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Improvisational Design: Continuous, Responsive Digital Communication

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"This original and sound book should have a profound effect on design for digital media."
-- Mark D. Gross, Design Machine Group, Department of Architecture, University of Washington

Traditional visual design expresses information in fixed forms, such as print or film, so the message can be stored or distributed. With interactive media and continuously updated information, communication entails a new, more dynamic set of design problems. In this book Suguru Ishizaki offers a theoretical framework for dealing with the challenges and opportunities of what he calls "dynamic design." His approach incorporates a community of collaborating agents that control design solutions in response to a changing context. He illustrates his ideas with several examples, such as expressive e-mail and responsive maps. The book will be of particular interest to interaction designers, visual designers, software engineers, and human-computer interaction experts.

The content of this book emerged from my doctoral dissertation, completed in 1995 at MIT’s Media Laboratory. Although the fundamental ideas remain the same, much of the text has been rewritten as digital communication technology has significantly advanced since that time. I have updated several parts of this book to reflect technological changes, but I believe that the problems I raised in my dissertation have not been addressed yet in practice, and the basic framework is still highly relevant to the design of digital communication, now and in the future.

I intend this book to be accessible by anybody involved with the design of interactive artifacts, which includes, but is not limited to, interaction designers, visual designers, software engineers, and human-computer interaction experts.

This book proposes a theoretical framework for creating communication design solutions that are as active and dynamic as an improvisational dance performance. In this framework, a design solution, such as a display of on-line news, is considered a performance that consists of a number of active design agents, or performers. Each agent is responsible for presenting a particular element of information, such as a headline or a news story. The individual design agent is sensitive to changes in its context, including the information itself, the goals of the information recipient, and other design agents. The dynamic and continuous design solution as a whole emerges from the activities of collaborating agents. This framework is fundamentally different from the traditional view of communication design, which describes a design solution as a set of fixed attributes. For example, a book design is complete when all the typographic attributes, such as typeface, type size, and leading, are selected and fixed. Once the design is completed, these attributes remain exactly the same throughout the life span of the book.

About the Author
Suguru Ishizaki is Senior Staff Engineer at QUALCOMM Incorporated.
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