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Molly Steenson // In Defense of Architecting // UX Week 17


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What is it with the word "architecting?" Ask architects what they do, and they will say that they design. Ask UX designers about the work of designing a system, and they often call it "architecting." It's a word that makes architects cringe, but that UX designers embrace: architecting is the practice of making complex things simpler and more straightforward. In this talk, I will trace the tensions around architecting through the work of architects like Christopher Alexander, Richard Saul Wurman, and Nicholas Negroponte, and the ways that their collaborations with cybernetics, cognitive science and artificial intelligence brought systems architecture to bear in ways that seem very familiar today.

In the word "architecting," I'll trace the deep history of UX design, one that unites architects and artificial intelligence, and that goes back some 50 years.

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Molly Steenson // In Defense of Architecting // UX Week 17

  1. 1. in defense of architecting molly wright steenson associate professor, carnegie mellon university | @maximolly |
  2. 2. October 27 on MIT Press
  3. 3. architecting
  4. 4. is architecting a word?
  5. 5. “The Board has received information that you may be offering architectural services. Specifically, the Board received a copy of your article title “THE ARCHITECT” featured in New Media Magazine. In addition, your email address was identified as”
  6. 6. “…it is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment for any person who is not a California licensed architect to put out any card, sign, or other device which might indicate to the public that he or she is an architect or is qualified to engage in the practice of architecture.”
  7. 7. there’s a lot at stake in architecture
  8. 8. is “architecting” a word?
  9. 9. (yes.)
  10. 10. but that’s not the interesting part.
  11. 11. It is necessary to conceive (of architecture) in order to perform it … it is this production of the mind, it is this creation that constitutes architecture that is of consequence to us: the definition of the art of production and bringing to perfection of any building.” —Étienne-Louis Boullée, Essai sûr l’architecture, 1778-88
  12. 12. ibm stretch 7030
  13. 13. ibm stretch 7030“Computer architecture, like other architecture, is the art of determining the needs of the user of a structure and then designing to meet those needs as effectively as possible within economic and technological constraints.” —Frederick Brooks, 1962
  14. 14. Douglas Engelbart
  15. 15. “Let us consider an augmented architect at work. He sits at a working station that has a visual display screen some three feet on a side; this is his working surface, and is controlled by a computer (his “clerk”) with which he can communicate by means of a small keyboard and various other devices.” —Douglas Engelbart, Augmenting Human Intellect, 1962
  16. 16. building worlds
  17. 17. architecture is about building worlds
  18. 18. Douglas Engelbart, The Mother of All Demos (oN-Line System, NLS), 1968
  19. 19. the architecture of information
  20. 20. “To find the best means to bring greater order and discipline to information.... Thus our fundamental thrust, our common denominator, has evolved toward establishing leadership in what we call ‘the architecture of information.’” —Peter McColough, President, Xerox, 1970
  21. 21. “What we seek is to think of information itself as a natural and undeveloped environment which can be enclosed and made more habitable for the people who live and work within it.” —Peter McColough, President, Xerox, 1970
  22. 22. Richard Saul Wurman
  23. 23. joseph passonneau & richard saul wurman urban atlas: 20 american cities, 1966
  24. 24. 1971 1989 1996
  25. 25. “And yet, through this field of black volcanic ash has come a group of people, small in number, deep in passion, called Information Architects, who have begun to ply their trade, make themselves visible, and develop a body of work on paper, in electronic interfaces, and in some extraordinary exhibitions. These people will be the wave of the future.”
  26. 26. Christopher Alexander
  27. 27. 19771964
  28. 28. an operating system for architecture
  29. 29. 1977 1979
  30. 30. a network 253 patterns from large to small scale a philosophy of patterns
  31. 31. “Each pattern describes a problem which occurs over and over again in our environment, and then describes the core of the solution to that problem, in such a way that you can use this solution a million times over, without ever doing it the same way twice.” —Alexander, Ishikawa & Murray, A Pattern Language
  32. 32. a pattern language
  33. 33. The Timeless Way of Building
  34. 34. kent beck & ward cunningham Kent Beck & Ward Cunningham
  35. 35. “It’s a rearrangement of the political power in the design and building process.” —Kent Beck
  36. 36. “You almost can’t name a facet of the world which is not already, to some very strong degree, under the influence of the programs that are being written to manage and control those entities or those operations.” —Christopher Alexander, 1996
  37. 37. christopher alexander defined how programmers and digital designers talk about architecture
  38. 38. “To design a building well, the student needs to understand the activities people intend to perform in it and the problems they are likely to encounter.” —Terry Winograd, “What Can We Teach about Human-Computer Interaction,” CHI’90
  39. 39. “Software is not just a device with which the user interacts; it is also the generator of a space in which the user lives. Software design is like architecture: When an architect designs a home or an office building, a structure is being specified.”
  40. 40. “More significantly, though, the patterns of life for its inhabitants are being shaped. People are thought of as inhabitants rather than as users of buildings.”
  41. 41. inhabiting the space of software
  42. 42. christopher alexander influenced…
  43. 43. object-oriented programming the wiki agile & extreme programming human-computer interaction software, interaction & UX design information architecture
  44. 44. information architecture
  45. 45. “Why so much talk about the impressions that physical structures make on us? Because they are familiar to us in ways that web sites are not.” —Lou Rosenfeld & Peter Morville, 1996
  46. 46. “Like web sites, buildings have architectures that cause us to react. Buildings and their architectures therefore provide us with great opportunities to make analogies about websites and their architectures.” —Lou Rosenfeld & Peter Morville, 1996
  47. 47. “Along with architecting information everyday, you are also the users of information that is architected by other people everyday.” —Abby Covert, World IA Day Keynote, 2016
  48. 48. same same but different?
  49. 49. architecting
  50. 50. (is a word)
  51. 51. an important word
  52. 52. differentiation
  53. 53. expertise
  54. 54. complexity
  55. 55. X
  56. 56. the verb of architecture
  57. 57. Thank you! October 27 on MIT Press @maximolly