ACM Publishes CB’s Paper on Design

A version of my essay on difficulties with design was published last week by the Association for Computing Machinery in their journal, Ubiquity. Ubiquity, in the words of the ACM, ‘is a Web-based publication of the Association for Computing Machinery, dedicated to fostering critical analysis and in-depth commentary on issues relating to the nature, constitution, structure, science, engineering, cognition, technology, practices and paradigms of the computing profession. Ubiquity is concerned with helping us see what we do not see. Ubiquity looks for novel perspectives on what is going on in the core of our field. Ubiquity looks also to the edges of our field and beyond, seeking the perspectives of those in other fields who are impacted by computing. We need to know about what they think.’

I am honored and pleased to see this essay published by the ACM, and invite your reading and comments.

You can see the ACM’s announcement of the essay here, and the essay itself is published here.

Thanks to Peter Denning for making this possible.

5 thoughts on “ACM Publishes CB’s Paper on Design

  1. Arun Kumar Tripathi [] sent me this comment on the article. He is at TU Dresden in the philosophy department.

    Dr. Peter Denning has recommended me to send my comments on your recent Ubiquity article. I am one of the Associate Editors of the Ubiquity.

    Your paper on the “problematic with design” is talking about the timely and contemporary issue.
    The analogy of hammer as a tool with respect to computer can very well understood. The articulation by you is talking in my own perspectives in the areas of philosophy of technologies, where we are trying hard to make a plea for the user-friendliness. The Joy of Use is directly related with the design issue. I think the problem with design comes when a designer used to differ in “poesis” and “praxis”–one is “art of doing” and the other is “art of making.” But this dualism may be wrong because poesis consists the praxis and the other way round is also applicable. A designer, while designing the products also conveys the information to consumers.

    I work in the areas of human-computer interaction, where the design issue plays a key & crucial role, where this is also important to software ergonomics and cognitive ergonomics. As computers become smaller, cheaper, and more mobile, people expand the ways in which they interact with information. Information that previously could only be accessed by a trip to the library can now be found on everyone’s desktop, and before long will be on their cell phone screens or on the wall next to them. Although there has been much promotion of the wonders of ubiquitous information, there are also many problems. Information on the go no longer has the contextual backing that it did within information-providing institutions. Interfaces that worked well on paper don’t transfer easily to the screen, and less so to the mini-screen.

    Research in human-computer interaction is moving away from desktop window-based interfaces to consider this larger picture. Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) is concerned with the design, implementation and evaluation of interactive computer-based systems, as well as with the multi-disciplinary study of various issues affecting this interaction. The aim of HCI is to ensure the safety, utility, effectiveness, efficiency, accessibility and usability of such systems. In recent years, HCI has attracted considerable attention by the academic and research communities, as well as by the Information Society Technologies industry.

    The on-going paradigm shift towards a knowledge-intensive Information Society has brought about radical changes in the way people work and interact with each other and with information. Computer-mediated human activities undergo fundamental changes and new ones appear continuously, as new, intelligent, distributed, and highly interactive technological environments emerge, making available concurrent access to heterogeneous information sources and interpersonal communication. The progressive fusion of existing and emerging technologies is transforming the computer from a specialists device into an information appliance. This dynamic evolution is characterized by several dimensions of diversity that are intrinsic to the Information Society. These become evident when considering the broad range of user characteristics, the changing nature of human activities, the variety of contexts of use, the increasing availability and diversification of information, knowledge sources and services, the proliferation of diverse technological platforms, etc. HCI plays a critical role in the context of the emerging Information Society, as citizens experience technology through their contact with the user interfaces of interactive products, applications and services. Therefore, it is important to ensure that user interfaces provide access and quality in use to all potential users, in all possible of contexts of use, and through a variety of technological platforms. The field of HCI is now experiencing new challenges. New perspectives, trends and insights enrich the design, implementation and evaluation of interactive software, necessitating new multidisciplinary and collaborative efforts.

    Martin Heidegger observes that while using a hammer, certain qualities of the hammer and our grip on it are fore-fronted in our experience, and some qualities sink into the background. If one is accustomed to hammer use, the hammer appears to that person in terms of what it allows us to do.
    Heidegger also describes the change in our experience that occurs when a hammer breaks and can no longer be used to hit things with. Suddenly, he explains, we encounter the hammer in a different way; a broken hammer appears to us not as something which makes possible certain kinds of action, but as an object that is useless. When the hammer had functioned well, we experienced it as a means to our ends. The hammer itself faded into the background of our experience as we did our work (our hammering). But as a broken object, the hammer no longer fades into that background, but appears as quite present to us as an object (Cf. The Phenomenology of Slowly-Loading Webpages by Robert Rosenberger at )

    In his work “Technology and the Lifeworld”, Euro-American philosopher Don Ihde considers the different sorts of ways that we interact with the world through technologies (1990). Like Heidegger, he considers our use of technologies to be a fundamental, immediate, pervasive character of our existence. Ihde gives the term existential technological relations to his categorization of the kinds of ways that we relate to the world through technology. He identifies three categories of such technological relations: “embodiment relations,” “hermeneutic relations,”
    and “alterity relations.”

    American philosopher of technology, Albert Borgmann precisely suggests to us “When computer-aided design came on the scene, information could become so massive and complex that a human being was no longer able to command it directly but came to depend on a computer that was able to store and process the information and make it available to human comprehension. Technological information had arrived.” During conversation, the inhabitants engaged in the focal nearness of the house. In reading, Borgmann argues “We fall silent and become temporarily solitary though we still have to draw on our immediate experience to bring the austerity of print to life, and we are able to pause, to read a passage to spouse or partner, and to invite comment or conversation.”

    On the other hand, Don Norman has lot to say on the issues of design, his new next book “Sociable Design” is dealing mainly with this issue, Norman writes “Sociable technology must support the four themes of communication, presentation, support for groups, and troubleshooting. How these are handled determines whether or not we will find interaction to be sociable. People learn social skills. Machines have to have them designed into them. Sometimes even worse than machines, however, are services, where even though we are often interacting with people, the service activities are dictated by formal rule books of procedures and processes, and the people we interact with can be as frustrated and confused as we are. This too is a design issue.”

    Design of both machines and services should be thought of as a social activity, one where there is much concern paid to the social nature of the interaction. All products have a social component.
    This is especially true of communication products, whether websites, personal digests (blog), audio and video postings mean to be shared, or mail digests, mailing lists, and text messaging on cellphones. Social networks are by definition social. But where the social impact is obvious, designers are forewarned. The interesting cases happen where the social side is not so obvious.
    See the Draft of a Chapter of Norman’s book here:

    The news on the radio is still rather spare in presentation compared with television, but less so than print and, important, implacable in its pace and progress. A newscast we want to listen to carefully dictates silence to everyone present. Information technology has added outlets (as well as funnels) of information through computer screens, and these are proliferating—a computer in the den, another in one’s pocket or purse, a third through the television set, a small one on the kitchen counter, one for each of the children in their rooms, etc.

    Culturally considered, the home is no longer an enclosure but a multiple opening to cyberspace.
    Similarly Neil Postman has argued that technology seems to be developing faster than our ability to understand what we are using it for. What are the positive effects of new and emerging technologies? Are there ways to maximize the benefits of the Internet and e-mail while minimizing the possible negative effects on society? Television is a medium where a producer or reporter has complete control over the programming content.

    Cyberspace decentralizes the information distribution process. Isn’t that a good thing? People with fast modems and powerful machines can participate in the creative and thought-provoking experiments on the Internet, but those without the right equipment cannot. The ubiquitous command of cyberspace is possible only in a world without distance. The actual world is, strictly speaking, metric. Distances matter. In geometry there are no intermediate spaces between the metric and topological ones. But informally and with regard to the experience of contemporary culture, we can say that in the actual world distances are losing their rigidity and extension.

    Every year improvements in automotive technology shrink and soften the distances we travel, cushioning us from the rigors of the road and dispelling boredom through more varied and refined entertainment and communication. The human subject that matches the levity of cyberspace is the unencumbered self that can take up any role it pleases and can defect from any position without penalty.

    Borgmann in “The Depth of Design” argues that province of design is the world of engagement, “the symmetry that links humanity and reality.” In his opinion, engagement is declining in the aesthetics of contemporary life, partly as a result of the growing rift between design and engineering. Information in its core sense is the tissue that connects humans with the wider world, wider in space, time, and imagination. And as Aristotle has it, there is in principle no limit to the scope of information. Information that is conveyed by natural signs and comes alive in human intelligence we may call natural information. Such information is about reality, and yet it also shades over into information for the construction of reality. All this has come about through the rise of a kind of information we can call technological, and the ascendancy of technological information has come to imperil if not eviscerate the craft of design, or so it seems to the lay observer. The information that goes into building first detached itself from the embodiment in practices when writing and drawing became common skills.

    I think now it is time to explore the Cultural & Social Factors in Human Computer Interaction and Hermeneutics in HCI Design and Cognitive Ergonomics (For Exploring Cultures and Cultural Consequences of HCI and technololgy issue. cf. Geert Hofstede).

    I hope this helps.
    We are living in the exciting age.
    With best regards,

  2. I found the article very interesting, thanks for doing that! I particularly liked your last section, on the implications for living our lives as humans, caring for ourselves, each other and the world.

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