How Experiments in Architecture, Cybernetics & AI Poured the Foundations of Interaction Design

By Molly Steenson

The talk I attended this week was held in Human Computer Interaction Instute of Carnegie Mellon University. Its main purpose was to discuss interaction design and HCI conventions related to the concepts from architecture inspired by HCI and AI researchers.


Throughout the talk, Professor Steenson discussed concepts and philosophies related to architecture and architectural metaphors and how those concepts inspired the HCI and AI researchers. In order to do so, she followed a chronological way for familiarizing the audience with architects and the fields they had been effective in 1960s and 1970s. Her presentation mostly included the famous researchers and their statements in their popular books.

At the beginning, she discussed the notions of architecture of information and information architecture. Peter McColough, the president of Xerox, and Eliot Noyes from IBM are the founder of architecture of information idea. On the other hand, information architecture concept has been popularized by Richard Saul Wurman in 1976. He published a book, “An American City: The Architecture of Information”  in which he introduced the term. Wurman usually worked in visualization of information by categorization. He co-authored Urban Atlas in 1966 for mapping demographics. Professor Steenson  listed the areas Wurman has been ifluent as controlling information overload, media convergence, building community, information architecture, and structuring information as an architectural practice.

She continued to the talk by mentioning the metaphors introduced by Cristopher Alexander, an architect and a mathematician at the sametime. Alexander is another architect who has been influential in information architecture. He was mostly interested in the design of complex systems and design politics. Professor Steenson summarized the areas Alexander worked as follows: order, complexty&visualization, an operating system for architecture, graph&set theory, computation, cybernetics, and information visualization. For visualizing information, Alexander used decision tree and he also used diagrams (for example in highway route location). And the most cliff-hanging work of Alexander was his book: “A Pattern language” which is discussing the language for reusing architectural design approaches in cities. Being inspired by Alexander’s pattern language metaphor, Kent Beck and Ward Cunningham applied idea to software engineering domain and have been the pioneers of design patterns in object-oriented programming. In time, Cristopher Alexander has started to be so important in object-oriented programming so that he attended to OOPSLA 96 for giving a keynote speech.

In the forthcoming section of the talk, Professor Steenson mentioned about the information scientist and architects who worked in the area of information architecture for world wide web. She presented statements from Lou Rosenfeld from his book “Networked Information Retrieval and Organization: Issues and Questions” published in 1996. Then she continued with the projects of Cedric Price like “Snowdon Aviary” in London Zoo built in 1961 and “Fun Palace” he designed as a cybernetic moving theatre. These are the two of the information architects that I could take note and she continued to her talk by other architects and finalized it.


Since I am quite novice in architecture-related philosophic topics and school of taughts, I could not take advantage of the speech too much. I have just learned the fathers in information architecture and design patterns which interests me more. My only reflection could be that the talk could be arranged in a way to discuss the relation between architectural metaphors and HCI or AI a little bit more. The talk was mostly for audience having background knowledge in architectural concepts and theories, not for HCI or AI researchers.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s