Designing interactions, designing conversations

Morning read in the train: Uncertain futures: A Conversation with Professor Anthony Dunne by David Womack. Yet another insightful short article on the Adobe Design Center think tank website. Womack starts off by describing how Dunne+Raby's work is meant to reclaim the original meaning of interaction design: generate particular types of conversations, usually about technology or an aspect of the future. Some excerpts I found relevant:

"With classic design, the idea is generally to solve the problem or cure the ailment. If you’re getting wet, you make a shelter. Placebo projects we see more as a way of negotiating a relationship to something. It’s not solving a problem. You’re setting up a situation that facilitates a discussion. (...) it stops students thinking in terms of, “Here’s a problem, now I’m going to solve it.” We want to think about people in a complex way that isn’t neat or containable.

For example, if nanotechnology is on its way in its various manifestations, which of these manifestations seem acceptable and which seem scary? And why? Design can be a medium for exploration and a place for experimenting and engaging people in dialogue. We think design can provide a very concrete and down to earth language for exploring the implications of technology.

I would never describe designers as problem solvers. I might describe them as meaning makers."

Why do I blog this? preparing a presentation for a design conference, I am cobbling some notes about utilitarian versus critical design. What I find of particular interest here with what Dunne is claiming is the importance of this approach. As he wrote with Fiona Raby in Design Noir, "Beneath the glossy surface of official design lurks a dark and strange world driven by real human needs". A quote I really enjoy and often use even in less critical-design-prone domain (e.g. with business exec wondering about the "added value" of the weird stuff I throw up when interacting with them). Why is it pertinent IMO? because it's about asking questions, uncovering new meanings and desires and not about doing new product development by adding the word "intelligent" as a creative way to design the future.