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The Art of Procrastination

March 30, 2006

Usually around some point in the semester, someone in the master’s program writes something about procastination. I admit thinking the same things when i was wrapping things up last year, and I suspect many people are going through it now. However, I don’t think the notion of procrastination gets the attention, or even respect, that it deserves.

HCI/d and many other design disciplines focus a lot of their energy on ideas, maybe too much in some cases. It’s hard to turn the page and change inspiration into action. Furthermore, there’s a risk-cost ratio associated with the act. There’s always the possiblity that a better idea will come along the next day. You have every reason to believe so, most people I know will have gone through several ideas in order to finally arrive at a capstone.

In the context of the program as in the real world, dates must be assigned, and deliverables must be handed in. However, the more time one spends on design quality arguably leads to better ideas. I think that everyone has a different limit for how long they need to think about design, but arguably, they can take as long as their benefactors allow. John Maeda talks about this in a recent post, and it really made me think about design as an education space again.

On top of the whole “forced/time limited inspiration” issue, there’s also the issue of design consumption and evaluation. Designs are ephemeral and subjective entities that must be argued for. In other words, a design has to live in the context it’s meant to inhabit as best it can, and in whatever capacity the designer can produce. The design is on trial, and oftentimes the value systems that the judges and the users can differ wildly. However, I argue that even in the face of this issue, the interaction between the design and the environment will be a better indication of the object’s true worth than the value systems of either the judge, or the users, or the designer.

These two points lead to a simple notion: “procrastinate in context”. As a designer, I think you should find every opportunity you have to interact with or inhabit the space your design is meant to inhabit. Be lazy, and try to soak in the scene, however uncomfortable it may be.

We place such an emphasis on directed observation and interviews that we limit any sort of inspiration that can happen in the interaction and experience of these contexts. In fact, I don’t think that under the current HSC guidelines it’s possible in any way, shape, or form to change this. I think we either encourage “artificial” design that is suited for multi-media presentation and cursory human subject usability testing, or we encourage students in interaction design to seek other fields with less need for HSC drudgery (such as the information retrieval-centric area that I’m currently working in).

I can’t believe that this is a good thing. Presently, I get a negative feeling anytime I think about involving people in a study. As researchers, we’re meant to be impersonal and removed from that which we study, but as designers, this is almost always the opposite. This tension is not often discussed early or often enough. I’m not saying that we need carte blanche to do whatever we want, but we need a way to encourage designer-user and user-prototype interaction both as a means for initial inspiration and for iterative prototype improvement. I think that “procastinating in space” is at least a step in the right direction.

But how do you procastinate in “Mp3 Player Space”, or “Tax Software Space”, or “Geriatric User Space”? I’ll say that you can’t, really, nor should you really try. All you can do is get to know how people act in their environment, and try to pretend to “be” the same thing. Sometimes trying to figure out the best place on an interface to put buttons is like trying to figure out the best place on a flashlight to put solar cells. You’ve got to expand your understanding of the user’s context both as far out as it can go and as far in as it can go.

Preventing errors and reducing interaction time is usability. HSC can have this field for all I care. Understanding what’s seperating an individual from an increase in satisfaction or productivity, and then placing an artifact in their context to help achieve this goal is design. This is what we must claim and engender here.

From → Informatics

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