15 Feb 2014

making our mobile experiences sm(heart)er

Last Valentine’s day I was busy at work on my Master of Graphic Design thesis at NC State. I had some hunches about what form my research and design about “meaningful conversation” should take, but as in all good thinking-through-making wanderings I could not predict the outcome.

Extending and Enhancing Meaningful Conversation book cover

Extending and Enhancing Meaningful Conversation book cover

During this holiday week it has been exciting to see my newsfeed—once again—fill up with articles about the emotional significance (or not) of our interactions with each other via social apps and smartphones. Articles such as "How Gadgets Ruin Relationships and Corrupt Emotions" by Dr. Sue Johnson and "Why Being Unfollowed Can Feel Like Having Your Heart Ripped Out" by Joe Berkowitz indicate we experience designers and software developers still have a lot of work to do to prevent easy and efficient connecting from crowding out the emotional aspects of how we engage with the people we care about most.

Here is an excerpt from my thesis, Extending and Enhancing Meaningful Conversation. This provocation along with my research findings, process and companion catalog of fictional products was first published in April 2013 and is now available for purchase on Lulu or you can browse through the book on Issuu.

Companion catalog of fictional products with foldout poster cover featuring each Sm(heart) Phone Mandate

Companion catalog of fictional products with foldout poster cover featuring each Sm(heart) Phone Mandate

   

Provocation: “App” Stands for Appliance
Communication appliances, like the array of social apps inside my smart phone, are shaping me. Like a dishwasher or an oven, these appliances are tools for helping me get things done. With each appliance I perform a singular communication task, or closely related set of tasks, to generate or respond to bits and fragments of conversation with my social network (Gaver, Martin, and College 2000, 209). Most appliances, however, don’t interact with my personhood as dramatically as Facebook or Twitter. I am in danger when I mindlessly interact with apps in the same way I do household appliances. The habits I form using them affect my relationships with the people I care about.
 


Today, each app is its own little fiefdom of talk, with social codes and peculiarities to learn. I speak in 140 character snippets for Twitter; craft carefully worded humble-brags for Facebook; and capture selfie after selfie of my Saturday night escapades for Instagram to show the fun I’m having. Because I’m not sure who in my social network is where and when, I broadcast these messages in duplicate and triplicate across all their channels.

These appliances are effective only when my communication goals match those determined by software makers. In general, appliance interface design is aimed at universally maximizing my communication potential by connecting me to more people, more quickly, and more efficiently—a value system imported from the workplace. Broadcasting content using communication appliances is “easy.” But what if I don’t want to talk to everyone in the same way? As things stand, my appliances don’t let me choose how I behave towards the different people I talk to, whether an acquaintance or a close friend.
 


 

Dispossessing: The Relic makes it possible to dispossess all traces of a relationship from digital life. Resting the Relic on the surface of a formerly cherished friend’s page pulls every mark of his or her presence out of your digital life and into the object. Place the Relic in the Forgetting Box for seven days to dispossess the person forever. Though, if you change your mind, just remove the Relic from its box and keep the relationship preserved, but at a safe distance.

Dispossessing: The Relic makes it possible to dispossess all traces of a relationship from digital life. Resting the Relic on the surface of a formerly cherished friend’s page pulls every mark of his or her presence out of your digital life and into the object. Place the Relic in the Forgetting Box for seven days to dispossess the person forever. Though, if you change your mind, just remove the Relic from its box and keep the relationship preserved, but at a safe distance.

Surely there is another way. I want the experience of talking to the people that matter most to feel different: more meaningful and intimate in a way where I feel my innermost self validated, understood and cared for by another (Aron, Aron, and Smollan 1992, 598). Designers must find alternatives to the current slate of offerings.

Social appliances are inflexible and domineering. I find myself bending toward my communication appliances and the limited actions they allow me to take. I feed social networks quantifiable facts and snapshot content in exchange for mindless, push-button methods of connecting to everyone in the same way. I know that being friends in the digital world is not an indicator of actual friendship.

My actions don’t resemble my intentions. As my devices grow “smarter” I find myself acting dumber. I feel a growing divide between how my appliances ask me to converse with others and how I know I like to be talked to. I want to choose not to be lured away from those I care for by the louder, bigger mob. I want my efforts, to listen to and engage with the people who matter most, to be rewarded.
 


 

Muffler shows a companion (and proves to you) that you are devoted to a conversation by pushing distant others to the periphery. If you forget your intent to be present, Muffler gently nudges you when it senses a cherished friend is near. Muffler demands elaborate and deliberate interaction when first engaged, but your phone demands less attention once muffled. To reactivate a muffled phone when that friend is present, you must perform the elaborate interaction in reverse. Otherwise, the smartphone eases you back into a connected state once you leave your cherished friend, carefully delivering any waiting messages according to emotional priority.

Muffler shows a companion (and proves to you) that you are devoted to a conversation by pushing distant others to the periphery. If you forget your intent to be present, Muffler gently nudges you when it senses a cherished friend is near. Muffler demands elaborate and deliberate interaction when first engaged, but your phone demands less attention once muffled. To reactivate a muffled phone when that friend is present, you must perform the elaborate interaction in reverse. Otherwise, the smartphone eases you back into a connected state once you leave your cherished friend, carefully delivering any waiting messages according to emotional priority.

Interfaces obscure who and what I care about. I know for whom I care most. But tools with so-called egalitarian principles make it hard for me to distinguish the voice of a loved one from the voice of an acquaintance. Since I have more acquaintances than real friends, their words are all I see. Appliance interfaces that don’t allow me to distinguish among voices get in the way of my most important relationships.

Individual voice is muffled by algorithms and templates. I create and tend to a version of myself that suits the model I am offered by those with technical know-how and little concern for me as an individual. My efforts to share with—and talk to—others in meaningful ways become little more than patterns in data for unknown people to decode (Lanier 2010, 70). As I attempt to reconcile the gap between who I believe myself to be and who I see reflected back at me after being filtered through profile generating machines and pattern-seeking bots, I no longer recognize myself and no longer see what makes me and my friends special.
 


 

Jewelry Obscura is for a punk who wants to interrupt the functions of the machine, but not kill the party. You know the difference between being a sm<3 phone user and being used, so you assert your presence when it feels right to you. Jewelry Obscura does not prevent a friend from taking your picture, but it does prevent that friend from broadcasting your face to people who weren’t there, or who you don’t know. Your friend retains the original photo—duck lips and all—though the jewelry constructs an alternate version for public sharing with the charm or message you choose.

Jewelry Obscura is for a punk who wants to interrupt the functions of the machine, but not kill the party. You know the difference between being a sm<3 phone user and being used, so you assert your presence when it feels right to you. Jewelry Obscura does not prevent a friend from taking your picture, but it does prevent that friend from broadcasting your face to people who weren’t there, or who you don’t know. Your friend retains the original photo—duck lips and all—though the jewelry constructs an alternate version for public sharing with the charm or message you choose.

There is a better way.

Closeness can be represented more substantially in social spaces (whether physical or digital). But to make that happen, designers like me must imagine possibilities for bridging the emotional gaps communication appliances create. Designers must trust that people will try new things; believe they are brave and curious; and understand people want experiences that amplify their humanity, not dampen it. As a replacement for the status quo, I offer Sm<3 Phone Mandates to enable heart-centric conversation.

1 Appliance Device that performs a single function (or closely related cluster of functions) (Gaver, Martin, and College 2000, 209).

2 Closeness High degree of relationship quality, trust, perceived empathy and attention (Przybylski and Weinstein 2012).

08 May 2013

extending and enhancing meaningful conversation: presentation

On Monday, April 29 my classmates and I presented our thesis work at North Carolina State University. The thesis at NC State takes two forms: a 15-minute public presentation followed by a question and answer session, and a written document that includes a justification, literature review, description of methods and process and findings. I've broken the video of my presentation in two parts, following the form of the presentation itself.
 

download print-quality PDF  |  download provocations only
 

The first is a provocation—to myself as well as my fellow designers—to design different experiences (more affective and intimate) for young women to interact with their closest ties. The provocations include design mandates for sm(heart)er interfaces and experiences as well as examples of possible "solutions." The proposals are speculative and rhetorical.


The second portion contextualizes the provocations with references to the literature, my research and design process. It details some of my findings from a survey I conducted about cherishing digital objects in Facebook.

The presentation covers only three of seven provocations delivered in the thesis document and touches upon the design, writing and research activities I engaged in over the past year. The full scope of the project can be experienced through the thesis document.

08 May 2013

extending and enhancing meaningful conversation: paper

Cover from full thesis document presented on 29 April 2013

Cover from full thesis document presented on 29 April 2013

download print-quality PDF  |  download provocations only

Extending and Enhancing Meaningful Conversation by Erin Hauber

ABSTRACT
This thesis inquires into today’s social networking experiences from a critical perspective with a hypothesis that closeness may be represented more substantially in these spaces as people engage in meaningful conversation. The proposals in this thesis are not apps for conversation. Instead, they are value fictions that introduce different ways for young women to engage with each other, as well as with the content of conversations they already share, to foster feelings of closeness. The proposals rely on social psychologists’ findings that feeling close escalates intimacy and results in more meaningful conversation (Aron, Aron, and Smollan 1992).

The proposals are rhetorical. They question the means by which we connect and converse today, and provide mandates to design more affective networked experiences. The speculative proposals are presented as pages from a pamphlet with Sm<3 Phone Mandates that any designer may choose to follow. The mandates focus on the activities of constant talk, the gradient of “here” and methods for cherishing conversation. And while technology-augmented conversation may always be at odds with the “real thing,” opportunities exist to design alternative experiences for young women, interfaces and functions that create conditions where meaningful conversation is more likely to occur.

RESEARCH QUESTION
What are the possibilities to extend and enhance meaningful conversation in interfaces and experiences designed for networked young women?

KEYWORDS
affective design; cherishable digital object; closeness; conversation; design fiction; design for emotion; ICT; interaction design; interface design; meaningful conversation; mobile phone; networked technology; smart phone; social networks; social presence; speculative design; user experience; value fiction

04 May 2011

art in the streets

Second floor view of "Street" featuring Todd James, Barry McGee, Stephen Powers, Devin Flynn, Josh Lazcano, Dan Murphy and Alexis Ross at MOCA, 2011..

Second floor view of "Street" featuring Todd James, Barry McGee, Stephen Powers, Devin Flynn, Josh Lazcano, Dan Murphy and Alexis Ross at MOCA, 2011..

Here are some detail images I shot while at MOCA’s Art in the Streets exhibition this weekend. My photographs are limited in number because within the first 20 minutes of my visit I went into visual overload mode, unable to make sense of what I was seeing while also documenting. Yet, there was plenty of familiar work. For instance, in 2005 I saw Barry McGee’s solo show One More Thing at Deitch Projects which had a similar feel to the "Street" section of MOCA's show, and much of the other work—or similar—I've seen on the blogosphere or in books.

McGee at Deitch Projects, 2005

McGee at Deitch Projects, 2005

McGee, 2005

McGee, 2005

More McGee, 2005

More McGee, 2005

And more McGee at Deitch Projects, 2005

And more McGee at Deitch Projects, 2005

Strange then, that that familiarity still didn’t make the show easy to digest.

OS GEMEOS

OS GEMEOS

Detail from the "Street"

Detail from the "Street"

A highlight, however, is Swoon’s The Ice Queen. The interaction of light, shadow, fabric and form engages with the gallery space rather than ignores it. And, even though the piece is clearly not from the street, there is a clear relationship between the piece and her work there.

Swoon's "The Ice Queen" at MOCA, 2011

Swoon's "The Ice Queen" at MOCA, 2011

I also enjoyed the conversations the show prompted with my Otis colleagues. We touched on many topics as we stood in the gallery watching people of all ages and ethnicities wander through, including: the definition of “street art” and if context is inherent to the form, corporate involvement in public museums, and whether “style” is content or if the best street art today should also carry a message. One of those colleagues referred me to Doug Harvey’s smart review which says more than I could about what to make of “Art in the Streets”.

Finally, adding to the museum-as-theme-park vibe was seeing Shepard Fairey guide comedian Russell Brand through the exhibition with a stop at Fairey’s controversial Obama “Hope” poster. It was certainly one of those “Only in Los Angeles” moments.

06 Mar 2011

making a case for the book

Ulin, Wild and Pearson at “Making a Case for the Book in the Digital Age”. Photo via Big City Forum

Ulin, Wild and Pearson at “Making a Case for the Book in the Digital Age”. Photo via Big City Forum

On Wednesday night, I attended Big City Forum’s “Making a Case for the Book in the Digital Age” at ARTBOOK in Hollywood. Big City Forum is a project spearheaded by Leonardo Bravo. I admire the monthly dialogues and panels of creative minds from a variety of fields—urban planning, economic development, education, architecture, art and design, and community activism—Bravo assembles in spaces throughout Los Angeles. The thought-provoking events highlight this city’s potential to be a leading creative community.

This month’s offering was billed as “a lively conversation with David Ulin, book critic for the Los Angeles Times and author of The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Are So Important in a Distracted Time; Lisa Pearson, publisher of Siglio Press, and Lorraine Wild, renowned book designer and founder of Green Dragon Office....Ulin, Pearson and Wild will discuss books as physical artifacts, and the inherent qualities that cannot be replicated in other media.” Although this description is neutral in tone, I expected the evening would surely involve some “The sky is falling! Print is dead, all hail the iPad!” moments.

However, while Ulin attempted to frame Pearson’s and Wild’s presentations with the digital alternatives to books in mind, his introduction also had, for better or worse, the effect of neutralizing the “threat” of the iPad. Ulin level-headedly reminded us, “Writing books was always the product of technological revolution. We are living through a Gutenberg-ian moment and it is up to us to decide what we do with it.”

I was slightly bewildered. With the menace of “The Death of the ‘Physical Book’” preemptively slain, I wondered what remained to be presented and questioned. Then, Pearson began her thoughtful presentation about her practice and her commitment to publishing “uncommon books at the intersection of art and culture”.

Pearson methodically made the case for the “physical book” without explicitly mentioning the alternative. Instead, she walked the audience through several of Siglio’s titles and the curatorial and design decisions contributing to each. In doing so, one could not imagine a world without the book.

As she described her role as a publisher and editor, I saw parallels between her work, as experience maker and meaning framer, and a curator’s. In her words, her purpose is to be able to “embrace the book as possibility—a space for creating time, a space for convergence of form.”

“I’m interested in what the form can do,” she continued, “how all the elements contribute to the experience of the book.”

Pearson’s interest in the form was most apparent when looking at three of her titles: Sprawl by Danielle Dutton, Everything Sings: Maps for a Narrative Atlas by Denis Wood, and It is Almost That edited by Pearson.

Book images from sigliopress.com

Book images from sigliopress.com

Sprawl, recently nominated for The Believer Book Award, is Siglio Press’s first work of fiction. Pearson’s description of the novel as one long paragraph, as well as her assertion that other publishers might have shied away from executing Dutton’s vision because it was too expensive and used too much paper was intriguing. I wish she had shown interior spreads, rather than just the novel’s cover, because I had trouble visualizing the outcome.

Thankfully, Pearson did show the interiors of Everything Sings which she described as “disrupting the boundaries of cartography,” and It is Almost That, an anthology of work by women artists and writers. In doing so, it became much easier to grasp what she meant when she said she wants her work “to create a different kind of space, so you can see something new.” The images of It is Almost That worked best to illustrate how she uses each book’s structure—from its sequencing to the design of single spreads—to merge text and image and create new connections between artists’ work.

As I wrote at the start of this post, this evening did not set out to question whether “physical books” have a future in our digital world. For Ulin, Pearson and Wild, that issue was never on the table. Nonetheless, of the three panelists, Pearson did the bulk of the work in making the case for the book in the digital age. In presenting work that defies translation to the screen, she confirmed my belief that well-designed objects become living texts asking to be reread, speaking to readers in different ways at different moments in time.