Erik Stolterman: To Study Interaction and Interfaces: An Approach and Some Findings

It is hard to deny an often-heard claim that our artifacts and environments are becoming more and more complex, more and more “alive,” and as a consequence more and more demanding. We have to interact more. There seems to be no retreat or escape from interactivity. Some well-informed critics worry that the proliferation of interactions and interactive things has already gone too far. Their concerns raise many questions. Does interactivity in fact increase? How can we know? What does it really mean to claim that it does? And if indeed it is increasing, what does it mean? And why is this happening? And should something be done? Despite this development there seems to be no precise idea of what interaction is and what being interactive means, beyond a vague notion that it is some kind of interplay, usually optimistically understood as good-natured cooperation. 

Yet, there seems to be no precise idea of what interaction is and what being interactive means. Instead, as designers, we are guided by our vague assumptions about it, sometimes universalizing our beliefs about interactivity, sometimes being too sensitive to human diversity. 

In this talk I will present the analytical and philosophical work I have done for many years, together with my colleague Lars-Erik Janlert. We have examined properties and qualities of designed artifacts and systems; primarily those properties that are open for manipulation to designers, that is, properties that designers can and do intentionally affect by their design decisions (and thus in principle are possible to control). Rather than taking users and their subjective experiences of the artifacts and systems as the primary target for examination, unfashionable as it may be, we have chosen to be objective in the sense of focusing on the artifacts and systems. Apart from discussing our approach, I will briefly introduce some of our main results consisting of some developed definitions of existing (and some new) concepts, such as, interactivity, interactability, interactiveness. I will end with some comments on what this kind of investigation can tell us about the future by introducing the notions of faceless interaction, interactivity clutter, and interactivity fields.

Bio: Erik Stolterman

Erik Stolterman is Professor in Informatics and the Senior Executive Associate Dean of the School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering at Indiana University, Bloomington. He is also professor at the Institute of Design at Umeå University, Sweden. Stolterman is co-Editor for the Design Thinking/Design Theory book series by MIT Press, and on several editorial boards for international journals (The HCI journal, International Journal of Design, Design Studies, Design, Economics and Innovation, International Journal of Designs for Learning, Studies in Material Thinking, Human Computation, Artifact). Stolterman’s main work is within the areas of HCI, interfaces, interactivity, interaction design, design practice, philosophy and theory of design. Stolterman has published a large number of articles and five books, including “Thoughtful Interaction Design” (MIT Press) and “The Design Way” (MIT Press) and the recently published “Things That Keep Us Busy--The Elements of Interaction” (MIT Press, 2017).


Jodi Forlizzi, Carnegie Mellon University, USA

This is an interesting era for design in terms of the diverse ways that designers need to work. The advent of cloud computing and the sensors in the mobile phones we carry means that there is a vast amount of data collected about what people do. There is a vast opportunity for designers to leverage this data to create products, services and systems that are tailored to individual needs. At the same time, designers at Google are designing products and services that millions of people use every day. All this sets up an interesting dichotomy for today’s designers, who need to take into account both personal and adaptive and global and scaled in how they think, design, and take action.

Bio: Jodi Forlizzi

Jodi Forlizzi is a the Geschke Director and a Professor of Human-Computer Interaction in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University and a Co-founder of, a healthcare startup. Her current research interests include designing educational games that are engaging and effective, designing robots, AVs, and other technology services that adapt to people’s needs, and designing for healthcare. Jodi is a member of the ACM CHI Academy and has been honored by the Walter Reed Army Medical Center for excellence in HRI design research. Jodi has consulted with Disney and General Motors to create innovative product-service systems.

Kun-pyo Lee, KAIST, South Korea

What are the diversifying factors of design research in academia and practice, and how can they be interconnected while maintaining the advantages of being diverse? 

Design research has a relatively short history compared to other well established academic disciplines. Therefore, the relationship between design academia and design practice tend to be disconnected. This disconnection becomes more serious with the rapid introduction of new technologies such as AI keep challenging the validity of the existing bodies of design knowledge, methods, and processes. 

Faced with these new big changes, a healthy cycle of coexistence of academia and practice is required more than ever and a mutual synergetic collaboration between academia and practice is inevitable. Practical designers regard research as something done in the pre-stage of the design concept development, whereas the academia perceives research as an instrument for knowledge generation. 

Design research in practice and academia differ significantly in respect to goal, deliverables, applicability, methods, scope, venue, among other things, but is this good for design?

Bio: Kun-pyo Lee

Kun-pyo LEE is Professor at the Department of Industrial Design, KAIST, South Korea and the director of the Human-Centered Interaction Design Lab for more than 30 years. He is co-founder and president emeritus of IASDR (International Association of Societies of Design Research). He also served as Chief Design Officer (Executive Vice President) of Corporate Design Center, LG Electronics. He is well known in Asia as an early pioneer in the field of design research, UX design and user-centered design, for which he was recognized as Honorary Fellow of the Design Research Society, and Local Hero at CHI 2015. After returning back to KAIST from LG with unique experiences in industry and academia he has been focusing on establishing a new design education paradigm under the name of Design 3.0 – Big, Deep and Open.

Phoebe Sengers, Cornell University, USA

The act of designing technologies does not simply create functionality; it also offers possibilities for action, ways of looking at the world, and modes through which we can relate to one another. How we design technologies reflects what we value; who we think is important, and in what ways; which places, people and possibilities are in our imaginations, and which are not. 

Current ways of designing technologies frequently narrow these possibilities, in two ways. The first is that technology design is dominated by a narrow demographic: predominantly white and Asian, white collar, highly educated, urban. These designers’ ways of imagining new technological worlds are shaped by the worlds they themselves know and value, which are only a small slice of global ways of being. The second is that even as technology design is being increasingly engaged in around the world by and for people outside this demographic, local adaptations are frequently judged and limited by what makes sense from the perspective of Silicon Valley and other urban high-tech centers. 

Supporting the rich diversity of human experience requires explicitly identifying and appreciating values and experiences outside of mainstream technology design logics.

Bio: Phoebe Sengers

Phoebe Sengers is an Associate Professor at Cornell in Information Science and Science & Technology Studies, where she leads the Culturally Embedded Computing group. Her work integrates ethnographic and historical analysis of the social implications of technology with design methods to suggest alternative future possibilities. Her group explores rural, working-class and global South experiences of technologies, traces the emerging entanglements between people and data, and uses design to speculate about alternative pasts and futures. Sengers led the Cornell campus of the Intel Science & Technology Center for Social Computing, has been a Fulbright Fellow, a Fellow in the Cornell Society for the Humanities, and a Public Voices Fellow, and received an NSF CAREER award. She holds an interdisciplinary PhD in Artificial Intelligence and Cultural Theory from Carnegie Mellon University.