Notes on Matt Nish-Lapidus’ Design Practice for the 21st Century

(From a video of Matt’s 03/16 presentation at the Interaction 16 conference, link here)

We’ve entered a new design era: The Software Era

There are 4 fundamental properties of this new era

  1. Digitization: All media is now digital
  2. Everything is encoded:
    • Which is limiting–you can only enlarge a photo so much before quality is lost
    • But also liberating: everything can be programmed, new relationships can be created between things
  3. Everything is now interactive–participation becomes less active and more consumptive
    • Everything can be networked. Existing thinking can be radiated; new ways of thinking can be formulated–in both humans and machines
  4. Surveillance is becoming a dominant mode in democratic societies. Everything we do digitally is recorded, and more and more of what we do is being digitized
    • Dominant services like Facebook are also surveillance. So what is our “data” worth–is it the same as our “self” worth?

If everything is programmable and surveilled, what are the tools interaction designers can use to manipulate these invisible forces? Not UI but interface–as in, the understanding of what we can do with the things around us and what they can do to us. Interface is the seam between these understandings. Tools to use might include:

  • Metaphor and
  • Abstraction
    • How do we manipulate these to explain things to the world?
  • Reflexivity and
  • Feedback
    • How do we use feedback to explain what the system is doing?
    • Reflexivity hinges on how the system understands itself in a the relationship with us, its users
  • Pace
    • Interaction is time-based and hence has a pace
    • Level of required engagement is a question of pace
  • Agency
    • Agency an actor’s ability to enact their will on the system
    • Designers manipulate users’ agency–we decide what to allow them to do within the system. And we decided what to do when they try to do something we don’t allow
  • Transparency vs opacity
    • How much insight do users have into the system, which is often not much–how does Google actually work? How about the Facebook timeline?
    • How visible is the interface? Is it human readable?

This is pretty high-level stuff! But Matt had a good example of an artist who has created a digital camera/computer system that “watches” him dance, creates music it “considers” appropriate, then plays that music aloud as the dancer moves–the dancer has no control over what the music sounds like but together the dancer and computer create a piece forging music and dance

With the internet bleeding into the physical world through digitization, networking, services of surveillance etc, designers are in a fascinating position to manage manipulation–but will our purpose be to empower users, or to empower systems?

From the  Interaction 16 program: Matt is an independent designer and creative technologist in Toronto, a design instructor at Sheridan College and CIID, and the Vice President of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA).

His work has included everything from a digital library catalog in use all over the world to enterprise software, video games, and large-scale public installations. He spent the first few years of his career assisting international new media artists including Stelarc and David Rokeby while developing his own art and design practice. He has since worked with organizations as big as Coca-Cola and as small as un-funded startups.

Over the past 10 years Matt has focused on developing a design practice that addresses the opportunities and challenges of living in a networked world, and how we can use beauty and expressiveness to make better products.


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