Digital Materials as Design Materials

Here are some further notes (once again; NOTES, sometimes a bit vague) from the 2005 ICT and the Humanities Summer School concerning the final theme, which was Experience Design. This is an area that I had not seriously considered as relevant to my area of research (narrative, language, art) but how wrong I was. I had thought long and hard about materiality, dialogue, and reader response theory but I had never thought in terms of design in regards to these methodologies. The first to take the stand was Jonas L Löwgren, Professor of Interaction Design at Malmö University, Sweden. Good background reading for this is Inspirational Patterns for Embodied Interaction.

lowgren.jpg Jonas LöwgrenLöwgren first stated the title of his presentation was; Digital Materials as Design Materials.In terms of experience design we should be look at the trends in the development of digital materials. IT has gone from being a working tool to a play and everyday situation. The other great trend is media convergence. Information systems are becoming the domain for creative industries where “access to a new kind of channel” is being created through “non-linear stories in broadcast industries”. The primary example of this is the World Wide Web where in a relatively short time there has been a movement from usability to experience. Slide show here: Mosaic (1993) an early browser and Netscape (1994), the first commercial browser. Mosaic was primarily concerned with news on new web servers. The Web is driving the penetration of digital media into general society.

Usability: 1980’s to 90’s
-productivity, efficiency, thru-put, conductivity

Experience: 2000-
-Attractiveness, pleasure, up-take

Human Computer Interaction (HCI): based on usability and ease of use.

Donald Norman and Jakob Nielson (usability_consultant) are both cited here by Lowgren as practitioners of “Emotional design” in digital contexts.

The term Creative Industry applies to media, games, and more. It is creation of artefacts that have the potential to involve the audience. These artefacts are always used by a whole person and “not just a finger and a nervous system.

The Core Skills of Design:
•Create – generation
•Assess – judge value

Being creative is not difficult, but critical assessment is equally vital and both must proceed in parallel. This involves the articulation of assessment knowledge.
Looking at a scale of generation with fictional end points

1. Object
2. Knowledge Universal
3. Is it good to use?
– must be specific to object.
4. Object
1. Object
2. Knowledge Universal
3. Is it good to use?
– must be specific to object.
4. Object
1. Object
2. Knowledge Universal
3. Is it good to use?
– must be specific to object.
4. Object

And so on……………………………………………………………….

This results in mid-range knowledge concepts. It is design specific and there it is possible to identify genres or domains.


-Para functionality



-personal correctness
-social actability

Object: the characters of immediate handling of the digital system:
Immersion – Osmose (1995) by Char Davies provides a sense based reality from a digital system through retinal invasion.
Osmose by Davies is heavily premised on body engagement with y plane navigation within the virtual environment being navigated by body angel. Elevation is controlled through a system of breath monitoring from a wearable device. The level of immersion created in this piece was “totally unparalleled in other virtual systems”. Shifting body weight and breathing as navigational requirements were closer to the primary state. “Less is more in immersion!” and keeping a sense of presence as a result. In the case of presence one should not expect conclusions.
Presence: “Geographically not in touch but sharing a state.”
Pliability (as character of immediate handling of the digital system) is a data based visualization example of presence. Reflexivity must be precise, temporally exact. Serendipitous discovery should not be ignored.

Interaction techniques should lead to dynamic queries. Some examples:
Sens-A-Patch. (Lowgren 2001) An experimental interaction technique supporting spatial memory and exploiting the seductive qualities of pliable interaction. Applications include web bookmarks, presentation slides, file systems and more. as a visualization engine it fulfils the premise that interaction should lead to dynamic queries.

Fluency: Multiple streams of simultaneous information. Some examples:

Riding the Net
(2001) by Roberto Lopez Gulliver.
Voice recognition image search with kinetic results displayed on a touch screen.
Riding the Net does however have a poor sense of context outside the piece.

ATR Media Integration & Communications Research Laboratories work with facial gesture recognition technologies
“Communication environment creation, communication support, mental image expression and human communication processes”

Nothing Remains The Same” by Peter Hagdahl
An example of extreme data fusion although with minimal interactivity. Consists of news feeds visualized as weather patterns on a map.

Peripheral or Calm Computing was a popular design concept in the 1990’s
Ambient Orb functions in a state of continuous time data monitoring.
“Frosted glass orb glows a color to indicate your information. The Ambient Orb slowly transitions between thousands of colors to show changes in the weather, the health of your stock portfolio, or if your boss or kid is on instant messenger.”
Motivation (Intention):
Seductivity: engagement with object based on desire.
Visual Thesaurus
(Thinkmap) works along lines of thematics based on similarity.

The Visual Thesaurus maintains an entirely different mood to the prescriptive origins of thesaurus. The morphological nature of language is emphasised along with metaphoric associations. In the presentation seductivity is also considered in the offering of a trial version within the buy window (seductive commodification).

In regard to seductivity the term Playability (used in game play description) is a simplified concept based on intrinsic/extrinsic motivations.

Results Outcomes:
Social Actability: To act in a way that was previously unavailable previous to the artefact.

Avatopia (2000-2003) a collaboration with SVT aimed at teenagers between 13-15 years of age. It was “software for engaged activists”, it was based on the principles; multimedia, interactive, community and broadcast. Around 80% of the time in the project was used building social structures and 30 young people were involved. Conscious attention was paid to designing tools for action.

Social outcomes.
Goal of being noticed (e.g. given of the Samsung Watch Phone of 1999 where the user had to raise their elbow in an awkward posture to use the watch phone and thereby were noticed as possessing this technology).
Symbolic values, exchanges

technical structural qualities manifest by use
Ability to enter into the artefact both mechanically, aesthetically and ideologically

Example given of Macromedia Director
a)Developed with users, utilised user practices
b)Behaviours  – associations created in program
c)Understanding behaviours: programming your self.

Elegance= Power+Simplicity

Functional Minimalism:
The Swiss army knife discussion: Power versus diversity
This is associated with depth
Art- The tentative steps at describing reflexive practices.

Adrian Ward’s <a href=””>Auto Illustrator</a> (Adobe 2001)
A responsive program for drawing which blurs the line between user and product and author and object/artefact. Auto Illustrator and Power Pilgrims (Malmo) both function in making things visible which are usually taken for granted.

Power Pilgrims:
-Para functionality
-Performance art where their robes are held together with electromagnetic connections (implicit). They beg for electricity in order to remain clothed.

Critical design – Anthony Dunne
General Design Criteria:
It is not a logical process but is rather constructed arguments around a series of arguments.

Thanks..More soon.

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2 Responses to Digital Materials as Design Materials

  1. From the post above:
    ‘Donald Norman and Jakob Nielson(usability_consultant) are both cited here by Lowgren as practitioners of “Emotional design” in digital contexts.’

    Is this what I said? In that case, I apologize for being unclear.

    What I meant to say was that Norman published a book recently, entitled “Emotional design” (Basic Books, 2004), in which he discovers in a rather embarassing way that there are other important dimensions in design besides usability/ease-of-use/fitness-for-purpose.

    Norman’s business partner Jakob Nielsen (note spelling) has not yet shown any interest in re-orientation in this direction (refer to his web site at

  2. Jim says:

    Thanks for the comment Jonas. It was probably my reporting that needed clarification as during the whole blogging here of the ICT and the Humanities Summer School I often found it difficult to develop a coherent narrative from my notes. Connections were often stretched or the blog entry just became a list of points I scribbled down during the speakers presentation.

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