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.