Seminar Readings – Sketch Notes

Week 1 Reading

Designing for Interaction: Creating Smart Applications and Clever Devices, Service Design 101, Design Thinking Comes of Age

Designing for Interactions Chapter 1
Design Thinking Comes of Age & Service Design 101

Week 2 Reading

Operating Systems at Mid-Century, Computers and Design

Week 3 Reading

Week 4 Reading

Week 5 Reading

Week 6 Reading — Written Response

In Llach’s piece, he rejects the notion that computers are simply perfect slaves or passive vessels to be used by humans. He instead offers a different perspective on computation which is what he refers to as the infrastructure view. He describes it “as digital technologies for design with social, material, and spatial dimensions — conditions often overlooked by a tendency to imagine software systems as naturalized, immaterial, and placeless entities.” In other words, digital technology and computers are more than their function, but also a sum of the context in which they are used and originated.

Steve Coons, a professor at MIT was the perfect embodiment of this ideal. Trained as an architect, Steve coons understood the nuances of digital technology at the time and wanted to bridge the gap between speculation and technological development. This notion was fueled by his ideas of computation where he mused about a different kind of relationship between humans and computers were mutual collaborators instead of servants.

In his early work, Coons posited the idea general-purpose creative machine that could be used for all kinds of design. However, early on he realized how overly ambitious this was. His work on CAD (which is a profound breakthrough in human-computer interaction) was the product of scaling back his grand vision and focusing on aspects that could be automated or augmented in the design process. CAD enabled an entirely new conception of representing ideas. Design with the help of computers was akin to data processing. Sketching and rendering also could contain more data about a design than what was being shown on the screen.

This isn’t so different than Negroponte’s work described in Steenson’s piece on architectural intelligence. The notion that design could be distilled into data was foundational to Negroponte’s ideas about HCI and Artificial Intelligence. However where Negroponte and Coons Diverge was in their execution. Where coons scaled back on his ideas of a general creative computer Negroponte persisted in his vision of the Architecture Machine (or intelligent environments). While Architecture Machine was never fully realized the concept takes the idea of computers as collaborators a step forward in the sense that they become omnipresent, sentient entities laced into the very fabric of our daily lives. This was echoed in many of Negropontes experiements like SEEK where mice were placed in a contained environemtn that changed based on their behavior.

Week 7 Readings – Written Response

In Steve Coons outline for CAD he talks about a transition from the time consuming processes of punch tapes in milling machines in order to produce 3dimensional rendering, to a cooperative complex where “the intellectual potential of man and machine is greater than the sum of its parts.” The interface operated on a console with a light pen was the bridge between human and computer that would enable this type of cooperative relationship. This model is surprisingly similar to the way we use computers today. Coons described this CAD software being able to work with the designer at whatever fidelity desired. For example, in the beginning of the design process, the designer usually has a vague idea about the precise nature of the output, and thus the computation would be equally crude and vague. As the designer progresses in his thinking, the computation symbiotically improves as well. This was a powerful idea because it implied that computers had the potential to become a tool for exploration as much as it was for execution of ideas.

Coons saw the two different philosophical approaches that could enable this type of computational experience. The first one was to build out a large library of specific functions that might be required by a designer. The user drawing would have the impression that the experience was seamless when in reality the computer was referencing a collection of specific sub routines, and stitching them together like a conductor conducting and orchestra. While practical it did have a huge downside. The design process is unpredictable and if a user required a function that wasn’t present in the library than the illusion would fall apart. The second philosophical approach was to have a few components of the “utmost generality” that could be manipulated by the designer through the graphical form. While coons preferred this approach, it was unrealistic at that moment in time.

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