Applications: Reading and Response 2

Bridging the Gap

I throughly enjoyed this essay.

It takes curiosity creativity, and guts to search out ground as new as this. To pull two such, seemingly, disparate ideas together. Laurel makes the blind leap from human/computer interaction to Aristotle’s Six Elements of Drama with aplomb. At first, I wasn’t convinced that it could be done. But she’s very insightful and she ends up making a pretty convincing argument. There are points that she doesn’t totally connect, but overall there’s a very interesting comparison between Aristotle’s elements of drama and human/computer interaction. I’ll definitely using this mode of thinking when developing concepts in the future.

Quick refresher for those reading along at home who don’t have a working knowledge of Aristotle and his critical analysis of the fundamental elements of drama:

Aristotle's Elements of Drama (and Human/Computer Interaction)
Aristotle’s Elements of Drama (and Human/Computer Interaction)

Each element illuminates an aspect of human/computer interaction. Each one offers a new way to look at this usually dull engagement with have with a machine. Each one practically kicks you down a wildly fun path of consideration and contemplation.

Form as Character

For me the most interesting element and its comparison is the notion of “character.” For ever, it seems like, the idea has been to make the character of a computer more like the character of a human: artificial intelligence. The goal is, apparently, to make computers more like us. As God made Man in his own image, so Man has with computers. Except when they write our histories it will be Siri instead of Eve.

This has been accomplished so far by instilling our PCs with voice recognition. A melodic voice. But no real personality. These are certainly technical feats, but they’re nothing closer to developing a computer with true character. In fact, I think that this “character” shouldn’t come from a fake person built in code that lives in the CPU. I’m much more interested in the idea that the form itself is imparted with character.

I always come back to the Proverbial Wallet project . I’m totally enamored with it. It’s brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. It’s a totally novel interaction that with an object that has so much character. This is the ideal for me. The personality of the object/computer isn’t determined by a personality algorithm. The thing itself has personality. It wouldn’t be itself without it. It would be a different thing.

What would a computer look, feel, act like if it had the same personalities as Laurel? Curious, creative, gutsy? I’m not convinced it would be a metal box, same as all the others. But I’m eager to find out.



Applications: Reading and Response 1

“Power of Action”

The essay’s lead in is a great quotation by French philosopher Paul Veléry. And so it’s only fair that I also lead in with it. It’s as relevant now as it was when it was written. Uncannily so. Which is, I think, one of the prerequisites for a quote to be great.

“Our fine arts were developed…in times very different from the present, by men whose power of action upon things was insignificant in comparison with ours.”

I find it encouraging. Because it’s true. And the cycles between the advent of tools that advance our “power of action up things” are shorter and shorter. Just after its invention, the pixel leapfrogged the paintbrush. And we haven’t looked back since. We’ve been given something more powerful than a simple tool. We’ve been given a tool that makes tools. We’ve exponentially increased that power of action. I hesitate to say we can manipulate our world in ways that Mr. Veléry never dreamt of (mostly because I don’t know what he dreamt, but also because I think it sounds cliché) but I will say that we can manipulate the world in ways that would probably make Mr. Veléry very very confused.


Almost immediately I’ve got questions about Benjamin’s perspective. It seems the essay assumes some working knowledge/an educated opinion on Marxism. Neither of which I could honestly say I have. In any case, the phrase “the art of a classless society” struck me as odd. Calling on the very little I know about Marxism, I imagine that a “classless society” is a good thing. End capitalism, demolish the proletariat, end class struggle. That’s the plan, right?

It sounds like a terrible idea. “The art of a classless society?” What art? Where is this “art” coming from? There’s no us vs. them in Utopia. There’s no tension when the culture is spread equal and thin across society like smooth peanut butter on stale white bread. For better or worse, cultural tension is where most art and the most interesting art comes from. Otherwise, what happens? We revert to idyllic farm landscapes? Society kicks Art into neutral and costs for the next couple hundred years on the naked human form in marble? Boring. Dull. More of a suck on the human spirit that being bound within the confines of the working class. Benjamin doesn’t say what he wants. But he can’t want that. No body wants that. (Except maybe the bourgeoisie. And that starts to cause issues with the logic of the whole thing.)

The Experience of a Work

“Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.”

Oh boy. Is there a lesson here related to ITP, or what? When we create something we are creating an experience: “unique existence at the place where it happens to be.” The experience of a work of art. The experience of a motion graphic. The experience of a wall of penises. We’re creating the thing, itself, too. But, and here’s what Benjamin gets at and uses as the crux of a lot of this essay, we’re also creating the “aura” of the thing.

I think its fashionable now to do or be in “experience design.” The same way its fashionable to be a “creative director.” But that doesn’t take anything away from the importance of it. The idea of designing experiences has been cleaved from other disciplines that it once (and is still probably) part of. Architecture. Lighting design. Product design. Being a flight attendant. Jobs that understood that the experience was one aspect of the work. Doing the actual work was the other aspect.

I think this quote begs the question: does it matter? I.e Does it matter that a reproduction lacks the element of unique existence? I think not. I think that if a copy of a work elicits some reaction from the viewer (or experience-er. Experience designers need experience-ers, right?), no matter the magnitude, it has accomplished it’s intrinsic <i>raison -d’être</>. (Benjamin makes this very same point not too much later.)

Today it’s more difficult to make this argument that a reproduction automatically devalues a piece of art, in the aesthetic sense. Especially with something like works of art in code, something that is by definition reproducible. (Sol LeWitt works for this example too.) The point is that the experience matters most. As long as it doesn’t turn you into a Fascist, apparently.


  • Benjamin posits that the desire of the “contemporary masses” is to “overcome the uniqueness of every reality by accepting is reproduction.” I don’t think I can agree with that. I think he’s mistaking the welcoming of convenience (e.g. film doing a poor job of reproducing theater) for this desire to overcome uniqueness. That would mean that the masses prefer the same old whatever to a new experience. Whatever the facsimile of a sunset is rather than a sunset. I think it’s a ridiculous statement to make.
  • Benjamin is pretty upset that talking pictures are removing the “aura” from the actor. Why? Has anyone ever complained that a portrait removes the “aura” of the person who sat for it? Aside from that one of Dorian Gray, I think not.
  • By far, my favorite part of this essay was his comparison of slow motion film to psychoanalysis. I think it’s an incredibly interesting idea. Although, I don’t think it really holds up all that well.
  • If “one requirement [of Dadaism] was foremost: to outrage the public…” is it possible that most of today’s pop culture is unintentionally Dadaist?
  • All this talk about the reproduction of art and what it means reminded me that I’ve been wanting to watch Tim’s Vermeer.


‘The Art of Interactivity’ by Chris Crawford

“I choose to define [interactivity] in terms of a conversation: a cyclic process in which two actors alternately listen, think, and speak.”

Interactivity as Conversation

I think Crawford’s definition of interactivity is swell. I also agree with his assessment that two (or more) actors are key for the process to work. However, I think there’s a more important factor tucked into that definition: “a cyclic process.”

Here’s where it really comes together for me. With a cycle we go from the more binary Action → Reaction (Speak → Listen; Listen → Think; Think → Speak, etc) to a more complex network of cause and effects. Especially if the actors adjust their rhythm of listen, think, speak in accordance with outside factors.

The best conversations never follow a prescribed structure. It’s never listen, think, speak. The thinking is going on constantly. And speaking frequently slides into something closer to yelling. There’s an element of unpredictability to it. You might spiral off into a tangent, go off topic, only to find a new perspective on what you had just been discussing.

Interactivity should be fluid. And dynamic. It should feel natural. And it should allow and encourage discovery. Just like a great conversation.

An Aside About the “Interactivizing Step”

It’s painful when Crawford mentions the interactivizing step in the design process. Coming from an advertising background, it’s all too familiar to here “how do we make this interactive?” As if it’s only a matter of sprinkling new, delicious and nutritious Interactivity Flakes® on whatever the idea is. When, in reality, all that’s actually being said is “how do we get people to click faster/stay longer/post on social media harder?”

If I hear “interacting with our brand” one more time, I’m going to throw a box of Interactivity Flakes® at a wall. According to Crawford, and, you know, common sense, it’s impossible to interact with a brand. A brand is the made-up face of an otherwise faceless company. A ghost putting on a sheet to answer the door.

There’s no conversation. No listen, think, speak. Only sell, sell, sell. (He’s eerily close to the future when he posits that laundry detergent boxes will soon proclaim “NEW! IMPROVED! INTERACTIVE!” Think what they/we did/let happen to organic.)

A Brief Reply to ‘A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design’ by Bret Victor

‘Vision Matters’

Victor’s right. About a lot of things. But first about that Microsoft ‘Future Vision’ video at the top of his brief rant. It’s not all that visionary. It’s a design exploration at best. And a huge waste of money on motion graphics at worst.

(Although, actually this was probably a marketing piece much more so than any indication of what Microsoft R&D is working on, Future Vision-wise. It was probably designed by art directors in the marketing department and not user interface or user experience professionals. Which makes the video’s relevancy moot. But, at least, it’s provided us with a really interesting place to start thinking about what we want from our tools [cue: echo SFX] of the Future. )

If movies are any indication, than futuristic has always meant simpler. And simpler has meant flatter and sleeker. As if everyone designing the future has a limited palate of ideas to work with. Eventually everything is pressed into one thin sheet of glass and then that vanishes altogether and we’re left with some sort of floating projection to swat at. At one time these hardware and UI designs were visionary. But now you’ve been communicating with one of these visions for years.

Maybe it’s time to rethink simplicity. Is opening a jar simple? Yeah it is. Of course…that’s opening a jar and not sending an email or color grading an image or sequencing music. But the idea translates: it’s simple and it’s a specific interaction to get a task accomplished and it’s no where close to swiping a screen with a finger.

Giving Us The Finger

Victor makes the observation that almost all of these interactions have been reduced to the use of a finger. And really, just the tip of a finger.

“Hands feel things, and hands manipulate things.”

Why is this when our bodies are so capable? We have an amazing ability to sense and decode feedback from the word around us. Weight, thickness, friction, density, balance, temperature, texture, etc. These are the world’s ways of transferring information.

This Proverbial Wallets Project from the MIT Media Lab is a great example of using dynamic object properties to convey information about the world. It might seem odd or just an interesting exercise, but from Victor’s perspective, an inflatable wallet is way more of a window into the future than the flat pieces of glass we’re used to.