Wednesday, November 06, 2013

An Analytic Turn in HCI Research

Over the last few years I have explored and played with the idea of an analytic turn in HCI research. My reasons for this exploration are several--some reasons are fairly simple and straightforward while others more complex and subtle. The most obvious reason for me to turn to analysis is that I am looking for a more object/artifact/thing oriented approach in HCI research

The turn in HCI research toward user-centeredness and user experience have in many cases gone too far. This research has strived to become more inclusive of aspects outside of the traditional ones, such as functionality, efficiency, etc. The complete focus on the user has led to  wonderful developments in the field that were highly needed and that have made a great impact. At this time though, with the ambition to consider "everything" important, a lot of research in interaction design and HCI is becoming far too broad, leaving a core without concreteness and without any analytical strength that would make sense from a design perspective. 

Interestingly enough this expansion of HCI research when it comes to scope is not limited to any particular approach or method. It is possible to see the same effort manifested in highly developed qualitative research as well as in quantitative research. The attempt in both cases seems to be to find ways to capture, analyze and explain users reactions and experiences of interactive artifacts and systems. However, in both cases it has lead to a shift in focus away from the object/artifact/system/thing that the experiencing subject is interacting with. 

My own explorations lately have therefore been based on the simple idea that analysis of interactive artifacts can be done without applying any form of use or user perspective. It is an analytic research approach that aligns with a design perspective in the sense that the analysis is directed towards those aspects of the design that a designer can control. After having tried this approach in some studies, I am convinced that it is highly rewarding but at the same time difficult and still far from clear how to do it. I am quite sure however that it is different from both any kind of user studies and interestingly also criticism (which sounds like it could be similar).

I am (slowly) developing an approach or at least a way of thinking, in collaboration with some phd students, that I label "artifact analysis".  It is clear that a proper artifact analysis has to be done according to some principles and the process has to be clearly thought out. The results are, in my view, really interesting and in many ways surprising. And what I like the most is that the findings are often counterintuitive and quite challenging. Now you may ask, ok, so how do you do it? Well, I do not have time to write that now, maybe later :-)


Lone K Hansen said...

This doesn't sound very different from what many disciplines have done for ages (especially within the humanities, and perhaps more specifically arts and aesthetics): look at, analyse and critique artifacts and the way that they represent 'the world', implicitly or explicitly. I do agree, though, that this is almost uncharted territory within HCI-design although it really shouldn't be. As most semioticians will know--and as Roland Barthes as done so well in the 1950s onwards--ideologies are in everything also when we don't see them.

Erik Stolterman said...

Hi Lone
Thanks for your comment. You are right in that other disciplines have done this to some extent, but there are some distinct differences from how it has been done in the humanities, at least in some of them. One is that we are dealing with artifacts and systems that are highly problematic to define as an object of study. About semiotics and ideologies, these are potential analytical tools and lenses of course, but what I am looking for is something much more simple and concrete....I need to write more about this, that is obvious to me :-)

Lone said...

But also events like street performances and site-specific sculptures are hard to define as objects of study, no? And yet they are analysed as are objects like mobile apps and fake news reports by The Yes Men that get actual coverage in 'real' media outlets.

As you know, I am highly sympathetic to your post here, I'm just trying to figure out to which extent it is touching upon some of the issues that might be worth while checking out in other disciplines. And yes, I know you're probably already working on it :)