Frames: Notes on Improvisation and Design

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Social spaces, private spaces, unfamiliar spaces—no matter where, people can detect even subtle frameworks and etiquettes. As our relationship to products, services, and to one another has been …

Social spaces, private spaces, unfamiliar spaces—no matter where, people can detect even subtle frameworks and etiquettes. As our relationship to products, services, and to one another has been transformed over the past few years, entirely new frameworks have emerged.

These conditions signal a shift. People are being asked to improvise, to frame their own experiences. The designer merely sets out opportunities for people to use—to perceive connections and take advantage (or not) of a framework. But how do people know how to improvise?

Drawing on improvised models from urban planning to jazz, we investigate improvisation at work and illustrate directions interactions designers might take in understanding how frameworks take hold.

http://interaction.ixda.org/program/sessions/interaction-and-improv/

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  • I’m going to take you back to an early instance of improvisation. The game of Telephone. Remember children sitting in a circle. The goal was to preserve the original meaning of a word. New meaning is created when creator and consumer intersect; the word that's revealed is different from the original. This, as we’ve all experienced, is what makes the game meaningful.

    There is a tension — a good healthy creative tension — between creator and consumer — and that’s where new meaning is created. The creator lets go of original meaning and opens up to new possibilities.

    Whether implicitly or explicitly, designers create a language that people use to improvise and continue the story.

    We’re constantly in a process of re-interpreting, re-analyzing, adding, based on current needs of shared scenarios. And it is these shared exchanges that make new meaning, create new value
  • Sometimes signs are explicit,
  • Sometimes they’re contradictory,
  • Sometimes we have to make our own meaning (when signs are mysterious),
  • And when things are unclear, we have to take action.
  • But we manage communication once we are together. We, together, are interpreting the framework that designers envisioned, and improve our own story. The question is - how can we create meaning?
  • And where is the balance?
  • And most of all, what if we shifted our thinking to considering that we should allow improvisation in how we design?
  • What we’re doing in fact is creating frames for improvisation.
  • “Unstated rules implicitly set by the character of some entity where the interaction occurs.”(paraphrased from Erving Goffman, socialogist and writer) Goffman intended this definition to be from the character’s perspective, but we’re going to consider it to extend to the designer or creator’s perspective as well.
  • “Creating in the moment in response to environment; results in invention of new patterns, practices, structures, behaviors.” My own definition.
  • Together the area between creator and consumer is where that improv occurs. And with the emergence of a whole new set of tools and resources in the hands of consumers, we have a lot to talk about (and learn from) about how they are improvising and what we can do to design for them.
  • Jazz and the design process share a similar approach. If you look at history, jazz and design are saying the same thing.
  • In a converted church on 30th Street in Manhattan, seven musicians gathered on a spring day in 1959. Never before had they come together under these circumstances; in fact, some had never even met. When they arrived, each received a slip of paper with some rough markings on it. Miles Davis had just handed each of them the makings of history.
  • With this gesture, these slips of paper (which Davis had conceived of just hours before the recording), he allowed a new generation of musicians to collaborate as never before. The result of this single-day collaboration we’re still listening to (and purchasing) today. In fact, the album recorded that day went on to become the most successful jazz album in music history—Kind of Blue. And what’s most remarkable: Davis introduced a new system for creating the music that day—a loose structure these seasoned jazz musicians had never seen before. He did it by introducing a new form of improvisation.
  • The Kind of Blue album marked the emergence of something called “modal music,” a departure from the complex nature of the Bebop era that characterized the preceding years. While many of us tend to think of jazz as generally improvisational, in fact, the Bebop era—characterized by well-known pieces such as Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”—was more complex, disallowing significant improvisation for those without advanced training or divergence from the original composition. With modal jazz, Davis gave musicians more latitude to collaborate in real-time, as it works from a more approachable framework built on something very simple: the scale
  • Davis wanted to capture the spirit of discovery in the music. He felt if everyone knew everything about the music, then they had gone past the spirit of discovery.
  • As a reminder:
  • It requires prior knowledge. Musicians had to not only study but had to extensively practice to achieve a certain level.

    It dictates a “right” way of playing. The composer decided how a piece should be played through measure, dynamics, tempo requirements.

    It is highly structured. All the notes were accounted for, leaving little to no room for individual expression or participation.
  • It requires prior knowledge. Musicians had to not only study but had to extensively practice to achieve a certain level.

    It dictates a “right” way of playing. The composer decided how a piece should be played through measure, dynamics, tempo requirements.

    It is highly structured. All the notes were accounted for, leaving little to no room for individual expression or participation.
  • And:
  • Instead of having all of these sophisticated chord changes or harmonies, let’s use a mode, or a scale. It gives you a chance to expand, move away from being locked into chord progression. He was trying to make it clearer, breaking it down to one tonality.
  • “You will hear something close to pure spontaneity in these performances.” - Bill Evans
  • Reminiscent of the patterns between orality and literacy prior to the advent of writing.
  • Like the patterns in the oral culture revealed by Parry and Lord in the early 1930s in the former Yugoslavia with the oral poets. This is how they told stories, characterized by “Composition in performance.”
  • What do you think of when you think of improv?
  • Improvisation can be intimidating. It often brings up the notion of a stage, a single stool, and a discerning audience. Talent reserved only for the funny, improv is relegated as something to be watched rather than something to be participated in. Whether you have a fear of public speaking or rigorous background in classical music training, improv, has a sort of free for all-sense to it. But in fact, it’s highly structured.
  • “Do off the top of one’s head” “throw together,” “speak off the cuff,” “whip up,” “doing it without a net,” “winging it,” “flying by the seat of one’s pants.” Air?
  • Whether we’re thinking about jazz music or design:
    1.Present: Improv involve and allows an interactive relationship with the audience. Interpretation and creation happens in the present.
    2.Detectable: No pre-determined knowledge. Unscripted nature implies no predetermined knowledge about the props in a scene.
    3.Responsive: The improvisers must work together responsively to define parameters in a process of co-creation. With each spoken word or action, an improviser makes an offer, meaning that he or she defines some element of the reality of the scene.
    4.Additive: Accepting every offer and building on new ones. System exists because it can be added to.
  • Whether we’re thinking about jazz music or design:
    1.Present: Improv involve and allows an interactive relationship with the audience. Interpretation and creation happens in the present.
    2.Detectable: No pre-determined knowledge. Unscripted nature implies no predetermined knowledge about the props in a scene.
    3.Responsive: The improvisers must work together responsively to define parameters in a process of co-creation. With each spoken word or action, an improviser makes an offer, meaning that he or she defines some element of the reality of the scene.
    4.Additive: Accepting every offer and building on new ones. System exists because it can be added to.
  • Whether we’re thinking about jazz music or design:
    1.Present: Improv involve and allows an interactive relationship with the audience. Interpretation and creation happens in the present.
    2.Detectable: No pre-determined knowledge. Unscripted nature implies no predetermined knowledge about the props in a scene.
    3.Responsive: The improvisers must work together responsively to define parameters in a process of co-creation. With each spoken word or action, an improviser makes an offer, meaning that he or she defines some element of the reality of the scene.
    4.Additive: Accepting every offer and building on new ones. System exists because it can be added to.
  • Whether we’re thinking about jazz music or design:
    1.Present: Improv involve and allows an interactive relationship with the audience. Interpretation and creation happens in the present.
    2.Detectable: No pre-determined knowledge. Unscripted nature implies no predetermined knowledge about the props in a scene.
    3.Responsive: The improvisers must work together responsively to define parameters in a process of co-creation. With each spoken word or action, an improviser makes an offer, meaning that he or she defines some element of the reality of the scene.
    4.Additive: Accepting every offer and building on new ones. System exists because it can be added to.
  • We’re going to do a “Yes, And...” exercise where three people respond to images on the screen with one sentence each. Each person will continue the story using Yes And.
  • Here’s What Happened
    •Part of your brain that’s responsible for monitoring one’s performance, shuts down completely.
    •Part of your brain that helps you problem-solve, and is involved with self-initiated thoughts and behaviors, AND is active when a person makes up a story or describes an event.
    •Over-thinking a jump shot can cause a basketball player to fall out of the zone
    •And shutting down this part of the brain helps to promote the free flow of new ideas
    •This resembles the pattern seen in people when they are dreaming
  • Traditionally audience = consumers. Trained to design for consumptive behaviors. We design artifacts. Messages. Objects. We design these so that people can consume them. Measurable. But with an emergence of new frameworks that support the creation, we need to approach our process and consumer’s behaviors differently.

    In recent years with the emergence of these tools that allow for consumers to take part, to create alongside of designers, we’ve talked about whether we’re losing control as designers. We’ve talked about the fact that if everyone is creative, then what role does the designer play?
  • All the focus has been on the design process.
  • Not on how design evolves with use. These approaches have not given enough emphasis and they have provided few mechanisms to support systems as living entities that can evolve over time.
  • This is not unlike the tension between print versus the web.
  • Or how we communicated prior to the advent of writing. Because each story was created on demand, they were often designed for their audience at that very moment. The moment the reciter says the story out loud, it was a combination of composing, reciting, and performing.
  • Co-creation and the new landscapes of design
    Elizabeth B.-N. Sanders (*) & Pieter Jan Stappers
  • •More and more, we design the framework, and leave the experience up the audience to round out.
    •We’ve moved from isolated creators to collaborators. And this requires a couple of things.
    •Designers must bring own experiences, prior knowledge, values, to the process working closely with clients but understanding intimately the clients’ POV.
    •And there has to be extreme sensitively to leaving space for users to tell their stories. How do you leave room for both sets of values in design? Where is the line between where you stop and let them begin?
    •How much should we allow them to improvise?
  • As we’re now learning to walk this consumer/creator divide, what are our new responsibilities as designers? When we create a situation for people to improvise, we give them a frame or a set of constraints. How tight should those constraints be? How much freedom should a person have?
  • A reminder.
  • Let’s look at a frame or a constraint we’re all familiar with – Choose your own adventure books. They introduced uncertainty, or the first time a book became more than one-sided.
  • Motoko Ito – Motoya Espress Express
    Talking to strangers and Drinking coffee
    Conversation accessorizing his coffee – choosing location based on conversation, invents location
  • http://www.greenpix.org/download.php?mode=0
  • In 2002, 7 people took off their pants and went to work. In 2010, 5,000 people in 44 cities did. There is a trend toward improvisation. People are, in a very visible way, becoming more comfortable as consumers improvising.

    But I think the opportunity for designers is more than that.

    These co-creation processes are creating controlled yet interesting models of content that fall within the creators’ vision.
  • We understand that new roles are at play between creator and consumer, and that consumers are improvising the space between. We know the four attributes - present, detectable, responsive, and additive. What can we do?
  • “Music is the pleasurable overflow of information,” according to Jonah Lehrer. It lets us extract information from the haphazard notes and make sense of them. Our brain wants to order them.

    It is this search for a pattern, according to Lehrer, that is the source of music.

    When we listen to a symphony, we hear sound in motion, there is a continuity there. But of course each note is individual. Sounds continuous because brain finds a pattern and listening to notes “in terms of expectations.” We make up patterns to keep up.

    Music reflects our inherent need for pattern making.
    Music frames a song.
    Music gives us context.
    Context gives us meaning.
    We make that meaning.
  • We turn scraps of sound into a symphony. Just like Miles Davis and the group turned scraps of paper into the best-selling record of all time..
  • Just like we synthesize scraps of information into design. That is our ability. To frame experiences; to extract information; to make haphazard notes and make sense of them; to imagine the future while the present is in motion.
  • Whether explicitly or implicitly, as designers we write the notes will allow users to improvise  — be it a gesture, an interface, a symphony, or something grander.

Transcript

  • 1. INTERACTION 10 FEBRUARY 5 2010 FRAMES: NOTES ON IMPROVISATION AND DESIGN LIZ DANZICO MFA INTERACTION DESIGN / SCHOOL OF VISUAL ARTS
  • 2. How can we create meaning?
  • 3. Where is the balance?
  • 4. What if we allow improvisation?
  • 5. We create FRAMES that allow people to IMPROVISE.
  • 6. DEFINITION FRAME Unstated rules implicitly set by the character of some entity where the interaction occurs
  • 7. DEFINITION IMPROVISE Creating in the moment in response to environment; results in invention of new patterns, practices, structures, behaviors
  • 8. IMPROVISATION CREATOR CONSUMER
  • 9. TODAY History Relevance Improv in practice Meaning for design Future contributions
  • 10. 01 Some history, borrowed
  • 11. 1970s
  • 12. NYC 1959
  • 13. JOHN COLTRANE, MILES DAVIS, 1959
  • 14. MILES DAVIS, 1959
  • 15. MILES DAVIS, 1959
  • 16. Classical notation:
  • 17. Jazz notation:
  • 18. GIANT STEPS Courtesy Dan Cohen
  • 19. Modal jazz:
  • 20. 4 g4 qq qq qqqq
  • 21. MUSIC FRAMES Classical Leaves no room for participation Requires prior knowledge Judged on “right way” Evaluated as fixed in time Viewed as sets of “original works” Stability
  • 22. MUSIC FRAMES Classical Jazz Leaves no room for participation Based on participatory methods Requires prior knowledge Requires little prior knowledge Judged on “right way” Judged on deviation from original Evaluated as fixed in time Evaluated as interactive Viewed as sets of “original works” Viewed as “interpreted works” Stability Creative instability
  • 23. DESIGN FRAMES Closed Required specialized knowledge Judged on “right way” Left no room for participation Evaluated as fixed in time Viewed as original work
  • 24. DESIGN FRAMES Closed Emergent Required specialized knowledge Requires no specialized knowledge Judged on “right way” Judged on deviation from original Left no room for participation Based on participatory methods Evaluated as fixed in time Evaluated as interactive Viewed as original work Viewed as mediated content
  • 25. SHIFTS Closed Emergent Artifacts Behaviors Predetermined Present
  • 26. ORAL TRADITION Orality + Literacy
  • 27. MILMAN PARRY
  • 28. 02 What does improv look like?
  • 29. “improvisation”
  • 30. “throw together”
  • 31. “speak off the cuff”
  • 32. “whip up”
  • 33. “off the top of my head”
  • 34. “without a net”
  • 35. “fly by the seat of my pants”
  • 36. 4 PATTERNS Attributes Present Involves the audience Detectable Requires no pre-knowledge Responsive Defines parameters Additive Accepts all offers
  • 37. 3 people 1 sentence “Yes, and...”
  • 38. “OVERTHINKING”
  • 39. 03 Why is improv relevant today?
  • 40. TRADITIONAL PRACTICE CONSUMER CREATOR
  • 41. TRADITIONAL PRACTICE CONSUMER CREATOR Design Release Use
  • 42. EVOLUTION WITH USE CO-CREATOR CREATOR Design Release Use
  • 43. PRINT VERSUS DIGITAL CONSUMER CREATOR Compose Transmit Interpret
  • 44. ORAL TRADITION ORAL POET AUDIENCE Compose Interpret Transmit
  • 45. DESIGN PRACTICES Traditional: Emerging: designing products designing for a purpose vis communication design for experiencing interior space design for emotion product design for interacting information design for sustainability architecture for serving planning for transforming SOURCE: Liz Sanders & Pieter Jan Stappers
  • 46. Designing for improvisation
  • 47. 04 What does improv suggest for design?
  • 48. 4 PATTERNS Attributes Present Involves the audience Detectable Requires no pre-knowledge Responsive Defines parameters Additive Accepts all offers
  • 49. 1 Present: Involve the audience
  • 50. STREET VENDORS
  • 51. STREET VENDORS
  • 52. 2 Responsive: Define parameters
  • 53. hello health
  • 54. 3 Detectable: No pre-knowledge
  • 55. JETBLUE STORY BOOTH
  • 56. 4 Additive: Accepting all offers
  • 57. POP-UP LUNCH
  • 58. ZERO ENERGY MEDIA WALL
  • 59. 05 What can designers contribute?
  • 60. Facilitators of improv?
  • 61. POSSIBLE FUTURES ?
  • 62. POSSIBLE FUTURES
  • 63. POSSIBLE FUTURES
  • 64. POSSIBLE FUTURES
  • 65. POSSIBLE FUTURES
  • 66. POSSIBLE FUTURES
  • 67. PHOTO CREDITS flickr.com/photos/kazzajimmy/ jazzloftproject.org/ scientificblogging.com/news_releases/ greenpix.org/ “YES, AND:” flickr.com/photos/opalsson/ flickr.com/photos/arcticpuppy/ flickr.com/photos/kaeru/3133393620/ flickr.com/photos/27052570@N03/ flickr.com/photos/21204781@N07/ flickr.com/photos/watz/ flickr.com/photos/diebmx/ flickr.com/photos/matrixsynth/ flickr.com/photos/sigma/ PAPERS: maketools.com/pdfs/CoCreation_Sanders_Stappers_08_preprint.pdf
  • 68. THANK YOU. LIZ DANZICO MFA INTERACTION DESIGN / SCHOOL OF VISUAL ARTS @bobulate