New York Times Design Series Talk

Chair of CCS’s MFA Interaction Design Program Delivers Talk in New York Times Design Series

Making (Digital) Conversation

The great promise of digital media has been that it would facilitate rich, meaningful and immediate conversations among people. This hasn’t really come to pass, says Paul Pangaro, associate professor and chair of the MFA Graduate Program in Interaction Design at the College for Creative Studies.

Pangaro presented “When Will Digital Media Be Conversational?” on April 29 as a guest speaker in the New York Times Design Series, monthly presentations focusing on key issues in the field aimed at the newspaper’s print and digital teams.

Today’s social media platforms lack a nuanced understanding of how humans converse. They use personalized tracking for commercial purposes but they can’t successfully track what we know, says Pangaro, whose prototyping, lecturing and writing has focused on the cognitive and social needs of human beings. Real conversation must contain elements of mutual attention and respect that allows participants to distinguish between their interests. “Conversation is a back and forth, in which the next thing you say connects to where we are; it is relevant, contextually related yet new.”

If digital content does not yet have the capacity to converse with its readers, what would it take to create a dynamic medium that has the characteristics of conversation and, based on users’ specific histories, constantly create a lively, shared world?

That’s the challenge interaction design students and professionals currently face. With examples ranging from the responsive light shows of groundbreaking cybernetician Gordon Pask to his own prototype for online reading, Pangaro emphasized the critical role of systems in interaction design and encouraged the 40-member Times audience to discuss how organizations might implement conversational technology and make it consistent with the quality that readers expect.

“The spirit of conversation is critical to understanding human beings,” says Pangaro, “and it informs design because the design process is fundamentally a conversation process because it is collaboration. Conversation is in the middle of everything.”