Wicked problems and the price of oil

Working in an oil company has certainly opened my eyes to the complexity of the energy infrastructure in the US and the world. I’m sure that the majority of the people I come into contact with who have an opinion on energy consumption are unaware of just how complex it is to actually get oil out of the ground and into our cars.

Last year I learned and started thinking about “wicked” problems and “designerly” thinking. My understanding is that there are some problems in the design world, in which the variables and interactions between problems are extremely complex and are called “wicked” problems. Sustainable energy consumption is most definitely a “wicked” problem.

Lately, it seems I’ve heard the term “sustainability” being used quite a bit, with what I suspect is a regards to energy conservation and design of manufactured goods. Technically, these are two different things and, to be honest, the word “sustainable” is used too often without any particular type of qualifier. Sustainability is like spirituality. There are all kinds of spiritual practices. We need to be clear about what we’re talking about with regards to sustainability – e.g., sustainable agriculture, a sustainable approach to business development, and sustainable technology development.
Change to the way the world uses energy is not something that can happen within even 5 years. It’s something that will require a deep commitment from several generations of political leaders and will require us all to put aside our motivations for power and economic wealth in favor of the future of the planet. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I do believe that it’s somewhat unrealistic to think that one industry or even one country will be able to make lasting changes to the energy infrastructure of the world alone.

More info:
Check out this download for Firefox, “Oil Standard” – See the world in barrels of oil

Stirring Design Into Business – article on design thinking in Business Week, 2007

“On addressing wicked problems…” – from Interactions, 2008

Research through design as a method for interaction design research in HCI” – requires ACM subscription for full-text

Web design vs. Academia

Academia vs. Web design: The Journal on New Media and Society looks for papers on mobile communication and developing communities. Meanwhile, A List Apart posts an article on improving web design education.

For a Special Edition publication, the Journal on New Media and Society is looking for papers on Mobile Communication and the Developing World.

“We are seeking papers for a special edition of the journal New Media & Society focusing on mobile communication and media, and its impact on the developing world. We are interested in papers that empirically describe the use of mobile practices as well as the convergence of mobile and other platforms in the developing world (e.g. Africa, Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe or other locations in the “global south”). Successful papers will examine the integration and use of mobile communication technology and its implications (both positive and negative) in individuals’ lives. We are seeking papers that investigate the global as well as the local appropriations of mobile media use and its relationship to social change and/or development…”

Hrmm… Could this be yet another good reason why the myriad of professions in the “user experience design” field need more original research? Interestingly enough, while I pondered that thougth, I came across A List Apart’s post on elevating web design in academia. The article listed 3 tips for getting involved:

Here are three things you can do today to make a difference in web education:
• connect with a university,
• sponsor an educator, and
• volunteer your time.

I do like the idea of getting professionals more involved in education, but I feel that parts of the article are confusing the business model of web design companies with the academic model of universities. Companies are for-profit entities that ultimately need to make money. Universities are non-profit organizations that ultimately strive to advance knowledge. The two have motivations that can be, and apparently are for the web design industry, mutually exclusive. Their drivers are completely different and require different credentials to advance their needs. Business needs skill. Academia needs knowledge and degrees. It’s not so simple to simply ask universities to give up the need to hire people with graduate degrees. Universities are more established than web design, so why is it that universities are broken? Why not ask businesses to hire people who are “unqualified”, and then spend time training them to be productive in the context of their business? Why isn’t it that web design businesses should change, or at least change their expectations on who they should expect to hire?

Prepping for a talk from Johannes Birringer

Over the past year or so, I’ve been mulling ideas over in my mind surrounding the confluence of dance and movement, technology, business, psychology, anthropology, design, architecture…just many, many ideas. Not only has it been hard to keep these ideas straight for myself as I develop them, it’s also been very difficult for me to articulate my thoughts to others or to find research articles that reflect my thoughts. At one point, the best I was able to do was to create a semi-affinity diagram on notebook paper, with lines connecting all my terms to each other. Sadly, it just looked like a very sophisticated, yet abstract word find.

Searching for justification of my ideas was frustrating, and it was hard to find any information relating to what my interests were developing into. I knew there was something out there that must have had some relevance to my interests, but it was discouraging to come up empty so much. I had never come across it anything combining movement, performance, business, technology, and design it in any of the literature I was familiar with relating to human-computer interaction, or even user experience design.

Finally, sometime last year I found an editorial written by Johannes Birringer. It had been published in the International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, on the Digital Cultures Lab, held at Brunel University in London in 2005. After I read it, I think I’m pretty much convinced that the man is a genius. Not only was he able to completely articulate everything that I had been trying so desperately to articulate, he had also figured out how to practice his theories, something that I can still barely imagine.

Tomorrow, in an event sponsored by Barnvelder Movement/Arts and Dance Source Houston, he will be in promoting his new(est) book and giving a presentation on the interrelationship of digital media art, performance, and choreography in his own choreography. In his talk, “he will address the recent history of dance and technology and the emergence of interactive art and bio art in an international context of art & science collaboration.” I had to reschedule my going away dinner, but this is an opportunity I cannot pass up.

Here’s what I had to say on his article, after sitting on it for months.

From the within the perspective of a cultural acceptance and embrace of digital technology, Johannes Birringer (2005) discussed the aesthetic impacts on traditional notions and classically held assumptions regarding dance and performance disciplines. The 2005 Digital Cultures Lab attempted to more clearly define the cultural effects of digital technology, “what digital cultures are, how software, design, programmability and discrete digital coding transform older continuous media, and how we can grasp art and performance within increasingly technological and globalised contexts in which we live” by facilitating “provocative” collaborative projects between disparate domain practitioners – e.g., interaction designers, fashion designers, choreographers, dancers, and software. It appears that although these collaborations produced interesting and intriguing projects, the lab concluded with lingering questions regarding the cultural and definitive meanings behind these collaborations. Despite this, I mark the Lab as a successful attempt at collaboration between dance and performance, and design and technology, and I seek to add to this work.

Tomorrow, I expect to be wowed.

“Birringer is artistic director of the Houston-based AlienNation Co. and directs the
Center for Contemporary and Digital Performance at Brunel University, London”

More info…