Art as Methodology

Art as Methodology

Sarah Ketfley (Napier University, UK)
Copyright: © 2006 |Pages: 7
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59140-562-7.ch006


HCI has grown up with the desktop; as the specialized tools used for serious scientific endeavor gave way first of all to common workplace and then to domestic use, so the market for the interface has changed, and the experience of the user has become of more interest. It has been said that the interface, to the user, is the computer—it constitutes the experience—and as the interface has become richer with increasing processing power to run it, this experiential aspect has taken center stage (Crampton-Smith & Tabor, 1992). Interaction design has focused largely on the interface as screen with point-and-click control and with layered interactive environments. More recently, it has become concerned with other modes of interaction; notably, voice-activated controls and aural feedback, and as it emerges from research laboratories, haptic interaction. Research on physicalizing computing in new ways, on the melding of bits and atoms, has produced exciting concepts for distributed computing but simultaneously has raised important questions regarding our experience of them. Work in tangible and ubiquitous computing is leading to the possibility of fuller sensory engagement both with and through computers, and as the predominance of visual interaction gives way to a more plenary bodily experience, pragmatism alone no longer seems a sufficient operative philosophy in much the same way that visual perception does not account solely for bodily experience. Interaction design and HCI in their interdisciplinarity have embraced many different design approaches. The question of what design is has become as important as the products being produced, and computing has not been backward in learning from other design disciplines such as architecture, product design, graphics, and urban planning (Winograd, 1992). However, despite thinkers writing that interaction design is “more like art than science” (Crampton-Smith & Tabor, 1992, p. 37), it is still design with a specific, useful end. It is obvious, for example, how user-centered design in its many methods is aimed at producing better information systems. In knowing more about the context of use, the tasks the tool will be put to, and the traits of the users, it hopes to better predict patterns and trajectories of use. The holy grail in the design of tools is that the tool disappears in use. Transparency is all; Donald Norman (1999) writes that “technology is our friend when it is inconspicuous, working smoothly and invisibly in the background … to provide comfort and benefit” (p. 115). It is tempting to point to the recent trend for emotional design as a step in the right direction in rethinking technology’s roles. But emotional design does not reassess design itself; in both its aims and methods, emotional design remains closely tied to the pragmatic goals of design as a whole. Both are concerned with precognition—good tools should be instantly recognizable, be introduced through an existing conceptual framework, and exhibit effective affordances that point to its functionality; while emotional design seeks to speak to the subconscious to make us feel without knowing (Colin, 2001). These types of design activity thus continue to operate within the larger pragmatic system, which casts technology as a tool without questioning the larger system itself. More interesting is the emerging trajectory of HCI, which attempts to take account of both the precognitive and interpretive to “construct a broader, more encompassing concept of ‘usability’” (Carroll, 2004, pp. 38-40). This article presents art as a critical methodology well placed to question technology in society, further broadening and challenging the HCI of usability.

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