School of Design's Nassim Jafarinaimi’s PhD Defense-School of Architecture - Carnegie Mellon University

Monday, March 28, 2011

School of Design's Nassim Jafarinaimi’s PhD Defense

Friday, 01 April | 2-4pm | MMCH 121

Title: An Inquiry into the Form of Social Interaction in Contemporary Products

Human-centered design has had a significant impact on design theory and practice in recent years. Central to this approach is the idea that products expand possibilities for action by removing physical, intellectual, social, or cultural barriers. At the same time, products limit possibilities for action as they effect human experience, choreographing activities toward a purpose. There is an apparent paradox at the heart of design: products are designed to expand the possibilities for freely chosen courses of action at the same time that they render some modes of action impossible or difficult to achieve.
In this dissertation, I engage with this paradox, exploring the inherently plural ideas about what constitutes free action in the context of products. Principles, I argue, are the sources of products’ diversity and the foundation of design activities, serving as warrants for the framing of problems, selection of methods, and formation of the end products of design. A critical understanding of principles sought and established through design is important given the capacity of products such as social media, services, or organizations to shape individual and collective interactions and mediate community practices. Following a survey of the origin of principles and their relationship to action in major philosophic traditions, I propose a theoretical repositioning of products as principles where principles are understood as hypotheses that engender diverse perspectives, interpretations, and relationships.
These concepts are illustrated through a critical examination of core principles in two social media products: Google Image Labeler and World Without Oil. In each case, I trace the manifestation of principles in the structure and features of the product and within their user communities, capturing the dialogical relationship of the form of the product and the form of interactions and communities that emerge around it.
This inquiry provides a basis for a more comprehensive understanding of products that accounts for their varied capacity to mediate individual and social interactions. It contributes to design practice and criticism by providing the grounds for cultivating the plurality of principles that is inherent in design community and the communities that are reached through design.

Richard Buchanan (Chair), Professor of Design, Management, and Information Systems, Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western
Bruce Hanington, Associate Professor, School of Design, CMU
John Zimmerman, Associate Professor, Interaction Design, School of Design, HCII, CMU
Indira Nair, Vice Provost Emerita, Engineering & Public Policy, CMU