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Interface Design Positions – my own June 21, 2011

Posted by reto wettach in learning, physical interaction design, social computing, theory.

My colleagues from university and me were hosting an event with the topic “Position in Interface Design” last week. Here an outline of my talk – feedback welcome:

(me talking without slides, Photo: J. Landstorfer)

From Physical Interaction Design to Service Design

I was talking about my personal journey from doing and teaching Physical Interaction Design and why I expanded the focus of my research towards Service Design.

Physical Interaction Design is an important area from various perspectives:

1. From the perspecitve of us humans being more than Igoe’s famous finger-eye-beings:

(Igoe, O’Sullivan: “How the computer sees us”, image source)

  • We perceive the world differently and richer than the dominating HCI model pretends that we do (example: periphery of human perception = ambient displays)
  • We act in the world differently and richer than the dominating HCI model pretends that we do (example: rich expression from stone mason to violinist = tangible interaction)
  • We learn differently than the dominating HCI model pretends that we do (example: mirror neurons = cscw)

2. From an economical perspective:

  • Number of micro controllers in the world is growing exponentially
  • Interfaces become more and more important purchasing criteria also for non IT-products as e.g. cars
  • New areas for work for designers occur as e.g. exhibition design

3. From a pedagogical perspective:

  • Doing practical projects in Physical Interaction Design helps to understand computers, which is important for academically trained designers
  • Doing Physical Interaction Design forces one to understand humans and their mental models, cognitive and physical abilities and their fears etc.
  • Working exploratively in Physical Interaction Design forces one to apply various research and evaluation methods to argue design decissions

Then I explained how doing Physical Interaction Design also led to some suffering, which I already adressed at the CHI workshop “programming reality” in 2009:

  • It is very hard and time-consuming to bring new hardware to market, be it as an start-up or with a client – and this did not improve in the last years, even though we are trying with Fritzing.
  • The introduction of smart phones brough the software/hardware-model to the world of gadgets. Prior to the iPhone (2007) there were many highly specialized computing devices as dictionaries, love-getties, tamagotchis etc.
  • Our ecological responsibility also embraces the current trend towards less specialized hardware and apps

And then I talked about how at IxDS our clients actually understood that our knowledge and our methods could also be used for other areas than Physical Interaction Design: in 2007 we were asked to do a design project on “Women and ICT (Information and Communication Technology)” – with no focus on innovative hardware, but any kind of improvements.
Especially in Germany, an economy with about 70% of its GNP, service design becomes more and more essential.

Then I explained a little more what Serive Design is and showed that the same skills that are important for Physical Interaction Design are also important for Service Design:

  • The abillity to understand the potentials of technology
  • The ability to understand humans
  • The ability to prototype and evaluate

In the final part of my talk I suggested a Potsdam Model for Service Design consisting of:

  • the strength of our university (interface design including strong links to communication and product design, media studies)
  • proximity to Berlin, which seems to become the new hub of service design and start-ups in  Germany
  • the industry and diversity of lifestyles in Berlin and Potsdam

I ended by summarizing that Physical Interaction Design will stay important, but that Service Design is a good direction for an extension of the quite narrow focus of Physical Interaction Design.



1. Smart Phones vs. Dedicated Hardware… « interaction design - November 26, 2011

[…] the event “Positions on Interaction Design” this year at my university I tried to explain why I moved from Physical Interaction Design to Service Design. One of the reasons is that the hope […]

2. Start-Ups by Designers « interaction design - December 8, 2011

[…] of course the very basic idea of me teaching Service Design is to prepare students also for a role as an […]

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