Monday, November 13, 2006

Practice and Research in HCI

In the last issue of ACM Interactions, Avi Parush writes about the "gap between HCI research and practice". It is an interesting text that tries to make the case for research that is both practical and theoretical. The argument is basically correct and is based on the old truth "there is never anything more practical than a good theory". It is however from my point of view a text that comes from the perspective of HCI as "science" (wich is all well and a valid perspective). But to me there is also another perspective and that is when we approach the "gap" from a design perspective, or with Nigel Cross' notion from a "discipline of design" instead of a "science of design". When we accept design practice as a true designerly activity, the notion of what research is and should be also changes. I will not here go into this longer discussion, instead end by saying that Avi Parush's text is a really good starting point for anyone who would like to discuss HCI research and its overall role and contribution. It is a well argued text with a taxonomy that can and should be analysed and evaluated. This is a valid challenge for any HCI researcher.

(BTW, I also think that putting "usability" at the top of the "pyramid" in the text is not really satisfying, I would like to have a another "designerly" pyramid with design instead of usability, design critique as a major form of inquiry, etc, but that is again another post.)


Anonymous said...

On the subject of Usability at the top of the pyramid, I had a phone call yesterday with Forrester Research - a pretty hard-core business-focused research firm which lives and dies by the financial bottom line. That is, their revenue stream comes from their paid corporate research.

Apparently they do quite a bit of task-oriented usability testing for their corporate clients, but they are increasingly finding this sort of analysis lacking as a way for their clients to achieve their goals. When [a huge financial company] recently asked them how they can improve the experience for their users, what they were seeking was not for a task-based, goal-oriented analysis. What they were looking for were design answers (though i'm not sure they realized it).

One of the challenges for us as designers (and the challenge of my phone call) is to continue to operationalize our design perspective as much as possible (operationalization manifests theorization, but does not replace it).

I'm looking forward to the day that we can give a company like Forrester an idea of how to operationalize the designerly perspective - or at least to operationalize the steps that will lead their clients toward developing and utilizing this perspective in practice.

Erik Stolterman said...

Hi Christian

I really appreciate your comments and ideas. They are thoughful and reflects a true designerly perspective. I am completely convinced that we will see a move towards such designerly evaluations you are discussing. It might take a bit longer than what would make we happy though :-)