Thursday, March 12, 2009

What theory in HCI is about II

My last post led to a number of really good comments and they are all helping me to sort this out. This is what I wrote in the last post

"I need to know what are the (common) categories of theories in HCI. So, this is where I need some help. I have decided that the categories should be based on what the theory is about, that is, defined by its object of study."

I also suggested three categories and have now received several proposals for other categories. First of all, to understand how I think about this, what I wrote above, that I want to "defined by its object of study" is important. There are several other ways of categorizing theories, for instance Jodi suggested that they could be categorized based on their "matureness", and Tanykim suggested that theories can be categorized along a dimension of micro-macro, or objective-subjective. These are all interesting suggestions and would probably lead to interesting and useful results, but I would like to stay with my criteria that theories can be defined by its object of study.

Shveta suggested a new category that has to do with how design relates to business and management. This is a good suggestion, but for me it is a sub-category to the design process category.

Bala suggested design history as a possible object of study, and I think that is a great suggestion, however, I think design theories of this kind can be categorized as falling within the existing categories. I suspect most of them are about the design process and lead to inspiration for designers. So, I think this is another sub-category.

Xythian suggested research as an object of study, and I think that might be a real one. Theories in HCI that are about HCI research (methods, approaches, etc) has probably a distinct enough object of study.

So, for now I have four distinct categories of theories in HCI. The four are:

The first category contains theories that has (human computer) interaction as the object of study, that is, theories that say something about the interaction between humans and interactive artifacts.

The second category of theories are those that have the design process as a core object of study.

The third category contains theories that address how interactivity and interactive technology changes society and environments, that is, theories that have the relation technology--society as the object of study.

The fourth category contains theories that have the HCI research process itself as an object of study.

I am still not sure how valuable this exploration is. I know that there are some other attemtps out there, for instance, John Carrolls edited a book in 2003 with the title "HCI Models, Theories, and Frameworks: Towards a Multidisciplinary Science". In this book there are about 14 theories presented, they all fall into the three categories of design process, interaction, and research.

Looking at these theories, it is also clear that it is possible to see these three categories as being sub-categories of each other. For instance, theories about interaction can be used to inform the design process. At the same time it is clear in Carrolls book that the selection of theories about interaction are overwhelmingly focused on the human side. Most theories are about how humans think and act. There are no theories about interactive technologies.

I think that a "map" of kinds of theories in HCI, based on what their object of study is, can help us to explore and exmine our field, and also help us to see where a lot of effort is already made and where we have big gaps.

Again I invite you to comment on this.......

I can also let you know that I will soon expand this categorization of HCI theories with a couple of more criteria, apart from "object of study" :-)


Christian Beck said...

I think this is extremely useful. After seeing your comments from the last post I can see your perspective and I can't offer any improvement. I think more might come to light once you start breaking down the hierarchy and mapping the relationships. It is a timely post from my perspective as I just came across Lowgren's description of ID.

Have you checked out this free tool for concept mapping? I just started using it to make some complex concepts at work and it's very easy and quick to use. It's hard to show hierarchy but great to show interrelated concepts. Anyway, I'd love to see this effort mapped out by the king of design diagrams :)

Erik Stolterman said...

HI Christian

Thanks for your comment, I am happy if this will be useful to someone. Löwgren is a very good friend of mine :-) I have not tried that tool, I am very bad at tools like this but I would like to be better....


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