Saturday, October 30, 2004

Re-envisioning tech/design

Several years ago, when I critiqued prevailing HCI models, claiming that the relationship between people and technology was much messier than assumed, that context was much more dynamic than suggested, I was told that there was no room in those discussions for "that flaky philosophy and social studies of science and technology shite you do". So when I hear about what Paul Dourish is working on these days I (quite gleefully) think that perhaps the HCI community is finally learning from these and similar critiques. Well, either that or Dourish is also doing "flaky philosophy and social studies of science and technology shite"...

Amanda's notes on a recent lecture of his:

"The 'social impacts model' looks at new technologies and how they impact society, but treats technology as if it simply happens, without examining how it comes about. The 'rational choice' model examines how technology is designed to fulfill existing needs, but this is also only half the picture. Dourish claims we canít talk about one without talking about the other because they are 'mutually constitutive' ...

While human-computer interaction is often depicted as 'user interface' sitting atop software, OS, and hardware, this builds in a strong separation between people and technology. In fact, there are aspects of humanness, practice and assumptions at all levels of technology. After all, it is people who are designing that hardware ...

Dourish also discussed his work on context, which largely involve pointing out that context is a lot more complicated than 'context-aware' application designers seem to think ... Context, far from being a static thing, is dynamic and maintained or changed through our actions."

And speaking of more social and fluid understandings of people, technology and design, I can't wait to hear more about Dan Hill's self-centred design:

"I'm dubbing this practice of building around your immediate context 'self-centred design' (after a suggestion from m'colleague Andrew McGrath of Orange) which is not at all intended in a uniformly pejorative sense - I'm seeing it as an alternative to user-centred design (UCD). I presented this idea - a small step forward from the hackability presentation - at a UCD seminar in San Francisco. I'll be trying to suggest an ideal relationship between the processes involved in self-centred design (aka, to a certain extent, situated software or amateurized design) and the deep insight enabled by grounded ethnographic research ... If both can lead to the creation of products which enable adaptive design, I think we're getting somewhere."

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