Do we know how to design successful social environments? Is "social experience design" understood as well as "visual design" or "interaction design"? Not yet, says Xianhang "Hang" Zhang. He believes social design is still in its pre-scientific era: inefficient, error-prone, and unpredictable.
Hang discusses the design of social software and his effort to create a Product Design Guild, an organization for building greater design talent in Silicon Valley. He believes we lack the formal theory and principles for creating social experiences. Interaction design methods, based on human-computer interaction research, don't apply, since they deal with interactions between the human and the computer. In contrast, social experience design addresses the interactions between people, perhaps mediated by technology.
For the last four and a half years Hang has been working to pull social experience design out of the Dark Ages. He describes three theories in the talk. The first he refers to as Socio-Technical Systems, in essence, a systems engineering approach for treating social software technology and the user community as a single system. The second theory derives from Don Norman's notion of physical affordances and is named, appropriately, Social Affordances. The last theory, Plazas and Warrens, provides a framework for understanding and shaping community behavior through an online social space's layout.
To test his theories, Hang applies them to building a Product Design Guild. Hang and others got the idea for the guild after hearing about and discussing the scarcity of great designers in Silicon Valley. Since great designers don't come right out of school, they reasoned, and the itinerant nature of Silicon Valley workers hinders mentorship, practicing designers need an alternative means to rapidly improve their skills. Inspired by Medieval craft guilds, the Product Design Guild aims to establish "a path to mastery that is orthogonal to the work place."
Hang's theories guide this thinking about, among other things, how to format design guild meetings, whom to invite, and what social rules to dictate. In turn, results from the experience of guild participants will further shape his theories. Hang has big plans for the guild, and its development will no doubt be interwoven with the evolution of social software design theory.
Xianhang "Hang" Zhang is a social experience designer who currently leads the Social Television initiative at Peel. He is a PhD dropout from the University of Washington and was the founder of Bumblebee Labs. He writes a weekly series of essays on Social Software Design. Hang earned a B.S. in Computer Science from the University of New South Wales, a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Sydney, and a Master's in Industrial Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Washington.
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