Saturday, November 06, 2004


Situation Design and Situational Control

"The future of design lies in situation design and not in product design; products merely implement the situations." So wrote design patron Edgar Kaufmann in 1966. Kaufmann saw situation design, the antecedent of today's experience design, as a path to "intense personalism" to balance the "great impersonality of mass production."

Personalism -- letting the user choose his or her experience -- is what is lacking in discussion of experience design. Though attitudes are slowly changing, one still hears designers claiming to "design" experiences for people, as though users were passive and powerless.

Sometimes users are passive and powerless, but that doesn't make for good design. In a brilliant article,
Roller Coasters vs. Driver's Seats: Design and the Concept of Situational Control, Rashmi Sinha notes the importance that situational control has on users. If users have little control, they can feel burned, or just not get what the designer is intending. Rashmi notes that sometimes designers can work to win (rather than coerce) the attention of users, but other times designers need to work with the attention the user is prepared to offer.

This is an important topic, and I hope Rashmi will revisit it in the future.

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