Jonas Löwgren is Professor of Interaction Design at Malmö University. Media Evolution asked him to predict the most important factors in the field for 2014 and beyond. On january 21 we also welcome you to Media Evolution City and our member-breakfast Världens Bästa Morgon, where Jonas and his colleague Bo Reimer will give a lecture about their book Collaborative Media, released on MIT Press. Read his article below.
In the upcoming year, I predict that we will see a large number of new digital devices, most of them with slightly larger screens and slightly faster processors, most of them exhibiting beautiful shapes and pleasant surface materials. Some of them might even work together – 2014 could be the year when people are finally able to connect their living-room technologies (TV, PVR, hi-fi) to their computers, computer networks and smartphones in simple-enough ways that actually work.
Hence we are looking forward to another year of “more of the same” – no game-changing innovations on the radar, as far as digital consumer products go.
At the same time, interaction design research and R&D are brimming with interesting topics. Here are a few examples.
Our current fixation on screens, taps and multitouching is understandable but not sustainable. We only have one pair of eyes, only so many fingers on our hands; all information is not important enough to deserve full visual and gestural attention. To preserve sanity and well-being, it will be necessary to relegate many of our current information practices to more peripheral modalities such as touch and hearing, and at the same time make them much more place-specific.
Craft and materiality
As information and media are turning digital and ubiquitous, we are increasingly depriving ourselves of the sensuous and specific qualities of material objects. Whether you are reading a brand-new crime novel, a timeless reference volume or a 1930s collection of Japanese woodcuts, they all look the same to the eye and feel the same to the hand when you read them on a tablet computer. The same kind of argument goes for media other than books. Material qualities have mattered to us for thousands of years, and the more we learn about physical interaction the more we realize that the new hybrid materials open whole new worlds of design expression and experience.
The massive penetration of “social media” in our parts of the world have more or less amounted to a life-size social experiment, where the subjects (us) are collectively trying out new communicative practices and positions. So far, we have not done very well – for most people, the ratio of annoying to interesting in a Facebook news feed is still way too high, for example – but it is likely that workable norms and protocols of a new sociality will gradually emerge. And the interesting question is what role interaction designers can play in that emergence, which leads to the final topic:
Designers are facilitators
Interaction designers increasingly initiate and support processes of communication and transformation, rather than giving form to digital objects. They seed the infrastructures for collaborative media, they provide components for grassroots expression and engagement, and they engage in processes of societal, economical and political development. It is necessary to build a sense of quality for these situations, as well as methods, tools and education.
None of these topics is going to have widespread impact in 2014, but any one of them could be the new mainstream for interaction design in 2019. That is why it is interesting to bring them up at this point. Also, thinking about the long view is always a good idea even when making short-term decisions.