13 December 2012

Mark Rettig’s vent on the Connecting movie

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Yesterday I plugged Connecting, a short film that explores trends in UI, Interaction & Experience Design.

When Mark Rettig watched the video, he said he would “hesitate to refer friends and family to watch it as an explanation of some of this field, because they’ll come away believing that the essence of interaction design has to do with technical devices and networks.”

Here is a copy of his very wise reflections (that he shared on the IxDA email list and in part also on the Vimeo comments section):

“I just watched Basset & Partners’ nicely-produced short film about interaction design, called “Connecting.” You can watch it here on Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/52861634. It’s well done, it’s full of people I like and admire, and I’m glad it exists. *Thank you* to the people who made it and the people who paid for it.

But it pushes a button, so, this post….

Every time I’m around a bunch of interaction designers (and I still consider myself one, at least some of the time) it jumps out at me: the field is SO so device- and content- fixated. Watch that video with paper and pen, and make tally marks every time someone says, “device, product, service, network, content, data, information, interface,…” You’ll fill the page. Do it again, and see if you hear “care, relationship, learn, belong, accomplish, confidence, ability, self-image, manage, relate, heal, wellness, reach, empower,…” any human-value words. I’m not sure you’ll get to 10.

Where are the people-words? I’m sorry, but to pick on one example, ubiquitous data and distributed interfaces showing up in the hospital system does not equal more care. (The “service designers” are a little better on this point, but still….)

There are lots of designers in this video, but all the rest of the people are fake-people. Architectural-model-people. Stock photo people. Let’s make another movie that has at least the same number of people who have to live with the designs as there are designers. And hey, sometimes, if you catch the right day, there could be both kinds of people in the same shot!

Yes, at the end there is excitement about connected society and social impact (with devices assumed, to my ear). And I know enough of the people in the video to know they really do care about people and are driven by that care. I’m not knocking them.

For me this is a snapshot of the times. Design in general has been so thoroughly enfolded in a culture of business and technology that it has a hard time finding an identify of its own APART from business or technology. It has allowed itself to be defined by its clients. That doesn’t have to be the case.

The design process, the methods designers employ, and the people and institutions who make up the practice have great powers and possibilities of their own, independent from clients, silicon, bits, atoms, or contracts. Let’s be identified by the possibility we bring into the room, not by a co-dependent relationship with our usual sponsors and materials.

I believe this can change, and I’m doing what I can to help.”

Rettig, Principal of Fit Associates, is very known to those who worked and studied at the former Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, for his much quoted advice that interaction design is both about “doing the right thing and doing the thing right.”

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