ROME Paper 2011

Harvard reference:
WOOD, D. (2011) A Can of Worms: Has Visual Communication a Position of Influence on Aesthetics of Interaction?. Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal. 5(3). pp463-476

Paper presented at:
Design Principles and Practices 2011, Sapienza University of Rome, Rome, Italy. 2-4 February 2011.

A Can of Worms: Has Visual Communication a Position of Influence on Aesthetics of Interaction?

© Dave Wood 2011
Glasgow Caledonian University | Edinburgh College of Art

Interaction Design is a young discipline that grew out of an overlap of other science and design disciplines, its remit was the design of interactive products, services and systems for human behaviour. Visual Communication and its output of graphic design once had an early influence on Interaction Design, but this has since been devalued by the influence from more functionalist disciplines, leading to two myths about Visual Communication: it just does the ‘aesthetic bit’ on the interface, and that aesthetics has no real use or function beyond ‘beauty’. But aesthetics cannot be reduced and measured as a functionalist equation of ‘means-end’. By understanding aesthetics from a Pragmatist philosophical position, the aesthetics of interaction can be explored from a situated and culturally connected embodiment of an interactive experience. From this position aesthetics is viewed as emergent from the interactive experience through three factors: a socio-cultural context, a personal embodiment and finally a means-to-many-ends instrumentality. It is a cultural phenomenon and not an engineering problem that can be explored quantifiably. This makes this a phenomenological study, and closer to Visual Communication. The rhetorical nature of Visual Communication affords a change in human behaviour, evoking a cognitive and emotional response, making its remit about framing decision-making from use of image and text. Experience, emotion, and interpretation can only use qualitative methods to explore an aesthetic experience. This raises a more vexing question: what other design disciplines also share or rather claim a phenomenological position on aesthetics? This paper will set out to explore these amorphous boundaries to decide if Visual Communication still has an actual support position of influence on Interaction Design.

Keywords – Aesthetics, Pragmatism, Existentialism, Phenomenology, Interaction Design, HCI, Visual Communication.

This paper forms the final part of my MPhil transfer to a PhD in Visual Communication. It continues on a theme of inquiry surrounding the influence of Visual Communication on Interaction Design (Wood, 2010), especially concerning the aesthetics of interaction. In A Can of Worms I have selected three main significant themes to explore: aesthetic experience as a phenomenon; Visual Communication and ‘aesthetics of use;’ and the development of a phenomenological design methodology utilising Visual Communication to study behaviour from a users point of view. Through relevant literature from three disciplines (Interaction Design, Human-computer Interaction (HCI), Visual Communication) I will illustrate how Visual Communication is more than just surface aesthetics of the interface. Using a new HCI paradigm of a Phenomenological Matrix (Harrison, 2007) that sees humans as embodied actuators within a physical and social world, aesthetics has moved from being perceived as inversely proportional to usability to a serious topic to understand designing for interactions. In doing so, I argue that Visual Communication can once more become a serious influence on designing interactions, a position it previously had squandered (Wood, 2009). Instead of holding a position of merely designing the ‘aesthetics of surface’ I will present a proposition for Visual Communication as a discipline that contributes to the ‘aesthetics of use’ (Dunne, 1999), creating synergy with HCI to influence interaction designers through a new methodology to understand the experiences a user actually has within an interaction. Therefore bringing Visual Communication much earlier in the design of interactions.

To achieve this I will explain the rationale behind my development of a Visual Communication Phenomenological Methodology to practically aid designers of interactions. Within the paper I provide a contextual review of the literature in order to create a theoretical framework on which I will build the phenomenological methodology. As well as the design literature I present a philosophical under-pinning of theory to support it. Through a Pragmatist framing of aesthetics as emergent from experiencing it (Dewey, 1980), I lead the reader through the four existentials of spatiality, temporality, corporeality and relationality into hermeneutic phenomenology. Using Heidegger as the philosophical root, and the Hermeneutic Circle as the method to analyse and interpret experience, I finally conclude with a discussion on how my PhD practical work proposes to develop such a Visual Communication Phenomenological Methodology. I propose that such a methodology will enable designers during their idea-generation and modelling phases, to understand an experience from the point of view of their audience. With a designer’s increased ability to understand the essence of an experience, based not on user needs but on their aesthetic perception of what they (want to) experience, I argue that it will lead to better user-centred design. Just prior to this I will briefly examine how phenomenology has been used and implemented in other design disciplines to date. This will strengthen my argument for a practical and visual hermeneutic phenomenology to be developed to support better design practice.

Interaction Design and the Aesthetics of Interaction
Before I begin to comment on any position of influence that Visual Communication may have on Interaction Design, I first need to define Interaction Design. 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). The aesthetics of interaction, within which Visual Communication can, I will argue 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.

Interaction Design emerged out of several disciplines including Human-computer Interaction (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, a satisfactory experience and engagement, resulting in a form of positive and enjoyable behavioural change. This is 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. To explore and drill-down below the surface of an interaction, into what Nake describes as the ‘subface’ (2008), 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 and are more “flexible, ungraspable, and phenomenal” (Lim, 2007, p245). It is in understanding these attributes of design and their manipulation that creates an interactive experience greater than the attributes used.

As an influence on Interaction Design’s development, HCI’s traditional paradigms have raised empirical, scientific, objective knowledge as the normative (Bertelsen & Pold, 2004) (Udsen & Jurgenson, 2005). 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). Harrison et al. (2007) describe 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” (p4). Petersen (2004) proposes there are five styles of interaction: system, tool, dialogue, media and aesthetic. 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. Both the first two HCI paradigms described by Harrison are not mutually exclusive but overlap, and can be mapped onto the first four interaction styles proposed by Petersen. Petersen’s framing of the fifth element of interaction as aesthetic connects directly to Harrison’s third HCI paradigm.

In the third phenomenological paradigm the focus is upon the emergent aesthetic experience of humans as embodied actuators within a physical and social world. The exploration of designing interactions within a Phenomenological Matrix of the user’s embodied and situated personal understanding is a HCI paradigm shift, This shift recognises “a plurality of perspectives (…) taking into account but not adjudicating the varying and perhaps conflicting perspectives of users.” (Harrison et al., 2007, pp7-8). Harrison et al. proposes that HCI’s traditional position of ‘objective knowledge’ has shifted into a position from where knowledge arises from ‘situated viewpoints’ through using a matrix to understand experience (especially an experience that is aesthetic). Their argument for a paradigm shift towards a phenomenological position has developed from Prof. Don Norman’s work on emotional design (2005). Petersen and Harrison both share a perspective that up to recently has been marginalised and subordinated from within the first two paradigms. A traditional HCI perspective is problematic when aesthetics becomes involved with interaction, as HCI encounters “deep philosophical incompatibilities” (Bardzell, 2009, p2357) with understanding aesthetics from a quantitative perspective. Without a formal externalised, repeatable process a critique of aesthetics within interaction is not possible, but through framing aesthetics as emergent from a Pragmatist philosophical perspective a phenomenological methodology can be used to understand the essence of an aesthetic experience. The exploration of designing interactions within a matrix of the user’s embodied and situated personal understanding is a HCI paradigm shift bringing it closer to Visual Communication.

John 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” (1980, p58). Put simplistically, an aesthetic experience is an enjoyable interaction - with a beginning, middle and a culmination that is immersive and pleasurable in its performance and on reflection. Dewey, and later Richard Shusterman (1992), proposed a pragmatic philosophical framework on how aesthetic experiences are structured. Csikszentimihalyi (1990) in his psychology research on FLOW lists eight major components of a phenomenology of enjoyment that can frame an autotelic experience that Dewey would describe as aesthetic. These components are all (or mostly) present in any particular aesthetic experience and are: a chance of completing; concentration on actions; clear goals; immediate feedback; effortless involvement; a sense of control over self; a concern for self disappears; and a sense of time is altered. In these phenomenological components the four existentials of spatiality, corporeality, temporality and relationality manifest themselves. The move to a phenomenological paradigm within HCI allows for a profitable linkage with Visual Communication to support Interaction Design. This linkage is not superficial in a desire to place the emphasis solely upon the visual design of the surface. It is within this phenomenological space that the rhetorical voice of Visual Communication can connect and consociate with Interaction Design. But what is phenomenology and how can it become useful for designers?

Phenomenology is both a philosophical movement and a research methodology. Phenomenology performed step-by-step attempts to illustrate a phenomenon by eliminating “everything that represents a prejudgment, setting aside presuppositions” (Moustakas, 1994, p41) to see the phenomenon in an unfettered way. 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 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 phenomenon, making known the structures of Being. Hermeneutic phenomenology proposes that all understanding is interpretive (Johnson, 2000, p143) and the ontological investigation of bringing out the Being of beings helps thematise that structure using a Hermeneutic Circle of interpretation.

Figure 1: The Hermeneutic Circle of Interpretation

The Hermeneutic Circle reduces the themes of the studied phenomenon to “uncover commonalities and differences” (Benner, 1994, p104) as seen through the eyes of the individual, to illuminate “that would have been overlooked in a purely descriptive approach” (Lopez, 2004, p734). In a phenomenological study the researcher enters the research open to understand the phenomenon fully through the eyes of others - to understand their behaviour within that specific experience of the phenomenon. 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 (see Fig. 1) affords the researcher to check for “incongruities, puzzles, and unifying repeated concerns” (Benner, 1994, p113), and leads the researcher through a cycle of “understanding, interpretation, and critique” (p120) to “uncover naturally occurring concerns and meanings” (p112) to understand a phenomenon as directly as experienced, as directly as possible. Other qualitative methods seek to examine the social-cultural limitations or delimitations of the observed by ‘looking in’ - phenomenology is concerned with getting inside the observed in order to ‘look out’. In the next section I will explain how this connects to Visual Communication, and in turn how this discipline can influence Interaction Design.

Visual Communication and Aesthetics of Use
Visual Communication is a design discipline focused upon communication through the manipulation of the relationship between text | image. 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). Within this discipline the two traditional design outcomes are graphic design and illustration, but it now also includes motion and interaction. 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 and reflects much of the visual culture of the modern world (Crowley, 2004), but as a discipline Visual Communication is misunderstood by other disciplines (Wood, 2009). In a literature review of Interaction Design and HCI any of the following terms are used when they are actually referring to Visual Communication: Visual Design, Communication Design, Interface Design, Web Design, and Graphic Design (see Table 1).

Table 1: Interaction Design and HCI literature typology of non-consistent terms used instead of Visual Communication

Although Visual Communication 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. Barnard uses the phrase “communication is a cultural phenomenon, not an engineering problem” (2005, p28), with which he means communication happens through an embodied position where understanding is framed within specific socio-cultural contexts. This leads to an enactment or a change in behaviour. Therefore this cannot be reduced to functionalist instrumentality. The shaping and selecting of the most apt visual combination of elements within a suitable socio-cultural context 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 within a specific socio-cultural rules, and is intended to rhetorically elicit some form of embodied 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.

Jorge Frascara attempts to reposition the understanding of Visual Communication as a proactive facilitator of behavioural change. The core of the argument 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.” (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” (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 data is mediated in some way with emotional qualities. To understand this tension between structured data on one hand and the freer emotional qualities it resonates is, I argue, 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, 2004) 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 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 unambiguous form of emotional clarity in communication. In his essay on New Typography reprinted in Armstrong’s book on Graphic Design Theory, Tschichold urged in 1928 that “a fresh and original intellectual approach is needed, avoiding all standard solutions” (2009, p38) to achieve communication. Visual Communication’s visual language has since 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).

I argue that a methodology adapted 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 (Heller & Ballance, 2001; Margolin & Buchanan, 1996; Williams & Newton, 2007; Huck et al, 1997; Barry, 1997) to describe the discipline’s internal and external characteristics, but only two authors take their theses deeper into phenomenology (Hill & Helmers, 2004; Smith et al, 2005). But all stop short from using phenomenological methodologies to explore their individual perspectives. Kenney (2009) in his book on Visual Communication Research Designs, 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. Before presenting a new direction for Visual Communication to move across the boundaries once more in support of Interaction Design, a brief review of phenomenology within other design disciplines needs to be discussed.

Phenomenology in Other Design Disciplines
Principally phenomenology, at least philosophically has been used within product, architecture and interior design to some degree in order to understand spatial-temporal-corporeal relationships. Wang and Wagner (2007) have recently attempted a mapping of phenomenological philosophy to the design process. 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 just yet raise “phenomenological inquiry to a totalizing position” (p7) as their mapping exercise isn’t robust enough. In their spatial-relational mapping they create four phenomenological quadrants: individual phenomenology, phenomenology of history and culture, phenomenology of design production, and phenomenology related to metaphysics. Within these quadrants different forms of architecture are linked to specific phenomenologists. This is a theoretical geography, and beyond the mapping the discourse into phenomenology still remains theoretical rather than practical. Whilst this spatio-relationality is useful to understand the relevance of one phenomenologist to an area of design over another phenomenologist, and to be able to see where eidetic phenomenology is favoured over hermeneutic phenomenology; it still remains a roadmap with many routes, instead of the vehicle that is needed to get a designer to a practical design destination.

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” (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 is a codification of levels of aesthetic-ness that can be selected by a designer based upon their relevance to a particular design solution. But Folkmann’s focus on aesthetic-ness - the quality or state of aesthetics - doesn’t afford the understanding of an aesthetic experience. 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 based on a comparative theological model of phenomenology. But this theological model of comparatively applying phenomenology to design practice does not lend itself to a practical application of phenomenology. 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. 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 design process within interior design itself.

But finally, from another product perspective, Brown (2006) does go 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 transportation 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 an Eidetic (descriptive) model of phenomenological research, rather than a Heidegerrian Hermeneutic (interpretive) model.

These featured examples of design using a phenomenological perspective to understand their practice, remain purely a theoretical model of the usefulness of this approach to design. This ontological perspective of meta-inquiry into how a designer ‘designs’ may go some way to explain design processes and design thinking, framing it with strong links to philosophical schools of thought. But this meta-inquiry falls short of providing designers with a way of applying philosophical theory within their design process to help them understand whom they are designing for more intimately. Ethnographical and anthropological methodologies uncover the socio-cultural norms and proclivities of the studied group; the group’s structured propensity for doing things this way or that way, or highlighting the un-social or sub-cultural variations and alternatives to the group norm. It is only through phenomenology that the individual within the group’s experience can be exposed and understood as they experienced it. This makes phenomenology a very useful methodology to add extra scope to understanding the design’s intended audience, by providing data for the designer to understand the themes of an audience’s actual experience. But from the design literature studied so far, the metaphysical understanding of how a designer ‘designs’ is focusing phenomenology on the study of practice instead of on the application within practice. My proposition of a Visual Communication Phenomenological Methodology focuses upon application to design practice.

Traditional phenomenological methodology is a pure textural method resulting in written papers and case studies on a particular phenomenon. Although description has long been sufficient to understand a phenomenon, description is not solely useful to a designer. Visual stimuli are a valued source for inspiration, what Gaver describes as “inspirational data” (1999, p25). This data is not comprehensive information but fragmentary clues for the designer to use to understand the design problem from the perspective of their target audience, capturing an experience that needs to be designed for. By visually interpreting that data through a richness of personal experience, themes of felt experience can be isolated and visually understood. It has been established that visualising of data has been “central to many lines of inquiry amenable to interpretive phenomenology, particularly social practices, embodied skills, and the study of lived experience” but is not “yet well developed” (Benner, 1994, p120), and van Manen (1990) has commented that the phenomenological researcher must be “creative in finding approaches and procedures uniquely suited” (p163) to their purpose. I have taken guidance from van Manen’s comment to use Visual Communication to dovetail with those HCI researchers following Harrison’s lead, through the strengths of Visual Communication techniques of visual manipulation to aid communication. In the final section of this paper I propose that a visual interpretive methodology can be developed that will go some way to use phenomenology in a practical way to aid designers to understand experience as directly from the perspective of their target audience.

Moving Across Boundaries
Within my current ongoing PhD research I aim to develop such a Visual Communication Phenomenological Methodology and to test visualising themes of a specific aesthetic experience of using visual data from my recent research project Internal | External 2010. This project generated textual and visual data of individual’s aesthetic experience of using an interactive artefact. This small project was conducted under a phenomenological framework using probes, contextual interviews, observations of an interactive experience, and recording techniques to examine what is effective in the formation of a Visual Communication Phenomenological Methodology. The project took place within a gallery environment in the University of Edinburgh’s Inspace gallery, made possible through the support of Interface3, New Media Scotland and Mark Daniels. Within a semi-public and semi-controlled environment, participants were observed in an environment that was neither clinical nor familiar. Through volunteers individual immersion within an experience in a gallery context, and within a time constraint of using an interactive artefact, a “sensation of their own actions” (McCarthy and Wright, 2004, p85) could become visually interpreted, revealing rich themes that may be understood as manifested structures of a person’s internal and external individual experience.

I propose that a development of a Visual Communication Phenomenological Methodology will enable designers to understand an experience from the point of view of their audience to aid better user-centred design. Initially this will enable Interaction Designers during their idea-generation and modelling phases to understand the essence of an experience, based not on user needs but on their aesthetic perception of what they (want to) experience. This alternative to the goal-orientated persona will provide “a powerful communication tool that helps developers and managers to understand design rationale and to prioritize features” (Cooper et al., 2007, p20) in new and fresh ways.

Future Work
My proposed phenomenological methodology is intended to break experience down into constitutive themes, through a Hermeneutic Circle of interpretive analysis. These themes can be individually visually interpreted to reveal a structure of enjoyment within the experience. Then the themes can be combined and visually 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. Each turn within the Hermeneutic Circle externalises the structure of the studied experience. Finally an external typology of themes would then be further interrogated after using the technique of imaginative variation to reveal (through elimination of the non-specific) the structure, the essence of the phenomenon. By focusing on the themes of the experience each person’s experience is reduced down into visual descriptors of the internal. These individual internal descriptors would then be composited into a collective visual internal descriptor of the experience. This Visual Communication framework is currently only a proposition for my future PhD work. I am currently engaged in a pilot test of the methodology and will need to discuss my initial results and developments in future papers.

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