For the independent study my colleagues and I are doing with Hugh Dubberly, we’ve been reading a lot of great old Design Methods movement texts. Hugh is of the position that these texts are not being taught, and he feels that there is great knowledge to be gained by looking at them, and I can’t help but agree. Interestingly, many of the movement’s leading figures were architects, such as Horst Rittel and Christopher Alexander.
Reading things written by (and for) architects, inevitably brings up some issues that we don’t often think about when designing software. Alexander talks at length about “goodness of fit” – how a design must fit the context in which it will be used. As interaction designers we certainly consider this (hence contextual inquiry and similar methods), but we tend to take a limited view of “context.” We most often talk about context of use in terms of the office, home, or culture that a design will be used within – but what if we considered context more as an architect might? That is, what if a word processor were to be designed to have greater “goodness of fit” with the city in which it will be used? Might the interface be more sunny and bright for users in perpetually grey cities such as Pittsburgh or Seattle? Should interfaces adjust their colors to be clearer in different levels of sunlight? Mac’s already automatically adjust brightness to account for this, but why not take it further and have the actual colors change responsively to provide different levels of contrast?
I’m not sure what other implications this view of context might have, but I think it’s an interesting line of reasoning, and one which I plan to explore further the next time I am designing a mass-market product that will find itself in diverse geographic locations.