creativity and the design of tools, and more tools, and more tools…

The readings so far in this course have generated so many questions in my mind having to do with the relationship between media and tools and intelligence and creativity. For instance…

According to Buxton, “Both sketching and design emerged in the late medieval period, and this was not accident.” Did a rise in creativity follow with it? Did a rise in intelligence follow with it?

The answer is obviously yes, right? Well, I think if we look at our collective intelligence and creativity today compared to that of 100 or 1000 years go, the answer is probably yes: we create tools that allow us to create more tools, increasing our creativity and intelligence.

Now, we’ve also become “richer” according to metrics like GDP and life-expectancy. However, the distribution of wealth has remains relatively unchanged. The pie is increasing and we are all getting bigger slices, but the proportion of the slices isn’t changing much. In a similar sense, I’m curious as to the distribution of creativity and intelligence over time among individuals and groups of individuals.

Liddel talked about the three stages of technology: enthusiast, professional, and consumers. Rogers talks about the adopters of new innovations as lying along a bell curve: innovators (2.5%), early adopters (13.5%), early majority (34%), late majority (34%) and laggards (16%), based on a bell curve. Is there a higher proportion of innovators and enthusiasts today? Has there been a diffusion of creativity? Or, rather, are there more technology and innovation curves? Are more individuals or groups creating more novel and more valuable things?

As interaction designers, a more important question is how can we design better interactive products, which includes better tools (and tool-making tools, etc.) to facilitate creativity and intelligence (among other things). I love the post by Structuralist Dave (Dave Royer) about sketching. “I personally think that the right pc interface for sketching has not been invented (or is too expensive), but when this right interface does come along, people will be able to create simple ’sketches’ on a computer faster, easier, and cheaper than they can by hand.” Yes. Also, I think plurality is important; we haven’t yet designed the right pc interfaces for sketching (or whatever we will call this more powerful tool for representing and reflecting — for conversing with our ideas). I don’t think that the best interface for sketching is the same for me as it is for you. I don’t think that the best interface for sketching can be designed for you by someone else, you must design it youself to some degree.

Designing, like language, has a defining recursive aspect to it. At the microlevel, we do often design to simplify our lives, but on the macro-level, we design to make our lives more complex. We design with design and we design to design. Technology diffuses so we can start the innovation process over again, with added diversity and complexity. If we are going to talk about a language of interaction design, it should somehow contain a better way of talking about it’s recursive nature. Tools are inherently interactive. If new media and interaction design is still in its infancy, I would say that the design of appropriable tool for designing is also still in its infancy. And perhaps this important component of interaction design needs a language, too, to help us develop and understand the making of interactive tool-making tools.

[Implicit in my questions is a personal bias that the development of creativity and intelligence (which, I realized, I never attempted to make my understanding of these terms explicit in this post) are desirable and that they are linked to individual happiness and meaning. While I also suspect that this is true, it’s another claim that I’d love to hear empirical evidence or other arguments for or against it.]



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One Response to creativity and the design of tools, and more tools, and more tools…

  1. thismarty says:

    I was particularly struck by your observation that ” … if we are going to talk about a language of interaction design, it should somehow contain a better way of talking about it’s recursive nature.”

    I agree. And actually, I think a lot of designers do, since most existing Design “languages” (i.e. formalisms, curricula) pay heavy heed to the notion that design is necessarily iterative, thus recursive. And, as you so aptly observe, the case is probably even moreso with regard to the kind of creation we are engaged in, since it often consist of modifying, extending or even inventing the very tools of that creation.

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