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Jeffrey Bardzell, Ph.D.: “What are We Talking About?”: Some Problems in Aesthetic Interaction



Since the 1990s, aesthetic interaction research has been an important constituent in experience design (UX) research and a lively research area in its own right. Unfortunately, the research seems to have bifurcated into two incommensurate positions, which are pursued largely independent of one another. One approach, inspired by cognitive science, investigates users’ aesthetic responses empirically, seeking to identify and explore the relations among particular aspects of aesthetic interaction. Another approach, inspired by humanistic approaches from philosophy and literary/critical theory, closely reads designs and interprets the relationships among creative choices, design forms, and aesthetic responses. At times these two broad approaches are mutually confrontational, but more often they just ignore each other.

Rather than taking sides or seeking to identify who is right, the more interesting strategy is to view both of these traditions as resources for researchers and designers. The question then becomes, how can we best leverage research in each of these traditions in the most useful way? The aesthetic philosopher Monroe Beardsley once wrote, “some of the troubles of aesthetics come from unwillingness to face the basic question: what are we talking about?” This talk will answer this most basic question, and in doing so will explore a range of classic aesthetic issues and concepts as they apply to HCI research and interaction design, including the following: aesthetic experience and engagement, significant form, audience vs. text, creative intention and expression, politics and emancipation, and aesthetic judgment/evaluation. It seems that “what we are talking about” covers many things. The talk will suggest some ways that we can help ensure that our intellectual and methodological strategies reflect which of these is most important to a given research or design project.


Jeffrey Bardzell is an Associate Professor of HCI/Design and new media in the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University – Bloomington. Having done his doctoral work in Comparative Literature and Philosophy, Bardzell brings a humanist perspective to HCI and is known for developing a theory of interaction criticism. His other HCI specialties include aesthetic interaction, user experience design, amateur multimedia design theory and practice, and digital creativity. Currently, he is using theories from film, fashion, science fiction, and philosophical aesthetics to theorize about users and interaction, especially in the context of user experience design and supporting creativity.