On Serendipity in the Digital Medium: Towards a Framework for Valuable Unpredictability in Interaction Design

Ricardo Melo’s PhD thesis, On Serendipity in the Digital Medium: Towards a Framework for Valuable Unpredictability in Interaction Design, which I had the pleasure of supervising, is now available online at the repository of the University of Porto.

This research proposes the creation of a methodological framework for the design of interactive systems that allow and encourage valuable and unpredictable—viz serendipitous—encounters in the digital medium, expanding on its ability for the discovery of novel information, for enabling unfamiliar experiences, and supporting creative practices.

The current trajectory of the design of interactive systems aims for increased optimisation and personalisation of digital experiences which, while situationally apropos, when universally adopted hamper the scope and potential of the digital medium, limiting its reach to the systems’ constructed persona of the interactor. Considering the role digital media plays in contemporary life, we believe that by designing towards serendipity, we permit not just optimum interactions in the digital medium but also the wide breadth of human experience. To that end we establish a theoretically-grounded understanding of serendipity, identifying its fundamental concepts and domains. Grounding serendipity in both information discovery and interaction design, we propose a pattern for the serendipitous experience consisting of four stages: Prepared Mind, Trigger, Epiphany, and Value. Furthermore, observing the feasibility of designing for serendipity through an analysis of its accidental nature, we propose a distinction between serendipity that occurs naturally and that which may be designed. Following an exploration of the serendipitous approach of existing interactive systems, we proceed to the proposal of a framework composed by three identified vectors: Human Factors, Human Activities, and Heuristics which, through their articulation and interplay, define both a model for the development of serendipitous systems, as well as the analysis of existing ones.

Through the established understanding of serendipity and the developed framework, we not only aim for enabling the design of serendipitous systems, but also to alert for the necessity and significance of serendipity itself, to both designers and interactors of the digital medium.

Keywords: Serendipity, Digital Medium, Interaction Design, Serendipitous Pattern, Human Factors, Human Activities, Heuristics.

O Som do Vazio: Anotações Sonoras reviewed by Arte Capital

Luís Ribeiro visited Anotações Sonoras: Espaço, Pausa, Repetição and wrote about it for Arte Capital.

(…) A sala de exposições é um corpo que pode ser habitado mas é, na mesma medida, um corpo vivido pela obra de arte e pelo público que a visita, transformando o vazio num corpo habitado e cheio de vida. Neste sentido, o corpo assume-se como potência que incorpora a obra de arte, passando a existir apenas no íntimo de cada ser que a visita.

Empathy in the Ergodic Experience of Computational Aesthetics

A paper with Pedro Cardoso at ISEA 2018.

Computational artworks develop very particular relationships with their readers. Being able to encode and enact complex and contingent behaviours, a computational artwork exists in a dual state between two layers that are inextricably connected, a computational subface that is often a black box which can only be peeked at through an analogue surface, that mediates but also isolates it. But the procedural layer of the subface can be unearthed through a process of virtuosic interpretation, through which readers are able to develop some empathy with the system and arrive at a theory of the system that ultimately allows the transferring of some of the artwork’s processes to human minds. This paper focuses on how this process is developed and how it is the basis for a unique type of aesthetic experience that leads computational media and art to involve readers in anamorphosis and in a dialectics of aporia and epiphany, that mirrors the superimposition of subface and surface, and from where narrative experiences emerge.

Will Machinic Art Lay Beyond Our Ability to Understand It?

A paper with Rui Penha at ISEA 2018.

In this paper we will argue that artistic creations made by artificial minds will most likely lay beyond our ability to understand them. We will assume that the emergence of consciousness in artificial minds is possible and that the artistic creations we are referring to are made by the artificial minds’ own volition. We will build upon the definition of art as embodied meaning and explore its relationship with embodied cognition to argue that there is a binding of human artistic creation to the subjective experience of existing in a natural and cultural world through a human body that is born with a foretold death. Additionally, we will try to show that the best we can aim at, as human beings standing by an artistic creation by another species, is to an understanding of what could have motivated another human being to create such a work. As such, we shouldn’t be able to understand an artistic creation originating by an artificial mind with a physical experience of the world that differs from our own, even if they have a privileged access to our culture. The boundaries for this incomprehension are those of the human mind.

The Serendipitous Pattern in Interaction Design

A paper with Ricardo Melo at ISEA 2018.

Serendipity is increasingly becoming a concern in the design of interactive systems as an alternative to the echo chamber effects being felt in the medium. However, the concept of serendipity is one shrouded in ambiguity, which limits our abilities to regard it as an The achievable Serendipitous goal in interaction Pattern. Based in literature review, as well as empirical research, we propose a Serendipitous Pattern that identifies the core moments of serendipity, as well as the role of the human agent. Through this pattern, we are able to lay the groundwork for establishing a framework that enables the design of serendipitous systems.