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Nina Khosla

Page history last edited by Nina Khosla 14 years ago

Nina Khosla





About me: I am one art class away from my BS in Product Design, however I continue to fake graduate student status and enjoy blogging prolifically.


Reading Responses


Date  Speaker  Response 
4/9  Larry Leifer


4/16  Harold G. Nelson 


Nelson's thinking in this chapter are interesting to me personally. Indeed, I have often thought of design as being a scientific process in some ways, where society, culture and people represent a "black box" of sorts. As a designer, your goal is to figure out what is going on within that black box in order to build your understanding into a finished product or service. But we don't just have tools of traditional scientists, our prototypes are inquiries into the nature of this "black box" itself.

There are two things wrong with this model, which Nelson touches on. The first is the fact that with designed objects, products and services, you have the ability to change the nature of the black box itself. Changes in technology and tools often facilitate changes in our own culture, behavior and goals. This, of course, is Nelson's "creating what could be." This is seemingly contradictory, if we are to change what's there, why bother figuring out what is there in the first place? To that, I leave only a quote shared to me in one of my other design classes - "In order to change culture, you have to know culture."

Secondly, the belief that we can ever figure out what is going on in that "black box." Science is an interesting pursuit. As a student of economics, one of the first things you learn is that every economic principle is simply a model - it does not mirror the actuality of the situation, but provides us ways to find truths and qualities of a situation (in this case, economy). Inherently, every model is a simplification of reality, simply the choosing of salient points and their expected behavior. Problems that can be solved or understood using these reasonable methods can be thought of as related to Nelson's "tame problems." While science is useful for taking into account a given set of variables and using formulaic thought processes to gain insight, design is best when it takes on every idea, influence and observation we see - thus forming Nelson's "wicked problem." How, then, do you solve a design problem?

Ultimately, both of these issues point to informed creativity, something I believe is a sort of intuition. While science relies on being able to be proven and explained, and art is not accountable to the real world, this intuition is simply measured by the reaction it creates in the real world. Of course, even this reaction is plagued by being a "black box" - leaving us right where we started, in a continuous loop of making and doing.

Because human beings also have a third drive. We do things even when they don’t satisfy our biological urges, win us a reward or help us avoid a punishment. We play musical instruments during the weekend simply to master something challenging. We quit high-paying jobs to take new jobs that are less lucrative but more meaningful. Human beings, says University of Rochester psychologist Edward Deci, have an “inherent tendency to seek out novelty and challenges, to extend and exercise their capacities, to explore and to learn”. Few would deny that this third drive is also part of what it is to be human.
 - Daniel Pink (via)


4/23 Ed Catmull 

Wow, there's a lot in this piece of reading to dissect. The first thing I fell in love with was the idea of story telling. I enjoyed the story about making Woody's choice between Japan and home a believable one, because I believe that as designers, we have to do this for our clients, but also ourselves. We have to come to understand the world and really see what motivates and drives people, but also build our own connection to our new understanding. 

This is related to something else that Catmull wrote at the end of the article - that many of the people in companies he had known and that had failed were not very introspective. I think that's interesting because as designers, we build a capacity for thought - the ability to see not just what is there, but what lies one level underneath the surface, or what isn't there. This ability is what turns needfinding into more than just a "bug list," and makes our work more meaningful. That capacity is important in designers: I believe that building passion for projects creates better design, and the best way to do that is to be introspective, and really listen to ourselves. In some ways, even the exercise of responding to these papers is about finding points of connection and passion within ourselves.

From a more practical point of view, I think the main thing that Pixar has managed to do is to admit that people are good at something, disseminating that understanding of what people are good at, and making it possible for them to use that talent (for other people to ask them for help). This is funny to me, because it seems like "company wide crowdsourcing," which is all about trying to harness the ideas and talent within a company.

4/30 Mitch Resnick 


I'm going to start with this:
I think I'm better than you. Ok, well not you guys specifically, I kind of like you guys, but I'm one of those ones who thinks I'm better than everybody else.
And math. For whatever reason, I'm terrible at math. The concepts never stick. I'm actually not sure why, on that one. I think I don't often understand it when it's taught.
Cause I'm terrible at listening during lectures. When the professor gets up at the front of lecture hall and starts preaching, it's like a fidget instinct starts kicking in.

So, there is a short list of weaknesses of mine, not comprehensive by any means.

Now, I'm going to ask you, have you ever asked a Stanford student for a critical self-evaluation? Honestly, it's disgusting. Most students have no idea how to do this: the answers vary, but they all basically point to the same weakness.

"I'm just too awesome."

"I work too hard." "I am too much of a perfectionist."

I think there's something interesting in this, because there's this sense of, gosh, I can't have a weakness. But this extends even further - people are less able to even think about their weaknesses in a good way.

The reason this is particularly interesting to me is because I went to an elementary and middle school that didn't have grades. When I left, I was pretty agonized by the whole grading system - suddenly my teachers weren't helping me get better at gaping these weaknesses, but rather there to evaluate me on whether I hide these weaknesses effectively.
A lot of people think this lack of grading is a problem because it means that kids won't try hard enough or something, but I don't think that's the problem. It's just that they no longer try to find things that interest them, and teachers don't have to try to help them do so - that's the tricky part. Probably a lot of you are aware of the studies comparing internal and external motivation.

So there's a lot in there - I think we not only have situations that make us terrible at the reflection stage of the process, but also the imagine stage - we no longer imagine, so much as are told WHAT to imagine. (As a side note, I am currently, but fairly unsuccessfully, attempting to write a book about how to find your passion in a sticky note on the desktop of my Mac).

I also am really interested is the online community aspect of this project. I grew up as a child of the internet, and I noticed something about this. In many ways, that forced me to create things that compared with the best things that I could find out there, and to put my work out into the public domain. I have a 16 year old brother, and I worry about him a little bit. He's a genius, but, I worry that he doesn't have an inclination to share, an inclination to be part of a community that's building a body of knowledge. He and his other friends pretty much use facebook and their xBox, and don't really look beyond that. When I was his age, there was no Facebook, so if you used the internet to broadcast about yourself, you did so in the public domain. This was great not just because it made me work to higher standards, as I said before, but it exposed me to people who were vastly different from myself.

Lastly, the act of creation is an interesting one. I don't feel I'm prepared enough at the moment to say something really insightful about creation, other than it is important. I think that act is an important one that once experienced, and once it becomes habit, changes your view of the world. I'm also glad to see young children have the opportunity to build a mindset of programming and computing.


5/7 David Kirsh 
I found it really interesting, personally, when Kirsh mentioned the idea of mouthing words aloud as a form of "interactivity" with the material. I've always read this way, people used to make fun of me when I was in grade school. For a while, I tried to stop doing it, until one day I realized my classmates were skipping over words and missing things. I also note that even now, I like to mark up papers in such a way that I can scan my notes on the side to get a sense of the argument and structure of the paper - since I've been studying how people read case studies, I've realized this is a fairly rare thing, too. So, I wonder, have I always been the type of person who likes to represent things in an external way? Is there something about this process that allows me to learn or see more? How can we impart this impulse to designers (or people) everywhere? My bet is, many people don't understand or directly feel the benefits early enough, and so they don't make it a habit and/or skill. It's interesting that much of Kirsh's work pertained to dancers and musicians, areas in which people are likely to start after learning to read and write, and also areas in which they might be taught these externalization methods early on in their careers/developments.
Also, what happens to reading on the computer? When I read on the computer, I no longer do any of this - silently moving my lips along with the words, or taking notes or highlighting. The only digital device that's preserved these tendencies is the Kindle - and what's interesting about the Kindle is, in some ways, it's made it better - I highlight entire passages, knowing I'll be able to get to those passages later. What sorts of tools might be created to facilitate this interaction?
5/14 S. Joy Mountford 
Protovis is interesting - what I found most compelling was that, in certain ways, it took something that a lot of graphics programs do anyways (let you control a basic set of properties of an object) and allows users to link those properties to data sets, instead of fixed numbers. The interesting thing, though, as much as Heer claims to want versatility, Protovis seems to be optimized for a certain number of visualizations (pie charts, etc).

I think visualization shows a unique opportunity in the field of graphic design for human centered designers to add real value. While graphic design sometimes borders on art, there's a real chance to think about what sorts of data is worth (in want of) visualizing, how this data will effect the user, and lastly, how best to strikingly display it (both for visual impact and understanding). Now that data is available not just on the level of organizations and masses of people, but individual people, how can we use that data for change? If this is of interest to people, this talk by Robert Fabricant is cool: http://vimeo.com/3730382?pg=embed&sec=.

5/21 Jodi Forlizzi 
The thing about this paper that most interested me was this idea of orientation and incorporation. I'm very interested in myth and narrative, both from a cultural and individual perspective. I posit that, in fact, you can create real change within people simply by trying to modify what their internal narrative is about why it is they are doing something. Orientation, to me, speaks to this idea of figuring out why you are doing something. Incorporation is the development and retelling of this narrative, sometimes to the point of becoming almost mythological - possibly this is when emotional ties to a product occur. Since I've already spent some time picking on Facebook this week, I'll use that as an example:  Orientation is this initial interaction with the service: adding your friends, seeing how they interact with mutual friends, hearing these cultural myths about Facebook is supposed to be used. Incorporation is this increased interaction with Facebook - here's where you figure out what it's useful for, and start to really "depend" on it. For example, using Facebook as a phonebook (http://www.facebook.com/friends/?view=phonebook)  or leaving messages on friend's pages. But also, as you begin to use it, a real emotional connection to the function it provides - being close to your friends and being able to speak about your life to them - thinking about how people have personally, emotionally integrated this understanding explains much of the backlash against Facebook.
I was also intrigued by the idea of figuring out how to graphically represent this ongoing interaction with a product or service. I think one of the skills that is crucial for designers, is to try to understand situations by understanding it from many different perspectives. I think having some different diagrams and graphical representatives, and creating a basic sense within designers for how to represent information in different ways is important. One of the things that I wish wasn't implied in the paper was that there was one "right" way to present this information, but rather that this is one thing to consider in our diagrams of this information. Even within this, there are probably many different ways we can map this change and understand it.

5/28 Joel Brandt 

This paper was cool, because it spoke to a new trend that is actually about how one designs tools for developers and the like preforming highly technical tasks. It is hard or impossible to design well for these groups without understanding what they are doing. One of my favorite examples of this is "code bubbles" : http://www.cs.brown.edu/people/acb/codebubbles_site.htm.
One thing that caught my eye about the walk through with Jenny's project is that this reminds me so much of my own coding experience, and the kinds of things that I try to get done ad-hoc at the moment (through my web browser, textbooks, previous code, etc). The model in my head of how to use this came from XCode, and the way it helpfully auto-fills for you.
I also appreciated the level of detail and attention paid to various aspects - for example, knowing that some code posted to message boards would be buggy, and would have to be designed for.
As a side note, I had a hard time believing the statistics in the testing, just because there was such a small sample size, and it seemed like it was very dependent on how well developers knew Flex (14, or ~3/4 had used Flex for over a year, and only 12 used Flex for 25+ hours a week).

I was also very intrigued by this:

At the completion of the study, we conducted 30-minute
interviews with four active Blueprint users to understand
how they integrated Blueprint in their workflows. Based on
the interviews, we formed three hypotheses, which we
tested with the Blueprint usage logs. After evaluating these
hypotheses, we performed further exploratory analysis of
the logs. This additional analysis provided high-level insight
about current use that we believe will help guide future
work in creating task-specific search interfaces.

I have a theory that many designers develop "hypotheses" over the course of ethnographic interviews, whether consciously or not, and then use that to help direct future inquiries/interviews, and to use future interviews/inquiries to validate (or not) their hypotheses. Brandt's view is supplemental: developing hypotheses through interviews, and then testing this with data. Also, I am curious how the validation process works, and if it effects objectivity. Certainly, even with data, parts of this are subjective, and so how can we, as designers, better manage this process to get the best possible results?


Comments (3)

Steven Dow said

at 12:43 pm on Apr 18, 2010

Nina, have you read anything by Bruno Latour? Some of his work writes of scientific endeavors as an act of individual and political will. In other words, science does not follow a "pure" discovery process, but heads in deliberate, socio-economic-motivated directions. Harold's response to a scientists' agency was interesting: he said scientists investigate what is personally important to them, not others. How do you account for the role of agency in science versus design?

Nina Khosla said

at 3:49 am on May 28, 2010

@Steven Whoops, I did not see your comment till just now. It's a bit serendipitous, because I was just thinking about this in my response to Brandt's paper. Because of the nature of the ethnographic interview and other so-called "generative" research techniques, a lot of the data is collected not by an automatic method, but some intuitive and pattern-seeking portion of our brain that isolates trends, observations and ideas that catch our eye, as it was. I think that process is probably extremely subjective, especially when moving away from pure behaviors (directly observable) to feelings, motivations, values, etc. (undirectly observable/unobservable). So, if we think about the factors that contribute to our "noticing" something or not, my bet is that it correlates to things like how much it was emphasized by the research participant(s), designer's frame on the project (hypothesis building?), and designer's interests/values/POV.
I think, when I say this, it makes this hypothesis forming sound very negative, but I don't think it is. I believe this just primes us to notice more subtle things we would usually brush aside, and attunes us better to this. Sometimes, of course, we can fall prey to that cognitive fallacy of ours and see what's not there, but if we are prepared for that and aware, the benefits probably outweigh the positives.
When I read this article: http://www.wired.com/magazine/2009/12/fail_accept_defeat/all/1 I could see how science could also be shaped by the POV of the individuals carrying out the work - that initial stage of hypothesis is probably individualized (at least cultural, but even that relates back to the mindset of the individual)

Nina Khosla said

at 3:49 am on May 28, 2010

In this whole matter, I think I'll bring up this quote from Darwin:
"About thirty years ago there was much talk that geologists ought only to observe and not theorize, and I well remember someone saying that at this rate a man might as well go into a gravel-pit and count the pebbles and describe the colours. How odd it is that anyone should not see that all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of any service!"

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