CHI-Squared Presentation

I gave a talk last Wednesday night at CHI-Squared, the local ACM SIGCHI (Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction) group.

The talk was about Design Hermeneutics, a subject I’ve spoken on twice now. The first time was at the Illinois Institute of Technology Institute of Design’s “about, with and for” conference last year. It’s also a longish article and a proto-book.

From the Abstract:

Hermeneutics is the interpretive study of texts, a method originally used for generating insight through iterative engagements with religious writings, and later applied to critical social inquiry. Applying the hermenutic approach to the design process offers an intersubjective view of designed experiences as a continuously updating hypertext describing the conversations between designers, experiencers, and the context in which they communicate.

The hermeneutic method interprets texts and artifacts through iterative examination of their specific details and general context, linking those interpretations to the investigator’s own knowledge. The approach starts from the notion that the way we understand things is always shaped by the personal, historical context in which we live, and that this ‘shaping’ is not always obvious. Far from preventing understanding, this ‘shaping’ in fact is what produces knowledge – each person’s process of fitting things into their own set of experiences.

This presentation attempts to provide a framework for discussing how hermeneutic considerations might inform or change the way we conduct design practices, particularly research and prototyping. Hermeneutics suggests we should not concentrate on detecting an objective “right” way to respond, but instead around mediating – making the possibility of mutual understanding through conversation. Accordingly, we suggest a focus on dialogue that carefully breaks some of the fourth wall between end-users and designers.