Ash at CIID

Ashwin Rajan's blog while at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design.

Contextualizing interaction via paradigms of the computer

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Bill Verplank’s fantastic framework of paradigms for understanding the computer provides a solid start point to setting the context for a particular interaction design project or study. 

Bills grounds his approach in the dominant ‘styles’ that human beings use in perceiving computers, and the resultant spectrum of paradigms that such styles generate. Some of the important ones he mentions are:

1. Style: Dialog/Language/Intelligence; Paradigm spectrum: Person – to – Life
2. Style:  Direct Manipulation/Control; Paradigm spectrum: Tool – to – Infrastructure
Style: Expression/Browing/Engagement: Paradigm Spectrum: Media – to – Fashion.

Bill Verplank - Paradigms of the Computer

Bill Verplank - Paradigms of the Computer


As a psychologist I have a deep interest  in paradigms, which are fundamentally perceptual entities. A paradigm is our understanding of something in a way that contextualizes it among other things. And the fact that Bill uses the word ‘styles’ to communicate the above modes of understanding a computer, is striking.

 The design interest in a project or research area could be centered in any one or more of these styles. I think the complexity of the undertaking will increase with the number of  paradigms the final design solution intends to address. In an earlier post, ‘Emotional Considerations in Ubicomp’, I raised the question of  considering the emotional in designing ubiquitous computing solutions. Even at the level of a theoretical problem, this issue seems an extremely slippery matter to grasp. I see a good deal of that complexity arising from the fact that at the level of usage, solutions need to reconcile an awning gap between two very different paradigms of the computer for users – i)the computer as ‘tool-infrastructure’ (ubiquitous environments essentially characterized by a lack of centeredness/de-personal space) with ii) the computer as ‘person-life’ (the intuitive, the emotional, the responsive – characteristics we essentially consider embodied/centered).

Using the paradigm framework to reframe design problems this way has apparently solid value.

More of Bill’s lecture material here on the Stanford website.


Written by Ashwin Rajan

December 7, 2008 at 3:07 pm

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