Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A Blind Spot of HCI Research

The HCI research community is engaged with how people interact with digital artifacts and systems. However, looking at the present focus of HCI research, this engagement does not cover all areas of interaction. There are areas of HCI that does not really receive any attention from HCI researchers. We might distinguish between two forms of interaction, 'forced' and 'voluntary'. The voluntary form of interaction is what HCI research commonly is focused on, that is, interaction that is a result of people choosing to interact with a system for their personal reasons. Forced interaction usually takes place in workplaces where people have to use whatever system the organization is using.

It is possible to see 'forced' interaction as a 'blind spot' in HCI research. Forced interaction includes, for instance, systems that people use to manage their everyday work, scheduling, tracking, of activities and processes. Administrators and others working in scheduling, accounting, logistics, resource handling, in areas of healthcare, education, banking, insurance, transportation, etc.

We commonly hear stories from people working in organizations about bad interaction and systems not designed for users. Of course, you can argue that a lot of HCI research is basic research (new technologies, new forms of interaction, etc) that over time will change these systems to the better. And the shift to user-oriented design and user experience have made a difference, but it is far from enough. Even with the best intentions, the interaction design that is behind these kinds of everyday systems require other competencies,  knowledge, and approaches.

One key aspect of these kinds of systems is that the user does not choose the system. They have to use it. It has nothing to do with their motivation. And the user is not in any way involved in any development work or has any influence on the system. The user is neither able to influence how to use the system.

How can and should HCI research approach this huge problem? What kind of research is needed?

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