Saturday 8th February, 2014
2:45pm to 2:45pm
This talk is about finding the roots of design principles in seemingly unlikely places.
There has always been a tension between theory and practice, academia and industry, across many different fields. This tension is often a result of simple misunderstanding and the inability to see how each effort directly influences the other.
Focusing on select thinkers, I will show how many of the most ‘practical’ user-centered design principles and methods are grounded in the most ‘theoretical’ of fields: philosophy. With emphasis on phenomenology, the study of being in the world, the presentation will examine the direct application of theory to practice by taking concepts from the phenomenological tradition and mapping them to practical outputs. The goal is not simply to illustrate connections but rather to fully examine these connections in hopes to illuminate new ways of thinking about how design affects and is affected by the most basic aspects of human existence.
An example would be helpful here. In the 1950‘s, Martin Heidegger, probably the most famous and influential of the phenomenologists, articulated what we now know as user goals. He believed that modern technology has a special place in human existence because we do not simply interact with it, we interact through it. His famous example of a hammer illustrates that we use the hammer in order to drive a nail for the sake of building a house. Technology, then, is a means to accomplish a larger goal. In the act of skilled hammering, the hammer becomes invisible and the user is focused solely on driving the nail. In a more modern context, we can think of typing an email. In the act of typing, the user is focused on the context of the email, not on the keyboard. Their attention shifts to the keyboard only when it ceases to work properly or they misspell a word.
While this view might seem like common interaction design knowledge, its origin in Heidegger’s work points to associations with a number of other related concepts. For example, Heidegger developed comprehensive theories of intentionality, space and spatiality, relationship to objects, and technological interaction.
The main goal of this presentation is to trace design principles and practices back to their philosophical roots in order to gain new insight on how they complement one another. I believe that interaction designers, UX professionals, information architects, etc. can benefit from a more well-rounded knowledge about how their day-to-day work is influenced by theory. The more we know about why design principles exist, the better equipped we are to implement them.
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