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TEACHING DISOBEDIENCE. ENCOURAGING COMMUNICATION DESIGN STUDENTS TO RE-SHAPE THE COMPUTER’S FUNCTIONS

I. Suteu, M. Pillan, M. Radeta, F. Galli

Politecnico di Milano (ITALY)
Traditionally the creative flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1992, 1997, 1999) in visual design is linked to the drawing pencils, paper and the drawing board. This practice of getting accustomed with the tools of the trade was part of the designer’s life, shaping their perception of the surrounding environment. This strict link to the use of specific tools is nowadays changed by the computer software, which enables even non-professional designers to have access to sophisticated graphic tools. The intense creative activity that fused together the tool with its user is now decomposed in actions and procedures subordinated to the constraints given by computer.

Several literatures have underlined the relation between the computer and its users, focusing on the interpretation of the computer’s usage within the constraints of the defined computer tasks (Winograd and Flores, 1986) (Suchman, 1987). Moreover working within the framework of activity theory, Beguin and Rabardel (2001) emphasize the continuous change of the artifacts and their transformation through the activity they perform. Taking into account the definition of computers as mediating artifacts (Nardi, 1996), the question asked is how the creative professionals can modify their computers to fit affective personality needs.
The paper describes the activity of a group of students in communication design that had the brief to re design the functions of their personal computers considering own preferences and needs. The students have been asked to envision new functional scenarios and express them in usability simulations. The discussion underlines the tensions between the creative practice that requires flexible instruments and the standardized procedures featured by the personal computers.