[ 10] Sterling, B. “Design
Fiction.” interactions 16,
3, (2009): 20–24.
messiness of the design process.
Not simply about design in the
abstract, but a forum for examining how design choices emerge
on a smaller individual scale.
Doing so will ideally draw out
epistemologies at play.
The suggestions to seek out
shifting ground, ask foundational questions, draw out the
personal, and make it messy are
an encouragement to collide,
examine, and ultimately revisit
our design epistemologies. But by
challenging fixed epistemologies,
and encouraging their dynamic
interplay, we lose the sureness
of our footing. In the May + June
2009 issue of interactions, Bruce
Sterling suggested that design
has more to learn from literature
[ 10], although if we take on the
idea of including more complex
narratives and even personal
accounts, perhaps the opposite
is also true. What stories do we
enact through design? What stories about design do we project
and promote? What new stories
could we tell?
Many thanks to Phoebe Sengers, Bill
Gaver, Katherine Isbister, Michael
Mateas, Kia Höök, Lucian Leahu, and
November + December 2009
epistemologies. The field of HCI,
with its range of disciplines, is
quite used to these intersections.
Important dialogue has emerged
when collaborators reach across
disciplines to find a wider than
expected gap. From a representation as response perspective, this
gap is a fertile ground for insight.
The recent interest in intersecting the sciences with the
arts and humanities in computing design is epistemological
reflection in action, examining
conflicting values and divergent
practices. A bricolage approach
might mine different techniques,
such as using situationist art
practices as a tactic for participatory design. A dialectic approach
might look to create a third space
between art and science. An
antagonistic approach might try
to revolutionize science through
provocative art and art through
provocative science. All of these
possible conversations would be
interesting for HCI and the design
of interactive systems.
Raise Foundational Questions.
Observing or participating in
an exchange across epistemologies raises foundational questions, particularly when it’s at
the proverbial paradigm-shift
level. Yet foundational questions
can always be usefully revisited
even on a small scale. Why is
one mindset or technique being
used in place of another? What
is gained, what is lost? What
would the effects be if the driving mindset and/or the pursuant
techniques were tweaked?
Foundational questions serve
as, well, foundations. We ask
them so we can move on. But
they can also serve as blinders,
boxing us into static patterns
of practice and ways of thinking. Revisiting such questions
illuminates overlooked areas for
design and provokes new ideas.
Questions of epistemology force
us to examine what we focus on,
ignore, assume, and value.
Draw Out the Personal. Perhaps
the most obvious antidote to
abstraction is personal experience, such as the passport-con-trol delay, where models are fine
until they completely misrepresent your own personal situation.
One strategy then is to draw out
and draw on one’s own personal
We tend to erase the designer
or researcher’s fingerprints in
representing our designs due to
the requirements of blind review,
principles of scientific objectivity,
and the issue of relevance. Does
anyone really care to hear about
my fear of flying? Certainly in
the age of twitterdom, we might
have sparse appetites for more
personal details woven into our
publications. But personal experiences inform choices and reform
epistemologies. My take on representation as response is slightly
different from that of others.
Finding ways of drawing out and
sharing these subtle fissures is as
important as distinguishing tectonic plates in terms of provoking
and advancing the fields of interactive design and HCI.
Make It Messy. Published work
in HCI tends to recount linear
narratives using a normative
template. We rarely acknowledge
failed systems; nor is there room
for discussing the difficult choices and trade-offs we encounter
along the way. Choices are made
and forgotten. Our stories of
design are neat and concise.
As designers are required
to focus on more wicked and
messier design problems, perhaps
we need channels to present the
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kirsten Boehner is writing a
book on interpretive
approaches to human-
computer interaction. Her
current research revolves
around moments of transformative partici-
pation, in particular dialogic arts practices
and the intersection with information tech-
nology design. She recently completed her
Ph.D. in communication and postdoctoral
research in information science at Cornell
© 2009 ACM 1072-5220/09/1100 $10.00