Thursday, 9 December 2010

Pecha Kucha: 20 slides - 20 seconds.

I'm presenting an overview of an aspect of my research position to an audience of 75 at Pecha Kucha Edinburgh #10 on 10th December.

Here is essentially what I'd like to say on the night (but if you're there it will be mostly ad-libbed).

"Like many from a creative design discipline I’m always confronting people’s perceptions of design as one of surface. This is a common misconception that in my broader academic research I’m attempting to dispel. The aesthetics of surface will upon closer inspection give way to the aesthetics of use. My design discipline of Visual Communication is continually prone to being seen as purely a subjective exercise. But it is about the use of communication.

In approaching the aesthetics of use I am following the work of Jorge Frascara who argues that Visual Communication is about changing behaviour. Visual Communication as a discipline has two main design outcomes: graphic design and illustration. The discipline’s name places the emphasis upon the method (design), the objective (communication) and the medium (visual), rather than just the creation of graphic forms (outcomes). The quality of it’s objective is measured in how behaviour is changed.

To understand how this change can be measured I am developing a visual phenomenological methodology through which to understand experience. Using hermeneutic phenomenology as a philosophical grounding, I’ve begun to capture and visually identify themes of experience. These themes can be interpreted to reveal the structures of a studied experience - in fact some of the volunteers are in the audience tonight - [shout out] - and where experimented on in here last month.

The phenomenological themes are revealed through a hermeneutic circle of interpretive analysis. The researcher (me) isolates, using an established framework by van Manen, delves deeper from a position of existing understanding. By breaking each participant’s experience down into constitutive themes, these themes can be individually interpreted - in my case visually. Then the themes can be combined and interpreted as a whole, before being tested for validity and uniqueness to the particular experience under study. This then changes the original understanding, moving the research forward into a deeper understanding of how that experience is structured.

Under-pinning this hermeneutic phenomenological perspective is essentially an existential philosophical ground espoused by Martin Heidegger. Simplifying some heavy philosophy in the few minutes I have, I may be forgiven for summing this up as the being of being. That opens things up into a consideration of the self in the lifeworld which can be separated into four existentials: lived space; lived body; lived time; and lived human relation.

Lived space or spatiality is our being in the world. All our experiences happen within a context, and that context shapes the experiences we have. We, in a way, for a time become the space we are in - our felt space. Within a particular experience we may be conscious or not of this felt space - each aspect of this space consciously or sub-consciously influencing our actions.

Lived body or corporeality is our embodiment in the world. We make sense through our senses, and that sense of our bodies within our experience shapes our experience. Embodiment is how we encounter physical and social reality directly rather than abstractly. Embodiment denotes a form of participative status, a property that allows us to make our engagement with the world meaningful.

Lived time or temporality is our subjective perception of time - how we understand our sense of time and how it affects us. Temporality includes our previous experiences, our memories (real and false) that leave traces on our present. As we exist in the lifeworld our new experiences are pressured and influenced by our lived time. We exist in a perpetual state of becoming so our past is forever changing as we exist.

Lived human relation or relationality is the other through which we seek understanding of our self. All our experiences happen within a context, and that context shapes the experiences we have. It is the lived relation we maintain with others, both physical and abstract that shapes the experiences we have. This includes the interpersonal space that we share with others within the lifeworld - our lived world in which have our experiences.

The four existentials of lived space; lived body; lived time; and lived human relation can be differentiated from each other. But they can never be separated from each other. Our sense of self - our being of being - is constituent of all for parts. We exist bodily in time, in space, and not in isolation - we have experiences in interconnected situated moments. It is these existentials that inform our behaviour and can be calibrated to alter our future approaches to experiences.

There are two forms of experience. An anaesthetic experience is where we are on automatic pilot performing tasks with little focus on action or purpose is automatic. Alternatively, an autotelic experience is an experience that in itself is purposeful which leads to, from a pragmatist philosophical position as John Dewey suggests, aesthetic experiences. These aesthetic experiences are purposefully enjoyable in their interaction - with a beginning, middle and a culmination that is enjoyable.

John Dewey and Richard Shusterman suggests a pragmatic philosophical framework on how aesthetic experiences are structured. It is through the work on Flow by psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentimihalyi [pronounced Me-high Cheek-sent-me-high]that provides a phenomenology of enjoyment. His eight components are all (or mostly) present in a particular aesthetic experience. In these phenomenological components the four existentials are present. This provides me as a Visual Communication researcher the rich abstracted concepts to visually develop the discipline further toward the aesthetics of use.

#1 Chance of completing
The sense of enjoyment appears to sit at an interface between boredom and anxiety. To enjoy an activity there appears a need for the tension between boredom and anxiety in completing it. Based upon an individual’s existing skills if the activity is too easy they will become bored quickly; too difficult they will feel anxious about not completing it. Enjoyment emerges out of an aesthetic experience where that tension is exciting, and the completion is possible with an application of the self in its achievement.

#2 Concentration on actions
When in a moment, that can be described as FLOW or an aesthetic experience, all other aspects of our life can be forgotten for a time. This is a by-product of being where enjoyable activities command a complete focusing on that moments actions. The clearly structured demands of the experience impose a sense of order in our consciousness. This in turn excludes any interference of our everyday worries and responsibilities - for a time.

#3 clear goals
Clear goals are not superficial and simple, nor are they always preformed. Clear goals of open-ended activities emerge out of ambiguities. The open-endedness of creative situations begin with vague goals that are subsequently fleshed out during the activity in a sense of exploration. Without clear goals to aim for the experience is unstructured and will meander. With even initial vague goals feedback will inform of when they have been met.

#4 immediate feedback
The kind of feedback that is worked toward is valid in its symbolic message it contains. It informs us of our level of success in achieving our goals. It creates order in consciousness and strengthens the structure of the self. The feedback required by the individual is variable. The key is that as long as the feedback is logically related to our goal, any feedback can become enjoyable - even feedback that isn’t positive.

#5 effortless involvement
Once in an enjoyable experience the desire and purpose is not to peak and to come out of the Flow of the experience - to return to a conscious self. A state of effortless involvement is enacted but this not all that it feels. To feel that, on reflection, the involvement has been effortless does still involve skilled performance. A lapse in concentration returns the individual to a state of self-consciousness, and self-evaluation - the state of Flow is interrupted.

#6 sense of control over self
Enjoyment in leisure activities is distinct from mundane everyday activities where any bad things can happen. Within an autotelic experience where the end is itself rewarding, the enjoyment is consuming without anxiety of failure. There is a paradox here as there is a sense of control over the self - or a lack of worry of about losing control that we do not have in our everyday existence.

#7 concern for self disappears
The loss of self-consciousness and concern for their self during an experience, is due to little opportunity for the self to feel threatened. Enjoyable activities have clear goals, stable rules and the challenge within the skills of the individual. Comfort zones can thus be pushed where the challenge is enjoyable. The loss of self-consciousness does not involve a loss of self or of consciousness - but just a loss of consciousness of the self.

#8 Sense of time is altered
The freedom from the tyranny of objective time when in a state of complete involvement is exhilarating. The intense concentration an individual finds themselves in when absorbed in an enjoyable experience. Timing may still be objectively the same, but the sensation of passing of time is altered. It may be perceived as speeding up or slowing down despite pacing of actions or goals.

Here I’ll end as my time has passed and my pacing may be spot on or not. This has been an overview of the richness of pursuing the four existentials to understand the aesthetics of use.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

What it's all about… (I hope)

I am interested in the aesthetics of interaction, specifically visualising and facilitating behavioural change in the user’s actions for the benefit of the user. My own journey into interaction design has come through my native design discipline of Visual Communication, and it’s design outcomes of graphic design and illustration. For too long Visual Communication’s contribution to the design of better interactions has (wrongly) been at the end of the design, engineering or construction process - “doing” the aesthetic bit, the artifice. Over the Twentieth century the design outcomes of graphic design and illustration have become so “deeply ingrained in the texture of daily life that (they are) taken for granted” (Crowley, 2004). The misconception that graphic designers are merely the ‘decorationists/dictators of style’ (Laurel, 2003), or just contribute ‘added value’ (Petersen et al., 2004) belies a perceived prejudice based on its commercial service to marketing and advertising. This is unfortunate as Visual Communication’s outcomes go beyond mere decoration, and beyond subservience to consumerism. It leaves out so much of the intellectual design process, and the emotional and social contexts (Kolko, 2010, p102) that the discipline draws from, I am going to suggest a way Visual Communication can be influential earlier in the process of designing interactions.

The visual is a central communication channel in humans’ ability to communicate; together with vocal, touch and smell. Neuroscience, together with anthropology, is even beginning to shed light on understanding our ancient visual communication skills, unlocking our implicit, experiential capacity for communication (Lewis-Williams, 2004). Although the original meanings and messages contained within the earliest images of Visual Communication such as cave paintings are no longer explicitly understood, the power of the visual resonates over millennia. It is clear that the images do encapsulate meaning, we have the semiotic signifiers but what is signified is culturally lost to us. It is within that semiotic framework that is still used that modern designers now use word and image effectively to communicate. As such they have developed the visual culture of 20th and 21st century life, shaping new aesthetic forms across a variety of old and new media, and changing human behaviour as a result. This is why I am interested in using Visual Communication as an influence on designing better interactions. The aesthetic is crucial in designing for use of an interaction and is linked into usability in many ways that can not be measured. Tractinsky (2004) has gone some way to measure the effects of aesthetics on interactions, but aesthetics can only be truly understood qualitatively. I will, in this paper, suggest that this understanding can be done using a pragmatist philosophical view of aesthetics, and the visualising of a phenomenological methodology to interpret experience as directly from the viewpoint of the user as possible. In both cases I will present an argument, both theoretical and practical, on how Visual Communication can help in this. I have two main themes: the connecting of Visual Communication to HCI through a phenomenological study of ‘aesthetics of use’ to understand the phenomenon; and that Visual Communication is a facilitator for behavioural change and therefore well placed to confidently contribute to both design of interactions and ‘aesthetics of use’.
The use of a phenomenological methodology draws on Heideggerian Hermeneutics (1982)(1993), and is based upon a qualitative research framework proposed by Moustakas (1994) where the ‘phenomena’ of an experience can be revealed, which is beyond the reach of quantitative measurement. Moustakas’ framework is adapted to an interpretative phenomenological model using the guidance of van Manen’s (1990) suggestions. Within Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) research Harrison (2007) has been researching into how to qualitatively understand experience. In a pragmatic philosophical way the meaning of what is experienced is “constructed on the fly, often collaboratively, by people in specific contexts and situations, and therefore that interaction itself is an essential element in meaning construction.” (p7). This meaning construction is interpretable and is “irreducibly connected to the viewpoints, interactions, histories, and local resources available to those making sense” of the experience (p7). This HCI perspective allows for synergy with the strengths of Visual Communication, and which can provide an alternative methodology within which to study the ‘aesthetics of use’.

In the first section of this paper I will expand upon my rationale behind my argument of repositioning Visual Communication as an influence upon Interaction Design. I will expand this rationale with a review of the literature strengthening the argument for facilitation for behavioural change, and the use of phenomenology to connect Visual Communication to HCI, in order to understand actual experience of behaviour. The following sections will explain the methods I am engaging to practically create a visual phenomenological methodology, and the initial results of this visual research. Finally I will end with a discussion of the directions, strengths and weaknesses of the current approach. Future work will be discussed before reaching a conclusion.


Before I begin to explain how I propose to reposition Visual Communication’s influence on Interaction Design through the ‘aesthetics of use’, I first need to define Interaction Design. This design discipline emerged out of several disciplines including HCI over twenty-five years ago. The term Interaction Design was coined by Bill Moggridge (2007) who felt that there was an opportunity to define a new user-centred design discipline, dedicated to creating imaginative and attractive solutions based upon real needs and desires. This would provide a designed level of aesthetic pleasure in the use of products, systems and services (p14). Interaction designer Jon Kolko (2010) describes the discipline as designing a person’s physical and emotional dialogue. This is a satisfactory experience and engagement, resulting in a form of positive and enjoyable behavioural change, achievable by the interplay of aesthetics, functionality and usability that goes beyond the computer desktop screen. This “emphasizes the human side of technology” (pp11-13), presenting interactive opportunities within the ‘aesthetics of use’, where aesthetic value is culturally situated. This position involving aesthetics can be problematic from a quantitative HCI perspective, but through a phenomenological methodology it can be qualitatively understood. I intend to present such a framework based upon a Visual Communication framework.

Since the development of graphic design as a recognised design field (Heller, 2006), its design discipline of Visual Communication has explored the “cultural phenomena” in order to connect, to communicate, and to alter behaviour. It’s literature often discusses ‘phenomena’ but then uses other qualitative methodologies to try and understand it (Kenney, 2009) such as Grounded Theory, Ethnography etc. With HCI researchers working within a phenomenological, rather than a functionalist, paradigm it brings HCI closer to Visual Communication in exploring aesthetics. Thus providing an opportunity to reposition the latter as an influence on Interaction Design.
I have developed a new design framework, adapting phenomenological methodologies outlined by Moustakas and van Manen into a visual rather than textual methodology. Through developing such a methodology visually, the outcomes of the ‘aesthetics of use’ can be mapped, making the method initially useful to Interaction Designers. I am interested in how aesthetic experience can be mapped using techniques of manipulation of text | image. Within a research project entitled “Internal | External 2010” I examined what is effective in the formation of such a Visual Communication Phenomenological Methodology.

Using a group of eleven Edinburgh-based volunteers from a broad social mix I have experimented with the development of that methodology. I used adapted cultural probes, contextual interviews, observations of an interactive experience and recording techniques to collect the raw phenomenological data. These qualitative methods of data collection are all established and used by many researchers, were adapted to interpretative phenomenological methods. The volunteers were observed all performing similar tasks using an interactive artefact in what Lim (2007) describes as an ‘interaction design space’, based at the University of Edinburgh’s Inspace gallery. From this observation, together with the rich data collected from the contextual interviews and probe, the volunteers’ experiences and behaviours are textually and visually documented, and then visually interpreted using phenomenologically structured Visual Communication techniques, to understand the volunteers aesthetic pleasure of using the interactive artefact. Using a visual hermeneutic circle of reduction, visual outcomes were finally created to phenomenologically interpret the phenomena of ‘aesthetics of use’. This will be discussed in detail later in the paper. Before this I will outline, through the literature, the important theories which I have used to underpin the methodological framework I propose.

Phenomenology in Other Design Disciplines

Before this new adaptation of an established methodology can be explained, a brief review of phenomenology within other design disciplines needs to be discussed. Principally phenomenology, at least philosophically have been used within product, architecture and interior design, to some degree in order to understand spatial-temporal relationships. Wang and Wagner have recently attempted a mapping of phenomenological philosophy to the design process (2007). They conclude that “phenomenological studies have elevated many facets of human experience to the level of rigorous knowledge (or at least to the level of rigorous academic consideration of these facets as knowledge). This approach is useful for the design disciplines in that these domains stress the spontaneous, the creative, and the aesthetic” but they argue not to raise “phenomenological inquiry to a totalizing position” just yet as their mapping exercise isn’t robust enough yet. In their argument for mapping the phenomenologists they create a geography of four quadrants in which they place architecture. These four conceptual regions are: individual phenomenology, phenomenology of history and culture, phenomenology of design production, and phenomenology related to metaphysics. These quadrants are connected by orthogonal and diagonal lines, and acts as a slider between each section in which different forms of architecture may be placed to be be understood through a particular philosopher. This is a theoretical geography, and beyond the mapping the discourse into phenomenology still remains theoretical rather than practical.

Folkmann (2010) uses the philosophical work of Merleau-Ponty as a theoretical grounding through which to study aesthetics phenomenologically within design, arguing that Merleau-Ponty’s ideas can be mapped into design because, “every piece of design contains an idea, a dimension of immateriality; vice versa, design is only conceivable as something conceivable as something concretely manifested – when speaking of immaterial design.” (p46) Mainly the design examples Folkmann discusses are from Product Design but they do have connections straight into Interaction Design. The term ‘aesthetic function’ is discussed in the paper to frame a dimension in which meaning is constructed. The argument is that “aesthetics in design is a matter of how design relates to meaning. It is not enough to ask what the meaning of a specific design is on a conceptual level (the “idea”), we must also ask how it performs or reflects this meaning in its physical form, and how it relates to the kind of self-reflective “aesthetic function” where it displays a surplus of meaning.” (p49)

The phenomenological model being proposed here a codification of levels of aesthetic-ness that can be selected by a designer based upon their relevance to a particular design solution. Folkmann’s model is only a theoretical interpretation rather than an actual phenomenological methodology. Unlike HCI’s research position, the determination of how to understand what is meant by aesthetics isn’t framed from a pragmatic philosophical point. The application of phenomenology in this context is, like Wang and Wagner, theoretical rather than directly practical. This appears to be a method to frame studies on design practice, rather than to help the design of better solutions. In a comparative design paper on phenomenology Blackwell et al. (2009) use another theoretical position, this time from a comparative theology use of phenomenology. This model of applying phenomenology to design practice again is theoretical. Emerging from the shadow of architecture Dr Tiiu Poldma (2003) has used phenomenology to study her interior design students. This pedagogical approach appears on face value to be more about the students experience rather than using the philosophy in application to the design process like Brown and I are advocating. Whilst the main focus is pedagogical it does take a more interpretive and contextual approach to phenomenology, but uses the theory as a meta-study to understand and interpret studio practice rather than a methodology within interior design itself.

Finally from another product perspective Brown (2006) goes some way closer to a practical application of phenomenology to the design process in his Masters of Design dissertation. He concludes that, “the goal of the phenomenological design process is to offer the next generation of designers a new way of thinking about the artifacts we create” and that the “beauty of this design process is that it is free from the assumptions placed on the world by the metaphysical culture in which we live. It allows the designer to seek out deeply personal design solutions creating a more relative design experience.” (p141). Applying his thesis to transportational design, his approach uses the structure of a phenomenological research methodology to apply to a designer’s thinking, from an Aristotelean/Husserlian perspective. This places his methodology within a descriptive model of phenomenological research, rather than a Heidegerrian interpretive model. My argument is for a development of a visual adaption of a hermeneutic phenomenological methodology that rather than just sets out criteria for a phenomenologically-based design thinking, actually develops a practical methodology with it. This will be a visual technique to describe from a first-person point of view their experience within a situation that needs deigning for. Instead of just design thinking a visual hermeneutic approach will allow a designer to interpret the reduced themes of the studied experience, to make those “deeply personal design solutions” that Brown suggests to design a “more relative design experience” using an actual adaptable visual methodology.

In the next sections of this paper I will discuss a direct use of phenomenology that is a methodology rather than merely a theoretic position. In order to explain this I will use what van Manen describes as an existential writing process (p173) on my current practical research project Internal | External 2010. In doing so I will begin to provide the framework for a Visual Communication Phenomenological Methodology. This will provide practical application for designers, whilst being theoretically underpinned by interpretive phenomenological philosophy. To do this I will first discuss methods and then preliminary results. Using visual examples from the study I will end on a discussion, including an evaluation of the pros and cons of the initial experiments, leading to suggested future work before concluding.

The Phenomenological Perspective

The exploration of designing interactions within a matrix of the user’s embodied and situated personal understanding is a HCI paradigm shift “to recognizing a plurality of perspectives (…) taking into account but not adjudicating the varying and perhaps conflicting perspectives of users.” (Harrison, 2007, pp7-8). The move to a phenomenological paradigm within HCI allows for a profitable linkage with Visual Communication to support Interaction Design.

Phenomenology is both a philosophical movement and a research methodology. The former provides a theoretical framework that connects Dourish’s embodied interactions, Suchman’s situated actions, McCullough’s digital ground to a pragmatic understanding (Dewey, 1980)(Shusterman, 1992) of the aesthetics of experience. In phenomenological research there are two forms, descriptive (eidetic) and interpretive (hermeneutic). Descriptive phenomenology follows the philosophy of Edward Husserl, and hermeneutic phenomenology the philosophy of Martin Heidegger (Lopez, 2004, p727). Heidegger uses the term Dasein to describe existence in respect to our own understanding of being in the world. Our “Being grows out of the average understanding of Being in which we are always involved” (1993, p49). This is ontological as to understand Being is “itself a determination of Being” (p54). This existential understanding is a “constitution-of-Being of the being that exists”(p55) in the world, and phenomenology is a concept of method through which to study the phenomena of Being, an expressed maxim of “To the things themselves!” (p72). Phenomenology investigates the Being of Beings, on studying the ‘how’ and ‘what’ meaning of a phenomena, making known the structures of Being. This investigation is hermeneutic, and it is in hermeneutic phenomenology that proposes that all understanding is interpretive (Johnson, 2000, p143). This ontological investigation of bringing out the Being of Beings helps thematise that structure.

Phenomenological reduction of these themes of Being within a specific phenomena (e.g. an aesthetic experience) begins with the apprehension of Being, to the understanding of the uncovered themes of Being, returning back through interpreting these themes of the studied experience, to the apprehension of the Being. This is a Hermeneutic Circle of interpretation, reducing the uncovered themes of the studied phenomena to “uncover commonalities and differences” (Benner, 1994, p104) seen through the eyes of the individual, to illuminate “that would have been overlooked in a purely descriptive approach” (Lopez, 2004, p734).

This hermeneutic process is contextual to a situated, cultural and historical “meaning of being in the world” (Earle, 2010, p288) (Johnson, 2000, p144) and the interpretation is conditional on the temporality of Being (Heidegger, 1982, p17) between the apprehension of Being and the understanding of the uncovered themes of Being within a studied situation. This systematic movement within a hermeneutic circle of interpretation affords the interpreter to check for “incongruities, puzzles, and unifying repeated concerns” (Benner, 1994, p113), and leads the interpreter through a cycle of “understanding, interpretation, and critique” (p120) to “uncover naturally occurring concerns and meanings” (p112) to understand the phenomena as directly as possible - as directly as experienced. Other qualitative methods attempt to examine the peripheral limitations or delimitations that surround it. In a phenomenological study the researcher enters the research open to understand the phenomena fully through the eyes of the participant. This is to understand their behaviour within that specific experience of the phenomena.

The framework for such a phenomenological research methodology is taken from two recognised academics Moustakas (1994) and van Manen (1990). Moustakas has proposed an actual staged framework for a methodology that researchers have used. This framework can be adapted for both eidetic and hermeneutic research, but to adapt it for an interpretive phenomenological study van Manen’s guidance needs to be followed. This framework, influenced primarily from nursing literature, will be discussed later in the paper and provides an established research methodology in which to explore the aesthetic experience. In doing so Visual Communication can be repositioned away from being seen as the end “artifice” and brought back to the earlier conceptualising design stages. The methodology as used to date is a written study, where each stage of writing and rewriting within a hermeneutic circle reduces the themes to a composite synthesis of meaning. van Manen advocates the writing process and offers five ways to approach writing up of the findings: thematically, analytically, exemplificatively, exegetically, or existentially (p173). He also offers a proviso to choosing the best approach that opens the methodology up beyond a purely textual outcome. Whilst he suggests the researcher can choose a combination of the above, decided by the nature of the studied phenomena, he also practically (or pragmatically) opens this up potentially beyond the textual. He calls on the researcher to be “creative in finding approaches and procedures uniquely suited” (p163) to both a particular project and the individual researcher. This is another a profitable linkage that Visual Communication can use to support Interaction Design through connecting to HCI. A purely textual representation of a phenomenological study of an experience is only partially useful for inspiring an interaction designer understand a particular experience. Visual data is a valuable source for both understanding and inspiration, and according to Benner (1994) the “use of interpretive phenomenology for interpreting visual sources of data is not yet well developed, but visual data are central to many lines of inquiry amenable to interpretive phenomenology, particularly social practices, embodied skills, and the study of lived experience.” (p120). This was sixteen years ago and through a literature search this remains under-developed. I propose within this paper how a Visual Communication Phenomenological Methodology can be developed and using a practical pilot project how it can be visually conducted.

The HCI Perspective

Without a formal externalised, repeatable process a critique of aesthetics is not possible from a functionalist HCI perspective. HCI’s theoretical root has ‘deep philosophical incompatibilities’ (Bardzell, 2009, p2357) with understanding aesthetics. The existing paradigms that HCI traditionally has worked within have raised empirical, scientific, objective knowledge as the normative (Bertelsen & Pold, 2004) (Udsen & Jurgenson, 2005). This functionalist position of examining and analysing the effect of computer systems upon human cognitive processing (Tractinsky, 2000), hasn’t been open to anything less than systematic observation. Through this scientific functionalist approach, HCI research has lead to generalisations that translate into efficient and optimised fits between computers and humans. With its focus upon functionality and usability, traditionally HCI has seen anything to do with aesthetics as ‘inversely proportional’ to usability (Ahmed et al., 2009) with warnings as to negative, detrimental affects upon efficient functionality (Tractinsky, 2004). It must be stressed that this is a traditional HCI position. As sections of the HCI research community (Harrison, 2007) are using a Phenomenological Matrix to understand experience, especially aesthetic experience, this strengthens my research perspective.
Traditional HCI, influenced by the engineering and psychology roots, has had a dismissive attitude towards aesthetics and the visual aspects of design because the emotional aspects of its influence are not revealed through the hard science of its research methods. Over the last decade, developing on Norman’s work on emotional design (2005), some HCI researchers led by Harrison, have observed the HCI paradigm developing from a position of ‘objective knowledge’ into a position from where knowledge arises from ‘situated viewpoints’ (Harrison et al., 2007). Harrison describes the three paradigms of HCI.

The first paradigm took its inspiration from HCI’s roots in industrial engineering and ergonomics, and located itself firmly within an objective and functional view of design. The second HCI paradigm focused upon a “central metaphor of mind and computer as symmetric, coupled information processors”. This intellectual position came from the influence on HCI from Cognitive Psychology. Both these first two paradigms are not mutually exclusive but overlap, and can be mapped onto Petersen’s five elements of interaction (Petersen et al., 2004). The first four interaction styles are: system, tool, dialogue and media. The system style positions the user as part of the computer system; the tool style positions the user as being in control of the system, the dialogue style positions both the user and machine as equal partners in communication, and a media style places the interactive system as a mediator between human-human communication.

The first paradigm of coupling man and machine can be seen in what Petersen defines as a System Perspective and also a Tool Perspective. Within a System Perspective the user is seen as being part of the system - as part of the machine, whereas the Tool Perspective shifted the user to an operable status, as a user of the machine. The second paradigm can be mapped to their Dialogue Partner Perspective where the user is in equal partnership with the machine, or the Media Perspective where the machine is the communication mediator between humans (Petersen et al., 2007).
Petersen’s fifth element of interaction and Harrison’s 3rd paradigm both share a phenomenological perspective that up to recently has been marginalised and subordinated under objective functionalism. In the third paradigm of HCI the focus is upon the emergent experience of humans as embodied actuators within a physical and social world.

With Harrison’s argument for the third paradigm and Petersen’s exploration of aesthetics from a Pragmatist perspective there is now an opportunity to reposition Visual Communication as an influence upon Interaction Design. This repositioning is not superficial in a desire to place the emphasis solely upon the visual design of the surface. The aesthetics of interaction, within which Visual Communication can still inform and influence, places the aesthetic not on the control of the appearance but upon an interaction that reveals itself to be aesthetic in its experience.
It is within this phenomenological space that the rhetorical voice of Visual Communication can connect and consociate with Interaction Design. It has been important to look to HCI research to locate connections with the functionalist to strengthen Visual Communication’s repositioning. To do this Petersen’s five interaction styles have been mapped to the first two paradigms of HCI, and the fifth style linking to aesthetics. Harrison’s third HCI paradigm has been crucial to this positioning, as Harrison’s phenomenological thesis is bringing HCI closer in dialogue to my position. Petersen’s work on Pragmatist Aesthetics, influenced by Dewey and Shusterman, presents a framework to form a bridge to Visual Communication via Interaction Design, using phenomenological research methodology.

The Interaction Design Perspective

The development of the discipline of Interaction Design has been summarised earlier in this paper, but Moggridge from the beginning strove for giving “aesthetic pleasure as well as lasting satisfaction and enjoyment” (2007, p14) in the work that was to be designed. Interaction designers Jon Kolko and Dan Saffer reflect upon this. Saffer summarises the scope of his discipline by detailing what it was not,
“It wasn’t product design exactly, but they were definitely designing products. Nor was it communication [graphic] design, although they used that discipline’s tools as well. It wasn’t computer science either, although a lot of it had to do with computers and software” (2006, p3).

Kolko sees the discipline as designing a person’s physical and emotional dialogue with an interactive artefact or system, leading to both a satisfactory emotional experience and a satisfactory engagement with the content. Once used, the experience should result in a form of behavioural change that is positive, and enjoyable. In my intention to reposition Visual Communication’s influence earlier in the Interaction Design process, it is crucial also to look below the aesthetics of the surface, the visual interface or form, into what Dunne describes as the ‘aesthetics of use’ (1999). To explore and drill-down below the surface of an interaction, into what Nake describes as the ‘subface’ (2008) and Lim et al. term the ‘interaction design space’, an interaction designer needs to gain knowledge about the nature of the interaction; the intent, needs and desires of the user; and the material attributes that can be manipulated to iteratively develop the design. The materials interaction designers use differs from the materials used within Product or Graphic Design (Lim, 2007) and are more ‘flexible, ungraspable, and phenomenal’ (ibid. p245). It is in understanding these attributes of design and their manipulation that creates an interactive experience greater than the attributes used (ibid. p239).

But as Interaction Design’s materials are not tangible, non-qualitative critics have argued that it cannot formalise a design process that is procedurally executable or repeatable. Kolko sees a need for Interaction Design to position itself into a duality that “emphasizes the human side of technology.” (2010, pp11-13). This physical and emotional dialogue is synonymous with McCarthy and Wright’s (2004) underdeveloped ‘emotional-volitional’ component of the relationship between the human and the technology. They discuss users now becoming active consumers who are no longer passive in the relationship with technology, but through their imaginations and emotional attachment to their chosen technology. This quality of experience is a “felt and sensual quality” (p13) within a situated moment that is more than an instrumental exotelic experience. It is what Dewey (1980) describes as an aesthetic experience, a refined form of everyday experience that is satisfying and creative.

Dewey, a pragmatist philosopher, describes aesthetic experience as the “conversion of resistance and tensions, of excitations that in themselves are temptations to diversion, into a movement toward an inclusive and fulfilling close.” (p58) Csikszentimihalyi in his psychology research on FLOW lists eight major components to an aesthetic experience. He describes a phenomenology of enjoyment that can frame an autotelic experience that Dewey would describe as aesthetic. Csikszentimihalyi’s eight components that may all feature together (or in cases only one) are: a chance of completing a task; concentration on actions; action has clear goals; immediate feedback on actions; a deep but effortless involvement; a sense of control over own actions; concern for the self disappears (yet paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger afterwards); and the sense of the duration of time is altered (p49).
McCarthy and Wright argue that it is the dynamic involving “cumulation, conservation, tension and anticipation” (p64) within a user that is always moving toward a fulfilment where the diversion away from natural obstacles, resistances and tensions are overcome leading toward an outcome that Dewey describes as a close that is both fulfilling and inclusive. This instrumentality of means-end is not exclusively functional but emotionally felt. It sits within a existential situation where the event is always becoming, conditional on the context and the temporality of the situation. The aesthetic experience emerges from the lived experience, where the self can be lost in the moment but can return, feeling nourished and contented. McCarthy and Wright’s perspective on the implications of a ‘emotional-volitional’ component goes beyond a subjective state to the “irreducible totality of people acting, sensing, thinking, feeling, and making meaning in a setting, including the perception and sensation of their own actions” (p85). This is to draw the distinctions between an intrinsic and extrinsic understanding that meaning fluctuates between autotelic and exotelic experience: for both its own sake and for exterior purpose. Dourish (2004) suggests that meaningful experiences are situated within, and shaped by a person’s immersion within the experience.

McCullough develops the argument that actions are shaped by their contexts and that opportunities for participation become available through cognitively encountering them in a situated way. The embodied interaction is resultant from the surrounding possibilities for participation, but the interaction emerges and is shaped peripherally from possible affordances rather than directly imposed choices. The experience is cognitively embodied, with the meaning of it changing through interaction with the system or artefact through its creation and manipulation (McCullough, 2005, p126). The situated action from where the understanding of the experience emerges is at once cognitive, temporal, physical and social (Anderson, 2003). This shifts the focus of an interaction away from the control of the designer and onto a user’s experience of the artefact or system they are using (Gajendar cited in Kolko, 2010, p120). This McCullough sees as a shift of design values “objects to experiences, from performance to appropriateness, from procedure to situation, and from behaviour to intent” (2005, p50). This experience framed within a ‘emotional-volitional’ perspective leads towards a phenomenological approach to understanding and interpreting it. Reframing an experience of an interactive artefact, system or service within such a framework allows for the experience to begin to be understood by the interaction designer as close as possible through the eyes of the user. In doing so new insights in how to design a better user experience can be made through interpretations on human’s real lived useage. In the next section of the literature review this new paradigm will be discussed.

The Visual Communication Perspective

Visual Communication is a design discipline focused upon communication through the manipulation of the relationship between text | image. Within this discipline the two main design outcomes are graphic design and illustration. The discipline’s name places the emphasis upon the method (design), the objective (communication) and the medium (visual), rather than just the creation of graphic forms (outcomes). (Frascara, 2004, p4). Graphic design certainly is a commercial activity with a connection to marketing and advertising, but it performs beyond mere subservience to business models. It shapes much of the visual culture of the modern world (Crowley, 2004), but as a discipline Visual Communication is misunderstood by other disciplines. Other disciplines interchangeably use any of the following terms when referring to Visual Communication: Visual Design, Communication Design, Interface Design, Web Design, and Graphic Design (see Table 1).

Although designers traditionally have focused upon practice, there is a theoretical basis to their work that maximises the transmission of the central message within their design solutions. The sender of the message operates from a perspective of intention; the messenger (the designer) operates from a perspective of proximity; and the receiver reacts interpretively from a perspective of reception using their feelings and perception (Bergström, 2008, pp32-33). The materials to achieve this go beyond the printed page, and include typography, colour, form, texture, line, weight, composition to create discourse and emotional engagement with the communication. The shaping and selecting of the most apt visual combination of elements is important in order to transmit an intended message. The semiotic process of the visual signifier leading to a signified communication to an audience is usually within a specific socio-cultural context, and is intended to rhetorically elicit some form of behavioural change in the audience. The designer’s skill and ability to do this effectively is more complex than it first appears, and less self-serving and subjective the more it is understood. It is true, to a degree, that to some designers their work is implicit and creatively intuitive and devoid of theoretical rules; but the discipline is deeper than this.

Barnard uses the phrase “communication is a cultural phenomenon, not an engineering problem” (2005, p28) with which he means that this construction can only be investigated semiotically and through qualitative methods. Jorge Frascara (2004) attempts to reposition the understanding of Visual Communication as a proactive facilitator of behavioural change. The core of their arguments rests in the relationship between text | image to incite a change of behaviour in the viewer, using the rhetorical and semiotic structure underlying this relationship. Frascara says, “It would be a fundamental error to believe that in design one can deal with the form independent of content, or with sensorial, independent of the cognitive and the emotional.” (2004, p65). Barnard folds into this the semiological roots of Visual Communication, “Signs and codes are the bases of meanings in semiology. And signs and codes are explained in terms of learned and variable cultural rules.” (2005, p28). Through this framework for identifying behaviour, experience is evoked by tangible and experiential engagement with an artefact or in a situation, whether physical or digital. Interaction designer Jon Kolko sees this contextual framework as a methodology to connect ‘people, technology, and the emotional qualities of sensory data’ (p41) together to discover the effectiveness, scalability, usability and engagement of the solution. His use of the term ‘sensory data’ suggests that that data is mediated in some way. If data is to be classed as sensory with emotional qualities, then an aesthetic is emerging. This is phenomenological and Visual Communication has historical precedence in balancing the ‘tension between structure and freedom’ (Helfand, 2001, p61).

Some of the early Modernist progenitors that influenced the discipline’s development, Rodchenko, Lissitzky and Moholy-Nagy, moved ‘freely across the boundaries’ (MacDonald, 2004a) that defined its development into a less commercial and more experimental, rhetorical direction. From the manifestos of Contructivism, Futurism, de Stilj through to the minimalism of Bauhaus (Lupton & Miller, 2009, p62) and the International Style; the semiotic experimentation of visual language has led to the position where the viewer is equally involved in the processing of the visually communicated message. Typographer Jan Tschichold strove for a clear and ambiguous form of emotional clarity in communication. In his essay on New Typography he for urges that “a fresh and original intellectual approach is needed, avoiding all standard solutions” to achieve communication. Visual Communication’s visual language has developed “a ‘grammar’ of contrasts (instability/balance, asymmetry/symmetry, soft/hard, heavy/light)” (Lupton and Miller, 1999, p64). Within this tension comes a benefit of ‘structured clarity’ with a capacity of inventive expression, a liberation of a ‘subjective point of view as an enhanced expression of fact - not at the expense of it’ (Helfand, 2001, p62).
If communication, meaning, interpretation and construction can only be understood through qualitative means then, I argue that a methodology of understanding this through adaptation of research methods taken from phenomenology would help reposition Visual Communication as an influence upon Interaction Design. From the literature on Visual Communication the word phenomena is widely used to describe the discipline’s internal and external characteristics. Heller (2001) refers to ‘design phenomena’; Margolin (1996), Williams (2007), Huck (1997) and Barry (1997) all use the term ‘phenomena’ in different philosophical and sociological contexts when explaining aspects of Visual Communication; and Margolin, Hill (2004), and Smith (2005) take their theses deeper into phenomenology. But all stop short from using phenomenological methodologies to explore their individual perspectives. Kenney (2009) in his book on Visual Communication Research Designs, he features examples of Ethnography, Discourse Analysis and Content Analysis as qualitative research methodologies. But nothing on phenomenological methodologies despite the literature using the term ‘phenomena’ quite freely.

Friday, 17 September 2010

The Interpretive Role

Frascara’s (2004) reframing of graphic design as an outcome of Visual Communication releases Visual Communication to demonstrate itself as deeper and richer than just the unfairly perceived design of an ‘artifice’. Within its internalized design processes beats a semiological heart, where contextually the relational configuration of image and text is reliant on a direct relationship with the person interpreting it.

This relationship is situated within the internal and external life of the graphic design - within “itself, the medium, the place and the time” (Bergstrom, 2008, p82). Frascara suggests that this is the design not of a product, object or visual, but the design of a “communicational situation” within which the design impacts on the knowledge, attitudes and behaviour of the ‘receiver/user/viewer’.

Therefore there is an interactive element to graphic design, between message and ‘receiver/user/viewer’, through the use of the design over duration of time (p13). Bergstrom uses the terms internal and external to explain this. The semiological relationship of how the text and images are laid out in the design; the choice and use of typography; and the art direction of tone, colour, composition, flow and balance, are all the internal variables of Visual Communication that a designer manipulates.

There is a misconception that within a design the meaning is set by the designer, in fact what this refers to is a denotational meaning. An image or phrase in one social context may mean one thing to a ‘receiver/user/viewer’, and in another context something else. But the connotational message the target ‘receiver/user/viewer’ interprets leads only to construct the intended meaning. This visual perception is “pervaded by our attitudes, values and experiences” (Bergstrom, 2008, p80), and affect the process of interpreting the message.

It is within this crucial area that the rhetorical nature of the visual communication engages the ‘receiver/user/viewer’ proactively in understanding the designed message, relevant to their cultural context, to aid successful reception. Bergstrom refers to the designer operating from a ‘perspective of proximity’ to decide upon the internal variables of a design and how they will perform once externalised in space and time.

From a ‘perspective of reception’ the ‘receiver/user/viewer’ visually perceives a connotational meaning through their own cognitive and emotional interpretation based upon their own previous experiences. Through this external involvement of the ‘receiver/user/viewer’ in the reception, interpreting and comprehension of the message, behavioural change can be induced leading to an embodied action.

Barnard (2005) presents the discipline of Visual Communication as a “signifying system, within a much larger system” as a visual constructor for how a “society constructs and communicates meaning” for itself (2005, p67). The visual organisation of the design itself must aesthetically be appropriate and congruent to “establish clear relations of importance, inclusion, connection, and dependence”, and then to “guide the sequence in the perception of a message” (Frascara, 2004, pp67-68). Aesthetics attracts and retains attention to communicate possible actions to facilitate interaction.

It is certainly a Visual Communication aim to seek interpretation of a connotational meaning by a ‘receiver/user/viewer’, rather than their passive acceptance of understanding the surface denotational message. This is crucial to aid the construction of meaning that will then elicit the embodied action and change in behaviour that the design seeks. Understanding itself, Shusterman (1992) insists, should be understood as “corrigible, perspectival, pluralistic, prejudiced, and engaged in active process”, and that understanding “initially grounds and guides interpretation, while the latter explores, validates, or modifies that initial ground of meaning”.

He further insists that even understanding on a highly intelligent level is “unreflective, unthinking, indeed unconscious” whilst proper interpretation is deliberate, critical and conscious thought characteristically involving a “problem-situation”. Interpretation acknowledges that there may be other interpretations or meanings, whereas understanding merely accepts without engaging further (p133). Understanding is acceptance, but interpretation leads to behavioural change.

Csikszentimihalyi (1990) in discussing his FLOW thesis provides a valuable insight into how the processes within a 'communicational situation' consciously/subconsciously happens; where the outcome of the ‘perspective of proximity’ and the ‘perspective of reception’ operate to change behaviour. He says,
"consciousness is phenomenological in that it deals directly with events – phenomena – as we experience and interpret them, rather than focusing on the anatomical structures, neurochemical processes, or unconscious purposes that make these events possible." (p26)
[cont. soon]

References used:

BARNARD, M. (2005) Graphic Design as Communication. Abingdon: Routledge.
BERGSTRÖM, B. (2008). Essentials of Visual Communication. London: Laurence King Publishing.
CSIKSZENTIMIHALYI, M. (1990) Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper.
FRASCARA, J. (2004) Communication Design: Principles, Methods and Practice. New York: Allworth Press.
SHUSTERMAN, R. (1992). Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living Beauty, Rethinking Art (2nd ed). Blackwell.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Heidegger vs Husserl: Phenomenological choices

In the course of my research towards developing a framework for a Visual Communication Phenomenological Methodology, I have now followed literature back to Nursing sources. Several recommended papers have been useful, and in turn they have also pointed to other possibly useful nursing sources.

Lopez and Willis (2004) help to clarify the different philosophical underpinnings to a Phenomenological study, and the importance of positioning the study clearly within one of the two philosophical schools of Phenomenology.

I'm basing my study on Moustakas' (1994) guidelines, but those are merely generic and non-partisan. As Lopez and Willis state "implementing a method without an examination of its philosophical basis can result in research that is ambiguous in its purpose, structure, and findings" (p726). So I will need to position my research methodology firmly within either the eidetic or hermeneutic schools.

Eidetic Phenomenology is descriptive of the phenomena, and is Husserlian in its philosophical roots. Hermeneutic Phenomenology is interpretive and owes its philosophical roots to Heidegger, a student of Husserl. Where the importance of choosing the philosophical school for a study resides is in how its findings are generated and used. Both schools deal with this differently. Hence the importance of not being generic in the design of the methodology, but philosophically specific.

In Eidetic (Husserlian) research it is important for the researcher to absolutely 'bracket out' prior personal knowledge and biases, to achieve "transcendental subjectivity". This results in the researcher holding in "abeyance ideas, preconceptions, and personal knowledge when listening to and reflecting on the lived experiences of participants" (p728). From these lived experiences features or essences that are common under Phenomenological scrutiny emerge that represent the phenomena's true identity. This is so so that a generalised description can be made, through a foundationalist approach, with a belief (reflecting scientific values) that these essences "can be extracted from lived experiences without a consideration for context" (p728).

In the Hermeneutic philosophical school (or even movement) its application has predominantly been in Theology, and its purpose is to go beyond mere descriptions of core concepts, or essences, "to look for meanings embedded in common life practices" (p728) to bring out what is normally hidden in human experience. Its focus therefore is on what humans experience rather than know within what Heidegger terms being-in-the-world. This situates the experience within a context of a life-world, which all sounds comfortably similar to what Dourish (2004) and Suchman (1987) discuss in part of their respective theses.

As Lopez and Willis discuss "Heidegger asserted that humans are embedded in their world to such an extent that subjective experiences are inextricably linked with social, cultural, and political contexts" (p729). In Hermeneutic Phenomenology its foundational aspect is on the "interpretation of the narratives provided by participants in relation to various contexts" (p729), meaning that unlike Eidetics, the context remains crucial to understanding through interpretation. A fundamental divergence in approaches between the two schools lies in the act of 'bracketing'. In Hermeneutic Phenomenology making any preconceptions on the part of the researcher explicit and explaining their use within the research has a long tradition. Absolute 'bracketing out' that prior knowledge is inconsistent with an interpretive approach. This is a crucial difference I need to build into MY methodology.

Finally Lopez and Willis summarise that an interpretative approach is "useful in examining contextual features of experiences that might have direct relevance to practice. Moreover, a critical hermeneutic framework can enable the researcher to bring to light hidden features of an experience that would be overlooked in a purely descriptive approach" (p734). They urge for careful consideration of which school to choose to inform the analysis. Naturally I feel my framework approach to the methodology is more interpretative, and that will be more useful within design (more on this in a future post).

References used:

DOURISH, P. (2004). Where the Action Is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction. Cambridge: MIT Press.
LOPEZ, K.A., and WILLIS, D.G. (2004) Descriptive Versus Interpretive Phenomenology: Their Contributions To Nursing Knowledge. Qualitative Health Research, 14(5), pp726-735.
SUCHMAN, L. (1987). Plans and Situated Actions: The Problem of Human-Machine Communication. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Monday, 30 August 2010

MPhil project proposal done

Amongst other things, over the last seven days I have been finalising the proposal for my project. I am quite excited by it, as it is a new framework. Here is my abstract that gives its gist…

"This particular research aims to establish the creation of a Visual Communication Phenomenological Methodology to explore the aesthetics of use from a Visual Communication perspective. This framework develops the desire for this discipline’s repositioning as an influence on Interaction Design, a sister design discipline. It also offers a qualitative methodology to support Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) researchers to legitimise their work within the 3rd HCI paradigm using a Phenomenological Matrix. In this proposal I introduce this area of research, and set parameters of my research rationale. The research project will last four months, and will be the basis of my MPhil transfer document to continue onto the PhD. I identify a hole within the literature that my proposal will answer. I then go on to to explain the methods I will use, and the results I expect. Finally I discuss the potential impact of my proposed research, plus its limitations and initial weaknesses. This is in order to convince the reader that this research is both relevant, and it contributes new knowledge to an established area of research into the Aesthetics of Interaction."

Monday, 23 August 2010


I've finally just got around to reading FLOW: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced cheek-sent-me-high (thanks Mary)).

It looks like I'll have to read it fast as it features very relevant points of connection to my research. More on this I'm sure in a later post.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Writing my research proposal

I'm juggling different bits of my project this week. So far since Saturday I have been:

  • sourcing materials for the "experience probe"
  • sourcing printers
  • art directing the individual aspects of the probes
  • maintaining the annotated bibliography (now about 112 sources)
  • reading and planning the Phenomenological research methodology
  • writing up the research proposal
  • organising the recruitment of research volunteers
  • arranging a meeting with the gatekeeper of the facility and interactive installation
  • going to four Edinburgh FRINGE shows (I've got to relax too)
  • Oh, and working full time as a lecturer
…so you can see why I haven't added to the last post yet!

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Progressive Visual Communication

Pending - will discuss soon

"Visual communication design can be, as noted at the beginning, both an activity of conceiving, planning, projecting, and producing visual communications, normally implemented through industrial means, and orientated at broadcasting specific messages to specific publics. This is done to obtain a reaction, connected to the knowledge, the attitudes, the feelings, or the behavior of the public. A design is an object created by that activity." (Frascara, 2004, p189)

"Interaction is our human way of dealing with things and with information. Interaction is central to communication. We must forget the old ideas of “transmitter” and “receiver”: Real people do not receive information. For stimuli to become information, one has to actively interpret, through a variety of actions, whatever one is confronting. To live is to interact. The computer world does not own the function." (Frascara, 2004, p173)

"Given the visual nature of our culture in general, and the increasing volume of visual information in particular, visual communication designers can make substantial contributions to the clarity, effectiveness, beauty, and economic viability of the ever-growing flow of information. They can facilitate this flow and contribute to the quality of our society and our life." (Frascara, 2004, p190)

"graphic design in fact produces and reproduces society and culture." (Barnard, 2005, p59)

"And James W. Carey (1992) argues that ‘to study communication is to examine the actual social process wherein significant symbolic forms are created, apprehended and used’. Effectively, he is arguing that the study of communication is the study of culture, and that the study of communication is the study of culture, and that culture is the creation and use of meaningful forms, which would clearly include graphic design." (Barnard, 2005, p67)

"So, graphic design may be thought of as a signifying system, within a much larger system, which includes and accounts for all of the other ways in which a society constructs and communicates meaning (fashion, literature, music, language, art, philosophy and so on)." (Barnard, 2005, p67)

"Clearly, this book is committed to the idea that there can be no such thing as non-cultural communication; it has argued that all communication is predicated on the existence of signs and codes which, as profoundly cultural, must be learned in order for communication to be possible." (Barnard, 2005, p129)

References used:

BARNARD, M. (2005) Graphic Design as Communication. Abingdon: Routledge.

FRASCARA, J. (2004) Communication Design: Principles, Methods and Practice. New York: Allworth Press.

TOGNAZZINI, B. (2003) It's Time We Got Respect [online]. [Accessed 2nd January 2009]. Available from:

Organisation of the Perceptual, Emotional and Cognitive Processes

Frascara, in discussing Visual Communication's focus on selecting the visual elements of text and image communicate it's "Sinn"* says,
"Every shape evokes a response - more or less cognitive, more or less emotional. This demonstrates the importance of designers in the organization of the perceptual, emotional, and cognitive processes to be followed by the viewer, beyond purely aesthetic issues. It would be a fundamental error to believe that in design one can deal with the form independent of content, or with sensorial, independent of the cognitive and the emotional." (2004, p65)
Barnard folds into this the semiological roots of Visual Communication,
"Signs and codes are the bases of meanings in semiology. And signs and codes are explained in terms of learned and variable cultural rules. For semiology, then, communication is a cultural phenomenon, not an engineering problem, as it is in communication theory.” (2005, p28)"
Semiologically the Mise en Scene of a design's elements are produced and organised by the designer to facilitate the reception by the viewer. This is constructed through culturally specific manipulation of image and text as the cultural positioning of the elements aids the generation of meaning. Barnard continues,
"So for semiology, communication is the production and exchange of messages and meanings, not the transmission of messages. A message or meaning is something constructed in communication, not something that pre-exists communication. ” (2005, p28)"
He uses the phrase "communication is a cultural phenomenon, not an engineering problem" with which he means that this construction can only be investigated through qualitative methods.

The Interaction Design heavy weight Bruce Tognazzini (he founded the Apple Human Interface Group and acted as Apple's Human Interface Evangelist) wrote back in 2003 in an AskTog article "It's Time We Got Respect" that,
"(I have had managers who have) told me flat-out they could not hire such a 'designer' because their engineering-trained executives would not allow squandering company money on such 'soft' people when they could hire another engineer. Besides, they already had a graphic designer to make things pretty (if unusable). 'Designer' is perceived by the predominantly male population of both computer company management and engineering as a wimp word.” (2005, p28)"
Unfortunately this prejudiced attitude to designers, especially Graphic Designers, still continues. In a PhD-Design ListServ post Dr Terence Love recently provoked a backlash from 'soft' designers when he posted a discussion question "Are Visual Approaches to Design Outdated?" (2010). Love, from an engineering design background, is just one example of how this narrow functionalist perspective on how Visual Communication works is still perpetuated. As Tog says in his article seven years ago,
"Engineers also have trouble differentiating between graphic designers, who primarily limit themselves to the surface of the interface, and interaction people, who, like building architects, need to concern themselves with each and every aspect of a project, right down to core technology decisions.” (2003)
This argument is dealt elsewhere on this blog where I argue that we are more than the artifice, that we are designers of the 'aesthetics of use', so I won't continue this here, but will turn this back towards the phenomenological aspect.

If communication, meaning, interpretation and construction can only be understood through qualitative means then, I argue that a methodology of understanding this through adaptation of research methods taken from Phenomenology would help reposition Visual Communication's status. As sections of the HCI research community are also looking to a Phenomenological paradigm over the last decade to understand experience, especially aesthetic experience, this strengthens my research perspective.

* Sense, generally synonymous with meaning at a conceptual level [Bedeutung] (Derrida, 1981, p29)

References used:

BARNARD, M. (2005) Graphic Design as Communication. Abingdon: Routledge.

DERRIDA, J. (1981) Semiology and Grammatology: Interview With Julia Kristeva. In: J. DERRIDA. Positions. London: The Athlone Press, pp 15-36.

FRASCARA, J. (2004) Communication Design: Principles, Methods and Practice. New York: Allworth Press.

LOVE, T. (2010) Are Visual Approaches to Design Outdated? 8 April. PhD-Design [online]. [8 April 2010]. Available from:

TOGNAZZINI, B. (2003) It's Time We Got Respect [online]. [Accessed 2nd January 2009]. Available from:

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Visual Communication and Performance

Jorge Frascara in his excellent book Communication Design argues for a fresh look on the function of Graphic Design. By looking at graphic designs, like illustration, as outcomes of Visual Communication, it makes it easier to escape the accusation that Graphic Design is just artifice.

Graphic designers, notes HCI expert Bruce Tognazzini, are limited to the interface’s ‘surface’ - how it looks and the design strategy behind communicating the content structure (2003). Gillian Crampton Smith, former school director of Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, sees graphic designers’ role as more involved in the interactive design process “designing what a package is and what it does, and then designing what it will be like” (Aymer, 2001). Crampton Smith, a former graphic designer within software development is well placed to acknowledge the role graphic designers can and do play in interface design. The visual language of interaction design is built upon design axioms inherited from graphic design, learnt over decades of designing for print.

Unfortunately there are misconceptions held by many professionals outside the discipline as to what a graphic designer does. They have been perceived as “decorationists, elitists or servants of the consumerist machine” (Laurel, 2003) and their work as “frivolous or shallow” (O'Reilly, 2004). Over the last century graphic design is so “deeply ingrained in the texture of daily life that it is taken for granted” (Crowley, (2004). It has become pervasive and transparent. Yet graphic design is actually serving its purpose - visually communicating a message or visually structuring the functions of an interface. In the next section I will be examining this issue.

Interaction design expert Brenda Laurel reflects that labels such as ‘dictators of style’, decorationists, elitists, ‘servants of the consumerist machine’ were unfair misconceptions of graphic designers’ profession, marginalizing their contributions despite the pervasiveness of them within society. Most of its practice is subjective, instinctive and implicit, alternating between the “consideration of objective information and intuitive leaps” (Frascara, 2006). Graphic design, when designed well, can “inspire a behavourial change” in its audiences (Forlizzi & Lebbon, 2006).

In Communication Design, Frascara develops this argument, strengthening the case for Visual Communication to be understood properly and not prejudicially. “Although some designs can become ornaments, historical documents or aesthetic paradigms – once they’ve accomplished their primary goal – visual communication design is not just about looks; it is fundamentally about performance.” (p12) He argues that a designer is designing an "an event, an act in which the public interacts with the design." This is an objective that makes it the "design of communicational situations" that impacts on "the knowledge, the attitudes, and the behaviour of people" (p13) and this happens after the communication has happened. The communicational event that is the design happens over time. The visual and aesthetic strength of the design are dimensions in which the communication is contained. This is how Visual Communication can now be seen, repositioned if you like, beyond the perceived 'aesthetics of surface' and into the 'aesthetics of use'.

Barnard in his book Graphic Design as Communication (2005) also comes to a similar conclusion that Visual Communication is about the performance of the communication. He writes, "the pleasure of the image, its entertainment value, is experienced at the same time as its persuasive function. Indeed, some would argue that the pleasure engendered is an integral part of its rhetorical power. Nor is it the case that an example of graphic design will perform only one of these functions. There can be no piece of graphic design that is only decorative, or only informative. It is the case that any and all examples of graphic design will perform more than one of these functions.” (pp16-17) The rhetorical nature of the work, its semiological transmission of a message is all there to shape the design's performance, and a primary conclusion of a behavioural change in the person receiving the design.

Sidenote: As Frascara discusses Visual Communication in the book I feel that the term used for the title causes confusion. Yes Graphic Design is about communication through the visual relationships of image/text, but the term Communication Design is a term that weakens this relationship.

References used:

AYMER, G. (2001) Norman Cooking. Create Online. 8. p38-40. BALDWIN, J. and ROBERTS, L. (2006). Visual Communication. London: AVA Publishing Ltd.

BARNARD, M. (2005) Graphic Design as Communication. Abingdon: Routledge.

FORLIZZI, J. and LEBBON, C. (2006). From Formalism to Social Significance in Communication Design. In: A. Bennett, (Ed.), Design Studies: Theory and Research in Graphic Design - A Reader. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 51-63.

FRASCARA, J. (2004) Communication Design: Principles, Methods and Practice. New York: Allworth Press.

FRASCARA, J. (2006). Graphic Design: Fine Art or Social Science. In: A. Bennett, (Ed.), Design Studies: Theory and Research in Graphic Design - A Reader. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 26-35.

LAUREL, B. Ed (2003). Design Research: Methods and Perspectives. London: MIT Press.

O’REILLY, J. (2004) Thinking with Images. In: R. POYNOR, ed. Communicate: Independent British Graphic Design since the Sixties. London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd., pp216-231.

TOGNAZZINI, B. (2003) It's Time We Got Respect [online]. [Accessed 2nd January 2009]. Available from:

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

…all experience is experience of meaning | Derrida

Jacques Derrida's Deconstructionism looked to subvert binary oppositions that shape our dominant ways of thinking, and through textual interpretation lead to alternative meanings. The philosophical aspect to Deconstructionism leads him towards a "metaphysics of presence”. It is within this framework that the quote that Barnard makes in his book Graphic Design as Communication needs to be understood. Barnard says,

“There is a sense in which no images are at all meaningful without words. This is the sense in which words are necessary even to see or experience an image: without using language, one could not even identify what a picture contained, let alone describe that content or experience to someone else. To this extent, all experience is experience of meaning, as Derrida says. Without language, the image would not be experienced in any meaningful or communicable way at all and could, therefore, hardly be described as a experience at all.”
(Barnard, 2005, p45)
The core of Visual Communication rests in the relationship between text/image, and as Frsacara argues, in the performance of that relationship to incite a change of behaviour of the viewer. Barnard explains the rhetorical and semiotic structure underlying this relationship. Although my argument isn't purely a Deconstructive one (as I am interested more in a phenomenological position, with pragmatism as a philosophical framework through which to view the aesthetic experience), Derrida is useful to unpick the semiology of how the ralationship works. To understand Barnard's statement I have followed his citing of Derrida back to the original source. Here are two paragraphs from Julia Kristeva's interview with him in the 1981 book Positions, that puts Barnard into a philosophical context.

"Subjectivity - like objectivity - is an effect of différance*, an effect inscribed in a system of différance. This is why a of différance also recalls that spacing is temporization, the detour and postponement by means of which intuition, perception, consummation - in a word, the relationship to the present, the reference to a present reality, to a being - are always deferred."
(Derrida, 1981, pp28-29)
"Kristeva: It is said that the concept of 'meaning' in semiotics is markedly different from the phenomenological concept of 'meaning.' In what ways, however, are they complicit, and to what extent does the semiological project remain intrametaphysical?
Derrida: It is true that at first the phenemonological extension of the concept of 'meaning' appears much wider, much less determined. All experience is experience of meaning (Sinn**). Everything that appears to consciousness, everything that is for consciousness in general, is meaning. Meaning is the phenomenality of the phenomenon."
(Derrida, 1981, pp29-30)
* différance A new concept of writing, examining the internal and external semiological oppositions
** Sense, generally synonymous with meaning at a conceptual level [Bedeutung]

References used:

BARNARD, M. (2005) Graphic Design as Communication. Abingdon: Routledge.

DERRIDA, J. (1981) Semiology and Grammatology: Interview With Julia Kristeva. In: J. DERRIDA. Positions. London: The Athlone Press, pp 15-36.

FRASCARA, J. (2004) Communication Design: Principles, Methods and Practice. New York: Allworth Press.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Probing Experience

Mattelmäki in her book based on her Doctorate "Design Probes" features this diagram on the process for the application of probes. The caption reads:

"Fig. 53. The upper process stages describe the application of probes like empathy probes. The desire to create an understanding of the phenomena in an interactive process is emphasised. The lower process stages describe the way in which the probes are applied like cultural probes as sources of inspiration"

The Application of Probes
Source: (Mattelmäki, 2006, p99)

The application begins with "Tuning In" (bracketing in phenomenological methodology), then "Probing", followed by two forms of "Interpretation", one deeper (top) than the other (bottom).

My rough adaptation of Mattelmäki's diagram showing how my use of the probe differs from hers.

I am interested in using the probe to prepare each volunteer's perception - to help them attune themselves into understanding their own ability to appreciate experience from identifying a beginning until a consummation, without undue influence. Using the probe tasks they will in Task 1 attune themselves in their own way, with varying degrees of success or correlation to each other. In Task 2 which will be post-observation they will self-reflect and evaluate themselves, using their own method (mediated through the provided material in Task 2) to evaluate their experience. This method will be un-scientific, and Mattelmäki suggests that a more appropriate description would be "making sense, outlining or interpretation" (p88).

I will give the Probes out to those who volunteer at a briefing (1). Each volunteer will then do Task 1 before coming to a pre-observation contextual interview (2). At this audio recorded interview (3) I will get a sense of who this person is, how they are preparing themselves to be observed, and to bracket and document any prejudgments they may have of the observation. They will then be observed using the interactive installation (videoed and photographed for reference) (4). Post-observation, the volunteer will be directed to do Task 2 before the next interview. This post-observation contextual interview (5) will be a de-brief, and the task result will be used to begin the recorded interview. This fragmented qualitative data will then lead to (6). (6) is the development of a Visual Communication phenomenological framework.

The development of my Probe will be detailed in a separate post(s). Here are some examples of different Probes from Mattelmäki's book.

Source: (Mattelmäki, 2006, p79)

Source: (Mattelmäki, 2006, p83)

References used:

MATTELMÄKI, T. (2006). Design Probes. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Art and Design Helsinki. Helsinki, Finland.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

CODENAME: "Experience Pack" Shhhh!

Continuing from the previous post on Cultural Probes, this post will look more at how the concept of "Cultural Probe" has grown, morphed and expanded into specific qualitative tools. These other tools go by names such as Informational Probe, Mobile Probes, Technology Probes, Empathy Probes (Bernhaupt et al., 2007), and are designed to elicit different data from different situations. It is on the back of this appropriation of Gaver's original concept that I wish to design a specific tool to help me prepare and elicit volunteer's awareness of experiencing an experience.

Source: (Kjeldskov et al., 2004)

Source: (Dalsgaard et al., 2006)

Source: (Crabtree et al., 2002)

Finnish academic Tuuli Mattelmäki (2006, p58) says that there are four powerful reasons for applying probes: INSPIRATION; INFORMATION; PARTICIPATION; and DIALOGUE.

Source: (Mattelmäki, 2006)

All four of these reasons fit into my rationale for designing a probe for the initial recruitment phase of my research project. To be able to bracket my understanding of the phenomenon of aesthetics of use I have to be very careful how I prepare volunteers from the briefings. I cannot guide them in the use of an interactive installation, but I don't just want the volunteer to flounder in the face of unfamiliar technology.

Source: (Mattelmäki, 2006)

Source: (Mattelmäki, 2006)

Source: (Mattelmäki, 2006)

Source: (Mattelmäki, 2006)

I want to prepare them enough to understand it, but it is THEIR experience of the technology I am interested in. To ensure they appreciate what I am there for is not the same as them, I need to enter into a controlled (phenomenonologically bracketed) DIALOGUE with them so they have an awareness about 'experience'. Through the first part of MY PROBE they will be INSPIRED to PARTICIPATE through some reflective INFORMATION from them. My thoughts are for this stage is to use the postcard component of a Cultural Probe.

Source: (Júdice & Júdice, 2007)

This "Experience Pack" Probe Kit will be designed by myself and will be given out only to those who commit to volunteering at the briefings as homework before I meet them again for the first pre-observation contextual interview. The first task (more on this in a future post) will begin their awareness of what I am examining without me being didactic. At the contextual interview their responses can then be the focus of the discussion, through which I can prepare them for observation without influencing their potential actions on the day.

I will have a second post-observation task in the Probe they can do as an evaluatory and reflective exercise soon after their fun with the interactive installation. The results of this task will then be brought to the post-observation contextual interview. This means the design of only two components. As the abilities with technology are mixed within the potential volunteers I will include in the pack very concise directions for use, and maybe also a CD with oral directions too. This pack will be aesthetic too to facilitate engagement, and a souvenir of their time spent. Maybe also a certificate of involvement will be appealing to them? The Probe will fit in a tin meant to fit a plastic DVD box, and I'm thinking of applying a vinyl logo to the front of the case. This logo will be a numbered limited edition to add to the exclusiveness of those who volunteer out of those attending the briefing.


There are four stages to the Aesthetic Volunteers involvement: BRIEFING; INTERVIEW 1; OBSERVATION; and INTERVIEW 2. There are four reasons to apply a Probe (see above). The number FOUR seems to be a recurring number, so I will limit the Probe's contents to be FOUR items: TASK 1 (4 questions on 4 postcards); TASK 2 (TBA); 1 CD; and 1 CERTIFICATE.

But my "Experience Pack" isn't really a Cultural Probe as I'm more interested in finding out about experience from a phenomenological perspective. Does this make my pack a "Phenomena Probe"? Is it an "Empathy Probe"? Or is it a "Socio-cultural Probe"? I think I need to read Mattelmäki's PhD Dissertation to answer that.

References used:

BERNHAUPT, R., WEISS, A., OBRIST, M., and TSCHELIGI, M. (2007) Playful Probing: Making Probing More Fun. In Proceedings of the 11th IFIP TC 13 international Conference on Human-Computer interaction (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). C. Baranauskas, P. Palanque, J. Abascal, and S. D. Barbosa, Eds. Lecture Notes In Computer Science. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg, 606-619.

CRABTREE, A., HEMMINGS, T., RODDEN, T., CHEVERST, K., CLARKE, K., DEWSBURY, G. AND ROUNCEFIELD, M. (2002) Probing for Information. In the proceedings of the 2nd EQUATOR Conference. November 2002. Brockenhurst. [Accessed 4 August 2010]. Available from World Wide Web:,%20Hemmings,%20Rodden,%20Cheverst,%20Clarke,%20Dewsbury%20and%20Rouncefield-Probing%20for%20Information..pdf

DALSGAARD, T., SKOV, M.B., STOUGAARD, M. and THOMASSEN, B. (2006) Mediated Intimacy In Families: Understanding The Relation Between Children and Parents. In the proceedings of the 2006 Conference on Interaction Design and Children, June 07-09, 2006, Tampere, Finland. [Accessed 5 August 2010]. Available from World Wide Web:

JÚDICE, A. and JÚDICE, M. (2007) Designing Cultural Probes to Study “Invisible” Communities in Brazil. In the proceedings of Design Inquiries: The second Nordic Design Research Conference. Stockholm 27-30 May, Stockholm. [Accessed 5 August 2010]. Available from World Wide Web:

KJELDSKOV, J., GIBBS, M. R., VETERE, F., HOWARD, S., PEDELL, S., MECOLES, K. and BUNYAN, M. (2004) Using Cultural Probes to Explore Mediated Intimacy. In the proceedings of OzCHI, University of Wollongong, [Accessed 4 August 2010]. Available from World Wide Web:

MATTELMÄKI, T. (2006). Design Probes. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Art and Design Helsinki. Helsinki, Finland.