Design has always been caught between technology or engineering and art. It is not really either of them, not craft, not technical skill, not artisan, but it also draws on all three of those. Design is everywhere and everything which makes it even harder to distinguish.
Currently I think HCI is heading down a similiar path. While formerly bound to a desk quite literally, it has started to explore movement, experience, situation and much more. It is work, leisure, fun, behaviour changing, games and much more. The way interactions are designed starts to shape the way we live together, the way we interact with each other., the way we see each other and much more.
Voices are starting to emerge that HCI needs to rethink its approach to fit into this novel world. That it has to acknowledge its impact and find new ways in which to find potential issues and address them – before facts are made and it might be too late. A turn towards the humanities, towards art practices, has been asked for. Art knows how to make people uncomfortable, to engage in critical thought and to pose problematic questions in aesthetic ways. Critical design has borrowed from this. Now it may be time that HCI does the same.
Probes in all their different shapes and forms have always done so in my opinion. They embraced the ambiguity that comes with creative expression and used it to create pieces that cannot always be called products. Work that does not always address one specific, clearly defined problem, but work around the general queaziness that people experience in their everyday life. It is art trickling through, making tentatice steps into the realm of technology.
But I think what is called for now is a different approach. One that fits both, bends both and makes them work together. Finding a languange with which to manage expectations and communicate results will be one important step into this direction. Finding the gap that technology design currently does not go into very much, asking all the uncomfortable questions will be one important task. Drawing from critical design and learning what worked there, what did not and what has to change to make it fit for HCI will be a great source for inspiration to make it work.