Impressed with Interactions

Posted on March 18, 2014


This month’s edition of Interactions is pretty much a must read, cover to cover.  Seriously great job Ron Wakkary and Erik Stolterman.

Here are some of the highlights for me:  (other papers that are also great include collaborative design, collective action, reframing design for aging (aging is neither an absolute concept nor a sum of established rules, but is instead situated and particular… situated elderliness), time beyond efficiency).

1.  Kolko: Learning entrepreneurial hustle

Jon Kolko describes the empowering role of teaching entrepreneurial hustle – the idea that you can actively cause things to happen rather than passively have things happen to you.

Many students have never thought of themselves as agents of change and have never considered that they can set events in motion based on their actions.

For all the talk of the millennial generation being lazy or unmotivated, I’ve found their temperament to be more closely aligned with helpless inaction—many don’t truly believe they can do, achieve, or succeed in the chaos, complexity, and ambiguity of the world around them, and I observe, broadly, a generational feeling of helplessness.

They doubt their own ability to add value to the world; they don’t believe their ideas and skills are worth anything.

Entrepreneurial hustle is the opposite of this feeling, and it can be taught.

But to learn it, students need to overcome some pretty large hurdles related to their own identities—they need to adjust how they view themselves and their abilities. They need to start to understand that their actions add value to the world.

The project is misleadingly simple: Students must earn a $1,000 profit doing something legal.  (but not that the money itself is largely irrelevant…on our grading rubric, the money is less than 10 percent of the grade).

The primary learning outcome of this project is to help the student learn what value actually is, how it can be created, and to understand that both their ideas and skills can be valuable in the right circumstances

  • Students will learn they need to make their own constraints. (the task is deliberately vague)

  • Students will learn the market is skeptical: a “good idea” is not enough.

  • Students will learn the market lies.

  • Students will learn that value forgives craftsmanship.  Students often are reluctant to offer a product or service until it’s perfect, failing to realize that perfection comes through operationalizing a business over many years. In fact, when a market observes and understands value in an offering,  it will often overlook cosmetic or even functional flaws—as long as the value proposition is realized.

  • Students will learn they need to ask for things.

Is part of a course in social entrepreneurship:

AC4D students go on to work with wicked problems, and the skills learned during this foundation course are transferable to tackling the systemic, ill-defined, unstructured messes of society. As students explore issues of poverty, nutrition, education, and other large-scale social issues, they will be required to manage complexity and ambiguity, to engage  lazy, politically minded stakeholders, to work with scarce resources, to abandon perfection in favor of execution, to ask for things (like money), and above all, to understand they are capable of making a positive impact—to understand their  work has the potential to add value to the world around them.

2. Dray: UX research that matters

Susan Dray asks how UX researchers can make themselves useful by identifying  issues that others are not even thinking about and turn them into a research agenda that others will buy into?  

We can do this by identifying inherent challenges, which is relatively straightforward, and making assumptions explicit, which often is not.

Some assumptions are easier to surface by asking questions such as what are the key requirements? what beliefs are those based on? what is the quality of evidence? and so on.   Deeper assumptions – those that are implicit and unconscious are harder, and crucial.

  • – questioning user typoologies (just who are these supposed ‘power users’?
  • – subjecting value proposition stories to critical analysis

Another clue that can indicate hidden assumptions is when the team, in describing their product, focuses on all the cool things that people “can do” with it….Of course, the assumption is that people want to and need to do these things—and in the  particular way the product supports. This focus on technical capability in principle is understandable but risky. Instead, it’s  important to question whether anyone would want to do something, rather than simply specifying that they can do it.

3. Horn: Beyond video games for social change,

Michael Horn points to the use of games in subtly reinforcing or challenging the values of players,  this is what makes them so appealling for addressing social change.  But, he argues, we have become fixated on one type of gaming experience – the video game – and that this has constrained our thinking and limited creativity.   Horn borrows the notion of the cultural form (such as paper-scissors-rock).   He focusses on how we evoke these forms, and how that enables surprisingly sophisticated interaction.   He describes the use of this with Ghost Hunter, and Turn up the heat.

4. Ralph and Björndal: Supporting the uninitiated in user-centered design

Maria Ralph and Petra Björndal’s contribution is to describe their experience in introducing user-centred design to teams that do not contain dedicated UX professionals.  The same approaches are useful for teaching HCI.

Understanding that the product they are developing is only a part of the user’s world, not the entirety, and that other aspects of the user’s work environment need to be taken into consideration is often an eye-opening experience.

5. Blake et al.: Teaching design for development in computer science

Edwin Blake and colleagues raise the issue of the “notoriously high failure rate” for ICT for development (ICT4D) projects.   They describe a method of community-based co-design as a means to address this.

“Community-based” conveys that we deal with groups of people rather than individuals. “Co-design” derives from the application of the action research paradigm in a design setting: Both the computer experts and the
community members are designers on an equal footing and work cooperatively.

But, to do that, they need to overcome one of the very strengths of computer science  – the ability to abstract away from details. 

Powerful as it is, the leap to abstraction is an obstacle to codesign if it is done prematurely. Design decisions have to be kept in abeyance while all interlocutors reach a common understanding of the issues to be addressed and the potential of an ICT intervention to help address those issues. Designers simply have to tolerate the tension of uncertainty; to do otherwise is to jump to incorrect conclusions and to damage the reciprocal trust between participants by appearing arrogant and disrespectful.

Patience and openness:

It is a serious mistake to commit to a design solution before the co-designers have found their voice. We have to train students to keep their own design decisions on hold and to cultivate an attitude of openness.

The paper describes their experience facilitating a class of computer science students collaborating with a deaf community.

We were apprehensive about taking computer science students, with their focus on abstraction rather than people, into a community-based learning experience.

but, once the students understood what it meant to work in this environment, the specific skills they brought were valued by the group as a whole.  It opened the students’ eyes to the scope of computing beyond the abstract, a “fresh perspective on the possibilities I can do in the field of computer science which I was unaware of before”.

They conclude with a note to educators:

The course involves risks and so will work only in a situation where risks are tolerated. Students may regard qualitative assessment as risky if they are used to high achievement in quantitatively assessed, well determined
courses. The planners of the course also cannot predict the exact events and have to be comfortable with a skeleton schedule, which is populated as the teaching cycles unfold.   A course like this requires interdisciplinary expertise and input.