Richard Anderson, Jon Kolko
In our cover story, Bruce Sterling notes: "We have entered an unimagined culture. In this world of search engines and cross-links, of keywords and networks, the solid smokestacks of yesterday's disciplines have blown out. Instead of being armored in technique, or sheltered within subculture, design and science fiction have become like two silk balloons, two frail, polymorphic pockets of hot air, floating in a generally tainted cultural atmosphere." A tough message, for both technologists and designers, as Sterling's reference to hot air is not to be taken lightly. We've reached a point in culture, and in the design of all things that make up culture, where discussion of innovation, transformation, and other triple, bottom-line business colloquialisms has run its course. In Sterling's words, we need to stop thinking outside (or even inside) the money box, and instead consider the lasting human consequences of our work; we need to imagine, and think creatively, about society, culture, and humanity.
His text is not hyperbole, and it is not "easier said than done"; following Sterling, Tad Hirsch paints a broad stroke of the modern "contestational designer"designers engaged in protest. Hirsch's work is juxtaposed with that of Andrew Hieronymi, who has exhibited the raw creativity Sterling demands. Hieronymi presents a return to the basics, introducing subtle games that are linked directly to the physical and gestural. Hirsch, Hieronymi, and Sterling are all offering views into the same world of design outside of the context and confines of businessa place where revenue is simply not part of the equation.
This issue also brings a poignant reminder to those of us in the United States that our discipline is global, and the implications of our work resonate halfway across the globe. Elaine Ann, practicing in Hong Kong, describes the manner in which the word "design" has taken on new connotations with respect to the economic meltdown that is now plaguing the developed world. As she says, "With so much financial confusion, it is impossible to create a holistic picture of what is going on."
A model of this systema designerly modelcould have helped better parse and predict some of the financial issues we've seen over the past few months. Hugh Dubberly offers a "model of models," entering a metatheoretical wonderworld of visualization as a method of making sense of complexity.
A strand that can be woven throughout these thoughts is that of usabilityand the demise of design solely for "ease of use" or "efficiency." Katie Minardo Scott, Charles Hannon, and Eric Schweikardt paint three very different pictures of an increasing trend away from usability engineering as a discipline and UCD as a process. The connection between usability and creativity is tenuous, and it can be perhaps argued that the discipline of interactions is rapidly outgrowing its traditional HCI roots.
From creative thinking to the obsolescence of usability, this issue presents a continual conversation around the changing nature of the interactions game. The stakes have increased, as has the complexity. Sterling claims that "what we are really experiencing now is a massive cybernetic hemorrhage in ways of knowing the world." We trust this issue will help you begin to know the world a bit better, via a filter of experiences, people, and technology.
Richard Anderson and Jon Kolko
©2009 ACM 1072-5220/09/0500 $5.00
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