Spacial and visual Interfaces

The managed learning environment is a collection of resources, in our instance related to Art & Design teaching and learning — this is our data.

The way this data is stored specifically digital data in the current systems be that our personal computer or our online environment tend to mirror the office of the 1960’s.

Conventional electronic documents were designed in the 1970s by well-funded conventional thinkers at Xerox PARC, who asked, “How can we imitate paper?” (Nelson,2016)

Teaching and learning resources are uploaded to blackboard for ease of access and to save paper. The only difference in regards to distribution is bits rather than atoms, the principles are fundamentally the same. The interfaces we use to navigate teaching and learning resources are based on the principles of paper.

Research into interface design and potential speculative futures based on a longer look at design history and future thinking interfaces that apply human centre design

Industrial design

By unlocking learning data via the guiding principles of information design, there is the potential to realise and discover new avenues of making and thinking. The application of this principle within an networked environment that caters for and nurtures a learning network (Watters, 2015) via a set of ‘starter’ materials has the opportunity to unlock ideas that we have yet to realise.

  • Timetable
  • Scheme of Work
  • Detailed Session Plan
  • Slides (launches / information)
  • Project Brief
  • Reading list
  • Workshop Materials Outline
  • Videos / Training Videos
  • Links (URL’s)

Keep it Simple Stupid (KISS)

  • Slide deck
  • Text Document
  • LINKs

Of, or relating to space and the relationship of objects within it

The world wide web (www) imitates this paradigm of documents, all be it connected but still the connections are unclear and unseen. Ted Nelson refers to them as ‘Jump-links’ as you don’t know where you will land.

Blackboard, Moodle et all. continue to emulate this process, again connected to the administration of the learning and not to the develop or consideration of the learning so most interfaces we engageswith now are either based on navigating documents and folders or more recently in timelines. To get around the disconnect of the connections, search has led the way to help us understand these pieces but still does not provide context and connections in a visual way.

Looking at the work of Ted Nelson and others and connected this thinking to studio based networked learning, The PhD will present new ways to visualise and represent the learning materials.


Graph Commons

Ted Nelson Xanadu

A spatial interface allows users to take advantage of their visual memory and pattern recognition. (Shippman F M, Marshall C, 1999)

Shippman F M, Marshall C, 1999. Spatial hypertext: An alternative to navigational and semantic links. 31, pp.U69–U73.

Spatial Interfaces by Pasquale dSilva

Nuclino app

Spacial UI for firefox

Twenty-five years from now, no one will be clicking on drop-down menus, but everyone will still be pointing at maps and correcting each others’ sentences. It’s fundamental. Good information software reflects how humans, not computers, deal with information.


Ideally, simplification means making the content (the product, the system or the rules) simpler but often all we want to do is present it in a way that is easier to use and understand. (Simplification Centre, 2010) Centre for Information Design Research

The terms data and information are often used synonymously, but it’s important to differentiate between the two. Data holds no meaning on its own, it’s through the process of interpretation and the assignment of meaning that data becomes information. (InformForm, 2012)

Instead of data visualisation, Felton imagines a future built upon pure insight. No one needs to see a weather radar, he contends, when all you really want to know is whether or not you need an umbrella. (Fast Co Design, 2015)

Context driven design is seamless and almost transparent, a recent update to the app Dark Sky enables custom notifications on the weather conditions to prompt the user to take action without the need to ever view the user interface (UI); the Apple WATCH Glances offer a similar option.

We are not concerned with is “data decoration” (Mollerup, 2014) and so it is clear to lay down issues within this field and pin point the principles of information design.

Joseph D. Novak took Piaget’s work into the visual realm and invented Concept Mapping in 1972 as a result. The idea is very simple though there are conventions which add to the power of the system and which constrains it, such as adding labels and arrows to the connecting lines. The basic idea is to let the user put whatever knowledge they have on an issue onto cards (physical or virtual) which can then be laid out in patterns and lines can be drawn between them.This then allows the user to organise their information visually and to see where there might be gaps and contradictions – using the powerful human visual processing system to augment their (relatively) tiny working memory.This allows us to ‘see’ our own thoughts, which is a powerful tool to help us understand our own thoughts and how they relate to the available information about the world.The result of this process is revelatory and useful, but it has a few downsides which need to be addressed: This view does not easily convey a narrative to guide a secondary reader, it does not support long-form writing and there are no common document formats to interchange the layout.


Bret Victor / IBM / Parc Xerox / Ted Nelson / Alan Kay /

Ivan Sutherland, Marvin Minsky, Seymour Papert, Gordon Moore, Bob Barton, Dave Evans, Butler Lampson, Jerome Bruner,


Tuft, E., 2001. The Visual Display of Quantatife information

Mollerup, P., 2015. Data Design, Bloomsbury Publishing.

Nelson, 2016, xUniverse-D6. Available at: Accessed March 29, 2017.

Paraizo, R.C. & Kós, J.R., 2010. Heritage, Place and Interactivity: Rethinking Space Representation. … of Research on Technologies and Cultural

Styliaras, G., 2010. Handbook of Research on Technologies and Cultural Heritage: Applications and Environments, IGI Global.

CONCEPT MAPPING literature review ??

Can We Talk about Spatial Hypertext? Mark Bernstein

Open Source Code and Creative Commons Files

The source for the tools built within the PhD will use a GNU AFFERO GENERAL PUBLIC LICENSE, this is an ethical choice to provide the community with the code so new instances of the tools can be freely used within other organisations and also allows a team of contributors to support the building of the tools. I am not a computer science graduate and the aim of these tools is to test ideas around extending the community of practice . This will also engage the project with a wider public audience. As the Open Education Consortium says:

sharing is probably the most basic characteristic of education: education is sharing knowledge, insights and information with others, upon which new knowledge, skills, ideas and understanding can be built.

The manifesto will dictate all tools created should be open source.

The word “free” in our name does not refer to price; it refers to freedom. First, the freedom to copy a program and redistribute it to your neighbours, so that they can use it as well as you. Second, the freedom to change a program, so that you can control it instead of it controlling you; for this, the source code must be made available to you. (Stallman, 1986)

Eric Raymond – the Cathedral and the Bazaar

Creative Commons (2001)


  • Reuse—the right to reuse content in its unaltered, verbatim form;
  • Revise—the right to adapt, adjust, modify or alter the content itself;
  • Remix—the right to combine the original or revised content with other content to create something new; and
  • Redistribute—the right to make and share copies of the original content, revisions, or remixes with others (Wiley, 2009).

P2P university (2009)

Jim Groom would go on to found DS106 an open online course about digital storytelling that would be one of the original platforms of open pedagogy.

  • Edupunk

Open content

Open source yet design authoritarian

Manifesto principles

All contributions to the system must be creative commons licensed

Barcelona to go open source

CC book

Brazil government


Richard Stallman / Aral Balakan / Dave Wiley / John Dewey The school and society

Yochai Benkler, Clay Shirky, Mitchell Baker / Ivan Illich / Linus Torvalds / GNU/Linux

Fit the principles or OER.

Scenarios couldn’t be CC versus Copyright.

knows the rules

Peer to Peer and Decentralisation.

Knowledge production has shifted from being framed as a closed system to being an open system, one that is networked, responsive and expanding. (Vaughan, 2017)

To working within the knowledge economy you cannot work within a niche closed process but instead must have the ability to engage and address complex and diverse problems. This process is support by networking and combining knowledge. Current systems within teaching and learning are silos that as the evidence suggests provides nothing more than a digital repository. Many are closed, off the shelf products supported by annual charges inherently inflexible and not adaptable to the needs of these future knowledge workers.

The need for better tools to support the changing economy has seen huge investment in Edutech specifically from Silicon Valley. From 2010 to 2014 there was more than a 503% growth in investment with a major peak in 2015. Venture capital invested in Edutech in 2017 was $3.48 billion (Watters, 2017), there is certainly no let up in investment.

There is a clear history of technology companies operates at a loss with this type of venture capital backing based on potential user volume and then finding a way to sell that data at a later point. The business model of data mining specifically connected to targeted advertising is the main model of operation for this style of VC investment. This general business practice has problematic consequences. A move to data mining as the business model for Edutech is the promise that you can measure (all) learning.

Enslaved to the tyranny of testing and measurement, the affordances of todays technology in EdTech form are being used to develop ever more efficient ways of delivering a 19th century curriculum.

If an algorithm is to provide you with a tailored education you will have to give up your data and your privacy to undertake such a education.

This is a model that lead to standardisation, privatisation and centralisation.


Perhaps we have lost sight of what education is for and why we send our kids to school? Essentially we are using today’s digital platforms to go into reverse. We’re talking about content, and teacher at the front distribution while measuring the effectiveness of our tech by improvement in measured learning outcomes for which read, passing tests.

Children given a toy and shown how to use it will “learn” how the toy works, but will not explore beyond what they are shown.  This is true even if they simply overhear instructions being given to a child in the same room.  Children not given instruction will explore the same toy with a wider range of investigations and will find things that the first groups of children do not find.  (Bonawitz et al, 2011, quoted in Invent to Learn)

for-profit internet monopolies such as search engines and social networks (Berners-Lee)

it’s not about the technology but the concept of peer learning and peer support should be embedded in good education practice. A system with peer to peer at the heart has the potential to unlock collaboration and foster new connections and knowledge. The web started this way however the visualisation of the web was lost on the way and the centralisation has started.

Search is the prime means of moving through the network owned by Google.

Timelines are the other method of navigating the network owned by Facebook.

Both sets of data are manipulated to the viewer. Context awareness would be useful however this is not the reason for manipulation. The reason is advertising. It could be manipulation. Why is your instagram timeline no longer time based?

gutenburg press

facebook / google data mining

Privacy – aware of the issues

Blackboard old business model

better for sharing / control

we can set up anywhere.


Sharing is important why P2P


Vaughan, L. 2017. Practice-based Design Research, Bloomsbury Publishing.

Networked Learning

Image CC BY x6e38
Image CC BY x6e38

If, as some argue, learning networks are powerful new ways for us to organise and share as learners, then we must consider how we can build and wield them. (Watters, 2015)

This overarching research itself will not focus on educational theory however it is key to outline the relevant theories within the context of studio based practice and where a digital tool could take advantage of the resulting situation and learning experiences in ways that are yet to be realised.

Cognitive Constructivism

This first area is Cognitive Constructivism, this is how are own mental maps or schemas (Piaget, 1936) are constructed and that through our experiences, our learning is defined as a change in the schema. The more we are exposed to new experiences and circumstances the more our schema’s become defined, refined and expanded. A basic example is the introduction of new animals to a child, a child who has encountered a horse, may on first encounter with a cow consider it a type of horse. A child that has already encountered a dog, may on first encounter with a miniature horse conclude it is a dog, the experience of these encounters adjusts the child’s schema.

Teaching means creating situations where structures can be discovered. (Piaget)

Cognitive Constructivism within teaching and learning is often known as experiential learning. The tutor acts as a guide and not as the expert. This type of experiential activity is often facilitated within the KOLB learning cycle, and is often embedded within a curriculum’s project structure to facilitate the experiences and thus create new schema’s and build new knowledge.

Social Constructivism

The theory of Social Constructivism adds the social context to our learning. It is through this social collaboration that students are able to create meaning and connect new knowledge to their current schema. Scaffolding (Bruner, 1960) of curriculum meets the zone of proximity (Vygotsky, 1978) and plays a key role in facilitating advanced experiential learning. Scaffolding within the curriculum embeds the idea of progressing students through a series of interactions to gain more understanding and greater independence of learning, by placing students and tutors within physical close proximity they enhance this defines scaffolding. The focus of Social Constructivism revolves around placing a knowledgeable other at the centre of this process, often the tutor, guiding the learning and managing the social context however the group would all be actively involved in collaborative peer learning.

If your dots are not observable/visible/transparent, then it’s impossible to connect them. (Tullis)



The final theory to be aware of is Connectivism. This is sometimes argued as a reimagining of social constructivism for the digital age, however Siemens states that this is not the case and that it should be considered a new theory. Connnectivism takes the idea of the social network but expands it due to the emergence of the web and that the knowledgeable other is not just the tutor or peers but resources and information located online. A key to note in support of this type of expanded learning activity and how to gain the most from the network is the ability to share and even use a tool outside the confines of an institution.

Bozarth, J (2014)

Within Art & Design education these theories outlined above collectively underpin many of the studio based activities in which learning occurs. The networked learner takes advantage of the situation where learning occurs not just within the studio but also externally and is a process of many interactions and experiences, it is the learner’s task to bring this together. Technology should enhance this process.

These theories must be understood as underpinning Studio based education and this research will be utilising and be guided by the principles within both for the digital tool and the manifesto. This will thus be distilled into three discreet areas to be considered in the design and making phase.

– Experience
– Context
– Networking.


Chapter Bibliography

  • Bozarth, J (2014), Show Your Work, Center for Creative Leadership, New York, Wiley.
  • Cooper, P. A. (1993). Paradigm Shifts in Designed Instruction: From Behaviorism to Cognitivism to Constructivism. Educational technology, 33(5), 12-19.
  • Downes, S. (2006). Learning networks and connective knowledge. Collective intelligence and elearning, 20, 1-26. Chicago
  • Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (1993). Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective.Performance improvement quarterly, 6(4), 50-72.
  • J L., 2015. Cognitivism – Learning Theories. Available at: Accessed May 9, 2017.
  • Kolb, D.A. (1984): Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  • Kolb, D. A. (2014). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. FT press.
  • Kop, R., & Hill, A. (2008). Connectivism: Learning theory of the future or vestige of the past?. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning Available at:
  • Lave, J. (1991). Situating learning in communities of practice. Perspectives on socially shared cognition, 2, 63-82. Chicago
  • Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge university press. Chicago
  • Perry, William G. (1999). Forms of Ethical and Intellectual Development in the College Years. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
  • Piaget, J. (1952). The origins of intelligence in children (Vol. 8, No. 5, pp. 18-1952). New York: International Universities Press. Chicago
  • Piaget, J. (1976). Piaget’s theory. In Piaget and his school (pp. 11-23). Springer Berlin Heidelberg. Chicago
  • Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: Learning as network-creation. ASTD Learning News, 10(1). Chicago
  • Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Chicago
  • Vygotsky, L (1978). Mind in Society. London: Harvard University Press.
  • Watters, A. (2015), Learning Networks, Not Teaching Machines. Available at:
  • Wheeler.S (2013), Active learning spaces. Available at:

Delightful Design

Emotional design for user interfaces has more recently been directly connected to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (Maslow, 1943). In Designing for Emotion (Walter, 2011) Walter starts the book off with the conclusion that for a truly great user interface you need to provide what he translates from Maslow’s theory to a moment or moments of pleasure. This is of course an over simplification of Maslow’s theory. Although not inaccurate this specific approach is then connected to anthropomorphic design and personality design choices that aim to please the user through the abstraction of the digital binary into human interactions.

This approach has thus been connected from pleasure to delight.

delight |dɪˈlʌɪt| verb with object please (someone) greatly: an experience guaranteed to delight both young and old.

Within design the term delightful is often being considered in terms of adding a character or a personality into an application to make it more human. This has seen the rise of services utilising an object or animal with human characteristics (Tuah, 2016. Catrambone, 2002). Such recent commercial examples include Twitter, Duolingo, Waze, Headspace, Tapsbots apps Tweetbot, Pastebot, Weightbot and CalcBot, alongside Internet connected products such Bergs little Printer and Schooloscope, which took complex data about school performance and visualised this as anthropomorphised school houses.

Of course one of the early examples in Human Computer Interaction (HCI) often cited in an attempt to humanise the interface is the often derided Clipit or Clippy one of the assistants within Microsoft Office.

Clippy was part of Office Assistant. Clippy however was not well received in user testing (Meyer, 2015) prior to inclusion in the release of Office 97 and subsequently didn’t fair any better with users after release. Yet Clippy was part of a series of work where Microsoft looked at using animated characters (McKraken, 2009) within there interfaces and according to Alan Cooper (Cooper, Unknown) Clippy this was due to a “tragic misunderstanding” of research conducted at Stanford University by Nass and Reeves (Nass et al., 1995) that showed that when people use computers parts of the brain react in the same was as people to people interaction and as such it could be beneficial to include a human-like side within their software.

Clippy’s aim as part of a suite of intelligent software was to identify a task you where undertaking and provide assistance. Rather than using a standard dialog based wizard1 Clippy’s human characteristics would reduce your frustration and enable you to complete the task in a positive and delightful manner. Unfortunately Clippy’s reliance on this intelligent was probably a little too early in the history of artificial intelligence within consumer devices and Clippy would often be asking users if they wished to “Format a Letter” again and again.

A more recent example of this type of Human Computer Interaction is Freddie the Mailchimp Monkey, a very successful implementation of humanisation to support user actions. Freddie has much more intelligence to support his own interactions and he is held within a much more focussed environment, that of sending bulk email. Freddie works well for a number of reasons but at the core of his design is the fact he is a direct extension of the MailChimp brand, without Freddie, MailChimp wouldn’t be MailChimp.

Freddie makes quips and jokes as you navigate the interface. He is very context aware and knows what you have done before and has access to information about you which allows his interactions to have a deeper level of personalisation. However his main aim is to enhance the MailChimp brand. Freddie is clearly a cheeky monkey dressed to look like a postman. He is always ready to help you deliver your electronic mail. His interactions and interventions are designed to make a tedious, repeatable task more enjoyable. Clippy was context aware however Freddie is much more sophisticated and doesn’t make the mistake of forgetting previous interactions. His context awareness and its implementation are an important part of the process of humanising a purely electronic transaction, it makes Freddie appear to be alive.

Referring to the similar examples and more Jerry Cao, Kamil Zieba and Matt Ellis attempt to Deconstruct Delightful Design in a Fastco Blog post(Cao et all, 2016) suggesting;

Delightful design is the icing on the cake, but only the very best icing … And that by weaving in elements of delight that do not distract from usability … you’ll create a state of pleasurable functionality.

I disagree and feel this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of Delightful Design within Human Computer Interaction. I will argue that this process must not sit on top of functional or usable interfaces but should be an integral part of the design process. A functional and usable system is not adequate. Their article concludes with a quote from a User on Board blog post (Anon, 2013) that states:

people don’t buy better products, they buy better versions of themselves.

Feel good, Buy stuff

Another example of this context aware design and pleasurable approach to user interfaces has been growing over the last decade and has been used with great effect within social media platforms and tech start ups. To understand a user and provide moments of pleasure and greater context awareness you need to know much more about that user. So data collection has become the objective and business model of the most prominent technology we engage with on a daily basis.

Advertising revenue is the business model for Facebook, Google and the vast majority of technology companies. This revenue is driven by data gathered about users interactions across multiple touch points that allow advertising to be directed but also allow the technology company to manipulate the persons view of the data they provide or show, so as to retain user attention and thus serve up more adverts and subsequently gather more data. These services often hand data over to each other to track users across platforms. Facebook and others ensure users stay on a site for as long as possible by providing dopamine hits.

Facebook’s founders knew they were creating something addictive that exploited “a vulnerability in human psychology” from the outset. (Parker, 2017)

This type of behavioural change is discussed in detail within Thinking Fast and Slow (Kahneman, 2012), Nudge (Thaler, 2012) and Hooked (Eyal, 2014). It is however not delightful to manipulate people and is purely motivated for profit and not empowering. Clippy was annoying, but with this next level of data and context driven purely out of business and algorithmic needs new concerns arise that provide cruel repercussions. Eric Meyer tragically lost his daughter to Cancer in 2014 and Facebook’s year in review greeted him with the message “Eric, here’s what your year looked like!” followed by an image of his deceased daughter. Facebook in this instance didn’t have all the data and made a very poor choice (Meyer, 2014).

Our lives are a string of experiences. Experiences with people and experiences with things. And we, as designers — as the people who craft experiences — we have a profound responsibility to make every experience as beautiful, as comfortable, as painless, as empowering, and as delightful as possible (Balkan, 2013)

CP Snow (1959) lamented the fact that the intellectual life of the whole of western society was scarred by the gap between the opposing cultures of science and engineering on the one hand, and the humanities on the other.

The increasing use of chatbots within our connected services will also likely see a rise of humanisation through playful interactions however the need to understand context is highly important, when portraying algorithmic interactions as real interactions.

Within the design of our connected society we appear to have lost our way. Delightful Design in the broadest sense should be embedded in the design process and is fundamental when our live are mediated through a constant connected society.

The aspiration to empower Humans through the interactions they have to undertake is what is Delightful Design. It is not injecting personality that might win over your target audience, or nudging them to purchase more items.

I thus want to reclaim the term Delightful Design and insist that it is fundamental when designing interfaces and interactions for Humans, not for pleasure but for empowerment. It is not the icing on the cake, amusing wit, whimsy or a paperclip brought to life, although your product may require those things, Delightful Design is the most effective way to design Human Computer Interaction.

Why Delightful Digital Design Educational Tools?

(STILL IN DRAFT this section)


Section Bibliography

  • Anon, Never Mix Up Features with Benefits Ever Again | User Onboarding. Available at: Accessed December 19, 2017.
  • Cao, J. Zieba, K. Ellis, M. Delightful Design, Deconstructed. Available at: Accessed December 19, 2017.
  • Catrambone, R., 2002. Anthropomorphic Agents as a User Interface Paradigm: Experimental Findings and a Framework for Research. pp.1–6.
  • Cooper, A., Lost Tech Clips. Available at: Accessed December 19, 2017.
  • Deakin, F. & Webb, C., 2016. Post Digital Art School Report, London. Available at: Accessed December 19, 2017.
  • Culkin, J, 1967. A Schoolman’s Guide To Marshall McLuhan. The Saturday Review, pp.51–53.
  • McCraken, H., 2009. The Secret Origins of Clippy. Available at: Accessed December 20, 2017.
  • Meyer, E., Inadvertent Algorithmic Cruelty. Available at:
  • Accessed December 19, 2017.
  • Meyer, R., Even Early Focus Groups Hated Clippy. Available at: Accessed December 19, 2017.
  • NASS, C. et al., 1995. Can Computer Personalities Be Human Personalities. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 43(2), pp.223–239.
  • Naughton, J. How a half-educated tech elite delivered us into chaos. Accessed December 19, 2017.
  • Norman, D.A., 2007. Emotional Design, Basic Books.
  • Parker, S. x-Facebook president Sean Parker: site made to exploit human ‘vulnerability’. Available at: Accessed December 19, 2017.
  • Tuah, N.M., Wills, G.B. & Ranchhod, A., 2016. The Characteristics and Application of Anthropomorphic Interface: A Design Spectrum,
  1. A wizard is piece of software that helps a user set up or install software. A wizard is also used to create documents. It asks the user questions and leads the user through the construction of a document, for example, a report from a database.

Next Steps / Timeline

  1. Complete this Document (Feb 16th 2018)
  2. Identify workshops that could pilot prototypes (Jan – March 2018)
  3. Make Prototypes, test, Iterate (April – Dec 2018…)
  4. Build Manifesto and Iterate (April – Dec 2018…)

Delightful, Decentralised, Design-Led and Open.



The practical work within the PhD and the methods I use to interrogate the concepts of the PhD are an integral part of the process and thus the documentation and strands undertake need to be secured and documented in a much more robust manner of collection. The concept is to produce a system that captures on a regular basis the activities being undertake. This capture will take the form of micro blogs, micro casts, longer form journal style reflective posts, shared notebooks and conversational longer podcasts. This documentation will also form a type of Ethnography1 of the process and will inform the writing up stage within the PhD as well as provide the opportunity to open the project to participation.

In doing so this process and not just the source code approach an opensource ethos

  • Working open?
  • Redhat BOOK
  • Greenpeace open design

The PhD will involve a series of prototypes and outputs however the main interface planned is one constructed around the principle of sharing two type’s of learning material, the slidedeck and the text document. These two types of document are core to Design teaching. Projects run within a HE Art School use this simple structure.

What I am going to use and do

media ethnography

  • participant observation
  • focus groups
  • open-ended interviews (face-to-face or online)
  • visual ethnography (photography, video)
  • auto ethnography
  • virtual ethnography

Participatory Action Research (PAR) paradigm. As stated by Alice McIntyre (2008) ‘the three characteristics of PAR are: the active participation of researchers and participants in the co-construction of knowledge; the promotion of self and critical awareness that leads to individual, collective and/or social change; and the building of alliances between researchers and participants in the planning, implementation and dissemination of the research process.’

Design speculation within the sessions to test concepts and theory out with students.

Design today is concerned primarily with commercial and marketing activities but it could operate on a more intellectual level. It could place new technological developments within imaginary but believable everyday situations that would allow us to debate the implications of different technological futures before they happen. Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby

  • See more at:


Agile / Modular design / Atomic Design


Pink, S., (null) & Lanzeni, D., 2016. Digital Materialities, Bloomsbury Publishing.

Anon, 2009. Rocket Surgery Made Easy, New Riders.

Anon, 2011. 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People, Pearson Education.

  1. Ethnography is the systematic study of people and cultures. It is designed to explore cultural phenomena where the researcher observes society from the point of view of the subject of the study.

The Problem with ‘Blackboard’

You only have to ask a tutor or student about Blackboard to find that there is rarely a positive word to be said about this system. However negative comment is usually followed by tips to improve such a system; in fact everyone seems to know how to ‘fix’ Blackboard. Others are indifferent, so long as they can upload course materials. However Blackboard and such systems often promise to enhance education and yet there is very little evidence that this is the case.

Despite the widespread application of digital technologies in higher education there is scant evidence to suggest that these have had a significant impact on student learning (Bainbridge, 2014)

It is worth noting that within Higher Education their introduction appears to have been driven from agendas that had little to do with enhancing education.

This imposition often reflects what amounts to a thoughtless approach to teaching and learning, in which pedagogy is side-lined by neo-liberal practices of efficiency and surveillance (Hannon and Bretag, 2010; Holley et al., 2011). (BainBridge, 2014)

We will use Blackboard as our example. Blackboard is the currently the largest installed Learning Management System (LMS) across the globe and caters for a host of courses within both Further Education and Higher Education. However all the mainstream LMS’s suffer from the same issue.

However, this research will not defend the need for a digital learning tool; we will take this as a given. But I agree that “In education it is often taken for granted that technologies can ‘enhance learning” (Kirkwood, Adrian and Price, Lind, a 2014).

We shape our tools and then our tools shape us. (Culkin, J. 1967)

Blackboard emulates the real world, as a simulation. In this instance the simulation is an office environment where there are administrative processes to connect staff or students to specific files and folders.

The system can be imagined as a locked filing cabinet where each person knows the specific code to access a specific folder within a give cabinet. This process inherently upholds the top down hierarchy, for example a folder that a student has access to is not a location she can put new items, unlike the tutor, the folder to the student is read only, they cannot even attach anything to this folder. This is the default. This setting comes from the administrative database centre which has to categorise individuals against roles as tutor or student.

These systems thus by their design become a holding location for materials that staff are obligated to provide. They provide one improvement over paper, namely that the student cannot lose the document.

This research will argue that current models of the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) are based on models that in fact continue to perpetuate the mundane.

The tension between new tools and old practices should give you a hint. It’s simple to introduce iPads into the classroom, for example. It’s much more difficult to use them to do entirely new things, particularly things that run counter to how classrooms have operated in the past. (Watters, 2015)

We have also seen this tension play out within sectors that have been slow to adopt a new practice whether that be the music industry (streaming) or the publishing industry (eBooks). They attempt in the first instance to mirror current paradigms within the new space. Even smart technology and design led organisations can fall full of this, the  (Apple) WATCH, much like the term Blackboard hangs onto notions of previous practice.

It’s like calling a smartphone a pocket watch, or a computer an electronic abacus. (Debenham, 2015)

Of course in a number of instances tutors use Blackboard well and provide simple and accessible materials. So why make changes? Encouraging tutors to use best practice in a robust, well supported and well understood system may provide the same level of benefits.

Let’s take a simple example that looks at one action within Blackboard versus another system, in this instance Slack. Slack is a digital platform for messaging, sharing and working as a team and has emerged as a leading tool within design studios. We will look at sharing a URL with a group of students.

The URL is already copied to the clipboard and so we can proceed to share the link to a group of students


  1. Launch Browser
  2. Visit VLE URL
  3. Log in
  4. Select Course
  5. Select Course Content Folder
  6. Select Build Content > Web link
  7. Paste in URL and Save


  1. Launch App
  2. Select Course
  3. Paste and Press Enter

This simple action is over 50% more efficient. Slack provides a level of intuitive delight that within terms of user experience would be often connected to Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs;

This research will look at reconsidering the type of experience specifically within a system designed for art & design studio based practice. Later within this document we will discuss what is delightful design in more detail.

Blackboard of course understands the need to enhance UI and has made strides to address the user interface within its system. In 2015 The Blackboard New School was set up to address this by creating principles to enhance the user experience within its product.

However this is not a fundamental change to the architecture but a new lick of paint, emperors new clothes. There is of course the application of basic digital native approaches such as gestures and intuitive interface elements however the underlying structure is still files and folders wrapped up in top down access and permissions.

Business practice

As we move forward, building the digital institution, I think we must retrace and unwind some of these connections. (Watters, 2014)

It should also be noted that Blackboard is not inherently going to change. They have a very successful business model that has been in place since their inception in 1997. However we only have to look at major record labels or publishers to understand reluctance to change, specifically when connected to a highly successful and profitable business model. This could however be the downfall of Blackboard.

We are thus at a point where we can decide if the future model for education is surveillance and data akin to the proximate Silicon Valley model or if Edutech has a future based around open practice, specific pedagogy and the needs of the tutors and students.

This research will look at models outside of the status quo in regards to both ethical practice and cutting edge digital design practice.

Indie ed-tech underscores the importance of students and scholars alike controlling their intellectual labor and their data; it questions the need for VC-funded, proprietary tools that silo and exploit users; it challenges the centrality of the LMS in all ed-tech discussions and the notion that there can be one massive (expensive) school-wide system to rule them all; it encourages new forms of open, networked learning that go beyond the syllabus, beyond the campus. It’s not only a different sort of infrastructure, it’s a different sort of philosophy than one sees promoted by Silicon Valley — by the ed-tech industry or the (ed-)tech press.  (Watters, 2015)

The next four sections will outline the approaches this research will utilise to guide and focus the design of both the digital tool and the manifesto.


Studio Based Practice

Studio based practice fosters collaboration and iteration with a flat hierarchy. In doing so the studio environment promotes innovation, enables fear-free collaboration and supports new learning. Conversations and ideas can cross all levels of understanding. In our context undergraduate, tutor and professor cross over via the use of the physical studio.

The theory of scaffolding (Bruner) also applies where students can gain support for their learning from their peers, their tutors and also through their tools. These include the Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky) which describes how individual learners can extend the amount they learn when they are connected to other more knowledgeable individuals. (Wheeler.S, 2014)

The institutional teaching and learning interfaces, Blackboard et al do not extend the concept of studio based practice. They merely provide an often cumbersome content delivery system which is unyielding and dull. The system in no way embrace’s current teaching theory but languishes behind as an outdated filing system.

This scenario has led to a tension between personalised learning networks (PLN), web 2.0 and other technologies that students regularly engage with on a daily basis and the outdated institutional systems that support their structured learning.

Students utilise personal learning environments they are comfortable with. These environments are often silos that mainly facilitate individual and personal filing of objects related to learning and knowledge acquisition.

The controlled institutional system inherently supports and reinforces a top down hierarchy of learning.

Both are in contrast to studio based practice which actively promotes the idea of a Community of Practice.


Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. (Wenger-Trayner, E. and Wenger-Trayner, B. 2015)

Studio based Learning

Education must begin with the solution of the student-teacher contradiction, by reconciling the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously teachers and students. (Freire, 1970)

Within a University environment specifically we should all be learning. Learning is not a one way flow but a co-determining situation between tutors and students. Learning should be an environment, an ecology in which not only cognitive but also affective events happen. If an institution’s systems are designed to support this principle they would also need to be hierarchy free – a decentralised system.

He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man. (Jefferson, 1813)

Experiential learning and constructivism have been used in teaching of Art & Design since its inception. The Bauhaus and the ULM design models are clear markers for this type of teaching. However it can be argued that studio based learning starts back with the notion of the apprentice in the atelier and even further to the guilds of the Middle Ages, centred primarily on the arts and crafts. Apprentices worked and learned skills in the studio with the master designer or artist.

The idea is to think of a classroom/community/network as an ecosystem in which each person is spreading their own understanding with the pieces the available in that ecosystem. The public negotiation of that ‘acquisition’ (through content creation, sharing) provides a contextual curriculum to remix back into the existing research/thoughts/ideas in a given field. (Cormier, 2012)

The studio provides this space and the projects engage in all type of activity to support learning be that by doing (Piaget,1950) and/or making (Papert, 1960). Thinking-through-making is key.

However within the studio all learners undertake independent investigation and now the vast majority of that investigation is digital or digitised. The practice of pinning up work within the studio is designed to facilitate the growth of the community, the sharing of this data. However institutional digital tools provide no true mechanism to support this process alongside the studio and PLE are very personal; sharing is a secondary feature.

If I have seen further, it is by standing on ye shoulders of giants. (Newton, 1675)

Section Bibliography

  • Anderson, T., 2008. The Theory and Practice of Online Learning, Athabasca University Press.
  • Cormier, D., 2012., Trying to write rhizomatic learning in 300 words. Available at: Accessed April 12, 2017.
  • Freire, P., 2014. Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Bloomsbury Publishing USA.
  • Jefferson, T. & Washington, H.A., 2011. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Cambridge University Press.
  • Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms. Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas. New York: Basic books.
  • Piaget, J., & Cook, M. T. (1952). The origins of intelligence in children. New York, NY: International University Press.


Artefact One – A Digital Tool

Within Higher Education (HE) there is a level of user design that would not be acceptable elsewhere the digital tools often used are at an impasse.

Digital Design however has been moving fast adopting agile methodologies, rapid iteration and user testing to bring about new products that challenge the market. Apps such as Uber, Air B&B, DICE tickets and more have questioned the very nature of some current business practices, while others have revolutionised the way we share images, such as instagram.

Uber’s original premise was simple. “Push a button, get a ride.”
Uber’s original premise was simple. “Push a button, get a ride.”

The managed learning environment and even the managed apps within HE are slow to change and slow to respond to the needs of the user, be that staff or student. Of course there are many factors that impact on this and unlike the consumer space the corporate considerations around procurement, deployment and security often take precedence. The finance and administrative needs of an institute tend to drive the change. This is often at the frustration of staff and students.

The area that this PhD is focussed on is the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). This directly impacts teaching and rubs up against the consumer model directly. In this instance the focus is systems such as Blackboard, Moodle or Canvas. Currently these systems in the main instance act as a repository for the teaching and learning materials for the tutors. These systems add very little value to the classroom, and specifically to studio based practice. Of course, over time, these systems over time have been added to with messaging, wikis, forums and even lecture capture to try and bridge the gaps.

This PhD will refocus on just the core delivery materials within art & design teaching and the connected resources and imagine new approaches that could better support studio based practice and networked learning.

This area is clearly recognised by many in Silicon Valley with claims that education is now ripe for disruption. There continues to be a proliferation of venture capital backed projects looking to move into this space.

Funding to education-technology companies is booming. Overall, the period from 2010 to 2014 saw more than a 503% growth in investment dollars. (Anon,2015)

Instead of looking towards Silicon Valley for business model inspiration this research will look at design practice and digitally native practices, it will utilise ideas of open source, indie tech and indie ed-tech as an alternative approach to the future of ed-tech, as a way to unlock the potential of the network.

Indie ed-tech, much like the indie music from which it takes its inspiration, seeks to offer an alternative to the algorithms, the labels, the templates, the profiling, the extraction, the exploitation, the control. It’s a big task—an idealistic one, no doubt. (Watters, 2016)

Although the research will involve a series of prototypes the main interface planned is one constructed around the principle of sharing two type’s of learning material, the slide deck and the text document. These two types of ‘document’ are core to art & design teaching. The text document is the brief and the slide deck is the wider context and launch. Both are presented at that start of every project but of course projects can contain more than one brief and more than one slide deck. Projects currently run within a UK HE Art School use this structure within their modules.

Artefact Two – The Manifesto

The investigation into a digital tool to better support teaching and learning for studio based practice will also yield and be guided by the creation of a Design Manifesto.

the Manifesto is a document of an ideology, crafted to convince and convert (Caws, 2001)

The Design Manifesto will outline the principles for creating future teaching and learning digital tools for studio based practice focusing on new paradigms specific to the digital medium. It will have wider application in developing future digital teaching and learning tools. Future tools that are delightful, design driven, ethical and open.

Part of the Manifesto and the design choices will evolve from current human centred digital design practice and be connected directly to education theories of constructivism and connectivism.

The building of the digital tool and testing of the prototypes will also refine the Design Manifesto.

The PhD will not be looking at assessment, messaging or administrative processes. However it will be concerned with understanding groups of learners within studio practice art & design situations.

This document outlines specific areas of research being undertaken and the key pillars that will inform the tool and the manifesto.

Section Bibliography

  • Anon, 2015. Funding To VC-Backed Education Technology Startups Grows 503% over 5 Years. Available at: Accessed April 11, 2017.
  • Watters, A., 2016. The Curse of the Monsters of Education Technology,
  • Caws, M.A., 2001. Manifesto, U of Nebraska Press. Manifesto.