Friday, June 3, 2005

Working together

My friend Chris Heathcote is pretty hardcore in his demand that HCI & design research be 'useful' (i.e. materially and/or commercially prescriptive and actionable). Take his recent experience at this Nordic Design Research Conference :

"My biggest beef, as with pretty much all academic conferences, was that it was design researchers talking to design researchers. There were 2 or 3 commercial designers at the conference, a few more design undergraduates, but mainly academics. I try and go to these conferences to burst the membrane between academics and practitioners - and there are certainly a few people and ideas that I am glad to have seen and are directly useful to my work. But there remains a general distain in academia to sully their work with commercial concerns, especially when it opposes their viewpoint, research subject or methodology."

Ouch. No. Wait a minute. It's not about having my work "sullied" by commercial concerns, it's about not having to answer to (predominantly) commercial interests. It is a political manoeuver, but it's not a moral one. (Frankly, I'd prefer to see everyone's politics up front.)

I also think research should be useful - but I don't think that Chris and I would agree on what constitutes usefulness beyond "well it depends on what you're trying to do..." When I think of collaborative work I think along the lines of "equal pay for work of equal value" not "equal pay for equal work" - with all the difficulties that brings.

I also think we still have much to learn from each other about work as product and/or process, since this is where a lot of cultural value is placed. For example, as long as we maintain that code is not expressive and research doesn't make things, then we really don't understand much about each other, let alone value it.

And this raises a broader issue involving collaborative and cross-disciplinary work: what happens when opposing interests meet? Collaboration requires consensus on nothing other than goals, and we know friction (note I didn't say competition) to be just as productive, in both positive and negative ways, as cooperation.

So what do we want for ourselves and from each other? And is this anything we would want to represent in terms of "oughts" or "shoulds" for everyone?


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