There was much conversation about tools for design researchers during the first day of talks at the Design Research Conference, held at the Spertus Institute last Tuesday. The day consisted of twelve twenty-minute talks broken down into four subject groups: Cultural Implications of Design Research, How Social Implications Guide Our Use of Technology, Collecting Research, and What is Our Data. Two speakers that explored common themes were Jay Melican from Intel and Tom MacTavish from IIT.
Jay Melican is a research scientist in the Interaction & Experience Research (IXR) lab at Intel. IXR investigates the future of computing power ten to fifteen years out. His talk, "Stories of Tomorrow's Users," touched on the ways that technology has changed the stories designers tell about the user, the means by which we collect that information and the retelling of those stories. Melican reminds us that stories connect design research. He introduces three user storylines or groups: Makers, Machine Interlocutors and Cyborg Superheroes. Makers are a user group that creates their technology with resources such as app developer programs, open source development environments, and online maker communities. Machine Interlocutors are a user group who want their technology to be a smart or informed assistant. Cyborg Superheroes are a user group who want to extend their capabilities through technology. The key takeaway from this talk is knowing the users relationship with technology allows the researcher to know how to engage that user group. He closes by asking the audience: "Imagining 'users' of tomorrow's consumer technologies as Makers, Machine Interlocutors, and Cyborg Superheroes... What are their stories?"
Similar to Dr. Melican's talk, Tom MacTavish from IIT, previously Motorola Labs, spoke about the Age of Empowerment. He focuses on the relationship that we have with our technology and the social implications of that connection. MacTavish shares the image of what he refers to as the "smart phone mobile zombie". This image captures how immersed we are in another world when we are using our smart phones, such that we are not aware of what is going on in the real world. This leads to MacTavish's next point of existing in dual universes: the real world versus the "mirror" world of smart devices. In the mirror world, the meanings of words change as well as the way we present ourselves. Friends, privacy, presence and conversation all have different meanings in each universe. MacTavish leaves us with the following challenge: "As practitioners how do we develop and use tools without escalating the divide between the real world and the mirror "world" of smart devices, internet clouds, and embodied intelligent agents?"
Both of these talks were compelling in that they touch on technology as a tool for design research, but they also reflect on the relationship that the user has with technology. While Melican asks us to imagine the future, MacTavish asks us to take a step back and consider if there is a simpler way to get real insight. Where do you stand?
Ciara studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and received a BFA with an emphasis in Designed Objects. She is a conceptual designer whose interests include user interaction and social behavior in online gaming, and how they can inform the physical world and the design of tangible objects. Her work focuses on identity, human interaction, and virtual environments, exploring the relationship that people develop with the real world and the virtual.