Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The lack of literature in HCI and design theory

I got a question from a student today asking for good readings in the "foundations of HCI and design". The student is working on a project and needed inspiration for how to address a large and complex HCI design problem. The student already know the works by Rogers, Dourish, Margolin (and me :-), but want more. The student want that can help him reflect upon and actually approach his very real design challenge. I realized that I cannot come up with any good list of readings. There are a huge number of "how to" literature, there are a substantial number of "methods" literature and research out there, there are an endless number of specific product (design) experimentations, but almost nothing that could be seen at addressing the foundation of HCI and design, that is, how to think about the role of HCI, the way to address a complex problem , the nature of design, theoretical broad perspectives, etc. And even worse, there are no discussions or debates between different intellectual and theoretical schools thought or perspectives. This situation is not good. Frequently I meet students, Master and PhD, in the field who really want to, or need to, know much more, who struggle with questions on that level.

If anyone want to discuss this situation or argue that there are actually book that do address this level, please comment or let me know.


Anonymous said...

Do you know Thomas Erickson's work? Check out Five Lenses of Interaction Design. Does it make any sense in this context? It's a compact presentation which takes a stand on the concept of "theory" in interaction design.

Also, the work of William Gaver, Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby are stuff which are worth looking into, when thinking about design of technology.

Last, but not least, Lucy Suchman's Located Accountabilities in Technology Design might give something to the student on the approach-part.

Are these useful?

Kevin said...

I think you might findThoughtful Interaction Design: A Design Perspective on Information Technology interesting. The book covers a range of topics including what does it mean to design and be a designer, especially as an interaction designer. I started to incorporate some of the ideas I gleaned from the book into a blog post aptly named, What does design mean?. Not having a formal design education, this topic is really exciting to me, so I look forward to any other suggestions as well.

Anonymous said...

Dear anonymous

Thanks for the suggestions, I am familiar with most of that literature and of course they are all valuable. But, what I am looking for is more writings that takes an overall perspective (like Eriksson), and even more texts where these overall perspectives are discussed, compared, and debated. I like all the authors you recommended, they are certainly interesting.


Anonymous said...

Dear Kevin

Thanks for your comments and the recommendation of the book, I don't know if you noticed, but I am actually the author of that book :-) Anyhow, I looked at your blog and you are writing interesting things there! Thanks!


Frederick van Amstel said...

Surely, your book you wrote with Jonas Lowgren is one of the best I read on this topic. In my research group located at Brazil, we´re eager for more of that.

We´re looking for more discussions about how to incorporate that critical vision into industry practice.

As a thought-provoking book, It was very good, but not too systematic as to support our practice.

I´m reading now Designing Interactions from Bill Mogridge and its very fun to know the history of the people that built up Interaction Design as a discipline, but the author doesn´t tackle the foundations problems the interviews and your book raised.

There is great discussion about the strategic role of the design in coorporations in the Luke Wroblewski blog:
but it doesn´t go much further into interaction design.

Jon Kolko is looking for more indepth view into the language of interaction design. He is editing an promising upcoming book:

And there is my blog, but it´s written in portuguese...

Anonymous said...

Hi Frederick

Thanks for the kind words and all the insightful information. I am not familiar with all of it, so thanks. I try to read both Luke and Jon now and then. I am looking forward to Jon's book!

I will look at your site, even though Portuguese makes it a bit difficult to fully comprehend :-)


Anonymous said...

Really enjoy reading your words. I have a personal question: when you assess a applicant's potential in his personal statement, what kind of stuff can best reflect the relevant quality? Do you think?

Anonymous said...

Well, I assume that you are refering to an application to our MS or PhD. That is really difficult to say. I like to see a personal interest, energy, and some kind of vision about the personal future. I also like to see that the person has done the "homework" that is, has looked at our school and program and understand what we are all about. And then I look for experiences that show who the person is, like earlier projects, designs, jobs, etc. But, at then end you can have any kind of statement and be successful, because if you compare admitted students statements they are very different. So, it has to honest and "you". You don't want to get into a program that is not for you, so being honest is really important...

Kevin said...


Too funny! I did not make the immeadiate connection that you were the author. It's a great book and has been influential to me. Thanks!

cian said...

Until quite recently one could say the same thing about books on programming. Lots of books on programming languages, theory, software engineering - very little on how to apporach a programming problem, to decompose it, to reframe and ultimately to debug it. University courses were based upon Software Engineering - which actually has very little to do with how most programmers work. Practical problem solving is not something that is typically taught very well in academia.

However, according to Bryan Lawson there isn't a "how to" book on design (of course approached in the right spirit his books could be seen as "how to" works on the design process). So maybe the problem is less with HCI, and more with how one teaches design. Its a practical subject, rather than a theoretical one. Maybe you should tell your student to read a few design classics (Schon, etc), look at Bryan Lawson's model of design and see how he could adapt it for Interaction Design. The adaptation would provide part of his thesis, and he'd probably be a better designer for grappling with these problems at such a fundamental level.

I think most of the theories that we have that are useful (so not Activity Theory then...), lack the rigour that one might expect of a scientific theory. Their strengths are both context, and possibly also practioner, dependent. But I don't really see that as a weakness. Each theory gives you a different way of framing a problem. The more theories you're familiar with, the more ways you have of framing that problem. A theory could be completely bonkers, but if it helps you design something better that doesn't matter.

My ramblings, for what they're worth.

Anonymous said...

Hi Cian
thanks for your post. I fully agree with the last paragraph in your post! Most important and vital to understand when thinking about theory and practice!


cctw said...

Terry Winograd and Fernando Flores' Understanding Computers and Cognition: A New Foundation for Design?

javieth said...

I love the literature because i think reflects many aspects of our lives. But i love most the simplicity with witch things are explained is what catch my attention. The literature for me is very impressive like the effect what i feel when i buy viagra

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