Friday, May 31, 2013

Device Landscapes—A New Challenge to Interaction Design and HCI Research

Together with the PhD students Heekyoung Jung and Will Ryan, and my colleague Marty Siegel, I have for some time been working on the idea of device or artifact landscapes (ecologies). We have changed our vocabulary several times trying to capture the nature of relationships between interactive artifacts.  We have published a few papers on this research earlier and now a more overall journal article is to be published in a new Korean design research journal.

Stolterman, E. , Jung, H., Ryan, W., and Siegel, M. A. (2013) Device Landscapes: A New Challenge to Interaction Design and HCI Research. Archives of Design Research, 26(2), 7-33

You can find the article here

Below is a brief summary of the article:

Device Landscapes—A New Challenge to Interaction Design and HCI Research

Erik Stolterman, Heekyoung Jung, Will Ryan, Martin A. Siegel  

The number of interactive digital artifacts is growing surrounding personal lives, and individuals have an increasing need to describe, analyze, and interpret what it means to own, use, and live with a large number of interactive artifacts. It becomes critical from a design perspective to better understand the relational aspects among multiple artifacts beyond the use of individual ones. In this article, we examine the nature of networks of interactive artifacts and the way people understand and handle these networks. We introduce the concept of device landscapes as a conceptual tool for the analysis and examination of personal networks of interactive artifacts.

We describe previous work and discuss the theoretical underpinnings supporting our studies. In particular, we compare and contrast our concept of device landscape to other models of multi-artifact systems with an emphasis on the bottom-up perspective in which landscapes are created by users instead of a perspective given by designers. Also, we summarize and interpret several studies we have completed—including personal inventory study, mapping study, survey, and interview to examine how people perceive and manage their personal device landscapes. Based on our findings we propose a conceptual framework aimed at supporting research on these device landscapes.

From our studies we found that people perceive device landscapes in many different ways and develop their own strategies to manage multiple interactive artifacts, mostly digital devices in use. By investigating high-level patterns from device maps and verbal descriptions, properties and aspects of interactive artifacts are defined to describe the concept of device landscapes.

We also discuss how these personal networks—namely, device landscapes—present new challenges and implications to the interaction design and HCI research community by comparing it to the perspectives of ubiquitous and pervasive computing environments.

[If you are interested in reading the whole article, send me an email.]

Friday, May 17, 2013

Forms of inquiry in design and research

Lately I have been in many discussions with PhD students about how to set up research and also how to design a design process and sometimes even how to design a research process that has strong design qualities. The problem they face is that they see their work as research but not as 'pure' scientific research and this makes them uneasy and unsure of how to make good choices.

When I engage in these discussions I often realize that the major problem is that it is not clear what the purpose of the inquiry is and consequently what the 'measure-of-success' would be. As long as the purpose and measure of success is not made clear, the choice of inquiry approach becomes extremely complex and frustrating.

In our book "The Design Way" we discuss this issue in many places, but one that helps me a lot can be found in the chapter "The Ultimate Particular". Here we discuss three forms or designs of inquiry and action that humans can engage in. We suggest "... that design, as presented in this book, is based on a compound form of inquiry, composed of true, ideal, and real approaches to gaining knowledge." It is possible to also make the case that research and science also in most cases consists of compound forms of these three. There is not simple and direct mapping between them even though it may be tempting to assume that.

I will not here go into any detail about this, just copy two of the schemas we use in the chapter to show what kind of considerations are involved when anyone makes a decision on how to design a particular form of inquiry.

In Figure 1.4 (below) we present a schema that lays out several aspects of inquiry and action and how they can be understood for each of the three forms of inquiry, that is, the real, the true and the ideal. This is a quite rich schema with dense concepts, but reading each line carefully gives insights about how different the three are, but also where they are somewhat overlapping. So, in making choices about what form of inquiry to choose in your research or design, a schema like this may help since it not only explains but also provides with concepts that can guide the understanding of purpose and measure of success. For instance, you can examine what your intention is, what you motivation is, what your preferred form of understanding is, etc. Given any choice also tells you what the measure fo success should be. So, if you are truly looking for inquiry for understanding (under 'fundamentals') that can lead to 'enlightenment' of some kind, it is not appropriate to see 'facts' to be part of the measure of success.

However, choosing a research approach or a design approach is not a simple question of deciding which 'design of inquiry and action' to "use". The richness and specifics of the particular situation, your purpose and intention leads to complex considerations regarding how all three forms can inform and enrich an inquiry. This is shown in Figure 1.5 below.

Design or research is never a question of finding out what the correct or best existing approach is, instead it is a complex process of judgment that weighs all aspects in an attempt to reach an approach that makes sense, that is guided by intention, that has a purpose and is based on a clear understanding of what the measure of success is.

This may be a fairly abstract and theoretical approach to the question of how to choose an approach for inquiry in design or research, but it does provide some support and it can lead to more informed choices.