Losing Control

Khoi Vinh made a presentation called “Control” at the AIGA Next conference here in Denver; he was kind enough to put the slides up on Slideshare. The presentation is worth viewing for a couple of reasons. First, Khoi builds a logical argument and presents it in a way that is understandable in the form of a slideshow (whereas my presentations look like a series of seemingly unrelated pictures with neither rhyme nor reason).

But more importantly, Khoi is getting at something very important in how the practice of design is changing in an interactive world. He is primarily concerned with interactive design, but I believe the logic of what he has to say is just as pertinent to designers working in any highly collaborative situation. The basic concept (if I’m getting this right) is that traditionally designers used control to manage the presentation of the narrative, while in the interactive world, the narrative has been replaced by a conversation. In this respect, the designer needs to become accustomed to losing control.

I don’t disagree with this argument, though I would argue that there is still a narrative (or story) at work both within the design process and in the product. Designers are now beginning to speak about ‘metadesign’ as the process of building a framework to allow others to participate in filling in the blanks. Using the same logic, there is a kind of ‘metanarrative’, an opportunity for the audience to become engaged in the process of creating the story.

Concepts of this sort are not foreign to other design fields; for instance, architecture is most effective when it encourages human dialog. But the process of design itself is now opening up to a broader collaboration; open source and wiki projects are an example, but it applies more broadly through people-centered design processes. Designing for these types of projects requires the invention of narratives and the openness to accept the potential for stories we never imagined.

Khoi does a great service to designers by pointing out the importance of opening up new forms and processes of design; in many ways the new worlds of design (in particular) are as foreign to us as film was during the time of the Lumiere brothers, and we are mostly just looking with awe (or confusion) at the Trip to the Moon.

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