Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Nature & Aesthetics of Design

In 1978 the book "The Nature & Aesthetics of Design" by David Pye was published. I think I read it for the first time around 1983. I remember that I was completely overwhelmed by the book. It presented an understanding of design that deeply resonated with my own ideas, but stated so much better, and in a way that I had not read anywhere. Today, I read the book again, probably more than 20 years since the last time. And again, I was charmed and intrigued by the book. So many things I have written about on design in the last 20 years can be found in this book!

Pye, who was a Professor of Furniture Design, was also an architect and an industrial designer, and a famous wood craftsman. He died in 1993.

In the book Pye discusses what design is all about, its relation to art and science, the nature of aesthetics, etc. It such a rich book. It is short. It is easy to read with a straightforward language. It feels authentic, grounded and real. It is written by someone who deeply understands his field.

Even though it was almost 30 years since the book was written, it is a source of wisdom that is still relevant, even in a field struggling with the design of digital artifacts and the digital material. Read it!

SPIMES

Well, another interesting book that crosses the vast fields of information technology and design. Bruce Sterling's new book "Shaping Things" presents a highly creative and imaginative perspective on the world of design and as he puts it "a book about everything".

Sterling is a science fiction writer and as a reader of Wired magazine you recognize him as a frequent writer of articles and comments on new technology.

Sterling is moving freely in the landscape he is examining and with a extraordinary open mind he creates new concepts and ways of thinking, and even new words -- like "spime".

I really enjoy this book since it touches on big questions, is not afraid of drawing conclusions, and is still within what is built on an underlying realistic foundation of knowledge. I wish we could see much more writings like this from academia.

I want to come back to some of the ideas that is presented in the book later on. The notion of spime is a good one, and might become really valuable!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Simply Google

In one of his latest essays "The truth about Google's so-called simplicity" Don Norman discusses the simplicity of Google, or especially the first page of Google's web site. Norman argues that Google "is deceptive. It hides all the complexity by simply showing one search box on the main page". The main argument from Norman is that all the other search sites offer much more on their first page, but at Google you have to click to a second or third page to get to other functions than the plain and simple web search.

It seems that Norman finds this to be problematic and not "fair". I think that Norman touches upon another issue that for a lot of people is more important than the ease of use of many functions, and that is separation. Norman writes "Why isn't Google a unified application?". I think we can argue the opposite, namely that it is exactly that fact that has made Google so successful. It might be the case that people don't like "unified" products. We know from the field of home electronics that the most successful products are simple and often single function based. Almost all attempts to design multi-purpose products have failed. This can be seen in many other design field as well, like for instance kitchen utensils.

So, maybe Google strategy to be "deceptive" and not to build it first page design on its organizational structure (another argument from Norman) is what people find attractive and useful.

However, as with all designs, people get tired of a design and want variation, and one day we will see someone who designs a new search page in a (probably completely different) way that will attract peoples attention away from Google.

For any committed designer (and design student) a design like Google.com is a perfect object for analysis and critical reflections around quality and design principles, especially to compare and contrast the Google site with other (equally successful) but totally different designs and try to make sense out of the differences. This is probably one of the best learning activities that will prepare a designer for any future challenges.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

New Applications

An article in New York Times today presents and discusses what is seen as a new application for collaboration using computers. This application is similar to what has been around in academic settings for experiments for many years and has been tested and studied over and over again for functionality, usability and usefulness. I wonder how many research articles and papers have been written and published about this type of application. At the same time, what has the contribution of this research been? Now, maybe ten, fifteen, years later, some of the functions of these experimental applications can be found in commercial software. Did the academic studies contribute to the development? Should it? (And if, what should the purpose be?)

This opens up for so many questions concerning the purpose and meaning of testing and evaluation of software. I truly believe that the field has to devote time and reflection to these questions. A mature academic field should have a developed understanding of its place in the big picture, and the big picture here is the overall development of technology.

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