Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Nature of Design Practice and Implications for Interaction Design Research

A paper on research behind user interface design ...


Dealing with a design task in an unknown or only partially known situation, with demanding and stressed clients and users, with insufficient information, with new technology and new materials, with limited time and resources, with limited knowledge and skill, and with inappropriate tools, is a common situation for any interaction designer. Dealing with such messy and “wicked” situations constitutes the normal and everyday context of any design practice (Alexander, 1964; Dunne, 1993; Cross, 2001; Schön, 1983; Pye, 1995; Heskett, 2002; Rove, 1987; Lawson, 2005; Thackara, 2005).

Research about design practice has shown that designers who successfully can handle complex design situations use an approach sometimes labeled as a designerly way of thinking and acting (Cross, 2001; Buxton, 2007; Moggridge, 2007). There has also lately been a more general and growing interest in what is seen as an increasing complexity in our society and how to deal with it (Castells, 1996; Coburn, 2006; Friedman, 2005; Gladwell, 2005; Pink, 2005).

A substantial part of interaction design research has for some decades developed theoretical approaches, methods, tools, and techniques aimed at supporting interaction designers in their practice. This research has showed significant progress, and the field is today rich with a diverse set of approaches, methods, and techniques. Some of these approaches are new constructs, but many of them have intellectual roots in other academic areas, such as science, engineering, social science, humanities, and in the traditional art and design disciplines (Carroll, 2003; Rogers, 2004). (In this paper, the terms Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) research and interaction design research are used interchangeably).

Over the last few years, criticism has been raised concerning the success of some of these contributions. It has been argued that the results are not always useful for practitioners, and that the developed approaches are too time-consuming, too difficult to learn, too abstract and theoretical, or that they do not lead to desired results when used in practice. An excellent overview and formulation of this critique is found in Rogers (2004). Rogers presents a thorough analysis of the state of the major theoretical approaches in HCI in relation to practice. She also presents empirical results that confirm her theoretical analysis. Rogers’ analysis shows quite convincingly that if the measure of success for this kind of research is that it is understood and actually used in practice then the results are minor.

One assumption in this paper is that the critique presented by Rogers is valid and that it constitutes a serious and real problem for the interaction research community. Based on that assumption, I will examine why it seems so difficult for HCI research to produce results that are appreciated and useful within interaction design practice.

It is important to recognize that there exist many examples of successful HCI research reaching and influencing a large population of practitioners. This is also recognized by Rogers, and is something I will discuss later in this paper. It is also important to recognize that this paper is not about all forms of HCI research. It is only about research aimed at improving interaction design practice.

My main argument is that one reason why HCI research (aimed at supporting design practice) has not (always) been successful is that it has not been grounded in and guided by a sufficient understanding and acceptance of the nature of design practice. As a consequence, HCI research has developed and/or borrowed approaches and methods not always appropriate for interaction design practice, even though they may be successful in their respective “home” fields or in research settings."    (Continued via International Journal of Design)    [Usability Resources]


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