I was particularly drawn to two ideas in the piece by Gillian Smith.
(i) Computation is a design material (of interaction design).
(ii) Interaction design is still drawing on the language of previous creative modes, and has not yet fully developed an independent language of interaction true to the medium of computation, networks, and telecommunications.
The first idea I was already somewhat comfortable with. The second idea is new to me. While I have recognized that the unique qualities of computation are still under-explored and under-exploited (recognizing analogies with the evolution of film and other new technologies), I had not recognized the importance, or necessarily even the existence, of “languages” to talk about the great new works that various technologies have enabled.
This idea of new design materials being used in old ways is fascinating, and I’m interested in learning of other historical examples of it (such as early television shows simply broadcasting video footage of radio shows). With computation and network technologies, for example, we are obsessed with putting old content online in digital form. In some sense, this is perhaps a radical new way to experience the old content, as it allows one to easily copy, access, search, and in some cases remix and edit (possibly collaboratively) the content. However, people are still typically composing books, lecture notes, and music in old ways and in old forms. An ebook is still in essence the same as a paper book, even if it does have hyperlinks and the ability to search and annotate. In the future, will authors still mainly write books to communicate complex ideas, or will they have the tools to compose dynamic, non-linear, hyperlinked webs of ideas or multi-modal narratives and interactive experiences? Will teachers still lecture, or will they provide exploratory virtual worlds for knowledge construction, discussions with real or artificial people, and the tools to create personally meaningful artifacts to learn and express oneself with?
Getting back to the idea of a language of interaction design…Smith almost seems to be saying that we need to sit down and work out an expressive language in order to move beyond our old uses of this new computational medium. “As yet, we have no fully developed language unique to interactive technology. So we are still drawing on the language of previous creative modes. ” To me, it seems that an expressive language will evolve as we learn about, and better exploit and shape, “the new and unique qualities of the medium of computation, networks, and telecommunications.” Or have we already shaped and exploited the technology enough to start creating a language, and merely forgotten to do so? I’m eager to learn more about the design and evolution of “languages of previous creative modes”.
What are useful distinctions or definitions of design materials? Wood, brick, and concrete? Electronics? Verbal language? Typography, iconography? Sound, film, animation? Computation, networks, and telecommunications? Interactive technology? Biotechnology? How do they relate? How are they different? What expressive languages exist for working with these materials?
Do we already have a working set of vocabulary words for this interactive, computational medium? What (unique) qualities does it possess? In what sense is it a “material without qualities” (as described by Lowgren and Stolterman in Thoughtful Interaction Design)?
How has computation been used incrementally, in old ways? (And is there a name for this phenomenon of wrapping old ideas in new technology?) How have its unique properties been leveraged in radically new ways? How can/should we leverage it in radically ways?