I have many times on my blog made the case for a more artifact oriented approach in HCI research. One reason, among many, is that our discipline is not paying enough attention to the actual artifacts/systems that constitute the core and the reason for existence of our field.
So, developing ways to carefully study interactive artifacts and systems in a way that can lead to theoretical development is crucial. I truly enjoy the traditional philosophical method of going back and forth between theoretical definitions and concrete examples. The purpose of this process is to increase the precision in the theoretical definitions through a step by step refinement so that they at the end capture the important qualities of the artifacts.
To be able to conduct such research you need concrete examples of artifacts. One approach is to work with highly diverse individual artifacts that present definitional challenges, but it is also good to have more comprehensive collections of artifacts that can serve as a foundation or horizon for individual examples to be compared and contrasted.
For instance, today I saw this compendium or collection of cameras (in some chronological order). A collection like this can be seen as an example of such a foundation or horizon of artifacts. In the article the author engages in some straightforward and fairly preliminary artifact analysis. It is clear that the collection, with its selections and structure, is itself an expression of some theoretical definitions and even postulates about what constitute this type of artifact and its primary qualities.
It would be great to see more collections like this in our field. Bill Buxton has done a remarkable job with his collection. However, the Buxton collection can be seen as "raw data" for those who want to engage in more intentional artifact analysis. For instance, just take a look at the collection of different types of 'mouse' artifacts. It is an exciting collection, highly diverse when it comes to form, function, material, etc. that can lead to exciting questions such as: What has changed over the years? What count as a mouse today?
Anyway, this post was not meant to be this long. I really just wanted to link the the very nice collection of cameras :-)