Notes on "Hertzian Tales by Anthony Dunne

Reading "Hertzian Tales by Anthony Dunne was quite interesting as it echoed with some other readings/feelings/discussions. Although the book is maybe more suited to a designer audience (format/references), it's a must read for people involved in HCI or innovation/foresight. Some excerpts I found relevant to my work:

"... the Human Factors community who have developed a view of the electronic object, derived from computer science and cognitive psychology, that is extremely influential in the computer industry, for example Donald Norman's The Psychology of Everyday Things. A serious problem with the Human Factors approach though, in relation to this project is its uncritical acceptance of (...) the ideological legitimation of technology: "All problems whether of nature, human nature, or culture are seen as 'technical' problems capable of rational solution through the accumulation of objective knowledge, in the form of neutral or value-free observations and correlations..." (B. Waites) (...) The result, as the computer industry merges with other industries, is that the optimisation of the psychological fit between people and electronic technology, for which the industry strives, is spreading beyond the work environment to areas such as the home which have so far acted as a counterpoint to the harsh functionality of the workplace. When used in the home to mediate social relations, the conceptual models of efficient communication embodied in office equipment leave little room for the nuances and quirks on which communication outside the workplace relies so heavily. (...) design is always ideological. User-friendlyness helps conceal this fact. The values and ideas about life embodied in designed objects are not natural, objective or fixed, but man-made, artificial, and muteable (...) Current design approaches aim to optimize the experience of using an object, with the effect of constraining our experience to the prosaic (...) Although transparency might improve efficiency and performance, it limits the potential richness of our engagement with the emerging electronic environment and encourages unthinking assimilation of the ideologies embedded in electronic objects""

And this is from 1999, it definitely rings a bell as every discussion I have about entertainment, city of the future, mobile communication are often hijacked by people who want "city inhabitant to be effective" or "home cooking system to rely on maximum reliability and allow to communicate information in real time". So where does this research about the "post-optimal object" can be achieved? The conclusion offers a good summary:

"one result of this research is a toolbox of concepts and ideas for developing and communicating design proposals that explore fundamental issues about how we live amongst electronic objects. The most important elements of this approach are: going beyond optimisation to explore critical and aesthetic roles for electronic products; using estrangements to open the space between people and electronic products to discussion and criticism; designing alternative functions to draw attention to legal, cultural and social rules; exploiting the unique narrative possibilities offered by electronic products; raising awareness of the electromagnetic qualities of our environment; and developing forms of engagement that avoid being didactic and utopian"

Why do I blog this? Lots of interesting material there, especially the vocabulary ("user-unfriendlyness", "inhuman factors", "post-optimal object"), the richness of example and the aims. Certainly food for thoughts about critical design that I need to integrate in my work and connect to foresight research.