Saffer, Chapter 1

Saffer’s first chapter gives a thorough and yet concise overview of interaction design–its  definitions, its history, its current state, and its potential future.

The field or discipline itself, Saffer notes, only really came into sharp-ish focus and relative prominence in the mid-1990’s, as “[o]ur gadgets became digital, as did our workplaces, homes, transportation, and communication devices. Our everyday stuff temporarily became unfamiliar to us” (p. 3). Today, there are three ways of looking at interaction design: a technology-centered view, a behaviorist view and a Social Interaction Design view. All these three view s, however, share an approach that assumes that ‘“[i]nteraction design is by its nature contextual: it solves specific problems under a particular set of circumstances using the available materials” (p. 4).

Saffer also traces some of the potential significances of interaction design for society–the ways (big and small) it can make human lives better, easier, more productive and more helpful. These efforts are and must be shaped and driven by a wide range of influences–from psychology to ergonomics to economics to art (p. 8). The discipline is, broadly speaking, defined by collaboration–both in the creating of its products and in the aims for the uses of those products.

His “(very) brief” history of interaction design provides a concise and fascinating view of human’s interaction with the technology they create. We have grown closer, more intimate, with our computers over the past seven decades–in ways that today we likely mostly take for granted (and thanks to ideas–e.g. the mouse, touch screens–that have been around for at least a couple of decades longer than I, for one, had assumed). In our present moment, with the rise of the Internet, the potential–and, in fact, Saffer argues, the need–for interaction design is greater than ever, and one way in which he envisions the field developing is into service design.

One question that came to mind:

  • With ever-increasing numbers of people accessing the Internet on mobile devices (as opposed to, say, desktop computers), has/hasn’t interaction design had to undergo a shrinking, of sorts–a need to find ways to design effective and rewarding interactions that are fairly stripped down? Is this process more like turning a piece of prose into an outline or into a poem?

The Villages of Sustainability in Action

This brochure for the Villages feels/looks/sounds a bit on the loose side–both flexible and not exactly tightly defined. So, for audience I could imagine a fairly wide one–all ages of schoolchildren (coming with families and with schools), maybe some college kids and other young activists (though I get the impression that this venue isn’t exactly aiming for hardcore environmental types), parents and other adults sympathetic to the issues addressed (from highly interested to mildly interested and looking for a day out), green technology businesspeople and corporate sustainability types.

One of the main things that came to mind for me is how to keep people coming back for repeat visits. L’Oracle du Papillon sounds wonderful, but I can’t really imagine it being a draw for a visitor more than, say, once a year, at best. Perhaps, then, that central space eventually could become something like a gallery, where themed–interactive–art/installations would cycle through on a regular basis. (Once a year? Bi-annually? More? On a side note, regular communications with email recipients could mark art/installation openings, “last chance to see”s, etc.) The potential to draw in new/future visitors–who come first for the art–is also significant. Individual modules might draw different crowds over the course of the year (e.g. families and school groups might frequent the in the Habitat & Consumption Village more than other groups, the Cinema/Conferences module might see more adult activists and industry-types, etc.), but as the presence and centrality of the L’Oracle du Papillon seems to suggest, a good, interactive, mass appeal, “mesmerizing” artwork/installation/experience could draw in all types, serve as a hub.

And these exhibitions need not be tech-intensive, of course, if such a thing (such the costs associated with works such as L’Oracle) is a concern. Utilization and connection to the Villages surrounding landscape seems a real and valuable possibility. (I suppose I’m thinking of something like the Storm King Art Center here.) One of the most engaging works of art I ever encountered was at Mass MOCA a few years ago, where an artist was constructing a work tied to the museum space’s industrial roots. After being given a bit of history and context for the artwork and the history of the place, visitors were invited to leave a message, written in pencil on an old-style garment tag, to a young woman I imagined working in the factory a hundred years ago. After a time, the artist would collect the tags and incorporate them into the larger work she was planning. Tags could even be taken home and mailed back to the museum. I took home two and I found myself thinking for days about what to write. I wanted to be a genuine part of the meaning of the work and the place.