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Inventing the Medium

Inventing the Medium: Principles of Interaction Design as a Cultural Practice

Janet H. Murray
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 504
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  • Book Info
    Inventing the Medium
    Book Description:

    Digital artifacts from iPads to databases pervade our lives, and the design decisions that shape them affect how we think, act, communicate, and understand the world. But the pace of change has been so rapid that technical innovation is outstripping design. Interactors are often mystified and frustrated by their enticing but confusing new devices; meanwhile, product design teams struggle to articulate shared and enduring design goals. With Inventing the Medium, Janet Murray provides a unified vocabulary and a common methodology for the design of digital objects and environments. It will be an essential guide for both students and practitioners in this evolving field. Murray explains that innovative interaction designers should think of all objects made with bits--whether games or Web pages, robots or the latest killer apps--as belonging to a single new medium: the digital medium. Designers can speed the process of useful and lasting innovation by focusing on the collective cultural task of inventing this new medium. Exploring strategies for maximizing the expressive power of digital artifacts, Murray identifies and examines four representational affordances of digital environments that provide the core palette for designers across applications: computational procedures, user participation, navigable space, and encyclopedic capacity. Each chapter includes a set of Design Explorations--creative exercises for students and thought experiments for practitioners--that allow readers to apply the ideas in the chapter to particular design problems. Inventing the Medium also provides more than 200 illustrations of specific design strategies drawn from multiple genres and platforms and a glossary of design concepts.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-29830-8
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction: A Cultural Approach to Interaction Design
    (pp. 1-22)

    This book is meant for anyone whose work involves shaping new digital artifacts and the systems of behavior in which they are embedded, not just for those with designer in their job title. It aims to complement expertise in related fields such as graphic design, industrial psychology, or programming by providing lead designers and other team members with a set of common principles and a common design vocabulary to aid in the collective design process. Unlike other useful books in HCI (human–computer interaction) or interaction design, this book is written from a humanistic rather than a social science or...


    • [I Introduction]
      (pp. 23-24)

      Media expand the scope of our shared attention, making the design of media a crucial building block of human culture.

      All things made with electronic bits and computer code belong to a single new medium, the digital medium, with its own unique affordances.

      Designing any single artifact within this new medium is part of the broader collective effort of inventing and refining the shared conventions that allow us to understand new kinds of media objects.

      Good design is aimed simultaneously at perfecting the object and at improving the overall practice of the field.

      It is the designer’s task to foster...

    • 1 Design in an Evolving Medium
      (pp. 25-50)

      To design is to shape a specific artifact or process by choosing among alternate strategies in order to achieve explicit goals. Design is always concerned with discretionary choices that take into account the benefits and liabilities of alternate strategies. A designer must be able to envision multiple approaches to the same design problem, including novel approaches that exploit the affordances of new materials.

      Design can be directed at objects meant to last for a season or a century, for pleasure or utility, for comfort or style. But design is always theconscious creation of a particular artifact within a longer...

    • 2 Affordances of the Digital Medium
      (pp. 51-86)

      All digital artifacts are made of a common substance: programmable bits that can be used for symbol manipulation. As a result, we can think of digital artifacts as part of a common medium, rather than as a diffuse collection of multiple “New Media.” Looking at the computer as a single new medium of representation, we can see its defining representational affordances: The computer is encyclopedic, spatial, procedural, and participatory (Murray 1997). These four properties constitute our design space, the context for all of our design choices. Individual projects will be located at various points in that design space, exploiting one...

    • 3 Maximizing the Four Affordances
      (pp. 87-104)

      The digital designer has two responsibilities: to create the artifact that best serves the needs of the people who will interact with it, and to advance the digital medium as a whole.One way to think about advancing the medium is to aim at maximizing all of its affordances. As we have seen, anything made of computer code has the potential for encyclopedic capacity, for modeling navigable spaces, for describing and performing conditional behaviors, and for supporting participation by interactors. By exploiting these properties we increase the expressive power of the particular artifact, and we advance our ability to create...


    • 4 Computational Strategies of Representation
      (pp. 107-136)

      Designers need to understand the ways in which meaning is inscribed and encoded on electronic circuits, and the conceptual strategies by which software engineers represent the world. Computational concepts shape the fundamental structures of the digital medium, and no member of a design team can understand the plasticity of the medium without a conceptual understanding of computation, starting with the fact that the entire system is based on a very simple mechanism: an electrical switch that can be in either the on or off position. The interior of a computer can be thought of as composed of millions of such...

    • 5 Building Procedural Complexity
      (pp. 137-158)

      One of the most important advances in computer science in the past thirty years was the movement toward object-oriented programming. While older programming languages separated data structures from procedures and emphasized central control programs with dependent subroutines, object-oriented systems provide a more integrated and decentralized model that allows designers to specify objects and behaviors at multiple levels of abstraction.

      In an object-oriented environment, the programmer creates objects with attributes and behaviors (often called methods). For example, in an object-oriented role-playing game system, a warrior object might have fighting methods and a magician object might have spell-casting methods. This kind of...


    • [III Introduction]
      (pp. 159-160)

      Every digital project involves spatializing in some form, including maps, information spaces, locations in the real world, virtual places. In all of these environments, designers should focus on providing agency in navigation by clearly indicating the current location of the interactor, the relationship among the elements that are within the digital site, and the extent and location of boundaries.

      Designers should consider a broad range of spatial conventions including those relating to containers such as lists, tables, and virtual file folders, and landscapes composed of continuously navigable space and discreet, recognizable places. Designers should draw on the existing possibilities of...

    • 6 Defining and Navigating Spaces and Places
      (pp. 161-190)

      Media of representation focus our attention with fixed formats and genres, made up of culturally established conventions that allow us to take in new information by expressing it in familiar patterns. New media use old conventions in new ways and they also create new conventions, allowing them to support new cognitive patterns. This chapter provides an introduction to the spatial conventions that are of particular relevance to the design of digital artifacts.

      Spatial organization has been exploited from time immemorial for the creation of media genres that focus our attention and extend our memory. Tally sticks, which represent events or...

    • 7 The Library Model for Collocating Information
      (pp. 191-220)

      Many of our knowledge organization structures are rooted in the creation of the library as a physical repository for written documents. The organizing principle of the library is collocation—placing like things together—in ever-finer categories of resemblance. This chapter examines the labeling and classifying conventions that have supported the physical collocation of handwritten manuscripts and printed books, and the ways in which these conventions and practices are changing as we redefine collocation of information for the digital age.

      Human culture has been preserving and collecting information records for at least five thousand years. An Egyptian tomb of the third...


    • 8 The Database Model: Strategies for Segmentation and Juxtaposition of Information
      (pp. 223-252)

      Finding information is not just a matter of appropriate and unambiguous labeling: it is also important to attach labels at the appropriate level of granularity. It is not helpful if a 1,000-page history of World War II is labeled as containing information about Franklin D. Roosevelt unless there is an index to indicate on what pages he is mentioned. In a conventional library, the cataloger is only concerned with book-sized items, and leaves the creation of the index, if any, to the publisher of each individual book. In an open networked resource like the World Wide Web, the indexing and...

    • 9 The Structured Document Model: Using Standardized Metadata to Share Knowledge
      (pp. 253-288)

      Whatever digital artifact we are designing—whether it is a marketing and retail space for a toy seller or a repository for data about stars at the farthest reaches of the cosmos—we can approach the task as an opportunity to advance the encyclopedic potential of the medium. The aggregation of media archives in digital form offers a historic challenge to the designer to turn an exponential increase in our inscription and transmission capacity into a comparable increase in human knowledge by inventing and refining more powerful conventions of information organization.

      Databases are now a crucial part of web design....


    • 10 The Tool Model: Augmenting the Expressive Power of the Hand
      (pp. 291-320)

      Interactivity refers to the maximizing of two affordances of the digital medium, the procedural and the participatory, in the satisfying experience of agency. Previous parts of this book have surveyed ways toscript the computerin order to represent processes, spaces, and semantically structured information. Part V focuses on ways toscript the interactor, by identifying four key models that shape human expectations of digital artifacts: the tool, the machine, the companion, and the game. For each of these models we will examine established and emerging design conventions that exploit the affordances of digital media to expand our cultural repertoire...

    • 11 The Machine Model: Visibility and Control as Design Goals
      (pp. 321-344)

      A tool is a simple device, customized to a single purpose, operating under our control and responsive to our direction, whose effects are immediately visible to us. A machine is a complex device, designed to perform scripted actions in exactly the same way. Machines are independent of our control once set in motion, although some machines—like vacuum cleaners, automobiles, or nuclear power plants—require alert and skilled operation by human beings to monitor and direct their complex actions. Digital artifacts are like other physical machines in that they perform scripted sequences of actions, but as highly interactive devices they...

    • 12 The Companion Model: Helpful Accompaniment as a Design Goal
      (pp. 345-378)

      As we have seen, our “intuitive” responses to the computer often derive from learned responses and media conventions that have become transparent to us through habituation. But some of our most powerful unconscious scripts derive not from cultural habituation but from our biology. Although we are usually not aware of it, research has shown that we treat computers as if they were alive (Reeves and Nass 1996). Social scientists explain this phenomenon by pointing out that the human brain evolved long before there were mechanized entities capable of interaction and seems to be hardwired to attribute consciousness to trees, rivers,...

    • 13 The Game Model: Scripting Interaction as Structured Play
      (pp. 379-408)

      Games are a fundamental human mode of engaging with the world and one another, and one of the most active genres of digital artifacts. In this chapter we are concerned not with the design of digital games, but with the ways in which the structured play we all enjoy in games can provide a useful model for interaction design in general.

      Games are a more organized form of the more general experience of play, which is a highly adaptive mode of behavior, common to many living creatures, in which activities are pursued for their own sake without regard for the...

  10. Glossary
    (pp. 409-444)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 445-454)
  12. Image Credits
    (pp. 455-466)
  13. Index
    (pp. 467-484)