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Susanne Bødker

Beyond the interface: Encountering artifacts in use

Research output: Contribution to book/anthology/report/proceedingBook chapterResearch

  • Department of Computer Science

This paper is written by two people who come form rather different backgrounds, yet who, at the same time, share similar concerns about the human-computer interaction (HCI) area. One of us has a background in computing and cognitive science, coupled with a long-standing interest in helping users in their interactions with technology. He became uncomfortable with the gap between current cognitive theories and their utility in designing better interfaces to computer systems. The other person has a background in software engineering and computer systems design. In her search for a deeper understanding of  issues in HCi, she came across the cognitive science framework, but she felt that its methods did not provide much help for concrete design in real life situations.

In many ways our personal histories reflect some of the developments within the HCI area - the search for more theoretical frameworks, and subsequent realization of the gap between current theoretical  formulations and actual situations of use. We can be seen as both insiders and outsiders to the mainstream, primarily Anglo-American, HCI - cognitive science tradition in several respects: on of us is trained in cognitive science, one is not; one did studies in Scandinavia, one primarily in North America.

As both of us are concerned with making more useful and usable computer applications we decided to look further for frameworks to help us. In this paper we shall try to expose some of the problems that we encountered in our joint effort to understand the HCI area and contribute to it, and to discuss some of the tensions and alternative viewpoints that we met on the way. The paper does not contain a solution to the problems of HCI. Rather, it contains a dialogue with ourselves about the matters of our concern, and we invite the reader to join this dialogue: our focus is on technology in use, where we emphasize the setting in which a piece of technology is used. We do not think that artifacts per se can be usefully studied in isolation. They need to be studied in their use settings. These use settings are developed over time - historically - they are not static and unchanging. For this reason the history of technology as well as of the organization of work become very important to us when we consider the (re)design of computer artifacts for people. What we do here is similar to Christiane Floyd's enterprise in her paper on software engineering perspectives. She invites us to join her in a comparison of what she identifies as two perspectives in software engineering, and a discussion of the limitations as well as the utility of these differing perspectives. We do not think that it is possible to uniquely identify the voices raised in this paper. They are all of us, or part of our mutual discussion. We invite readers to share with us their experiences in the field, their practice, and any examples of how theory has influenced their practice.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPsychological theory of the Human-Computer Interface : Designing interaction: psychology at the human-computer interface
EditorsJohn M Carroll
Number of pages26
PublisherCambridge University Press
Publication year1991
ISBN (print)0-521-40056-2
Publication statusPublished - 1991

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