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Digital Ground [McCullough, M.]

February 6, 2010

Taken from: Digital Ground
McCULLOUGH, M. (2005) Digital Ground: Architecture, Pervasive Computing, and Environmental Knowing. Cambridge: MIT Press

Bibliographical Annotation

Amongst the main theme of McCullough’s thesis about situated, embodied interaction through objects rather than desktops, I find that there is an additional flow of ideas (that supports his thesis) of interest. In exploring the exploration of embodied interactions situated within context, space and place, McCullough connects several areas of thought that until reading the book I hadn’t fully connected.

To support his thesis his argument flows progressively through: spatial relationships (p33), mental models (p33), embodiment in context (p36, pp49-59), situated actions (p52), embodied cognition (p55), beyond the desktop (p69), representation of contexts (p97), beyond visual identity into experience (p157), cultural assimilation (p168), flow (p191), value (p194), towards aesthetics (p196). His thesis goes beyond these arguments, but for me they provide me with a framework in which to explore my own thesis.

Originally it was to explore a new interpretation of a cognitive “Designer’s Model” for Interaction Design. This led me to a dead-end within computer science. In researching this subject I independently began reading within specific areas of cognitive psychology around conceptual models and embodied cognition. This led to Suchman’s “Situated Actions”. Before this I had set a context to where the Visual Communication literature stood theoretically, practically and historically on interaction. My in-articulated inkling was that to regenerate Vis Com’s (especially Graphic Design) influence on Interaction Design would take me beyond the desktop into the contextual factors of experience.

This ‘context-centred design’ suggests potential relationships between Visual Communication and Interaction Design in closer fundamental ways. As some movement within HCI research exists towards quantifying aesthetics as an important component that aids usability, McCullough’s framework flow suggests a tendril of arguments that may span between the qualitative and qualitative disciplines, allowing me to re-ground Vis Com into a stronger theoretical and practical position within Interaction Design.

Useful Quotes

embedding information technology into the ambient social complexities of the physical world” (pX)

The saturation of the world with sensors and microchips should be a major story, and an active concern for designers.” (pXIII)

Digital systems that are carried, worn, and embedded into physical situations can fundamentally alter how people interact.” (pXIV)

information technology must be moved from the centre of our focal attention into the peripphery, and conversely, how certain contexts become responsive through the addition of technology” (pXIV)

Generally as information becomes more and more abundant, clear views through it become less and less possible.” (p15)

No longer just made of objects, computing now consists of situations.” (p21)

Embodiment is not just a state of being but an emergent quality of interactions.” (p27)

For interaction designers seeking to know more about context, space and place (…) the principles of embodied predispositions provide increasingly common ground.” (p27)

The exploration of embodied interactions reveals to us conditions otherwise taken for granted.” (p27)

Mental attributes and constructs are emergent (…) Thus the structure of embodiment, itself a product of adaptation to environment, may underlie emergent intent. (…) Bodies shape conceptual structure; environmental experience grounds metaphor; and a lot more thought is metaphorical than has been assumed previously.” (p32)

Apparently humans assimilate their surroundings by means of mentally constructed representations of spatial relationships. Formerly, researchers held that such environmental schemas are purely mental, but now there is greater recognition of direct engagement and peripheral awareness as compliments to deliberate mental models.” (p33)

Contexts do not induce actions so much as shape perceptual selectivity, provide background cues, and enable the application of tacit knowledge. Active embodiment cues what would otherwise be isolated sensory awareness. Intent in context causes cognition to be about something. ” (p34)

Atop a continually changing substrate of embodied perception, the abstract mental model arises only occassionally, and only when necessary.” (p34)

Contextual learning begins as embodiment, remains largely personal, and is life long.” (p35)

Because contexts are learned through actions and events, much of this understanding is based on memories of interactions: object permanence, landmarks, proportional configurations, spatial categories, procedural contexts, swapped frames of preference, geometric measures, building elements, generative typologies, systemic behaviours, formal elegance, regional characteristics, ecological sustainability.” (p36)

It is important to note that embodied learning occurs at several levels, ranging from preconscious engagement of affordances, to the personal construction of mental models, to the cultural mediation of spatial literacy.” (p36#)

Contexts are full of props and cues, which serve as learning resources and memory devices for evolving patterns of usage. Many such cues serve as constraints, context rules some things out so that others may receive closer attention. Those perceived resources are appropriated toward and active intent. This grasp is engaged but not necessarily reflective. It is as much a product of the abilities and intents of the subject as of the properties of the object. This is one reason why the use of tools transforms the perception of environment.” (p37)

Language itself plays an important role in spatial literacy. Language abounds with bodily metaphors that recall the experience of environment.” (p37)

Compared with some rather more difficult social conditions, attention to embodiment provides a fairly straightforward opportunity to develop the expression and valuation of properties that for too long have been dismissed as unmeasurable.” (p44)

The disciplines of architecture and interaction design both address how contexts shape actions. Architecture frames intentions. Interactivity, at its very roots, connects those mental states to available opportunities for participation. These processes are ambient. Their benefits are to be found in the quiet periphery, and not in the seductive objects of attention.” (p47)

most agendas of physical computing share a belief in “periphery.” As defined by John Seely-Brown, the former director of (…) Xerox PARC, “periphery is background that is outside focal attention but which can quickly be given that attention when necessary.” This is one way to deal with information overload. “Periphery is informing without overburdening.”” (p49)

Principles of periphery can help reduce contention on a screen, of course, but they also suggest a larger shift in our goals for natural interactions. This is mainly a matter of embodiment in context.” (p59)

As reflected by so much recent emphasis on embodiment, contextual factors matter more than early researchers in interactivity anticipated. If more recent study finds the phenomenology of engagement at the roots of interactivity, it is because these designers build technologies around everyday life. This shifts design values from objects to experiences, from performance to appropriateness, from procedure to situation, and from behaviour to intent.” (p50)

Cognitive science has emphasized mental representations at the expense of context. [Bonnie Nardi] “Thus we have produced reams of studies on mentalistic phenomena such as ‘plans’ and ‘mental models’ and ‘cognitive maps,’ with insufficient attention to the world of physical artefacts.” Designers more interested in rich description than in predictive models tend to welcome such emphasis on artefacts. As a way of describing the intrinsic unity of context, activity, and intentionality, “activity theory” has become a useful expression.” (pp50-51)

[Lucy Suchman] “The organization of the situated action is an emergent property of moment-by-moment interactions between actors, and between actors and the environments of their action.” Within the situated action model of work, actors operate within a stable institutional framework, or “arena,” to create personally ordered versions of the environment matched to their respective habits or goals. Habitual contexts support courses of action in which effectiveness has been internalized enough that it need not rise to the level of a conscious mental model. For example, a competent intern makes hospital rounds according to a well-established procedure, but an expert doctor makes his or her rounds according to more tacit and personalized criteria.” (p52)

Accumulated experience of intent and action allows more abstract mental models to develop.” (p53)

Through context, designed objects become expressions of identity, signs of differentiation, tokens of communication, and a natural support for relationships.” (p53)

A theory of place for interaction design incorporates embodied cognition into a workable design philosophy through types. In a single design notion, type unites periphery, passivity, phenomenology, adaptability, affordance, facility, appropriateness, and scale. (…) For present purposes, consider type not as a mere functional classification, but as a generative design abstraction. This is a central idea for context-based pervasive computing (…) A type may be as much about form as function.” (p55)

[Interaction Design] takes advantage of physical contexts as frames and cues for its social functions. It begins to reflect scale and type in its pursuit of site-specific technology, context-aware systems, and location-based services. it shifts focus from technological novelty to more enduring cultural frameworks.” (p63)

For any new approach to design to break out of this feature accumulation cycle, information technology must change fundamentally, that is, at a level much more basic than a better desktop interface.” (p69)

The next stage of evolution takes the load off a technology now two paradigms old. Thing centred computing is coming to be for the 2000s what network-centred computing was to the 1990s and personal computing was to the 1980s.” (p69)

Physical devices establish possibilities for interaction beyond the desktop. Local models are necessary abstractions for technology-extensible places. Social situations provide design precedents and problems from which to build types. All of this points toward new forms of context-centred design.” (p72)

Even at a purely technological level, location still matters. Location models prove essential for pervasive computing. (…) This is basically a question of representing action. (…) How much of that can be modeled, and how much must remain implicit?” (p97)

As long as the desktop remained the stage for information technology, location models seemed almost irrelevant. Indeed for a while many people seemed willing to take the (metaphorical) representation for the (virtual) reality. However, continued human expectations for embodiment and periphery have turned the tide. As we now take mobile devices out into the physical world, and increasingly bring them into contact with intelligent environments built from embedded systems, our digitally mediated actions truly must take place somewhere. The representation of contexts now becomes the essential challenge to designers of information technology.” (p97)

To an architect, a model chiefly represents form, but to other disciplines, a model may represent behaviour, information flows, or decision sequences.” (pp97-98)

Our very presence in one kind of space must serve as consent to take part in its technical environment, but in another space should indicate our desire for anonymity. (…) These are questions of how to present oneself. Traditionally such questions are answered by social customs. (…) Each of these factors point towards the need for spatial modeling of digital mediated action. In contrast to the usual assumptions about formless dematerialization, the rise of pervasive computing restores an emphasis on geometry.” (p101)

human interactions continue to exhibit categories, strata, and patterns.Such recurring configurations are natural; just about any species has them. Contexts remind people and other devices how to behave. That framing has often been done best and understood most easily as architecture. Something about the habitual nature of an environmental-usage gives it life. Like device protocols and personal conduct, architecture has been a form of etiquette, architecture exists not out of pompousness, but because it lets life proceed more easily. Situated computing extends this age-old preference,whereas anytime-anyplace computing does not.” (p118)

Recall that as a design philosophy, typology recognizes how creativity does better with themes and variations than with arbitrary innovation. It provides a framework for convention and invention to temper one another. Between conformity to a one-size-fits-all design and the chaos of infinite combinatorial possibility, there is a manageable range of recognizable situations. Design seldom benefits from infinite possibilities. It is more likely to be beneficial and appreciated when its variations occur on a few appropriate themes.” (pp118-119)

The difference between ubiquitous and situated computing appers vital. Ubiquitous computing (…) has mostly been a matter of pure mobility, with little regard for locally embedded systems. It has emphasized access to the same information everywhere. It has been geared toward connectivity 100 percent of the time for a few people, rather than providing information when useful for 100 percent of the people in a specific location. It has sought a one-size-fits-all solution for technological interoperability. By contrast, situated computing is based on the belief that such universality is neither attainable nor desirable. This approach questions total mobility, advocates local protocols, recognizes forms of tacit knowledge, and taps into more kinds of embodied predispositions.” (p142)

design must include some approach to appropriateness other than solely technological features and their performance specifications.” (p143)

Because technology affects so much of what we do, even who we think we are, its design involves judgment and appreciation.” (p148)

Now as computing becomes pervasive, the identity of these systems goes beyond the appearance of screens. New forms of ambient, haptic, and multiuser interfaces promote a shift from objects to experiences. Instead of emphasizing the visual identity of an object, under these circumstances we need to address the process of identifying with an experience.” (p157)

Subjectivity is inherent to usability. Differences in abilities, intentions, and exploration processes affect the successful use of technology at least as much as technical features. One way to represent this is with a “cognitive walkthrough,” which attempts to represent the sequence of assumptions, choices, and discoveries in the application of a technology. (…) this newer approach to user modeling has focused more on desire. Usability, identity, desire, and intent tend to relate.” (p160)

The majority of architects and designers still think it is their job to design the world from the outside, top-down. (…) To be fair, many younger designers feel free to set the stage for what is experienced. (…) People do like to be stimulated, to have things proposed to them. Designers are great at this. But the line between propose and impose is a thin one. We need a balance.” (p162)

Now physical computing arises from questioning the assumptions by which the graphical user interface became overblown. (…) Critical practice in interaction design works with a more open-ended and provocative story than problem solving in device engineering has typically done.” (p165)

As John Carroll has observed, “The worst misstep one can make in design is to solve the wrong problem.”” (p167)

The success of design is arrived at socially. Crudely, this suggests that market acceptance is the only criterion necessary. More to the point of critical practice, it suggests how design must help people understand a situation in a different way. (…) The very character of life and society has been transformed by planned artifice.” (p167)

By expanding the design of context-based information technology to reflect appreciation, experience, usability, and desire, more of us can contribute to the cultural assimilation of so much technical production. (…) Depending on choices we now face in design practices, interactive systems could similarly assume cultural meaning. In any case, they seem destined to surround us.” (p168)

We belong to several places and communities, partially by degree, and in ways that are mediated. (…) Places are a way of taking part in the world, for with a resonance unequaled by many other aspects of existence, they are both socially constructed and personally perceived.” (p171)

Interaction design must address how people move around, how they assimilate, and what kinds of local responses they encounter. As ever, design is for active, humane life; but without great precedent, now some contexts become active as well.” (p173)

Embodied activity grounds satisfying interaction design.” (p174)

When experience flows we get into place. Flow is of course an essential goal of interaction design, and fixity is an essential goal of architecture. Now the two join. To compliment the spaces of information with the contexts for getting into place, it helps to think in terms of ground.” (p191)

interactions establish value. Value emerges from interactions. This inquiring and examining has no end: what matters to individuals, societies, and markets never reaches a final equilibrium, but remains constantly in play.” (p194)

Aesthetic value must be culturally situated. It exists mainly at the convergence of qualified opinion. This may be what makes aesthetic value suspect to scientists: It is neither apparent nor consistent to everyone. Aesthetic value needs theory – and therefore critics – by which to deliberate its subjective expression and interpretation. These in turn benefit from being grounded in objective constructions, such as tonal scales in music. and genres, such as portraiture in painting.” (p196)

there must be a recognition of embodied pre-dispositions. From that it follows that cultural difference and local usage are much larger repositories of value than has been acknowledged to date. From this it follows that we need to find terms by which to measure such value.” (p206)

In the end, the design of technology cannot leave us as spectators and consumers, but must let us actively practice at something however humble.” (p207)

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