Saturday, 27 November 2010


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.

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