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Thursday 03| 1|01
Interactive Design History

Some more thoughts in response to Peter Merholz's thoughts on my questions listed in the previous posting.

The collected history of interactive work, so far, seems to be scattered and niched into areas of performance and installation (Bill Viola or Laurie Anderson) or computers and technology (where hardware seems to have the stage over the UI or the experience - the Apple desktop metaphor excepted). I think a lot of the work by Brenda Laurel crosses out of this boundary into thoughtful exploration of experience design. Design for use.

There are starting to be collections online and in museums of interactive work collected as artifacts of culture or art. The Walker Art Center | New Media Initiatives | Gallery 9, as mentioned by Peter, the SFMOMA and Randall Packer's site: Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality as shared with me by Jeff Gates are all good starts.

My question "Who stands out of the crowd" was posed in reference to the Creator rather than the historian. In the large pool of IAs, interaction desingers, web designers, etc., whose work really stands out. From an aesthetic standpoint, an interactive standpoint, a usable standpoint. What metrics of success are we using to decide what is worth keeping or putting on that pedastal for time. I am interested in work that is not the stuff we are seeing collected by the museums above. Not the artists conceptual pieces, but commercial, functional type works.

What are we creating today, that is the equivalent of the great posters of Josef Muller Brockmann, Herbert Matter, Jean Carlu or A.M. Cassandre. What websites are as elegant and effective as the work of Paul Rand, Paula Scher, Herbert Bayer or William Golden? What work is being created now, that will be as surprising or elegant and usable 30 years from now?

I had occasion this past weekend to meet and chat with Massimo Vignelli. He asked, as a website was being shown on screen, "why did it have to look so ugly?" Good question. There are a lot of answers and maybe it won't be until we get past the visual ugliness and have effective, useful sites that perform well, and are well designed visually will we be at the level of printed work that seems to be worth saving for the long haul. I think we are still held hostage by the medium and the bandwidth but it is something worth striving for.

On Another Note
My sister is managing editor of the online journal Switch, the journal of the Cadre Laboratory - the Digital Media Arts program at San Jose State University. Our worlds are colliding and overlapping as she writes about data, multimedia and the concepts of social software in networks and communities. This discussion and theory in academia is great to follow, because it sparks ideas for practical application in our work as IAs. The whole notion of social networking and self organizing structures is fascinating to me.

A thought about Modular Design
I wanted to comment on the points that Peter makes in his Trends section of his thoughts from the ASIS&T 2001 Summit, Reflections and Projections Panel.
The idea of developing and designing in a modular fashion is great. I have been designing that way for years. The nature of my past work, was developing dynamically driven sites for newspaper clients. The company I was at developed city guides, auto guides, real estate guides, entertainment guides and yellow pages with maps and directions. The software/web sites were developed as independent modular structures that were then sold to third parties who published their content and laid on their visual design over the architecture. Basically it was a plug and play system of large and small modules. It was extremely flexible and we could reuse modules from one client to another - only the content and sometimes the placement on the page was different. Designing a site with this in mind from the beginning adds some early complexity to the design process, but it makes all the difference in the world later on to the flexibility of the publishing system and the page design for the end product.

Part of the key to design effectively in this way is to have technology that will support this flexibility. In addition, as designers we must understand enough of this technology to design effectively for it or to push the limits and stretch the technology. I was fortunate in my past job, that I worked with some truly great C++ engineers and that the development process was collaborative. I could push for new things and they would push back then turn around and build something even better.

Posted by erin at 09:30 PM | in History

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