Recently, Heidegger’s concepts of present-at-hand and ready-at-hand have been mentioned in readings for both Jeff’s class and Erik’s class. I find the implications of these concepts interesting for interaction designers and want to examine them further. A fundamental question for an interaction designer being introduced to these concepts is:
Should products be designed to be ready-to-hand, or to be present-at-hand?
Most software tools should be ready-at-hand so that the person using them concentrates on the content or task and not on the tool. Ready-at-hand is the state of most tools, until they break down, and I think that most of us don’t want to be designing tools that are constantly breaking down. I also see some relation between Heidegger’s concept of ready-at-hand and Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow. I think a tool being ready-at-hand is a prerequisite for someone to get in to a flow state, although just because a tool is ready-to-hand, does not guarantee a flow state.
On the other hand (ha ha), when something is present-at-hand, and breaks down, it allows the person to look at something as it is. This break down encourages critical reflection on the relationship with the tool. Example: “When my television broke I realized how much time I spent watching it and how much more productive I could be.” Another reason a tool might want to be present-at-hand is so that a person becomes attached to the product and thus less likely to replace it. Friedel argues that when a tool is always ready-at-hand the person cannot become attached to it because they only think of the function the tool allows them to do, and not the tool itself. Because of this, products that are present-at-hand are more valued and less replaceable.
So, this brings me back to my original questions: Should products be designed to be ready-to-hand, or to be present-at-hand? The answer is: it depends. But I don’t think that this ambiguity is a bad thing. Interaction designers can use the opposition between present-at-hand and ready-at-hand as a way to understand experience and as an aid for design.
The Breakdown Balance
If these concepts are going to be used by practitioners, I think one important issue that must be examined is the balance in creating breakdowns. Breakdowns are important to encourage reflection and attachment, but they hinder usability, flow, and enjoyment (at least temporarily). I think for interaction designers to successfully use these concepts in practice the key is to understand how to balance a breakdown so that the user can reflect or become attached without losing patience or getting annoyed.
Creating A Design
In next week’s blog post I will come up with a design concept that utilizes breakdown to either encourage reflection or create attachment. (Unless if I have something more interesting to blog about)