Designing Social Interactions

31 Oct 2008 - 3:25am
6 years ago
11 replies
1034 reads
Andy Polaine
2008

I thought I'd start a new thread on designing social interactions
based on Adrian's reply about understanding social connections,
interactions and media, because we were getting quite off the topic of
visual/interaction design skills. But it's an interesting area.

There's an awful lot still to be learned and understood though, I
suspect. One of the things that complicates it all is that social
interactions affect future social interactions and so does the
software. We've just had that thread about Twitter here and how it's
changed the way people interact with each other when they then meet
face-to-face. So we end up with this highly interdependent and ever-
changing ecosystem of social 'media' (someone come up with a better
term please!) and people that are constantly changing each other.
Understanding social interactions is complicated and designing them is
equally so. That's what makes it so interesting of course.

My question is to what extent we really can design social
interactions? I think we design spaces and places, just like we throw
a good or bad party. I've worked on a lot of online collaborative
projects with my work with The Omnium Research Project in Australia - http://www.omnium.net.au
- and we've learned a lot about what makes an online collaboration
tick and what not and how to steer it. It really is like throwing a
party, but there seems to be a lot of magic in the mix. Any thoughts?

Incidentally, there's an interesting Op Ed piece from David Brooks
about behavioural economists and the financial crisis in the NY Times: http://tinyurl.com/5jku2h
- I could imagine a lot of this stuff crossing over. Does anyone
know how the social lending service, Zopa, is faring in all of this? http://www.zopa.com

Best,

Andy

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
Andy Polaine

Research | Writing | Strategy
Interaction Concept Design
Education Futures

Twitter: apolaine
Skype: apolaine

http://playpen.polaine.com
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Comments

31 Oct 2008 - 6:06am
Andy Polaine
2008

I think what comes out of a lot of the examples that you mentioned is
just how much people will bend almost any media into a form of
communication. This is, for me, one of the most fascinating things
about humans and also one of most interesting aspects of designing
interaction or, rather, interactive systems. I've seen all sorts of
interactive artworks, for example, that visitors have bent into
communication with each other even though that wasn't the original
intention. If people can leave a mark, they try to communicate.

> You can't design how people interact or what people say to each
> other - but you can make it easy/hard for them to do so.

"Would you like fries with that?" - You can design what people say to
each other and it happens a lot in corporate culture and politics. The
question is if it is ever going to be meaningful...

Best,

Andy

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
Andy Polaine

Research | Writing | Strategy
Interaction Concept Design
Education Futures

Twitter: apolaine
Skype: apolaine

http://playpen.polaine.com
http://www.designersreviewofbooks.com
http://www.omnium.net.au
http://www.antirom.com

31 Oct 2008 - 4:58am
SemanticWill
2007

"My question is to what extent we really can design social interactions? I
think we design spaces and places, just like we throw a good or bad party."

Adrian has actually stated his position about this fairly successfully
meaning that we can't design the social interactions themselves, but we can
design the framework For interactions that, based on how much or little we
design the system for conversations/interaction - the more or less friction
there is between people/actors/nodes in any social network. You can't design
how people interact or what people say to each other - but you can make it
easy/hard for them to do so. Have you ever tried to have an extended,
threaded conversation on Facebook? It's possible - and also the most
unintuitive/kludgy thing you can do - why? Facebook was not designed for
social interaction in the meanful sence - namely Conversation. It was
designed for connection, a completely different modality. LinkedIn (as I
have stated on Twitter) Could be/might have been built for conversations
under their Questions/Answers section - but it seems that because of the
label, and IxD - you really don't have vibrant career/professional
networking happing there - but the platform is certainly there, it's just
that the IxD for person-person, people-people conversations is not
considered important, and therefore not surfaced as something people should
be doing. Twitter started as just a place for people to tweet their current
status, because b/c of platform decisions, simple interaction model, and
mobile, it could not help but make it really easy for people to connect,
connect to their friends connections, and engage in conversation. To the
extent that people can't tag those conversations, organize them, store them,
remember them, search them, and arrange them in a semantically meaningful
way (in context) means that Twitter is still half-baked. The fact that you
can't visualize your connections as a hyperbolic graph is less important
now, although it would be nice, and perhaps some smart person on this list
will go back to our roots, read Ben Schneiderman's recent work (
http://www.cs.umd.edu/hcil/nvss/) and implement a graph that allows us to do
that in a meanful and actionable way.

On Fri, Oct 31, 2008 at 5:25 AM, Andy Polaine <apolaine at gmail.com> wrote:

> I thought I'd start a new thread on designing social interactions based on
> Adrian's reply about understanding social connections, interactions and
> media, because we were getting quite off the topic of visual/interaction
> design skills. But it's an interesting area.
>
> There's an awful lot still to be learned and understood though, I suspect.
> One of the things that complicates it all is that social interactions affect
> future social interactions and so does the software. We've just had that
> thread about Twitter here and how it's changed the way people interact with
> each other when they then meet face-to-face. So we end up with this highly
> interdependent and ever-changing ecosystem of social 'media' (someone come
> up with a better term please!) and people that are constantly changing each
> other. Understanding social interactions is complicated and designing them
> is equally so. That's what makes it so interesting of course.
>
> My question is to what extent we really can design social interactions? I
> think we design spaces and places, just like we throw a good or bad party.
> I've worked on a lot of online collaborative projects with my work with The
> Omnium Research Project in Australia - http://www.omnium.net.au - and
> we've learned a lot about what makes an online collaboration tick and what
> not and how to steer it. It really is like throwing a party, but there seems
> to be a lot of magic in the mix. Any thoughts?
>
> Incidentally, there's an interesting Op Ed piece from David Brooks about
> behavioural economists and the financial crisis in the NY Times:
> http://tinyurl.com/5jku2h - I could imagine a lot of this stuff crossing
> over. Does anyone know how the social lending service, Zopa, is faring in
> all of this? http://www.zopa.com
>
> Best,
>
> Andy
>
> ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
> Andy Polaine
>
> Research | Writing | Strategy
> Interaction Concept Design
> Education Futures
>
> Twitter: apolaine
> Skype: apolaine
>
> http://playpen.polaine.com
> http://www.designersreviewofbooks.com
> http://www.omnium.net.au
> http://www.antirom.com
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

--
~ will

"Where you innovate, how you innovate,
and what you innovate are design problems"

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Will Evans | User Experience Architect
tel: +1.617.281.1281 | will at semanticfoundry.com
aim: semanticwill
gtalk: semanticwill
twitter: semanticwill
skype: semanticwill
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

31 Oct 2008 - 7:01am
Andy Polaine
2008

> Okay - not sure that you can design what people say to each other,
> but I completely flaked and forgot the Stanford and Milgram
> experiments - in both cases the researchers were able to "design"
> the interactions between prisoners/prison guards and torturer/
> tortured and showed pretty decisively that interactions can be
> designed, and even the most psychologically healthy/stable
> individuals can, under certain circumstances, become sadists. Thanks
> for keeping me honest.

Good point - I forgot to mention behavioural psychologists (my wife is
a psychologist - I raid her literature lists often). They design all
sorts of social interactions, often with a good deal of deception too.
Some of the experiments are very mean and/or funny.

I still feel, even in the best design social, um, architecture, that
there is at least a 70:30 mix of design and magic. Does anyone know of
any social, er, utilities (we really need to get a handle on these
names) that have been explicitly designed off of the back of
behavioural psych research like this?

Best,

Andy

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
Andy Polaine

Research | Writing | Strategy
Interaction Concept Design
Education Futures

Twitter: apolaine
Skype: apolaine

http://playpen.polaine.com
http://www.designersreviewofbooks.com
http://www.omnium.net.au
http://www.antirom.com

31 Oct 2008 - 6:30am
SemanticWill
2007

Okay - not sure that you can design what people say to each other, but I
completely flaked and forgot the Stanford and Milgram experiments - in both
cases the researchers were able to "design" the interactions between
prisoners/prison guards and torturer/tortured and showed pretty decisively
that interactions can be designed, and even the most psychologically
healthy/stable individuals can, under certain circumstances, become sadists.
Thanks for keeping me honest.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_prison_experiment
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment

On Fri, Oct 31, 2008 at 8:06 AM, Andy Polaine <apolaine at gmail.com> wrote:

> I think what comes out of a lot of the examples that you mentioned is just
> how much people will bend almost any media into a form of communication.
> This is, for me, one of the most fascinating things about humans and also
> one of most interesting aspects of designing interaction or, rather,
> interactive systems. I've seen all sorts of interactive artworks, for
> example, that visitors have bent into communication with each other even
> though that wasn't the original intention. If people can leave a mark, they
> try to communicate.
>
> You can't design how people interact or what people say to each other -
>> but you can make it easy/hard for them to do so.
>>
>
> "Would you like fries with that?" - You can design what people say to each
> other and it happens a lot in corporate culture and politics. The question
> is if it is ever going to be meaningful...
>
>
> Best,
>
> Andy
>
>

--
~ will

"Where you innovate, how you innovate,
and what you innovate are design problems"

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Will Evans | User Experience Architect
tel: +1.617.281.1281 | will at semanticfoundry.com
aim: semanticwill
gtalk: semanticwill
twitter: semanticwill
skype: semanticwill
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

31 Oct 2008 - 9:42am
Jeff Howard
2004

I think that social interactions are an incredibly important facet of
interaction design. One of my favorite examples of this is from the
Spring 2004 issue of Design Issues. It's about Kate Wells and the
Siyazama Project in South Africa.

http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=6&tid=13677

The article discusses Design as a part of social transformation.
Wells designed a interaction in which the women of the Zulu tribe
could construct beadwork dolls. The design wasn't really about the
dolls, though they were integral to the process. Instead, the act of
constructing the dolls was designed to provide a communal setting for
the women of the tribe to discuss AIDS and its prevention,
circumventing the cultural taboo against such discussions.

// jeff

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
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31 Oct 2008 - 10:26am
Maria De Monte
2008

I believe we still cannot design a "mediated social interaction" as
the tools used for this purposes are still evolving and changing
their shape continuously.

The example of the conversation in a pub ("do you want fries?") or
in a prison comes from the normalisation effect of the use. You can
forecast phrases and dialogues like "Do you want fries?" because
fries became common. I believe the same phrase in the period in which
potatoes were eaten only burned on fire would have had different
reactions.

Still, my pshychological and sociological background says that a part
of this interaction can be forecasted and designed, as far as you
remain aware that users will possibly bend it to its communicational
needs.

However, I'm not aware of any psychological research turned into
social utility... would be curious as well.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
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31 Oct 2008 - 11:42am
Scott McDaniel
2007

That's an excellent point, and I think it highlights the growth and
use patterns for
most social interactions that have grown and prospered - there are
intended, designed
uses and how the users decide to use them. The intended design can
and will factor in,
but it remains important - perhaps most important - to have the
flexibility in design and business
approach - to allow for where things will naturally flow. In
Hoekman's Designing for the Moment,
he stresses allowing as many things as possible to go without
moderation. This is primarily
presented for user experience, but it seems to imply that giving the
users the ability to
build their own paths, and thereby building their own enthusiasm, is
key to the success of
a social space.

Scott

On Fri, Oct 31, 2008 at 12:26 PM, Maria De Monte <mtdemonte at yahoo.it> wrote:
> I believe we still cannot design a "mediated social interaction" as
> the tools used for this purposes are still evolving and changing
> their shape continuously.
>
> The example of the conversation in a pub ("do you want fries?") or
> in a prison comes from the normalisation effect of the use. You can
> forecast phrases and dialogues like "Do you want fries?" because
> fries became common. I believe the same phrase in the period in which
> potatoes were eaten only burned on fire would have had different
> reactions.
>
> Still, my pshychological and sociological background says that a part
> of this interaction can be forecasted and designed, as far as you
> remain aware that users will possibly bend it to its communicational
> needs.
>
> However, I'm not aware of any psychological research turned into
> social utility... would be curious as well.
>
>
> . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
> Posted from the new ixda.org
> http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=35099
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
> List Help .................. http://www.ixda.org/help
>

--
"The future is unwritten." - Joe Strummer

31 Oct 2008 - 1:44pm
Ian Chan
2005

I have a feeling this could turn into an interesting discussion! I'm
actually shaping up a follow-up piece to the primer on social
interaction design i blogged a couple weeks ago. My own theoretical
framework aside, however, a couple points, for clarification purposes.

--I don't think we should think of this as social engineering. We're
not designing prisons, classrooms, or political rallies here. There is
a social component of course to social media, but it's experienced by
the individual user. I think this is a critical aspect of social
interaction design. *It's not really social.*

--Realizing that the social interaction is only a mediated version of
face to face interaction, we are forced to deal with the medium
itself, which is good, because we're all designers. We build a social
architecture, if you will, and populate it. At best we can learn how
to anticipate consequences of aggregated user interactions, and steer
them by what we choose to put on the screen, where, why, and so on.
The analogy here to public spaces, urban architects, etc, is the best
I can come up with.

--We anticipate social interactions on social media best if we can see
how the aggregation of individual user experiences will produce
sustained social practices. That's what makes this social interaction
design: the extension of individual user experience to social
practice. Social practices, as viewed by sociologists, are self-
sustaining systems (i'm over simplifying here) -- designing an
application or site architecture to facilitate and in effect "produce"
those practices is the goal of the social interaction designer.

--The interesting part, and this is where the theory comes in, is in
fleshing out a framework for understanding what mediated social
interactions are like. And by this, not just "communication," because
there are other "social" phenomena at play. Some involve direct
communication, but many involve meta communication, and social
phenomena such as eavesdropping, lurking/stalking, gifting, exchanging/
trading, and so on. In other words we need a model of what the user
activity is, based on the user intention vis a vis another or other
users. This is often a case of what the user thinks she's doing, then
thinks she has done, and how it is interpreted by others. The social
practice emerges when a fairly stable set of codes, behaviors,
interpretations can be said to govern "what's going on."

--For example, in social media we have genres, or "themed activities."
Dating. Jobs. Status updates. Social games. News. Etc. We know how to
engage in each because they all derive from real world themes. The
social interaction designer would know that adding pics to LinkedIn
will produce some amount of bias -- that any time you have pics some
amount of flirtation results. Or that "top ten" lists, "most popular
member" lists, and other forms of leaderboard become self-fulfilling
activities: they structure user interaction.

--Where it gets more complicated is in trying to outline modes of the
"social" user experience. Because all social media are not used for
communication, and are not used in the same way. Forrester and others
have done a lot of work segmenting users into early/late adopters, as
a means of describing influences, followers, etc etc. That's
interesting, but tells us nothing about the user experience. It's an
outside observation of traffic and activity. I'm really interested in
describing the user experience, and for that we need psychology, but
one that's modified to account for mediated interaction, as well as
the view of self image and impression of others that results from
interacting with a medium that produces Representations, Images, and
Texts.

--A rich theoretical framework would be able to describe user motives
and behavior, as it is experienced by the user. We can't ever know
what a user experiences, and asking him would only get us a self
report, which is unreliable. Best we can do is theorize, and apply. On
the theory end, I still think we have three basic modes: Self, Other,
Relation. Social media present us with an Image of ourselves, and
that's a "social" experience even if it doesnt involve communication
at all. Social media present us with a representation of an Other
person, and what we think of that person is "socialized" by the medium/
context, whether we know that person or not. And then there are
relationships developed, maintained, and reproduced by online
interaction: so there is a form of social activity (it may mean
something different to each participant), that participants understand
not only in terms of themselves, or the other people, but in terms of
What's Going On.

--There is so much more, but i'll stop here. The challenge, as I see
it, is to flesh out the social field -- interaction stuff that's not
"on the screen" or that isn't literally there -- and to apply it with
a framework of individual and collective action systems, which would
include communication but also the "non-communicative," "indirect" and
even "self-engaged" social stuff.

Please hit me with questions, I think this is fascinating stuff.

The primer I posted is here:
http://www.gravity7.com/blog/media/2008/10/social-interaction-design-primer.html

But poke around my site, too. This is all I've been working on for the
past 3 years, so there's a lot there.

cheers,
adrian

1 Nov 2008 - 4:40am
Andy Polaine
2008

> This is often a case of what the user thinks she's doing, then
> thinks she has done, and how it is interpreted by others.

Sounds like some of the conversations I have at home...

1 Nov 2008 - 4:59am
Andy Polaine
2008

Some of my own research is really about trying to unpick that inner
experience of the interaction and there's some good material out there
in terms of people's experiences of interactive art installations,
partly because they're such subjective experiences. Although it is
harder with a social web site/utility/application/medium than a
physical installation, the Think Aloud technique works pretty well -
I'm sure many here might know of it from Lucy Suchman's work.

(If not, have a look here:

Suchman, L.A. and Trigg, R.H. Understanding Practice: Video as a
Medium for Reflection and Design. in Greenbaum, J. and Kyng, M. eds.
Design at Work: Cooperative Design of computer Systems, Lawrence
Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, New Jersey, 1991, 65-89

or here:

Anders Ericsson, K., Simon, Herbert A. 1993, Protocol Analysis: Verbal
Reports as Data, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. )

Getting people to self-report is often skewed because they only half-
remember what they did and invent the rest. Think aloud works by
filming the person interacting and then getting them to immediately
watch it back and describe what they're doing, so you end up with what
feels like a DVD commentary track. I've never tried this with someone
using a social space, but it might be an interesting experiment.

The other things to look out for, I feel, are desire lines. It's a lot
easier to spot what people are trying to do with an environment or
tool that exists that it is to try and predict into an unknown future.
It's very hard to predict the interaction between the influence of the
technology and the people using it (which is why computers make the
financial crises so much worse).

Best,

Andy

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
Andy Polaine

Research | Writing | Strategy
Interaction Concept Design
Education Futures

Twitter: apolaine
Skype: apolaine

http://playpen.polaine.com
http://www.designersreviewofbooks.com
http://www.omnium.net.au
http://www.antirom.com

4 Nov 2008 - 3:39pm
Gladstone
2008

The argument for downplaying the role of the tech issues in the whole
discussion about social interaction design brought to my memory some
words put out by Theodore Roszack back in the eighties, basically
that the essence of the progress in culture and human communications
didn%u2019t coincide with the progress in information technology.
Quoth the aforementioned:

%u201CAny kind of experience %u2014 even %u2018inner experience%u2019
not induced by external stimuli %u2014 may initiate cognitive
processes leading to changes in a person%u2019s knowledge. Thus
knowledge/ideas can be acquired without new information being
received. Understanding an idea means knowing the peculiar sources of
inspiration of those who created and championed it, their
vulnerabilities, and blind spots.%u201D

I don%u2019t know if current social interaction tools are humane to
the point we can make that journey through another mind in the light
of other ideas, including some that we have fashioned from ourselves
from our own experience. Roszack also stresses the complex interplay
between experience, memory, and ideas, which is the basis of all
thoughts. Take experience here to mean the /stream of life/ as it
molds personality from moment to moment, not the empiricist
equivalent of mere information entries.

%u201CWe don%u2019t normally collect much experience of this sort.
The turbulent stream passes into memory where it settles out things
vividly remembered, half remembered, mixed, mingled, compounded. From
this compost of rememberd events, we somehow cultivate our private
garden of certainties and convictions, our rough rules-of-thumb, our
likes and dislikes, our intuitions and articles of faith.%u201D

Then human memory, the key factor here, is fluid, wavelike, drawn
from private fantasies we hardly admit to ourselves, not separable
labeled items subject to total recall. The ingredients of a lifetime
mix and mingle to produce unanticipated flavors, and just in the
right circunstance a single residue bubbles up into a well-formed
insight about life, an idea/knowledge. None of this is data
processing. It%u2019s the give and take of dialogue between two
minds, each drawing upon its own experience.

Weblog: http://maverickmath.site90.net/blog/
Twitter: maverickmath

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
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