Add to bookbag
Author: Susan K. Soy
Title: Suguru Ishizahi's Improvisational Design: Continuous Responsibe Digital Communication
Publication info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
December 2004

This work is protected by copyright and may be linked to without seeking permission. Permission must be received for subsequent distribution in print or electronically. Please contact for more information.

Source: Suguru Ishizahi's Improvisational Design: Continuous Responsibe Digital Communication
Susan K. Soy

vol. 7, no. 3, December 2004
Article Type: Book Review

Improvisational Design: Continuous Responsive Digital Communication

Susan K. Soy

Manager and Archivist
Austin History Center (Austin, Texas)

Ishizaki, Suguru. Improvisational Design: Continuous Responsive Digital Communication. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press, 2003.

Digital communication is interactive, dynamic and continuous. People working with digital communication (visual designers, human-computer interaction professionals, and software engineers) need a unique set of communicative methods that equal this dynamic flow of digital communication expressions. Ishizaki explores the development of a theoretical framework of an iterative process that meets this need and suggests how designers might use the framework. The concept Ishizaki terms improvisational design is illustrated with five brief case studies in this slim nine-chapter book.

Ishizaki, a Senior Staff Engineer at QUALCOMM Incorporated, became interested in this topic over twenty years ago, developed his dissertation on the topic and presents it here in a sleek and easy to read volume. Drawing upon the concept of improvisation in music, theater, and dance, Ishizaki proposes that designers of the systems we use in everyday digital communication might follow the same patterns where multiple agents coordinate with one another, achieving a collaborative product while dynamically adjusting to the environment. The adjustments take into consideration the inherent qualities of the medium, the audience to which it is "played," and the ever-changing nature and flow of the communication. Rather than proposing a normative design solution or a positive theory of design, this volume introduces an analytical tool as an "ice breaker" to provoke discussion among designers that may lead to "good" design processes and certainly, improvisational design extends our thinking about expressive digital communication.

Drawing upon the literature in performing arts and visual design, observations of traditional design constraints, and models of cooperative-situated agents (Hickman and Shiels, 1991) and Singh's model of group ability (1991, 1994), Ishizaki discovers that the complex temporal forms are required in the production of improvisational designs. The notion of temporal form can be expressed in the design through visual, auditory, or other components. It can change over time. The news story that is current today may be prominent in auditory and visual signals, but then recede in prominence over time and do so through the actions of design agents interacting with other dynamic design agents.

These agents remain under the full control of the designer, although Ishizaki does propose that computerized tools could be developed to assist the designer. The designer remains in full control of the birth of the agents and their termination. To illustrate the potential of this theoretical concept, Ishizaki and colleagues developed five scenarios: Dynamic News Display, the E-Mail Display, Interactive Poetry, Geo Information Display, and Expressive Typography. Each is illustrated in the book with black and white drawings, that are, sadly, inadequate to bolster the points about interactivity and continuous flow that Ishizaki hopes to make with the illustrations. Here we have the perfect example of a dissertation topic that is perfect for the digital format rather than the traditional printed format. As Ishizaki finds in his study, "...interaction of form and content must be carefully treated." (120). The illustrations are well labeled and follow the text very closely.

This small volume encourages our thinking beyond traditional modes of design to exploratory design systems that can generate solutions that match the dynamic fluid communication systems we use today. The author hopes that these highly expressive systems will use all the senses and that tool sets will expand.

The author hopes to provoke discussion and this book is perfect for just that. It is easy and quick to read and yet conveys more than enough information and ideas to spark a lively discussion. In particular, this book turns my thinking to design prospects that will provide continuous and fluid expressions for those who are challenged with visual and other difficulties, a topic that I hope Ishizaki and many others will explore.