I was invited to give a presentation about Gordon Pask and his Conversation Theory at the annual conference of the American Society for Cybernetics in June 2016. My great friend and colleague, Jude Lombardi, has kindly produced and edited a video of my hour talk, which begins with an introduction to Pask as an experimentalist and “maker”. From this foundation Pask built a scientific theory of how conversation works, including a detailed formal “calculus of cognition.” He also offers the principle that consciousness is conserved in the same sense that physics says that matter and energy are conserved. Read more…
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To understand conversation is to understand how we learn about the world and how we communicate and collaborate with others. Products and services can benefit from a better understanding of conversation. Designers benefit from understanding conversation better, because they can design for better conversations.
In the Fall 2016 Semester, CCS MFA Interaction Design is introducing a new elective, Frameworks for Interaction and Conversation. It’s an in-depth course that explores cybernetic models of effective action that apply to design of software, services, products, entertainment, or organizations. Read more…
Paul Pangaro, Chair of MFA Interaction Design, led a design class in a course called Information Design Theory and Critical Thinking, part of the Information Design and Visualization MFA program at Northeastern University. Twenty grad students in the course and other undergrads and faculty joined in the conversation. See these links for more about Paul’s approach to conversation as design and design for conversation.
The paper “Cybernetics and Design: Conversations for Action” [PDF] has recently gone to print in a peer-reviewed journal. It offers a rationale for the position that design is conversation; perhaps a surprising idea, but the logic in the paper is rigorous. Cybernetics offers a foundation for 21st-century design practice, here is the core of it:
We converse every day—so why would we need a model of conversation? (First, you might want to review something about models.)
If you want to improve something—that is, engage in an act of designing—then it’s extremely helpful to understand well what it is your trying to improve. So, if you’re trying to improve conversation—whether in an organization or team or service or app—then it’s useful to have a model of conversation.
“Designing for Conversation” is a rich phrase with multiple interpretations—does it mean, designing to foster conversation? Why would that be a good thing?
Let’s imagine we are the catalyst for starting a new project, some design challenge relating to a new app.
First, we all recognize the value of the participants in a conversation. We all experience the improvement in thinking and outcomes when we work with someone else. This seems to say, “more participants means better outcomes”—hah, you know that’s not such a good idea. Too many voices, too much distraction. So, how would we decide whom to have in that first conversation?
This is a useful review by Jonathen Franzen called “Sherry Turkle’s ‘Reclaiming Conversation’”, about Turkle’s new book.
In Fall 2017, the MFA program at CCS is introducing a new studio course called “Interaction Design Evolution.” The course invites students to riff on prior innovations in the history of interaction design and then to invent their own. Seriously.
One example from history: Vannevar Bush’s “MEMEX” comes from the 1940’s. Bush conceived it as a desk containing vast amounts of information stored on reels of microfiche (because digital magnetic media didn’t yet exist). Bush imagined retrieval of information based on what we now call tagging, achieved here by visual splotches on the edge of the frames of microfiche. We’ve got tagging in modern, digital web browsers (with vastly greater numbers of tags and vastly greater speed). But Bush also imagined two displays—not one, as we have today. Why?