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Project proposal v0.3.1

working proposal version for RWRM on 24/11/2016

What do you want to make?

I will make a collection of materials that highlight the importance of different modes of address.

I'm interested in the relation between the mode of address and if / how it enables deeper or alternate understandings of what is being discussed. This interest generated early questions such as:

Does speech tones (such as baby talking) affect the way one understands information? Do they influence the scope and ability of learning or understanding?

General introduction

In short, the term modes of address can be explained as; the way we talk. In the case of a service, a device or a tool; the way it talks.

My hypothesis is that different modes of address have a great influence on the access to and engagement in knowledge.

How do you plan to make it?

By taking apart what modes of address can be or can mean; I plan on investigating the existing knowledge in education therory, interface design, tool making and very possibly other topics that I am unaware of at this point in time. To do this, I will be interviewing various people about their vision of what modes of address can be in their field.

In parallel, I will be pushing forwards my understanding of what modes of address are in my fields by conducting experiments. Clearly, my understandings and the questions I will be posing to the people above will cross paths, but I imagine these to take different forms.

One example of how I wish to persue one of my understandings, is by spending time in the wood workshop. I'm interested in hand tools. More specifically, I'm interested in handles. Handles as a silent device that communicates how a tool is meant to be used. (keep this? They can be used in a multitude of scenarios, but some will have specific use cases, other general purpose.)

An other example are the set of experiments that have been conducted up to now, with software tools. The current test goes as so: I sit a candidate down in front of a computer that is running a drawing software, I ask them to perform 3 simple tasks, but to do so by speaking out loud the way in which they are proceeding when navigating on the computer. Sentences arise out of these recordings such as: «Now there is a red thing between the two points, and I will pull on the red thing to make the line curve a bit.» This is an embrace of what 'usability tests' are, but are analysed in an ways that is more about comprehension and addressing.

Both of the methods of interview and tests will be brought back to the project in notes and texts that will document the research, most lightly published as they are being written.

What is your timetable?

The two portions mentionned will happen side by side. I will afford myself the time for this research to happen. At this point I am not concerned about the forms that this work could have by the end of the school year. I am not interested in making an installation. However, setting a intermediary point in February seems sensible, to take account, to decide what tracks are flourishing, which ones should be abandonned. At that point, I could chose to develop one or more axis into some sort of self standing branch (a publication, a website, a physical object, a lecture, a video) or to pursue the research project as is.

Why do you want to make it?

My interest in this comes from observing the attitudes built in to software I was tought to use while training as a graphic designer. These digital design tools exist thanks to both visual crafts and computer sciences. The computer procedures are used to extend the realm of visual design craft, but seem to make the original 'hand' craft absent. It's the new, inbetween, practice that appears in the space left by the two that I am concerned about. That space is visual design software. Using these design programs does not lead backwards to the craft, and it does not really lead forwards to the automisations and other possible power that computing offers. (It's very lightly that this is happening with other manual crafts that get transformed into software, but I really can only comment on design software.) This makes the doing of the job very focused, but also very autistic and isolated. I'm doing this research because I find it —at the very least— a shame that the interstices are not made more obvious. This, to me, points to a big failure in mode of address and speaks loudly to how incapable the vendor thinks their users. (The explanation of this phenomenon to benefit 'efficiency' is a double edge sword, and a subject I am developping in my dissertation.) Further, I will argue that the the bordering cultures are areas that should be investigated by the users / designers. Ultimately, I believe it to be the responsibility of the software vendor to not only build and develop the pathways between the bordering cultures into their software tool, but that the mode of address they use to accomplish this and all of their other goals need to have a mode of address that is engaging, accessible, non condesceding, and non patronising.

Who can help you and how?

An aspect that has emerged from the interface observation tests and exercices are some notions of narratives. To accomplish tasks in some of the software I've observed, several steps are needed.First this, then that parameter, then this mode then the action, then maybe some tweaking after. Interfaces have timelines. I am surrounded by script writers and story tellers, I will be asking for help to look at this narrative in different manors. Maybe a narratology perspective from Frans-Willem Korsten will be helpful to widen this area.

Relation to previous practice

A part of my previous practice is given in the why question, but an other part of my previous practice is my history with the graphic design research collective Open Source Publishing. This group works collectively around questions of alternatives to the mainstream (arguably industry standards) tools for design. The answers to the questions of practicing modern digital graphic design with open source software have been multiple and in various shapes, one of which is the belief that learning software alone is not easy and should not be done alone if possible. Therefor, OSP has been part of —and organised— many workshops where software practice is spread out on the table for people, together, to learn from each other. This, sometimes, has put me in a position of teacher. Where I try and introduce a procedure to a group, and need to find multiple ways of explaining the subject matter to remove it from it's abstract nature. It is in this position that modes of address as a pressure point became somewhat clearer.

Relation to a larger context

The larger context that this topic poses is one of knowlege, culture, and morals. I believe critically observing modes of address could lead to a better understanding of why new users of the programs I am talking about hit such a big learning curve from the very beginning. I also believe that some of the ways of talking inside software, proning efficiency over cross culturalism, are ways of understanding how the maker of the software tool views it's user, and the way they intend their tool to be used. That use case is one very sequestered narrative.

The moral context of this is, in my view, very bleak; it seems to stimulate the proletarisation of a field that really has no need to be, and as these sequestered narratives move their tools out of our laptops and onto the clouds, the de-skilling of the user is taken one step further. I think that in my moral views I have a duty to communicate, in a way that is understandable, accessible, not condescending, and not patronising, why this is the wrong path.


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