Thursday, February 19, 2009

richard harper

The down side to drafting into a word processing document and then copying/pasting into my blog is that sometimes I forget to actually copy and past into my blog! This following post has been sitting dormant in my computers hard drive... until now.

Professor Richard Harper from Microsoft Research, Cambridge, spent a morning with us to discuss how people of various disciplines see the world we live, and how this can cause problems in the design process.

He began by talking about how we gossip and how this act can be translated through metaphor into solutions for design problems.

I found this notion very refreshing as it coincides with work I have done in the past on touch-screen systems. My ideas for interactions were all based on human gestures I took as metaphors and used to act as inputs for computer systems. Richard calls this language (or method?) "Human Acts."

Richard's advice was to be aware of the difference between ourselves (designers) and others, such as scientists for example. Designers show their portfolios to other designers but seldom do they communicate their work from people outside of our discipline. He suggested we must have trust in other people and don't show them only the finished article. The process behind the finished article is often more interesting; so is communication of design all about telling a story rather than showing an artifact?

I agree with Richard. Whilst exhibiting my honours project work at the Degree Show and then New Designers, people were more interested in how the project materialized over time and why I made the decisions I did throughout the process. This was, at the time, a little disheartening in a way as I wanted people to be in awe over the prototype that I spent so long getting right. Instead, all they wanted to do was to ask questions and, I suppose, understand me rather than what I made. All I had to do was tell my story.
Richard Banks' advice is not to get to precious about prototyping; and this is probably the most valuable piece of wisdom I've taken on board since I started my Masters.

After spending an hour or so with Richard Harper, we were lucky enough to be invited to his evening lecture, entitles "Changing Humans." Here, he explained how the designers of computers and computer systems have changed their visions of users.

People love to gossip and communicate with each other. People network themselves naturally and now also digitally, through the introduction of text messaging and video messaging (and subsequently social networking sites like Facebook). The metaphor of gossiping is what inspired ideas such as video messaging; a tool that enables people to send friends videos, presumably to make them laugh.

The morning session and evening lecture made me think about a lot of things to do with common languages between people in different disciplines and interaction design in general. But the most valuable theory I took from today is all to do with language. Language is the key tool that we can use to communicate and be understood as designers. We can achieve this by applying metaphors and other language sub-tools. Language is the only common ground we all have.


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