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Phys Comp | Interactive Design-vs-Physical Design [reaction piece]

Readings for this week:
Chris Crawford’s, The Art of Interactive Design
Brett Victor’s, A Brief Rant On The Future of Interaction Design
Video Content: Electrical Derby from the European Commission.

Chris Crawford and Brett Victor both have the potential to be very convincing however, Brett Victor’s theories speak more to me than Mr. Crawford’s because of his tact. Mr. Crawford states that his definition may not match up with everyone else’s but then proceeds to almost bully the reader into why his definition is right and yours (if different) is wrong. I do not agree with him regarding theater. Theater is one of the earliest forms of interactive design. The problem with his explanation and I think the main reason he writes and thinks the way he does is because he solely sees interactive design and devices as “for the audience.” As an actor, I know how much work is done, research, and connection that scene partners, directors, designers, and crew all have to do before appearing on stage. While on-stage there is a whole world of interaction occurring. Therefore I believe that Entertainment media is a form of interactive media.

Interactive Design Chris Crawford
“We can grasp emotional situations that
a computer could never comprehend; the computer can multiply two numbers
faster than we can read them” (Crawford, 36).

I checked the date of publication, for Crawford’s book, because it’s been a long time since I’ve heard a humorous and at times cynical voice on such a tech-heavy subject. 11 years have passed since the publication of this edition, and I think it needs an update. Rugs can be interactive if they have a built in functionality to engage the intended party. The test of interactive design is not always a blatant “conversation.” It can just be the ongoing engagement between two or more parties/devices/things; it does not need to be profound.

Muscle Memory is powerful and I agree with Brett Victor that we cannot ignore our hands. Good physical design should engage “muscle memory” along with interactivity or not. Personally, I had a difficult time transitioning to the touchscreen phone & still am not fully sold on it. However, there is a physical movement that is involved: the swipe motion. As as a DJ, I’ve seen this come up a lot. When the iPad was proven to have functionality as a “controller” it was shunned. For events in extreme weather (ie: Burning Man, Coachella, etc.) a touch screen may be great, it’s flat, and has no grooves but it has limited touch-response, it’s just tap or swipe. As children we learn with our hands; we build with blocks, learn how to bounce a ball, tie our shoes. Tactile learning is key in the functionality and building towards the learning capacity of the human mind.

A book is a great example for both arguments. This blog post from Slate: Why People Don’t Want to Read E-Books on Tablets says a lot.

  • The e-book/tablet reader is interactive according to Chris Crawford’s philosophy. The hyperlinked content can re-direct you to other content, searching for particular words can produce results, etc.
  • The e-book/tablet reader according to Brett Victor’s philosophy, needs a re-design: paper that can load various books so as to keep it’s tactile nature, but still possess the same capacity as the “pictures under glass.”

My definition of interactivity is also the reason why a rug can be interactive; Brett Victor’s definition of a good tool “A tool addresses human needs by amplifying human capabilities.” This is of course the 1st week, and going into the 2nd class so my mind and thoughts may or may not change…we will see!

Not all great design needs to be “interactive”…the digital clock provides information and isn’t interactive. It’s used everyday by people everywhere. Interactive design is typically more provocative and lasts longer in the mind, as it is engaging but good physical design doesn’t always need to be interactive and all interactive design doesn’t always utilize good physical design.

One Response to “Phys Comp | Interactive Design-vs-Physical Design [reaction piece]”

  1. Tom Igoe

    I agree with you about Crawford’s voice, but I think his definition still stands up fairly well (I ask myself the same question a few times a year), and here’s why:

    I think the most important notion he offers is that interactivity is not a binary property. There are degrees of interactivity. He talks about a really great conversation being one in which you’re speaking with someone who’s your intellectual peer or better, and you struggle to keep up, but you manage to. Later in the book, he speaks of playing tennis against a pro, and not being totally beaten, and how that leads to a feeling of elation. What he’s alluding to is that the high end of that interactivity spectrum is one in which both parties are changed profoundly by the interaction. Not only are they changed long-term (as happens with a great theatre moment), but their behavior is changed *in the moment* as well — one party may have an idea what she will do next, but she changes it in reaction to the other party’s action. This happens in improv, and happens when it comes to timing and inflection, but Crawford (who has no training in theatre, to my knowledge), sees the actor’s behavior as unchanged because he still recites the same lines, follows the same blocking. I also disagree with him about these nuances, but there is value to his point, namely:

    By seeing interaction design in terms of degrees of interaction rather than as a binary, you, the designer, have a way of thinking how much production work will be involved, what expectations you’ll have for the user, and so forth. More interaction between the user and the system requires more work on the design team’s side, but can lead to more engagement. The theatrical equivalent (for me) would be a moment when a director I was working with decided that the cast would react to every sound the audience made. That made for a higher level of rehearsal prep, of tech rehearsal cueing, etc. Was it worth the effort? No, the play was a flop. But sometimes it can be worth it. It’s always a risk, and by seeing interaction as a spectrum, you have a way to evaluate the risk in advance.

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