  • our Toledo learning environment that doesn’t indicate whether any of your courses have new material or posts;
  • automatic shutdown of the radio when your car goes into “eco modus” whilst you’re waiting for a meeting you arrived early for;
  • add you own – please do! (You can use the comments below…)

Above, I wrote that it is funny how easy it is to come up with such a list and how easy everybody recognizes the annoyance of many of these applications. Actually, it is not that funny: some of the sources of these annoyances and techniques to avoid them have been around for many years, yet we still don’t seem to be able to reduce the number of problematic application! If you want more evidence, you can find some in Wired’s recent series on Things That Make Us Crazy.

One of the problems, IMHO, is that we do have good methods for evaluating designs, specifically user interface designs, but we do not have similar methods for the design activity itself. I recently finished Daniel Pink’s “A Whole New Mind” and I agree with Dan that design is more and more an essential skill. I teach “problem solving and design” courses, and I feel VERY challenged about teaching the design activity itself.

In the case of my course on human computer interaction, I’ve reverted to a studio approach where I spend every Tuesday with the students in class, so that I can keep a closer eye on what they are doing and shorten the feedback cycles. It is fun to do, but it doesn’t scale very well. (BTW, this year, they are designing facebook apps. More about that later, but do feel free to comment or just say hello in the course!)

In most textbooks, the chapter on how you move from initial analysis, brainstorming, etc. to the actual design itself seems to be missing. I think I know how to help my students recognize problems with designs they do, but I’d really like to learn from your experience with teaching the design process itself… Apprenticeship seems such an outdated way to approach this?

One Comment

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  1. Grainne Conole / Mar 9 2008 10:25 am

    Hi Erik

    I totally agree with you finding an approach for evaluating the design activity is a problem that we haven’t solved yet. I went to a jisc meeting this week to look at the two pedagogical planners that they have funded. Both tools have alot of merit BUT I was struck by the same question I always end up asking with any of these tools (including the ones I’ve been involved with CompendiumLD, DialogPlus, Media Adivser) – namely that none of these tools do essentially much more than the individual working on their own. How do any of these things really make a difference in the design process?
    Gráinne

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