Skip to content

***Aesthetic Interaction – A Pragmatist’s Aesthetics Of Interactive Systems [Petersen et al.]

February 9, 2010

Taken from: Aesthetic Interaction – A Pragmatist’s Aesthetics Of Interactive Systems
PETERSEN, M.G., IVERSEN, O. S., Krogh, P.G. and LUDVIGSEN, M (2004) Aesthetic Interaction – A Pragmatist’s Aesthetics Of Interactive Systems. In Proceedings of the Conference on Designing Interactive Systems: Processes, Practices, Methods, and Techniques (DIS). Cambridge, MA.

Bibliographical Annotation

Petersen, et al’s paper is often cited within HCI literature as a seminal paper that bridges the HCI research into aesthetics of interaction with the theoretical groundwork by Dewey and Shusterman on pragmatist aesthetics. What I began to find interesting is they see that using Dewey and Shusterman’s work on pragmatist aesthetics promotes the aesthetics of USE over APPEARANCE. This immediately resonated with me as my own thoughts on the repositioning of the influence of VisCom in IxD were leading me beyond the appearance into its heart. They state that in their paper they provide a framework perspective (p269) that is an alternative to other established perspectives.

Through a literature review they not only challenge the assumption of aesthetics (p270) being only about the visual impression, but also they challenge the HCI aversion to non-quantifiable factors that affect usability. This last challenge is something that both HCI has denigrated, and the VisCom disciplines have been too delinquent to address rigorously enough.

To set their framework they identify three central aspects of aesthetics: social-cultural, mind and body, instrumentality. (p270) In regard to their choice of pragmatist aesthetics they explain and justify their choice, seeing aesthetics as not a priori but as potential released through a experiential dialogue (p271). This aesthetic experience is experienced both cognitively and in an embodiment. This is an ambiguous experience (Cartesian Dualism? Spinoza? Epiphenominalism?). Aesthetic meaningfulness emerges from the experience of use rather than being predefined. It has an adhesive quality merging attractiveness and purposefulness in an interactive system (p271). It is not “added value” and more than surface “beauty”. It is dependant upon context and use, and quality and value comes from the experiential dialogue created through context and use. They draw upon embodiment in parallel with symbolic representations (semiotics of the interface). This embodiment, although they do not actually use the term, draws a connection to both Dourish and Suchman’s work (p274). [This is a connection to follow.] They position aesthetics as a fifth element of five interaction styles in Interaction Design. Important but aesthetics must address both human cognitive and embodied experiences, SITUATED within everyday life, and instrumental in SITUATED use (p275). The first four elements of interaction styles position the user as part of the SYSTEM (1), users being in control of the system (TOOL (2)), user and machine as equal partners in communication (DIALOGUE (3)), and IT as a mediator between human-human communication (MEDIA (4)) (p274).

Useful Quotes

A set of approaches are emerging each representing different applications of the terminology as well as different inherent assumptions on the role of the user, designer and interaction ideals. In this paper, we use the concept of Pragmatist Aesthetics to provide a framework for distinguishing between different approaches to aesthetics. Moreover, we use our own design cases to illustrate how pragmatist aesthetics is a promising path to follow in the context of designing interactive systems, as it promotes aesthetics of use, rather than aesthetics of appearance. We coin this approach in the perspective of aesthetic interaction. Finally we make the point that aesthetics is not re-defining everything known about interactive systems. We provide a framework placing this perspective among other perspectives on interaction.” (p269)

We seek to frame an extended expressiveness towards interactive systems through the concept of Aesthetic Interaction that can be obtained when the human body, intellect and all the senses are used in relation to interactive systems. However, when looking into the work that takes an aesthetic perspective on the design of interactive systems it becomes clear, that not all perceptions of aesthetics are equally fruitful as we see a danger in adopting superficial understandings of the aesthetics of interactive systems. We wish to challenge the assumption that aesthetics are mainly concerned with the immediate visual impression of products as we see it in e.g., [A], [B], [C].” (p270)
(A) Desmet, P. and Dijkhuis, E. (2003) A Wheelchair can be Fun: A Case of Emotion-drived Design. In Proceedings of DPPI’03. ACM Press, pp. 22-27.
(B) Fogarty, J, Forlizzi, J., and Hudson, S. E. (2001) Aesthetic Information Collages: Generating Decorative Displays that Contain Information. In Proceedings of UIST’01. ACM Press, pp. 141-150.
(C) Overbeeke, C.J., Djajadiningrat, J.P., Hummels, C.C.M. and Wensveen, S.A.G. (2002). Beauty in Usability: Forget about Ease of Use!. In Green, W.S and Jordan, P.W. (Ed.), Pleasure with products: Beyond usability, pp. 9-18, London: Taylor & Francis

as put by Overbeeke et al [A]. “Interfaces should be smart, seductive, rewarding, tempting, even moody, and thereby exhilarating to use” (A, p.10). We see two problems inherent in some of this work. First the assumption that users always want to have fun and be pleased represents a simplistic view on human nature.” (p270)
(A) Overbeeke, C.J., Djajadiningrat, J.P., Hummels, C.C.M. and Wensveen, S.A.G. (2002). Beauty in Usability: Forget about Ease of Use!. In Green, W.S and Jordan, P.W. (Ed.), Pleasure with products: Beyond usability, pp. 9-18, London: Taylor & Francis

We see a range of different applications of the same terms and more importantly these different applications represent different inherent assumptions about the role of users and designers (or artists) and interaction ideals. These inherent assumptions are well worth investigating when developing an aesthetic perspective on interactive systems design. For instance, we find that those who view the potential of aesthetics as the possibility to provide users with a pleasing visual appearance of products are leaving out much of the potential of aesthetics. To qualify the discussion on these matters, we draw upon the distinction made by Shusterman [A] between Analytic Aesthetics and Pragmatist Aesthetics. We argue in the following that Pragmatist Aesthetics is a strong theoretical basis to take on with respect to designing interactive systems and we provide examples of how we work to implement systems adopting pragmatist aesthetics.” (p270)
(A) Shusterman, R. (1992) Pragmatist Aesthetics. Living Beauty, Rethinking Art. Blackwell.

the very notion of aesthetic is used in ambiguous ways when it comes to answering the important question, what is the aesthetics of interactive systems. To answer the question we turn to pragmatic aesthetic as a theoretical foundation for staging a concept of aesthetic interaction. Shusterman [A] propagate pragmatic aesthetics as opposed to analytical aesthetics. We will use this distinction to qualify our discussion. Three central aspects of aesthetics will be discussed to establish a foundation for an aesthetic approach to interactive system design. These are the socio-cultural approach to aesthetics, designing for mind and body and the instrumentality of aesthetics.” (p270)
(A) Shusterman, R. (1992) Pragmatist Aesthetics. Living Beauty, Rethinking Art. Blackwell.

The analytic aesthetics in the words of Moore (1952) rely on the intuitive assessment of aesthetics of objects, as if the objects existed by themselves in isolation. In this analytic perspective, as the artist or designer shapes e.g. the chair of exquisite material, and aesthetics arise as a product property. Shusterman argues that until recently most analytic aesthetics simply ignored the socio cultural background as irrelevant, “probably because aesthetic experience was traditionally conceived as pertaining to immediacy, not only because of its immediate satisfactions but because of its assimilation to direct perception rather than inferential thinking.” ([A]pp.21). We see this perspective represented e.g. in works that assume that aesthetics of interactive systems can be evaluated based on visual perception of pictures [8]” (p270)
(A) Shusterman, R. (1992) Pragmatist Aesthetics. Living Beauty, Rethinking Art. Blackwell.
(B) Desmet, P. and Dijkhuis, E. (2003) A Wheelchair can be Fun: A Case of Emotion-drived Design. In Proceedings of DPPI’03. ACM Press, pp. 22-27.

In contrast, a pragmatic approach to aesthetics is represented by Dewey [A]. Dewey insists that art and the aesthetic cannot be understood without full appreciation of their socio historical dimensions. He stresses that art is not an abstract, autonomously aesthetic notion, but something materially rooted in the real world and significantly structured by its socio economic and political factors (A, pp.22). Accordingly, aesthetic is not inherent in the artefact itself but rather a result of the human appropriation of the artefact. Consequently, the chair is not aesthetic in itself but rather the aesthetic chair is a result of the socio-historical appreciation of the material, and the shapes. Accordingly our ability to engage in an aesthetic experience is based on our social context, manifested in a personal bodily and intellectual experience prolonged beyond the immediate experience. According to the thinking in pragmatist aesthetics, aesthetic is not something a priori in the world, but a potential that is released in dialogue as we experience the world; it is based on valuable use relations influencing the construction of our everyday life.” (p271)
(A) Dewey, J. (1987) Art as Experience. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University press.

Where as analytical aesthetics is preoccupied with separating humans into mind and body, a part for thinking and a part for sensing, pragmatist aesthetics insists on their inter-dependencies in the aesthetic experience. In a pragmatist perspective, aesthetic experience is closely linked not only to the analytic mind nor solely to the bodily experience; aesthetic experience speaks to both.” (p271)

According to pragmatist thinking the aesthetic experience encompasses the immediate sensational auditory, visual and tactile qualities of artefacts and the intellectual process of appropriating the artefact, and moreover it points to the fact that past experiences fashion those of the future. In a pragmatist perspective we have to move beyond ideals of meeting human sensor motor skills and somatic sensing, to include among others the human intellectual capacity to grasp and make sense of complex, contradictory and even ambiguous systems and situations [A].” (p271)
(A) Gaver, B., Beaver, J., Benford, S., Ambiguity as a resource for design. In Proceedings of CHI2003, ACM Press, pp. 233 – 240.

In a pragmatist perspective, for anything to have value it must relate to human needs, desires, fears and hopes. (…) They are appropriated in use. Meaningfulness and aesthetic experiences emerge in use, they are not predefined.” (p271)

What we stress here is that aesthetics has a purposeful role in the use of interactive systems, aesthetics is not only an adhesive making things attractive, and it is part of the foundation for a purposeful system. Aesthetics cannot be sat aside as an “added value”. Emerging in use; it is an integral part of the understanding of an interactive system, and its potential use.” (p271)

To summarize, a pragmatist approach to the aesthetics of interactive systems implies that aesthetics is tightly connected to context, use and instrumentality; circumscribing our perspective on Aesthetic Interaction. Thus it becomes meaningless to think of aesthetics of artifacts in themselves. They might contain an aesthetic potential, but its release is dependent on context and use. In Pragmatist Philosophy aesthetics is also released from its tight connection to art and its many definitions, instead it is connected to experiential quality and value. This provides the basis for focusing on the aesthetics of interaction related to our everyday experiential qualities when engaging in and designing interactive systems.” (p271)

Designing for aesthetic experiences invites people to actively participate in creating sense and meaning.” (p271)

In 1984, Bødker & Kammersgaard [A] reviewed different perspectives on human-computer interaction and coined four different but co-existing perspectives on interaction styles. Subsequently, these perspectives have been applied to provoke new design ideas through taking the different perspectives to the extreme in design brainstorms [25]. The four perspectives system, tool, dialogue partner and media (…) We do not wish to claim that these four perspectives on
design of interactive systems are no longer valuable, but we argue that these views lack the potential of addressing the experiential sides of everyday life. There are two main points to distinguish our fifth perspective from the four previous:
First, aesthetic interaction aims for creating involvement, experience, surprise and serendipity in interaction when using interactive systems (for further discussion see, Iversen, et. al. [C]). Whereas the dialogue partner perspective treats man and machine as equal dialogue partners, the aesthetic interaction perspective acknowledges man’s ability to interpret and appropriate technology. The ideal appropriation of technology is not the shortest way to mastery (as proposed by the tool perspective) but rather the process of appropriation itself becomes essential. Second, Aesthetic Interaction promotes bodily experiences as well as complex symbolic representations when interacting with systems. It puts an emphasis on an actively engaged user with both cognitive skills, emotional values and bodily capabilities.
” (p274)
(A) Bødker, S. & Kammersgaard, J. (1984): Interaktionsbegreber, internt arbejdsnotat, version 2.
(B) Monk, A. (2000) User-Centred Design. The Home use challenge. In Sloane, A. & van Rijn, F. Home Informatics and Telematics. Information, Technology and Society. Kluwer Academic Publishers, pp. 181-190.
(C) Iversen, O, Krogh, P & Petersen, Marianne G.(2003): The Fifth Element – Promoting the Perspective of Aesthetic Interaction, in proceedings of The Third Danish HCI Research symposium, Roskilde, nov 2003

We reasoned how the aesthetic experience through interaction relies on addressing both the mind and body, as well as it is rooted in the socio-cultural context of people’s everyday life. Moreover aesthetics in this perspective becomes instrumental to the use situation, going beyond ideas of “added value” and the immediate attractiveness of systems, placing aesthetics as an integral element of the artefact and a continuously encouraging element in the future use of a system. In order to exploit the full potential of aesthetics in interactive systems all three aspects has to be addressed. Working with this perspective of Aesthetic Interaction incorporates and highlights the experiential aspect of designing interaction. Although the aesthetic interaction perspective is important when designing interactive systems we position the aesthetic perspective as the fifth element of interaction design. Designing interactive system requires multiple perspectives.” (p275)

The concept of Aesthetic Interaction currently presents theoretical considerations and will need further empirical experiments in order to provide more concrete guidelines for working with aesthetic interaction generally. However we see Aesthetic Interaction as a beneficial perspective when designing interactive systems.” (p275)

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: