MAS.961 | Spring 2008 | Graduate

Special Topics: Designing Sociable Media

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The physical world grounds our thinking. Lakoff and Johnson argue that our more abstract thoughts are built metaphorically upon a physical foundation. The world of information is inherently formless - and in that nebulous state, very difficult for us to comprehend. Interface designs shape and define information through metaphoric structuring. Thus the Web consists of “sites” and “pages,” email is put into “folders,” operating systems provide “windows” and “folders.”

Metaphors help us make sense of abstractions, but in the process also limit what we make of them. Organizing the formless stream of emails into folders both makes us better able to handle them, but also limits this potentially more versatile electronic form to the functions of the metaphor’s physical counterpart, e.g. an email can only go in one folder, though it may be relevant to ten.

Not all metaphors are as obvious as pages and folders. A clock puts time into the metaphor of a circle, an endless, seamless cycle. A stock market graph uses the metaphor of growth to be intuitive: higher numbers are up, lower ones are down.

Any information system uses metaphor to make comprehensible its abstract contents. When the system is simple, such as a diagram, the visible form is the function. When it is more complex, such as an application interface, the visible form and verbal labels provides cues to identify the metaphor that structures the underlying functionality. E.g., The name “facebook” is a metaphorical cue to the funcion of that application.

Since metaphors limit as well as empower, it behooves the designer to choose their metaphors carefully.

Readings

Hollan, Jim, and Scott Stornetta. “Beyond Being There.” Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, 1992.

Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson. “The Grounding of Structural Metaphors,” “Causation: Partly Emergent and Partly Metaphorical,” and “The Coherent Structuring of Experience.” Chapters 13-15 in Metaphors We Live By. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1980, pp. 61-86. ISBN: 9780226468013.

Arnheim, Rudolf. “The Intelligence of Visual Perception [i],” and “The Intelligence of Visual Perception [ii].” Chapters 2 and 3 in Visual Thinking. Berkely, CA: University of California Press, 2004, pp. 13-53. ISBN: 9780520242265. [Preview in Google Books.]

Norman, Donald. “The Psychology of Everday Actions.” In The Design of Everyday Things. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2002. ISBN: 9780465067107.

Assignment

  1. Read the selections listed above. We will discuss them in class.
  2. Find two examples of metaphor in online social applications. These can be whole sites (e.g. a “bulletin board system”, “Second Life”) or particular features within a site, etc.
  3. Answer the following questions. Please draw from readings in your discussion.
    • Explain what the metaphor is.
    • What are the cues that help the user know what it is?
    • What are the traits and affordances that the metaphor implies?
    • Does the example follow the metaphor strictly or loosely?
    • How does the metaphor help the user understand what is available or what actions are possible?
    • Does it overly limit what can be done? Is it too concrete? Could greater abstraction make the design more versatile?
    • Can you think of a different metaphor that could be used for this information/situation - if so, what would it change?

Student Work

Seth Hunter

Sohin Hwang

Lana Swartz

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« Back: Assignments

“Legible” architectures help us to understand the functions of different spaces and the behaviors that are appropriate within them. Sometimes the functionality is interent in the form: the windowless cubicle of a dressing room provides visual privacy, while the curtain-like door makes it clear that auditory privacy should not be expected. At other times, the functionality is a result of learned understanding of the meaning of the form: the lines that delineate the right from the left side of the road do not offer any physical barrier to traffic, but they provide drivers with a clear understanding of where they should be and where others will be driving. Sometimes the meaning derives from both function and culture: a room furnished with beanbag chairs invites more informal and playful conversation that one with high-backed Victorian chairs, both because of the cultural associations with such chairs, and the way of sitting that each enforces.

How does this translate to virtual spaces? We need to think both about what are the functionalities we wish to convey and about the designs we can use to communicate them.

Readings

Donath, Judith, and Fernanda B. Viégas. “The Chat Circles Series: Explorations in Designing Abstract Graphical Communication Interfaces.” Proceedings of the 4th Conference on Designing Interactive Systems: Processes, Practices, Methods, and Techniques. ACM, 2002.

Buy at MIT Press Dondis, Donis A. “Composition: The Syntactical Guidelines for Visual Literacy,” and “The Basic Elements of Visual Communication.” Chapters 2 and 3 in A Primer of Visual Literacy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1974. ISBN: 9780262540292. [Preview in Google Books]

Assignment

  1. Read the papers listed above.
  2. Describe one example of legibility in the physical world. It can be as simple and ubiquitous as, say, an analysis of what different kinds of doors convey and how they do so; it can be as specific as a particular room or object. You should draw from the readings of last week (e.g. Don Norman) as well as this week’s in your assessment.
  3. Design a new conversational interface. Keep in mind the issues of legibility and metaphor that we discussed earlier. Your goal with this design is to make a 2D space that incorporates different functions in different areas.
  • You can loosely base your design on Chat Circles - in this assignment we are not concerned with changing the representation of the user, so simple circles are a useful placeholder for people. The focus here is on the environment and how different spaces function differently and convey that difference.

  • You need to think about what are the different functions your space supports. I suggest some ideas here, you may use these or think of others:

    • spaces with “hearing range” and broadcast spaces
    • spaces where something special happens, like a raffle
    • spaces where special behaviors are expected, like listening to a speaker, or to music, or watching a film

    Board games and sports fields may also offer some inspiration, as they often have different zones in which different rules apply.

  • You need to think about how these differences are conveyed. Is it via lines? symbols? “physical” barriers (the circle cannot move across something)? You may choose to do something purely visual - or perhaps experiment with designing a visually illegible space that had barriers and other delineations discovered only by attempting to move in it.

  • You are responsible only for designing it - no implementation is expected. However, part of your challenge is to articulately convey the function and intention of your design.

Student Work

Seth Hunter

Sohin Hwang

Lana Swartz

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« Back: Assignments

Conversations are one of the most important forms of interaction, both face-to-face and online. The information exchanged within them goes far beyond the facts that one person tells another: how people use words, whether they interrupt each other, how they use greetings, etc. provides key information about their relationships, the importance of what they are saying, and the impact of this exchange.

Readings

Bonvillain, Nancy. “Communicative Interactions.” Chapter 5 in Language, Culture and Communication. 5th ed. East Rutherford, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2007. ISBN: 9780135135686.

Small, David. “Navigating Large Bodies of Text.” IBM Systems Journal 35, nos. 3-4 (1996).

Donath, Judith. “Words as Landscape.” Draft of paper prepared for Beyond Threaded Conversation, CHI Workshop, Portland, OR, April 3, 2005. (PDF - 1.1MB)

Assignments

  1. Please read all the papers.

  2. Write a short essay about what elements Bonvillain discusses apply to online interaction and which do not.

  3. Observe conversations in various places - at school, in stores, over dinner, at parties.

    Using one such conversation as a basis, draw an abstract representation of it.

    • You will need to decide what you want to show, e.g. who is there? What was said? Non-verbal communication events (glances, gestures, surroundings etc.) How do people start and end discussions, how do they join in existing ones?
    • How do you want to use space of your drawing: to show the temporal evolution of the discussion? The key points? Relative status of the participants? The setting? Given your choice of things to depict, how do you want to use graphics - shapes? Color? Symbols? Words?

    Use this as an exercise both in thinking about what is important about conversations and in pushing the way you think they might appear when visuallly depicted.

  4. Observe online conversations in various formats - mailing list, discussion boards, IM exchanges, Twitter feeds, etc.

    Using one such conversation as a basis, draw an abstract representation of it. In addition to the questions you thought about in the face-to-face sketch, you may find it useful to think about:

    • How many people are there (and do you know how many others might be silently participating)?
    • What constitutes a “conversation”? How do threads and topics emerge, mutate, disapper? Are multiple conversations carried out at once?
    • What is the situation - and what is the purpose of the conversation? How is this maintained?
    • What constitutes a “conversation”? How do threads emerge, mutate, disappear?
    • What is the social structure of the group: do the participants seem to know each other? Are there distinct subgroups? Are there problematic participants? If so, how do the other members deal with them?
    • How do the participants use the medium to convey social information (e.g. turn-taking, greement/disagreement, etc.)? Are there discernable gradations of communicative competence within the group?

    In particular, show how your design can be used as part of a living conversational landscape - that is, not just a visualization of an archived discussion, but as a context for ongoing interaction.

Student Work

Seth Hunter

Sohin Hwang

Lana Swartz

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« Back: Assignments

Readings

Robinson, John P., and Geoffrey Godbey. “Measuring How People Spend Time.” Chapter 4 in Time for Life: The Surprising Ways Americans Use Their Time. 2nd ed. University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 1999. ISBN: 9780271019703. [Preview in Google Books]

Aveni, Anthony. “The Basic Rhythms,” “The Western Calendar,” and “Building on the Basic Rhythms.” Chapters 1, 3, and 10 in Empires of Time: Calendars, Clocks, and Culture. Revised ed. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, 2002. ISBN: 9780870816727. [Preview in Google Books]

Yannick has compiled an extensive collection of personal timeline projects, including:

Assignment

  1. Take 2 photographs that each depict a object or scene that shows the traces of time. This can be a tree stump with rings, a house with peeling paint, layers of rock on a cliffside, etc. Write a short paragraph describing how the images you have found depict time. Is it a single episode in history (e.g. a scar), a long term pattern (e.g tree rings)? What can you read into it?

  2. Personal diary. Keep track of what you do for a 6 hour stretch. Here the goal is not a scientific study of time usage (you may edit out anything you wish) but more an exploration into the question of what it met means to be doing something as time passes and how to represent this. 

    Robinson and Godbey’s chapter lists a number of distinct tasks - but are you perhaps doing many at once? Do you care more about what you were thinking about than what you were doing? a “task” like going out to dinner - minute by minute there are the differnt foods eaten; there are the accompanying social events, etc. Your task is to edit the potentially infinite set of things that you are doing in that 6 hour time and find a way to present it visually. 

    Pay attention to the stucture you use. Are you thinking of linear time, stretching along a time line? Or is there something cyclical here, a rhythmic repetition? For instance, the hour hand on the clock makes 6 cycles in this time… 

    Think about psychological vs. clock time. Does all the time seem to pass at the same rate?

Student Work

Seth Hunter

Sohin Hwang

Lana Swartz

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« Back: Assignments

A portrait is a representation of an individual person. The goal of the portrait is to capture some likeness of them, something of who they are. What aspect of the person is considered important to represent is culturally dependent. Portraits of rulers from the early Medieval period often did not depict the actual appearance of the living ruler, but the “imago” of a Roman emperor in whose succession he felt himself to be standing, by “tanslatio imperii.” The historical, political and social context in which the ruler wished to be viewed was the image he presented, not his own physical appearance. Indeed, our notions of identity - of the constancy of a person in different circumstances and throughout life, is to some extent culturally constructed - and as notions of identity change, so do portraits. Indeed, in the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, life likeness was the standard that portraiture was held to - and which was subsequently replaced by an emphasis on depicting the spiritual (and later, psychological) aspect of the subject.

Late Medieval portraits are quite interesting from a visualization perspective because of their complex symbolic content. The position of the subject, the background images, and objects in the picture all held meaning.

Traditionally, the ideal portrait both resembled the subject’s physical appearance and captured the essence of that person. Contemporary portraits, however, are made within a cultural and artistic context with deep questions about the nature of identity, of representation, and of authenticity.

Today, technology is transforming both the medium and the subject matter of portraiture. New recording and production technologies make possible very different sorts of artistic objects, ones that are interactive, able to sense the audience, capable of learning and changing. And technology is also changing the how we think about human identity: to portray the essence of a person, do we show the face? DNA? surveillance data? shopping transactions?

Readings

Brilliant, Richard. “Fashioning the Self.” Chapter 2 in Portraiture. Reaktion Books, 1991. ISBN: 9780948462191. [Preview in Google Books]

West, Shearer. “What is a Portrait?” and “The Functions of Portraiture.” Chapters 1 and 2 in Portraiture. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2004. ISBN: 9780192842589.

Examples

Assignment

  • Read the chapters by Brilliant and West.
  • Answer:
    • A portrait involves a subject, an artist, and an audience. What is the relationship among these three? How does this change when the medium is interactive? Think about different types of interactivity - from simple reactive objects to ones that collect information about the viewers.
    • According to Brilliant and Shearer, what are the functions of portraiture? What functions are best addressed by realistic imagery? What by more abstract depictions? Traditional portraits feature the image of the subject’s face. Many of the examples listed above do not. Do you think they still function as portraits? Why or why not? Use specific examples. In particular, discuss how the genomic representations function as portraits (or not) and compare them with something like the grocery one or other data - based depictions.
  • Find at least two other examples of non-traditional portraits. Write a paragraph about each explaining what it is portraying, the symbolic refernces it uses, how it mediates between artist/subject/audience, and what impresion it evokes. These can be examples you find on the web, in a book, in a gallery… You are also welcome to use the examples you find when discussing the questions above.

Student Work

Seth Hunter

Sohin Hwang

Lana Swartz

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« Back: Assignments

A portrait provides a salient, recognizable, characteristic, evocative, or symbolic representation of its subject. Facial portraits are the archetypal form, unsurprising given that we are neurologically predisposed to recognizing other humans by facial structure. (If dogs were artists, perhaps they would portray each other via creatively rendered scents). But there are other forms of portraits - there have long been literary portraits, and occasional musical portraits.

Today, with the growth of online communication, other digital interactions and their accompanying massive databases of personal information, the concept of a “data portrait” is very interesting for several reasons: as an expressive depiction of a person, as a way of increasing awareness and understanding about this material, and as a statement about privacy, surveillance and power in our culture.

Technology also makes new forms of portraiture possible. Machines can take the place of the artist, creating the image. And portraits can be “aware” of their viewers, responding to the words or motions.

Assignment

Create two portraits of a single person. Preferably you should work with a (willing) subject, but I will also accept portraits done of subjects w/out their knowledge (e.g. Andy Warhol’s celebrity portraits).

One portrait should be representational, based on the physical appearance of the subject. And one should be based on data about or produced by the subject.

Your work may be a finished piece or pieces, or one or both may be sketches toward a more ambitious work. The data portrait should include enough real information that we can still get a sense of individuality from it, even if you are sketching how you would implement such a piece - similarly if you are proposing a more elaborate interactive work for either the representational or data project: along with a general plan for how it works, you need to include material specific to your subject.

As you are working, please keep the questions we discussed last week in mind. What is the relationship between subject, artist and audience in your project? Is this work evocative of its subject? We will be discussing each project in class using these questions as a starting point.

Student Work

Seth Hunter

Sohin Hwang

Lana Swartz

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« Back: Assignments

People are interested in other people. Many new communication technologies reflect this: online discussion forums, social networking sites, recommendation systems and other social software endeavors are tremendously popular.

Yet, paradoxically, these technologies decrease the sociability of our public spaces. New information and communication technologies are almost universally personal technologies that engage their users with distant events, while alienating them from their immediate surroundings.

How can we revitalize public spaces by integrating social and information displays into our public spaces? How can we use a variety of display devices (large and small displays, visual and auditory media, screens, projections, robotics, etc) and sensors (cameras, Bluetooth, etc) to create spaces that reflect and speak to the interests of the people within them? How can we integrate public spaces with our new electronic senses to create vibrant environments where social, transactional and informational displays are an integral part of the environment?

For the next couple of weeks we’ll be thinking about the design of technologies for public spaces.

Readings

Milgram, Stanley. “The Experience of Living in Cities.” Science, New Series 167, no. 3924 (March 13, 1970): 1461-1468.

Donath, Judith. “Technological Interventions in Everyday Interaction.” Essay written for the catalog of the Act/React show at the Milwaukee Art Museum. 2008. (PDF)

Ling, Richard. “The Social Juxtaposition of Mobile Telephone Conversations and Public Spaces.” Paper for conference on the Social Consequences of Mobile Telephones, Chunchon, Korea, July 2002.

Assignment

  1. Read the papers. Milgram’s is a classic work on urban life, and urban alientation. The paper draft of mine is about interactive art-works that use vision or other non-keyboard interaction as input. Ling’s paper is about the social mores and problems surrounding mobile telephones.
  2. As you read Ling’s paper, think about what a phone like device could be that is designed to be used among other people - rather than the private dialog intended by the current phone design. Describe or sketch it.
  3. Sketch or describe a interactive object, installation, information center, etc. that exists in a public space and allows people to interact with it via some communication technology (e.g. phones, SMS, bluetooth, etc) and/or vision. What space do you imagine such an entity? What is its function? What can people do with it? How does it change the nature of the space? This can be a practical implementation or an artistic installation, it can be designed to be helpful, entertaining or provocative. This is meant to get you thinking about these ideas, we’ll be following up on this next week - don’t worry about a polished sketch - I am much more interested in your ideas at the moment than a finished concept.

Student Work

Seth Hunter

Sohin Hwang

Lana Swartz

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« Back: Assignments

Your final project for the class should build on one of the assignments given during the semester. You can take one of the design sketches you or another student did as a starting point, or prepare a new take on a related problem.

The final should take the work beyond what we did for a weekly assignment. Some will be quite conceptual: for these, you should be able to argue why this design would provoke thought and reflection, as well as detailing how it would be designed and why you made those creative choices. Others will be more practical: for these, you should prepare to explain how the work would be implemented and why it would be used.

Some of you are interested in doing final projects that relate closely to your research or thesis work. If you choose to do this a) make it clear that that is the case; b) use the final project as an opportunity to create a series of alternative design explorations for your larger project; and c) do not just present your ongoing research as your final - you should clearly articulate the how this work fits into the readings and other material for this class.

Assignment

For this week, you are making a proposal for the final project. It will give us a brief time in class to critique your plan. The proposal can be relatively informal: sketches, ideas etc. Please write a one to two page proposal with additional sketches stating what you plan do to as your final, what problem/question is it addressing, and a preliminary set of previous work in that area.

Be prepared to talk for about 7 minutes or slightly less - the rest of your time slot we will use to discuss the work.

Student Work

Seth Hunter

Sohin Hwang

Lana Swartz

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« Back: Assignments

Historically, human interaction was local and ephemeral; it was heard only by those nearby and the words, once spoken, disappeared in the passing of time. Today, however, our interactions - or observations of them - can reach across space and persist in time. Surveillance cameras open seemingly private rooms to distant and unseen observers; archives retain casual conversations and out-grown profiles, forever enabling their out-of-context and possibly inopportune re-display.

One response to this condition is to aim for greater transparency - to ensure that people understand the publicness and the persistency of situation they are in. A hidden camera opens the space without the knowledge of the user; a visible camera provides at least the conscious awareness of the possibility of recording; a live video feed provides an intuitive sense that the space may be spatially and temporally extended. How we act in private is different than in public; we need to be able to perceive those distinctions in order to act appropriately.

Who are we concerned about when we think about privacy? Discussions of privacy often focus on those who would constrain or disapprove of our behavior. The biggest concern is with an intrusive, repressive government. In terms of everyday life in the U.S. today, there are also more immediate concerns about employers and insurers who might hire/fire/deny coverage based on information they are able to gather about you. And on the social side there is concern that the ability to keep different facets of one’s life separate is rapidly eroding.

Other privacy concerns are more insidious. Much of the work we have done in this class has focused on making social patterns visible, clarifying roles and affiliations. We may see the use of this information by a person we like as positive, by one who is out to harm us as negative - and there is an ambiguous middle ground, of people and institutions that may not directly harm us, but whose motivations are not aligned with our own. Marketers, for example. Are they working for us, helping us find the goods and services we need? Or are they working against us, manipulating our tastes and values to make us believe we have a ceaseless need for new purchases? In any case, they make use of the social data we use to navigate our community in order to sell new things to us.

Readings

Marx, Gary. “Murky Conceptual Waters: The Public and the Private.” Ethics and Information Technology 3, no. 3 (2001): 157-169.

Elmer, Greg. “A Diagram of Panoptic Surveillance.” New Media & Society 5, no. 2 (2003): 231-247. DOI: 10.1177/1461444803005002005. (This article provides a bridge between concepts of surveillance as a primarily visual activity and as a data analysis process.)

Foucault, Michel. “Panopticism.” Chapter 3 in Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Translated from the French by Alan Sheridan. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1995. ISBN: 9780679752554. (This is the classic work on “panoptic surveillance.”)

Mann, Steve, Jason Nolan, and Barry Wellman. “Sousveillance: Inventing and Using Wearable Computing Devices for Data Collection in Surveillance Environments.” Surveillance & Society 1, no. 3 (2003): 331-355. (PDF)

Schor, Juliet. “The Virus Unleashed: Ads Infiltrate Everyday Life,” and “Dissecting the Child Consumer: The New Intrusive Research.” Chapters 4 and 6 in Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2004. ISBN: 9780684870557. [Preview in Google Books]

Optional

Mann, Steve. “Existential Technology: Wearable Computing Is Not the Real Issue!Leonardo 36, no. 1 (2003): 19-25.

Carl, Walter J. “What’s All The Buzz About?: Everyday Communication and the Relational Basis of Word-of-Mouth and Buzz Marketing Practices.” Management Communication Quarterly 19, no. 4 (2006): 601-634. DOI: 10.1177/0893318905284763.

Assignment

  • Read the papers.
  • Based on these readings, think of four thought- and discussion-provoking questions. Write them down.

Student Work

Seth Hunter

Sohin Hwang

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Course Info

Instructor
As Taught In
Spring 2008
Level
Learning Resource Types
Problem Sets with Solutions
Projects with Examples