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Hardcover | $57.00 Short | £47.95 | 504 pp. | 7 x 9 in | 224 b&w illus. | November 2011 | ISBN: 9780262016148
eBook | $57.00 Short | November 2011 | ISBN: 9780262302791
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Inventing the Medium

Principles of Interaction Design as a Cultural Practice


Digital artifacts from iPads to databases pervade our lives, and the design decisions that shape them affect how we think, act, communicate, and understand the world. But the pace of change has been so rapid that technical innovation is outstripping design. Interactors are often mystified and frustrated by their enticing but confusing new devices; meanwhile, product design teams struggle to articulate shared and enduring design goals. With Inventing the Medium, Janet Murray provides a unified vocabulary and a common methodology for the design of digital objects and environments. It will be an essential guide for both students and practitioners in this evolving field.

Murray explains that innovative interaction designers should think of all objects made with bits—whether games or Web pages, robots or the latest killer apps—as belonging to a single new medium: the digital medium. Designers can speed the process of useful and lasting innovation by focusing on the collective cultural task of inventing this new medium. Exploring strategies for maximizing the expressive power of digital artifacts, Murray identifies and examines four representational affordances of digital environments that provide the core palette for designers across applications: computational procedures, user participation, navigable space, and encyclopedic capacity.

Each chapter includes a set of Design Explorations—creative exercises for students and thought experiments for practitioners—that allow readers to apply the ideas in the chapter to particular design problems. Inventing the Medium also provides more than 200 illustrations of specific design strategies drawn from multiple genres and platforms and a glossary of design concepts.

About the Author

Janet H. Murray is Ivan Allen College Dean’s Professor in the School of Literature, Communication, and Culture at Georgia Institute of Technology. She is the author of Inventing the Medium: Principles of Interaction Design as a Cultural Practice (MIT Press).

Table of Contents

  • Inventing the Medium
  • Inventing the Medium
  • Principles of Interaction Design as a Cultural Practice
  • Janet H. Murray
  • The MIT Press
  • Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • London, England
  • ©
  • 2012
  • Janet H. Murray
  • All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher.
  • For information about special quantity discounts, please email
  • This book was set in Stone Sans and Stone Serif by Toppan Best-set Premedia Limited. Printed and bound in the United States of America.
  • Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
  • Murray, Janet H.
  • Inventing the medium : principles of interaction design as a cultural practice / Janet H. Murray.
  •  p. cm.
  • Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • ISBN 978-0-262-01614-8 (hardcover : alk. paper) 1. Human-computer interaction. 2. Digital media—Design. 3. Social media—Design. 4. Intercultural communication. I. Title.
  • QA76.9.H85M87 2012
  • 004.1′9—dc22
  •           2011007751
  • 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
  • For my mother, Lillian Horowitz
  • Whenever I design a chip, the first thing I want to do is look at it under a microscope—not because I think I can learn something new by looking at it but because I am always fascinated by how a pattern can create reality.
  • —Danny Hillis,
  • The Pattern on the Stone
  • (1998)
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction: A Cultural Approach to Interaction Design
  •  1
  • I Changing Technologies, Lasting Innovations
  •  23
  • 1 Design in an Evolving Medium
  •  25
  • 2 Affordances of the Digital Medium
  •  51
  • 3 Maximizing the Four Affordances
  •  87
  • II Designing Expressive Procedures
  •  105
  • 4 Computational Strategies of Representation
  •  107
  • 5 Building Procedural Complexity
  •  137
  • III Spatial Design Strategies
  •  159
  • 6 Defining and Navigating Spaces and Places
  •  161
  • 7 The Library Model for Collocating Information
  •  191
  • IV Designing Encyclopedic Resources
  •  221
  • 8 The Database Model:
  • Strategies for Segmentation and Juxtaposition of Information
  •  223
  • 9 The Structured Document Model:
  • Using Standardized Metadata to Share Knowledge
  •  253
  • V Scripting Interaction
  •  289
  • 10 The Tool Model:
  • Augmenting the Expressive Power of the Hand
  •  291
  • 11 The Machine Model:
  • Visibility and Control as Design Goals
  •  321
  • 12 The Companion Model:
  • Helpful Accompaniment as a Design Goal
  •  345
  • 13 The Game Model:
  • Scripting Interaction as Structured Play
  •  379
  • Glossary 409
  • Bibliography 445
  • Image Credits 455
  • Index 467


“This fascinating book...I suspect will become something of a 'Bible' of interaction design. Certainly, anyone who is at all serious about designing Websites, whether they be personal home pages, library Websites, digital libraries, or electronic journals should have this on their desks as a constant source of ideas and stimulation.”—Professor Tom Wilson, Editor-in-Chief, Information Research
Inventing the Medium might be considered a ‘Swiss army knife’ for interaction design.”—Choice


Inventing the Medium gathers humanistic insights from Murray's pioneering scholarship, demonstrates how they apply to a wide range of digital design problems, and invites readers to begin using these conceptual tools themselves in an engaging and broadly accessible manner. I've already seen it have a powerful impact on my students.”
Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Computer Science Department, University of California, Santa Cruz; author of Expressive Processing
“Janet Murray has built a practical theory of digital design that centers around the four affordances of networked media: encyclopedic, spatial, procedural, and participatory. Asserting that successful design endeavors are human-centered and help shape the medium, Murray asserts that design is ethical and aesthetic as well as instrumental. There is no book quite like this. Students and educators are sure to embrace it.”
Ellen Lupton, curator of contemporary design, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, and author of Thinking with Type
Inventing the Medium is an epic accomplishment, one which we will all be mining for years to come.”
Henry Jenkins, Confessions of an Aca-Fan