New seminars – summer semester ’08

The new seminars for summer term 2008 are fixed. It is always a very exciting moment to think about new topics for projects… or rather: to pick the best from the ideas floating around.

And I always love to define topics with a leightweight appearance but at the same time much depth.

Here are the two candidates:

Project seminar: »Habits«
Design research about our habits and how they shape our daily life and how we use things.

Project seminar: »PIM«
Design for Personal Information Management systems.

Design for discovery

One of the most interesting topics for information architecture is search. There are ways to find, explore, browse and discover things in digital domains. The value of information increases with the possibility of being found. So design for findability becomes the most important strategy to increase the value of information.

One of the distinct experts in the field of Information Architecture is Peter Morville. He gave an interesting one-hour talk at Google about »Ambient Findability and the Future of Search«:

He talks a lot about the problem of search in general (he is speaking at a search engine company). How to enable better search and findability is a question of a) metadata and b) representation.

It is the representation aspect of searching and finding, that is still a huge area for design innovations. While improving the Google search result page may be too difficult, there are a lot of very specific problems where searching and navigating an information domain gets a very interesting and particular design issue.

A designer needs a good understanding of the fact that users have different approaches of locating things depending on

  • the nature of the information,
  • the structure and relations,
  • the quantity of data,
  • their habit of solving things systematically and
  • the prior knowledge about the domain.

Desire (Design and Democracy)

I think the current Privacy/We-blog seminar (see blog) is turning out very well. The students are working on a project that is very “web2.0-ish” and a profound reflection on the business models that drive this market (or new bubble if you will).

One of the questions that constantly return to me is what is the function if design as seen from strategists. There is a discourse about design is being in charge of providing “emotional value” to products – or in other words: to sense desires of consumers.

I have addressed the core strategies of design in several seminars. They were called: Perception, Mind (called “Remembering and Design” back then), Density, Simplicity and Continuity. And it always appered to me that I one day I will have to address the topic of »Desire«.

The problem with “desire” is that it appears to be a mainstream topic – but in fact is not. It is a pandora’s box and it will ultimatley lead to political implications of design. And that is probably why I postponed it several times although I am totally convinced that there is no real way to get around this issue.

One place to start is Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud. Bernays invented the term “public relations” and spawned research that led to the idea of “life style” and “focus groups”. His influence has been portrayed in this four hour BBC documentary “The Century of the Self” (Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4). If you watch that documentary you’ll see the dilemma.

The documentary ends with the impression that the affirmative politicians in western societies have eroded the notion of democracy by replacing political policy with public relations (thus tuning their speeches and programs towards the short term desires of swing voters). Like Bill Clinton has asked one of his advisors: “What is a mandate if you can’t get elected with it?”

I want to point readers, that managed read this post until here, to a document called “Design and democracy” [PDF, 148 KB / german], a lecture given by Gui Bonsiepe in 2005 at the UTEM, Santiago de Chile (and be assured that the issue of democracy is not only a matter of desinging better election ballots).