Erik A. Stolterman


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Erik Stolterman is Professor of Informatics and Department Chair in the School of Informatics and Computing, Indiana University, Bloomington. Stolterman's main work is within interaction design, philosophy and theory of design, information technology and society, information systems design, and philosophy of technology. Stolterman has published a large number of articles and five books, including “The Design Way” (MIT Press, 2012), “Thoughtful Interaction Design” (2004, MIT Press) and "Information Systems Development: Methods-in-Action" (McGraw-Hill, 2002). Stolterman's research can be characterized as being grounded in careful analytical studies of the everyday practice of users and professionals dealing with interactive artifacts with a strong emphasis of building theory. Stolterman combines this approach with a strong critical and theoretical analysis of current practice.

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Goodman, Elizabeth, Stolterman, Erik A., Wakkary, Ron (2011): Understanding interaction design practices. In: Proceedings of ACM CHI 2011 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems , 2011, . pp. 1061-1070.

Jung, Heekyoung, Stolterman, Erik A. (2011): Form and materiality in interaction design: a new approach to HCI. In: Proceedings of ACM CHI 2011 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems , 2011, . pp. 399-408.

Hazlewood, William R., Stolterman, Erik A., Connelly, Kay (2011): Issues in evaluating ambient displays in the wild: two case studies. In: Proceedings of ACM CHI 2011 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems , 2011, . pp. 877-886.

Wakkary, Ron, Stolterman, Erik A. (2011): Interactions magazine. In: Proceedings of ACM CHI 2011 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems , 2011, . pp. 523-526.

Wakkary, Ron, Stolterman, Erik A. (2010): WELCOME: Our first interactions. In Interactions, 17 (6) pp. 5.

Wiltse, Heather, Stolterman, Erik A. (2010): Architectures of interaction: an architectural perspective on digital experience. In: Proceedings of the Sixth Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction , 2010, . pp. 821-824.

Janlert, Lars-Erik, Stolterman, Erik A. (2010): Complex interaction. In ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, 17 (2) pp. 8.

Zimmerman, John, Stolterman, Erik A., Forlizzi, Jodi (2010): An analysis and critique of Research through Design: towards a formalization of a research. In: Proceedings of DIS10 Designing Interactive Systems , 2010, . pp. 310-319.

McCrickard, D. Scott, Atwood, Michael E., Curtis, Gayle, Harrison, Steve, Kolko, Jon, Stolterman, Erik A., Wahid, Shahtab (2010): Artifacts in design: representation, ideation, and process. In: Proceedings of ACM CHI 2010 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems , 2010, . pp. 4445-4448.

Stolterman, Erik A., Wiberg, Mikael (2010): Concept-Driven Interaction Design Research. In Human Computer Interaction, 25 (2) pp. 95-118.

Odom, William, Pierce, James, Stolterman, Erik A., Blevis, Eli (2009): Understanding why we preserve some things and discard others in the context of interaction. In: Proceedings of ACM CHI 2009 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems , 2009, . pp. 1053-1062.

Blevis, Eli, Stolterman, Erik A. (2009): Transcending disciplinary boundaries in interaction design. In Interactions, 16 (5) pp. 48-51.

Ryan, William, Stolterman, Erik A., Jung, Heekyoung, Siegel, Martin, Thompson, Tonya, Hazlewood, William R. (2009): Device ecology mapper: a tool for studying users\' ecosystems of interactive artifacts. In: Proceedings of ACM CHI 2009 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems , 2009, . pp. 4327-4332.

Jung, Heekyoung, Stolterman, Erik A., Ryan, Will, Thompson, Tonya, Siegel, Marty (2008): Toward a framework for ecologies of artifacts: how are digital artifacts interconnected wi. In: Proceedings of the Fifth Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction , 2008, . pp. 201-210.

Jakobsson, Markus, Stolterman, Erik A., Wetzel, Susanne, Yang, Liu (2008): Love and authentication. In: Proceedings of ACM CHI 2008 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems April 5-10, 2008, . pp. 197-200.

Odom, Will, Blevis, Eli, Stolterman, Erik A. (2008): Personal Inventories in the Context of Sustainability & Interaction Design. In ACM Interactions, 0 (5) pp. 16-20. http://Personal Inventories in the Context of Sustainability & Interaction Design

Lim, Youn-kyung, Stolterman, Erik A., Tenenberg, Josh (2008): The anatomy of prototypes: Prototypes as filters, prototypes as manifestations of design i. In ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, 15 (2) pp. 7.

Chang, Yen-ning, Lim, Youn-kyung, Stolterman, Erik A. (2008): Personas: from theory to practices. In: Proceedings of the Fifth Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction , 2008, . pp. 439-442.

Odom, William, Blevis, Eli, Stolterman, Erik A. (2008): Personal inventories in the context of sustainability and interaction design. In Interactions, 15 (5) pp. 16-20.

Blevis, Eli, Lim, Youn-kyung, Roedl, David, Stolterman, Erik A. (2007): Using Design Critique as Research to Link Sustainability and Interactive Technologies. In: Schuler, Douglas (eds.) OCSC 2007 - Online Communities and Social Computing - Second International Conference July 22-27, 2007, Beijing, China. pp. 22-31.

Lim, Youn-kyung, Blevis, Eli, Stolterman, Erik A. (2007): Grand Challenges in Design Research for Human-Centered Design Informatics. In: Schuler, Douglas (eds.) OCSC 2007 - Online Communities and Social Computing - Second International Conference July 22-27, 2007, Beijing, China. pp. 106-115.

Lim, Youn-kyung, Stolterman, Erik A., Jung, Heekyoung, Donaldson, Justin (2007): Interaction gestalt and the design of aesthetic interactions. In: Koskinen, Ilpo, Keinonen, Turkka (eds.) DPPI 2007 - Proceedings of the 2007 International Conference on Designing Pleasurable Products and Interfaces August 22-25, 2007, Helsinki, Finland. pp. 239-254.

Lowgren, Jonas, Stolterman, Erik A. (1999): Methods tools: design methodology and design practice. In Interactions, 6 (1) pp. 13-20.

Stolterman, Erik A.

21.11 Commentary by Erik A. Stolterman

Humans have bodies. Bodies are not only the physical mechanical carriers of who we “really” are. Humans interact with and through their bodies. Users are humans and have bodies. Human computer interaction is therefore about bodies as well as cognitive and emotional minds. All this has become a concrete practical reality over the last decade to anyone involved in interaction design. New interactive technology has changed interaction away from being purely representational (commands and text) to direct and bodily interactions (touch, haptic and gesture) and away from being purely screen based to being embedded in and parts of our physical artifacts and environments.

This development means that interaction designers are more than ever before challenged by bodily aspects of interaction. This has of course been addressed both empirically and theoretically within our field through notions such as, ubiquitous computing, embodied interaction, tangible interaction, haptics, gestures, etc.

In contrast to what is common in our field, Shusterman delivers a more profound approach to the challenge of bodily engagements with technology. As a philosopher and as the founder of the term somaesthetics, Shusterman has over the years, in a serious and foundational way, developed an “integrative conceptual framework” for a better understanding of “somatic experiences” (quotes from his article).

What Shusterman can do, that few in our field can do, is to ground the phenomena and ideas related to bodily interactions in a historical and philosophical context and scholarship. This is extremely helpful for our field and it pushes HCI research forward to a more developed understanding.

It is hard to argue against the basic position that Shusterman present. He writes: “By exploring the fundamental features of our embodied ways of engaging the world and transforming it through action and construction, somaesthetics can provide useful insights and experiential skills to help designers produce products and situations that provide more rewarding and pleasurable experience.” Few would argue against the idea that we can obtain other insights about our reality when we “use” our body as a sensory “tool” than if we solely approach it through intellectual and cognitive means.

Reading Shusterman’s article is interesting and potentially useful for anyone involved in interaction design, especially when engaged with any kind of physical aspects of interactive artifacts. However, while Shusterman delivers an excellent account of the theoretical and philosophical aspects of embodiment and somaesthetics, I am somewhat disappointed when he more directly tries to describe how this can be applied or used in interaction design.

Shusterman does this by bringing somaesthetics aspects not only to the relationship between a user and an artifact but into the design process and to the thinking and doing of a designer. He writes for instance “... the body is our indispensable tool of tools“ in a design process. He continues “... designers could improve their design skills by becoming more aware of how they use themselves and how they feel when using particular products rather than merely thinking of how the product is conventionally used.” Of course, it can be argued that this is already common practice in interaction design, since prototyping already is a core activity in our field. Working with material prototypes at any level of fidelity means that the designer or user engages in bodily explorations of ideas. Prototypes are in most cases physical manifestations of design concepts that are developed explicitly with the purpose to explore precisely what Shusterman suggests, namely how a designer or user “feel when using a particular product rather than merely thinking of how the product is conventionally used”.

It might be fair to acknowledge that when Shusterman talks about using the body as a tool he is in many ways more bodily oriented than what is the case when exploring prototypes. For instance, he also sees bodily engagements as a way to explore more abstract ideas concerning potential design directions. However, the idea of using the body as a tool in design activities has also been more directly explored in our field through techniques such as “body storming” and similar methods. So, while Shusterman provide a philosophical foundation for many of these bodily oriented design process activities, it is also clear that designers are already engaged in somaesthetic activities as a way to better understand design ideas and user experience.

Shusterman mentions a few examples of what designers can do to develop a more somaesthetic understanding of their prototypes and designs. But again, for many interaction designers these examples are quite similar to what they already do during prototyping, design sessions, evaluations, etc. For instance, Shusterman writes that “A comparative study of how different shapes of cup handles affect one’s feelings towards drinking, for example, could be used to improve cup design. Does the handle make your forefinger grip tightly, and how does this affect the rest of your arm, the rest of your body, and by extension, the feeling of drinking?” This example could be found in any interaction design textbook on the notion and evaluation of user experience design. What Shusterman proposes is if phrased in the everyday language of interaction design practice a matter of prototyping and contextual evaluation of artifacts in use. The basic belief in interaction design is that since these artifacts are objects and have physical properties, their properties influence the whole user experience and to develop an understanding of that experience, of course the artifact has to be examined in a way that includes the embodied aspects of interaction. So, with this example Shusterman is not really opening up anything new to most interaction designers, instead the example can probably backfire and make the theoretical contribution to appear less interesting.

Another example that Shusterman mentions is HRI (human robot interaction). This is an area where a lot of research is already focused on how people experience the way robots move and in particular how their “bodies” are designed and how humans can, want to, or refuse to (bodily or otherwise) interact with these artificial bodies. For instance, a lot of research has been devoted to the bodily aspect of facial expressions, arm movements, even the embodiment of free roaming “smart” robot vacuum cleaners. In HRI the somatic aspects of design becomes almost unavoidable. There is no traditional interface, there is very little interaction related to disembodied intellectual and cognitive aspects through representational interaction. Instead, robots are themselves embodied and the interaction with humans is embodied from both sides. So, it can be argued that HRI is not, as Shusterman suggests, a potential area for somaesthtics, instead it is a field where somaesthetic approaches are unavoidable and already in practice, even if not theoretically refined.

The article of Shusterman exemplifies something that is quite common when it comes to design (research) and that is the difficulty of transforming advanced theoretical constructs into relevant and practical support for actual design work. We have over the years seen several examples of theoretical and philosophical approaches that have been both recognized and influential in academia as important scholarly contributions. However, many of these, such as Activity Theory, Distributed Cognition, and others, have proven to be difficult to translate into recommendations for practice and few have successfully reached a broader audience among practitioners. Yvonne Rogers (2004) offers an excellent account of this situation, with numerous examples and explanations of why this is a challenge to the field. Another treatise of the same topic can be found in my article (Stolterman, 2008) where I introduce the notion of “rationality resonance”. This concept manifests the idea that any theory, to be practically relevant, has to be based on a deep understanding of existing practice. There has to be a resonance between the existing rationality in practice and the “new” rationality manifested in the proposed theory. This is of course not an issue for theories that only claim to contribute to our understanding of the field, but as soon as a claim is made that a theoretical construct is “useful” in practice this becomes a critical issue. The rationality embedded in a theory with such a claim must resonate with existing rationality in practice, that is, the theory needs to be based on a deep understanding of practice in all its richness and complexity. This means that the proposed rationality has to resonate with or at least pay respect to every aspect relevant in practice, such as, management, resources, time, skill and competence, even if these aspects are not core to the theory.

The theoretical and philosophical foundation that Shusterman offers is, in my view, excellent and should be required readings for any designer engaged with embodied interaction. But I find that the proposed theory or more precisely the suggested practical applications does not yet show enough resonance with existing practice or pay enough insight and respect to the complexity of existing practice. At the same time, it is unclear to what extent the practical design side of somaesthetics isn’t already practiced. Maybe what many interaction designers are already doing in their serious attempts to capture people’s overall experience of interacting with artifacts are already examples of a somaesthetic approach. If so, then Shusterman’s contribution is not to be evaluated in relation to how “useful” it is but to how well it establishes a scholarly and philosophical foundation that existing practice may relate to and rest upon. If that is the case then instead of reading somaesthetics as an approach for design it could be used as a suitable tool for analyzing and understanding existing practice. But, if somaesthetics is actually meant to be seen as something radically different when transformed into practice then we are still looking forward to that to be developed and explained.

21.11.1 References

  • Rogers, Y. (2004) New Theoretical Approaches for Human-Computer Interaction, Annual Review of Information, Science and Technology, vol. 38 pp. 87-143.
  • Stolterman, E. (2008). The nature of design practice and implications for interaction design research. International Journal of Design, 2,1 55-65.

Lowgren, Jonas, Stolterman, Erik A. (2004): Thoughtful Interaction Design: A Design Perspective on Information Technology, MIT Press,

Lowgren, Jonas, Stolterman, Erik A. (1998): Design av informationsteknik - materialet utan egenskaper, Studenterlitteratur,