Q & A About Expression Assignment

People have asked me some questions about the expression assignment, and I thought I would collect and answer them here. This is important, because if you don’t understand what these key concepts mean, you can’t do the assignment correctly.

Make sure you have a clear idea of what is “an expression” and “an experience” before you attempt this assignment!

Q. Is “the written word” or “film” an expression?

A. Nope. That’s a type of expression. An expression is always concrete, like this particular film, or even this scene from this particular film; or this poem, or even this stanza from this poem; or this story that my mother used to tell; or the jingo from this commercial. In class, we looked at a 5-minute segment of the film, Spirited Away. That film segment was an expression; some of the “an experiences” it seemed to draw upon related to our everyday experiences of adolescence, nightmares, and myth.

Q. Can the sunset over the Florida keys be an expression?

A. Nope. That’s a natural, external, objective phenomenon. Expressions are human-made meaningful artifacts, which usually point back (in one way or another) to “an experience.” The sunset isn’t human-made, and it doesn’t derive from “an experience.” However, a sunset can factor into “an experience” as in the following story: “the first time my lover and I kissed, we were on a beach, and the sun was going down….” And when you tell that story of your first kiss, that story is an expression.

Q. Could a photo album of a vacation be an expression?

A. Yes. One could consider each individual photo an expression, every single caption, or even the whole. Again, think about what “an expression” is: a human-made meaningful artifact, usually pointing back to one or more “an experiences.” A photo album of a vacation would qualify. I suppose an album of completely random images from Flickr would be harder to call an expression, but even that would, I suppose, be an expression.

Q. Does the design need to be literally, explicitly, and obviously derived from the expression?

A. Nope. The goal of this mini analysis derived from the concepts of an experience and expression is that your source of inspiration for this design should come from actual lived or “felt” human experience, rather than a “needs assessment” or tweaking/improving some other interface you’ve seen elsewhere. The keys here are “felt experience” and “inspiration.” So I want to see that you think creatively and originally about an expression, and in particular how it relates to human experiences, and that you project that forward into a design concept.

Q. Do we need to include the expression in the deliverable?

A. Nope. But if you do decide to include the expression in the deliverable, please consider writing about the new Director’s Cut edition of the Bladerunner Blu-Ray. (That was a joke.) Seriously, you do not need to include the expression itself, but you will need to help me understand the expression, so you will want to explain it in your paper. And if you want to include the expression, you are welcome to do so (I’m also looking for a copy of The Barber of Seville on CD).

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About jeffreybardzell

Jeffrey Bardzell is an Associate Professor of HCI/Design in the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University - Bloomington. His research foci include critical design, interaction criticism, research through design, and digital creativity, which he approaches from a perspective that reflects his background in the humanities.
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14 Responses to Q & A About Expression Assignment

  1. Ankit says:

    I was wondering about the 3rd part of the assignment. I am not able to find a connection between the expression and the design .. for example “the first time my lover and I kissed, we were on a beach, and the sun was going down….” , Now what design can one make out of this expression ? Any examples for a design inspired by an expression will help me. Jeff stop facebooking and give me an example 😛

  2. anandkshitiz says:

    Thanks for the q/a Jeff!
    This definitely helps!

  3. @Ankit
    You are supposed to be proposing a new design, which is inspired by the expression and the “an experiences” it implies or represents. So, in the example I made up about the kiss on the beach, you would be using that as an inspiration to come up with a design concept. But, really, don’t take that example too seriously, because it is a total cliche and lacks any meaningful punch for any of us.

    As a tip, I would suggest finding an expression that has some special or powerful meaning to you. Reflect on why it has that power or meaning for you, and then start to think about ways that that meaning or experience could inspire a design.

  4. seanconnolly says:

    Okay…

    Do we design an artifact? I believe this is true, but, I am uncertain when I read the assignment. The assignment says “design an experience.” It later says “this experience design should draw on your past expressions.”

    So…

    1a) Do I design an artifact that helps elicit the sense-memory of the expression?
    1b) Meaning, if my expression was a photo album of a jungle tour, could the artifact be something that streamed live jungle sounds from the Amazon (complete with humidifying smoke machine)?

    or

    2a) Do I design an artifact that leverages my understanding of the expression, so that I can impact the experience the next time I experience it?
    2b) Meaning, if my expression was a the same as above, could I design a microphone and video camera [pretend they don’t yet exist] so that I could record visually and audially my experience better next time?

    or

    am I totally out in left field?

  5. anandkshitiz says:

    That is a question that i had too. Designing an experience, or designing an artifact or
    designing the artifact that provides the experience.
    From what i gather, in our paper we should be able to convey why the experience would be the way it will be. This is I think through as visuals and a design explanation.

    It is the part 3 of the assignment that is indeed confusing.
    I think the reference needs to be made to something that we have seen/felt/expereinced, and using the principles of experiences to come up with a new design that would be creating a novel experience.

    BTW, I actually was thinking of doing that Sean! No Kidding! (ref. to 1b)

  6. seanconnolly says:

    i think we both secretly wanted to do the birdsong project for eli’s class : )

  7. seanconnolly says:

    I don’t know what your product looks like A.K., but i like the sound of it. I can kind of feel it.

    very innovative Ankit!

  8. ankitkhare says:

    I kinda designed an interface based on a picture that i took some time back.
    The picture has a halo effect and inspires me a lot, it brings the notion of wisdom to me. This interface is more of a tweak and can be used in computers, cell phones … especially in the help section. I am not sure if this is right, but that was the approach that i gave
    to the assignment.

  9. Wodom says:

    @Sean:
    “Do we design an artifact?”
    You are required to design an experience (this you know). Proposing an artifact design could be a useful approach to designing an experience. At the same time, I’m not sure how you’re defining artifact—and I could be wrong—but, it sounds like you’re describing a tangible object. This is fine, but it doesn’t specifically have to be an object (e.g. could be an interactive system, environment, etc..).

    “1a) Do I design an artifact that helps elicit the sense-memory of the expression?
    1b) Meaning, if my expression was a photo album of a jungle tour, could the artifact be something that streamed live jungle sounds from the Amazon (complete with humidifying smoke machine)?”

    I don’t think there’s an unequivocal answer to this and in some ways in may depend on how you present your expression and critically reflect on your experience of it. Remember, we have discussed in class the notion of ‘an experience’ as not being strictly tied to the brain, but rather a complex intertwining of the mind & body. That said, the design doesn’t have to represent an attempt to fully replicate your experience of the expression. In fact, that’s far from the point it of the assignment. As Jeff noted in an earlier comment, you may want to consider (i) really focusing on finding an expression that is quite special and meaningful to you (and identifying why it is an expression), (ii) critically reflecting on your experience of the expression and concisely presenting this interpretation (hint: course reading up to this point could be quite helpful in doing this), (iii) discussing the relevance of these critical insights within the context of interaction design, and (iv) using this discussion as rationale/inspiration for [experience] design that you propose (and it would be great if you had sketches to complement this section). If your proposed design (e.g. streamed live jungle sounds..) addresses all of this criteria, I suppose it would be fine.

    “2a) Do I design an artifact that leverages my understanding of the expression, so that I can impact the experience the next time I experience it?”
    Leveraging your critical understanding of the expression and incorporating this knowledge into the development of your design = great. I would stay away from focusing on impacting the experience the next time YOU experience it, because the design portion should be situated within an interaction design setting and, assuming your user group or target population isn’t yourself, it would be beneficial to consider the design within a bit broader context. Also, I would suggest presenting this entire assignment as a process—logically linking (i) + (ii) + (iii) + (iv) in a thoughtful, concise manner (but remember these categories aren’t super rigid, just suggestions).

    @ Kshitiz
    I think my response to Sean’s question covers yours, however if it doesn’t post up again or shoot me an email 

    @Ankit
    It’s tough for me to directly respond to this without a bit more context. Nonetheless, I’m a bit concerned by the statement:
    “I kinda designed an interface based on a picture that i took some time back. The picture has a halo effect and inspires me a lot.”
    The foundation of this assignment is clearly identifying an expression (as defined by Dilthey), articulating why it is an expression, and then critically interpreting your own experience of this expression. While again there wasn’t much context in your post (and you may be fine), really make sure you’ve identified a concrete expression and can logically tie your resulting critical analysis, interpretation, and proposed design together. If you’re point of departure is off target (i.e. expression), then your argument and eventual design could fall off trajectory. I hope that helps.

  10. ankitkhare says:

    Thanks Will, that sure helped. Just a follow up question. This design that one is creating is going to be specific to one’s expression. It might not make sense to the others as they might not interpret the expression (atleast not immediately) .. is that ok ? Is scalability a factor ?

  11. seanconnolly says:

    Ohhh, okay. So if “design an experience” could be design an environment or interactive system or artifact (etc), then it makes sense to me. I was thinking that designing an environment might be totally off the wall.

    Cool.

    And, thanks.

  12. Wodom says:

    @Ankit
    I’m slightly confused by your question–apologies if my response is a little off target 🙂

    I think it depends on how you define “specific.” The design you are proposing is based off insights you derived FROM your critical interpretation OF your experience OF the expression. So, from this perspective, no one is likely to have the same meaning-making or “sense” making process as you. But, in the case of this assignment, it’s not all that relevant (which I also noted in my response to Sean).

    “It might not make sense to the others as they might not interpret the expression (atleast not immediately) ..”

    True. My questions are, do you think that matters? And, is a part of your design directly presenting them the expression that you analyzed? If your answer to the latter question is yes, then I would suggest rethinking the design based on the guidelines I outlined in my previous response to Sean.

    Finally, have your design grounded in reality, but don’t let scalability be a major limiting factor.

  13. JennnyBrown says:

    Is part 1 of the assignment to be taken literally? “Please identify an observable expression that you see somewhere around you”. Do “observable” and “see” mean that the expression is something that must be seen with the eyes? Or, would something like a song be an acceptable expression? Hearing seems like a form of observation to me 😉

  14. A song is a legitimate expression. Again, check the reading/lecture notes for definition of expression–it is very expansive! “See” is a metaphor here.

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