A Workshop on “Interpretive Design and Material Interaction”, in Copenhagen, August 2005

Please, keep in mind that this page is for participants only. I'll share learning materials through it, and take the page away in September. All materials shared in class in Copenhagen are not here for copyright reasons.

- Two days in August, at Karch, Copenhagen
- Instructor: Prof., Dr. Ilpo Koskinen, a sociologist from the University of Art and Design Helsinki

Syllabus (pdf)


The aim of this workshop is to think through the notion of “interpretive design.” By that term, I mean user-centered design that follows – or is at least consistent with, and conscious of – a tradition in interpretive social science, most notably in sociology and a research tradition called “symbolic interactionism.” It is presented as an approach to studying and designing material interaction.

For three reasons, it is good to know about this tradition in design. First, designers are increasingly interested in social uses of things. Secondly, designers are interested in observing how people develop a relationship to material things over time, not just in experiments. Third, with renewed interest in pragmatic aesthetics in design, ways in which people construct their relationship to material world has become a key part of design. Symbolic interactionism is largely consistent with this tradition, but offers an empirically oriented methodology for studying pragmatics.

The workshop lasts two days during which participants
- participate in lectures/workshop
- conduct an observational exercise
- interpret their results and find ways to communicate them to other participants
- learn basic concepts of interpretive research

Advance Task

Browse the section Co-opting from Jane Fulton Suri’s new book. Select one image. Think about design opportunities in it. Have you noticed something similar in your life? Present your thoughts for the class impromptu in 5 minutes, no more!


1. Required literature

Fulton Suri, Jane 2005. Thoughtless Acts. Observations on Intuitive Design. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. ISBN 0-8118-4775-6, $29.95

Read through the section on “Co-opting” in this order. First, browse pictures and write down notes about design opportunities in them. This is important: as Fulton Suri says later, life doesn’t come in captions. Start from images, not from text and captions! Next read the introductory essay. Only then read the captions at the end of the book: compare them to your notes. Did you notice the same things (some images have obvious interpretations, some not)? Check also www.thoughtlessacts.com

Pages 1-60 from Blumer, Herbert 1969. The Methodological Position of Symbolic Interactionism. In Blumer, Herbert. Symbolic Interactionism. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Read this essay in a cursory fashion!

Alternatively, read these two texts:

- NEW (14.8.) [PDF] Becker, H. S. Interaction: Some Ideas. (for reference, go to his home page)

- NEW (14.8.) [PDF] Becker, H. S. How I Learned What a Crock Was. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 22 (April, 1993), 28-35.

2. For empathic exercises, browse

[PDF] Fulton Suri, Jane, Katja Battarbee and Ilpo Koskinen 2005. Designing in the Dark – Empathic Exercises to Inspire Design for our Non-Visual Senses. Proceedings of Include 2005, Royal College of Art, London, England.

Check also this: [PDF] Buchenau, M., Fulton Suri, J.: Experience Prototyping. DIS ’00, Brooklyn, New York. Pp. 424-433.

3. Additional reading not required, but useful:

[PDF] Graves Petersen, M., Iversen, O. S. , Krogh, P. K, Ludvigsen, M. Aesthetic Interaction – A Pragmatist’s Aesthetics of Interactive Systems. Proceedings of DIS2004, Designing Interactive Systems, July 18-21, Cambridge, MA, ACM Press, 2004.

NEW (14.8.) [PDF] Battarbee, K., Koskinen, I. Co-Experience: User Experience as Interaction. CoDesign 1(1), 2005, 5 –18.

Chapters 4-6 from Dant, Tim 2005. Materiality and Society. Maidenhead: Open University Press.


Monday, August 15

9-11 Lecture/workshop:
- Background: from legislator to interpreter: how to be empathic
- data gathering: observing people and material interaction

NEW (14.8.): TASK: analyzing experience // JFS: Co-opting

12 Lunch

13 Analysis: forms of induction: from affinity walls and visual analysis to variables, induction as a practical tool

14-15 Giving the task: the observation exercise begins

NEW (14.8.): Instructions for Observation

16-18 Observation exercise cntd, IK available for consultation

Tuesday, August 16

9-12 Observation exercise cntd, IK available for consultation

12 Lunch

13-16 Towards the Presentation (forthcoming)
- NEW (14.8.): Guidelines for Preparing the Presentation.

16-17 Presentation

17.30-18 NEW (14.8.): Outlining an interpretive methodology for design