Godard’s “Breathless”: Design with Attitude

A recent trip to California left me inside of airplanes long enough to watch Godard‘s 1960 film Breathless. This film was enormously influential for its in-your-face style, which flaunted the “rules” of editing and made Godard an overnight sensation. One often hears of film editing as an invisible art, that is, when done well, you don’t even notice it. In Breathless, with its jarring jump cuts and indulgent closeups of amoral protagonists, you see filmmaking (including both direction and editing) with an attitude, a tradition that continues to this day in films such as Guy Ritchie’s Snatch (2000). This stands in contrast to the far less intrusive editing of classical filmmaking.

It made me wonder what “interaction design with an attitude” might look like. I wondered whether interaction design with an attitude was even appropriate for IxD that doesn’t explicitly call itself art. One sees it, I suppose, in video games, such as Grand Theft Auto IV. Still, the French New Wave led to auteur theory, which emphasized the distinctive voice of the director, whereas interaction design seems to play down the creative agency of any individual creator. Even the cult hero/villain Steve Jobs lacks a fingerprint anything like the ones all over a Godard film (or Tim Burton, or … take your pick), and if Jakob Nielsen leaves fingerprints, I’d bet they’re in a Web-safe color.

Facetiousness aside, shouldn’t at least third-wave HCI be able to have attitude? Interaction design, with its histories (plural, because they are distinct) of user-centered design, participatory and contextual design, and human-centered design, seems to almost crush the voice of the designer, replacing it with the putative voice of the “user.” As a counterbalance to engineer- and technology-centered design, giving the user a voice was obviously welcome. But as interfaces are increasingly created by “designers” as opposed to “engineers” (is this a change of mere vocabulary or a more substantial change of people and practice?), shouldn’t designers start to have a voice–and an attitude? Other designers do!

Know of an example of interaction design with an attitude? Please post a comment!


  1. adamjosephwilliams

    I just wanted to tell you I laughed out loud at the Nielson comment.

  2. cbriggs

    There were a few flash designer/developers who had pretty distinct styles in the 90’s. As evidence of this, i recently recognized the work of Jared Tarbell in the visualizations at etsy.com (http://www.etsy.com/color.php). His early work can be seen at http://levitated.net/ , where it is pretty easy to pick up his unique treatment of motion and layout.


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