Definition of Design. Yes, another one.

One of the key challenges of being involved in a humanities & design-oriented perspective of Human-Computer Interaction is defining what design (or Design) is. I think that having an operational definition for Design is healthy. It is not only about divagating, philosophizing, or making the word Design to look more scientific—this is, to convert it into something observable and measurable within a certain space, which has its own axioms and laws. It’s also about understanding what being a designer—in a professional sense—means. What’s an Experience Designer? An Interaction Designer? Is it different from an Information Architect? Isn’t a UI Designer an Experience Designer? Coming up with a single answer it’s not an easy task nonetheless. However, thoughts and words are there to shape and play with reality, and hence to understand our human constructions better. So, below I present a quick definition of what design is.

Design is the conjunction of problem framing, externalization and materialization, and communication. 

Design understood as the conjunction of problem framing, externalization and materialization, and communication.
Design understood as the conjunction of problem framing, externalization and materialization, and communication.

These are my simple approaches to each of these dimensions:

Problem Framing

The designer should decompose the design situation (i.e., analysis) in order to understand it, and make a connection about how the current context, current needs, and current users are related to her past projects and personal experiences (i.e., abduction). Nevertheless, I think that separating problem framing from the other two dimensions during a design process is impossible. If so, we’re not talking about Design. We might be talking about problem solving only.

Externalization and Materialization

A design process cannot escape from representation. The rationale behind the problem framing, and hence the design solution must be externalized, communicated, instantiated. In this regard, the designer should find the means to support her argument. Her understanding of how to synthesize information or how to play with the materials is relevant to make a connection with the client, users, stakeholders, and also with herself.


The designer creates communication pieces, messages. This is evident in terms of the design outcome and the deliverables by which a designer supports her arguments. These are closely related to the dimension of externalization and materialization. Moreover, every design project entails people interacting. Design projects of any size will imply, at least, a relation between a designer, a client, and user. Part of the design process is to balance this relation. Perspectives, values, interests, and even whims take part in design processes. Therefore, the designer should employ communication skills to play the role of mediator, and understand how she, as a person, in combination with the messages she creates, will achieve that balance.

So far, this operational definition helps me to understand design in a simple way. Furthermore, it also helps me to understand the role of experience designers as rhetoricians; and idea I’m still developing as part of HCI research agenda.

Note: Thanks to Jordan and Marty for the conversations about [design/Design/designing]. I would bet this definition will evolve.



No one likes selfies… anymore

One interesting thing about social media is that users can notice behavioral trends about themselves. We can see how our timelines are affected by major events such as the Oscars Ceremony Award or the World Cup. Not only we get retweets and shares, but also new content is generated. Either unpublished or recycled. Pictures, videos, and memes. They’re everywhere within social media. However, as any organism, information gets born, grows, and eventually, it fades out.

Do you remember how popular selfies got after the Ellen DeGeneres’ selfie at the Oscars? Selfies has been part of Facebook, but definitely got burst after her picture. Selfies then started to become annoying. It seems that Instagram and the use of its filters have gone in the same direction. Also, we can add to the list the whining through social media, or the flood of cute cats pictures. On the other hand, it seems now that one function of social media is complementing Google, since their users are now asking about things in order to inform their decisions. Also we can note that social media is becoming an informal marketplace. Therefore, we can see social media as an interface in which multiple contexts affect themselves through the generation, modification, exchange, propagation and eradication of information. Of course, all these actions have an impact back to those contexts. They affect the real world.

The social media and the real world altogether affect the former, at least in terms of content and the usage of such content. Trends are consequence of these user-driven information management. And also, users kill those trends eventually, regardless of the actual agency they are supposed to have. Yet, social media, by means of current massive content in each of these contexts, dictates what is on fashion. And eventually when such massive content will not be in fashion anymore. It’s just like the comic strip by the Oatmeal shown below. No one likes selfies (now) (?). 

Selfie by Oatmeal Comics
Vignette from “No one likes selfies” by the Oatmeal. Inspiration to write this blog post. Please check

What does this mean, and why do we need to care? There’s no simple answer whatsoever. That’s why many people try to understand the related phenomena from different perspectives, including HCI and Design. However, I really enjoy the idea of seeing that information is alive. It’s somehow organic. We can see how we apparently affect social media content, and how social media content affect us, and hence the real world. The trends have rhetorical implications for us. The Facebook that will be experienced in USA this 4th of July, because of the Independence Day, won’t be the same as the Facebook experienced in Brazil whilst the World Cup keeps going. Our understanding of the world, what shapes our culture, and what modifies our values are subject to this creation and dead of information. And still, I cannot avoid questioning myself, what’s our role, as users, in this phenomenon?

If you want to know how this phenomenon could be related with design, or user experience design, my colleague Azadeh Nematzadeh and I recently presented a paper in the Design Research Society Conference 2014 about some theoretical concepts by which we try to explain this connection. Please, give the paper a look. Thanks!