XVI.5 September + October 2009
Page: 5
Digital Citation


Richard Anderson, Jon Kolko

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The creation and ongoing refinement of a political system is a slow, gnarly, and often flawed-by-design process that is rarely transparent. The United States government, for example, offers "checks and balances" in order to ensure that no changes transpire too quickly, and while politicians may claim "change you can believe in," those changes may come decades or centuries later than intended. Timely, then, is the cover story by Jessica Friedman Hewitt on the role of design in forming a democratic, inclusive system. Hewitt, the managing director of AIGA Design for Democracy, describes the role that both pragmatic and conceptual design can play in the refinement of our government's ability to govern. As she explains, the range of challenges to such an effort run from the complicated—"Each state or county generates its own election solutions in accordance with local legal, technical, financial, and other constraints"—to the ridiculous—"some states mandate ballot instructions that even native speakers have trouble deciphering, such as, 'Vote for not more than one.'"

Design for democracy can be seen in a more casual sense, as technology becomes an enabler for the democratization of other lifestyle activities. Bernd Ploderer and his colleagues from Sheffield Hallam University and the University of Melbourne introduce us to leidenschaft—Hegel's concept of passion as driving force—and how it manifests in extreme activities such as body building. Truly amazing are the efforts these athletes put into their pursuit; technology acts as a leveler, allowing body builders to continue their efforts online as well as off.

Ron Wakkary explains how the democratization of design has found its way into the world of nondesigners, through "everyday design" in which "individuals participate in this process in an unselfconscious way, simply recognizing a failure in the system and reacting in a corrective way to achieve a well-fitting form." And Peter Honebein describes how home owners are regaining control over the design of their environment through the use of a new energy interface: In his words, we are moving away from the traditional paternalistic culture that our utility companies have prescribed. Another theme in this issue is the breaking of traditional boundaries of interaction. August de los Reyes, principal design director of user experience at Microsoft, describes the role of design process, and the changing nature of process in breaking through traditional business and innovation boundaries. Don Norman confirms the need to push through existing constraints, as he describes the necessary shift from viewing a product as an artifact to viewing it as a system. As he says, "no product is an island." We must break through artificial boundaries of ownership or use to view products as ecosystems, and think in terms of the system.

Tim Misner, director of software engineering at Oracle, gives us a practical way to overcome these boundaries and begin to look toward the future of software development. Through examples, Misner explains the role that hard data and infrastructure play in the iterative creation of complicated systems. While pragmatic and highly functional, his view of data collection as an iterative and evaluative manner of vetting design decisions offers a futuristic model of how to work with an engineering culture. As a supplement to Misner's piece, Hugh Dubberly summarizes the importance of this work, as it points to "the value of large amounts of data and the ability of that data to support tailoring, learning, and decision making—to enable new categories of business, or perhaps a new model for all businesses."

This issue explores the future, where traditional boundaries of interaction are broken, creating a view of design as a larger, more culturally embedded, and ultimately more widely dispersed activity. We hope you enjoy the breadth of these efforts as presented in this issue of interactions.
        —Jon Kolko

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DOI: http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1572626.1572627

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©2009 ACM  1072-5220/09/0500  $10.00

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