week_1: interaction design

The readings assigned for class are concerned with a 'workable' and 'practical' definition of interactivity and interaction design as conceived by Chris Crawford in his book 'The art of interactive design' (chapters 1 and 2); and with a critique to the futuristic vision of interaction design as exposed by Bret Victor on his essay titled 'A brief rant on the future of interaction design'.

In the first case, Chris Crawford arguments that a definition of interactivity must include concepts of input, processing and output. The author emphasizes on addressing the level or degrees of interaction when considering the design of interactive systems. In the case of Bret Victor, his concern relates to a futuristic vision of interaction design that is 'incremental' rather than revolutionary; arguing that single-finger interaction on a flat surface is a simplistic approach that does not take into account the fact that we live in a three-dimensional world and that we use our entire hands when interacting with daily objects. If the conceptual paradigm of the computer interface (in the human-computer interaction field) was 'the extension of the user's hands into dataspace' as Christiane Paul on his book 'Digital Art' explained, then I concede with Bret Victor on the fact that Microsoft's vision of the future as shown on the video piece is indeed incremental. It is a vision that can be considered object-oriented since the main innovation shown appears to be the display of data on a flat surfaces rather than the way the user interacts with the technological objects shown.

It is interesting to note the definition of a tool that Bret Victor brings forward in his essay:

'a tool addresses human needs by amplifying human capabilities'

In this sense, he conceives the tool as a catalyst that facilitates the bidirectional relationship of what we can do with what we want to do. Interestingly, the human-tool relationship concerning interactivity can also be explored from the perspective of servo-mechanisms, a concept proposed by Marshal McLuhan concerning how we serve technological objects as extensions of ourselves. In this sense, a software developer can be considered the servo-mechanism of the computer; a Uber driver can be considered the servo-mechanism of the car he/she drives on a daily basis; and a content provider can be considered the servo-mechanism of the social media platform where she/he regularly submit and publishes content.

The servo-mechanism paradigm is useful to repurpose degrees of interactivity as mentioned by Chris Crawford, with low levels of interactivity equivalent to less time and effort serving the tool that 'extends' or 'amplify' our mind and physical capabilities. Similarly, high degrees of interactivity signals to more time and effort serving those tools as long as we perceive a practical, economic and/or emotional gratification as the outcome of the servo-mechanism. This brings into play a man-machine symbiosis in which co-evolution of human and technological tools benefit each other.

It is important to consider that there is a tension inherent to the actions of humans and towards its technological tools, and that is interactivity vs automatism. When interactive design is considered from the standpoint of input, processing, and output, and when the 'processing' aspect of it is highly automated (think of machine learning and artificial intelligence for instance), the need of human interaction as means to provide input or control the output, is reduced or no longer needed. In the eventual case of highly automated technical tools and systems that still will be able to provide some sort of gratification to humans without the need of their interaction, those tools/systems/self-controlled processes will depart from the human-machine symbiosis and start evolving on their own.

As artist designing interactive systems, the tension of interactivity vs automatism is of most interest to me. Thus, the design and construction of dialogical situations between humans and its technological tools should start incorporating a wide range of physical interactions (beyond those of fingers on flat surfaces) that maximizes the time and effort in serving those tools, and the gratification we get as outcome, while keeping a 'healthy' balance between interactivity and automatism.

Taking into account all of the above:

How would I define physical interaction?

The design and construction of systems that allows for a dialogue between human actions and environmental events in the physical world and the virtual world of the computer. For the dialogue to be truly interactive, it has to be iterative and adaptive.

What makes for good physical interaction?

The design and implementation of an interactive system that allows for a richer and more complex dialogue between the physical and the virtual world. Such an interactive system would 'optimize' the time we serve the mechanism in relation to the gratification obtained as output of the interaction.

Good physical interaction allows for a full range of expressions in which the 'flow' of activities between the user/person/environment and the computer/technological system resembles the flow a good conversation among persons.

Examples of digital technologies that are not interactive

# Online music services (ex. Spotify and iTunes): the interaction (play, stop, select different tracks, download) does not affect the music content itself. Music is not affected by the actions of the user.

# Non-adaptive online surveys: the degree of difficulty of the questions does not change in response to the answers provided by the user


Chris Crawford (2003) The art of interactive design: a euphonious and illuminating guide to building successful software. Published by No Starch Press

Dan O'Sullivan & Tom Igoe (2004) Physical Computing: sensing and controlling the physical world with computers. Published by Course Technology, Engage Learning

Brett Victor (2011) A brief rant on the future of interaction design. URL: http://worrydream.com/ABriefRantOnTheFutureOfInteractionDesign/

Christiane Paul (2015) Digital Art (third edition). Published by Thames & Hudson Ltd.

Andreas Broeckmann (2016) Machine art in the twentieth century. Published by MIT Press

Keywords: interaction design; physical computing; human-computer interaction; Martin Calvino