Monday, January 22, 2018

HCI research and its neglect of complexity and systems

For many years I have wanted to engage in research that is focused on the HCI aspects of large complex interactive systems. But, I have not really done that. Almost everyday I hear stories from family members and friends about their experiences with their office, company and industry software. These are people who work with interactive systems in healthcare, insurance companies, retail, etc. they usually describe systems that have the kind of issues that in contemporary HCI textbooks seem to belong in earlier decades. The field of HCI is almost fully devoted to the kind of interaction that goes on in our private lives and very little in our professional lives.

I live myself in this situation. As an employee in a university, I have to use a number of large and complex systems that, from an HCI perspective, are extraordinary badly designed. As a field, we can, of course, blame the organizations and people who have the responsibility for these types of systems. And we tell them that they should work more in line with modern interaction design. However, even if that would help, it is probably not enough.

HCI research has a responsibility to also approach the dynamic and complex issues that are the consequence of large systems. Some of these issues are organizational and structural, some are related to the complexity of enormous masses of data and information, some are related to efficiency and effectiveness. In many cases, these are issues that are not addressed in contemporary HCI research with its narrow focus on 'user experience', the new and the cool, the interactive life of individuals, etc.

I might be wrong about this, but this 'blind spot' and neglect makes it difficult to argue for a broader societal impact of our research. As long as we only move forward, away from existing large problems, by focusing on the 'next', we are also escaping many of the inescapable aspects of designing complex system in complex environments in a way that would lead to people satisfied with their systems and work support.

4 comments:

vincent lewandowski said...

I also wonder about this. I know this is somewhat unrelated, but what about presentation technologies? The projector/computer presentation technologies, always seems to mess up, which seems especially ironic at technology seminars or conferences.

I also wonder if we are not creating more administrative bureaucracy through the types of forms/text-entry/button-clicking that these technologies demand of us. I think you are right when you mention these problems being the consequence of how cumbersome and slow large legacy organizational systems are to adapt to innovations, but maybe we can transition to something more fluid and dynamic? Perhaps this topic is draped in too much boredom and tedium. Maybe moonshots and boundary pushing seem much more fun, so chipping away at yet more administrative snafu's ends up being left to the private sector. I don't know, but please less unwarranted text entry.

Erik Stolterman Bergqvist said...

Hi Vincent,

that is a great comment. I am sure you are right when you say what is "more fun". HCI research seems to leave the "boring" and maybe the most difficult issues to be handled by industry. But it is in that world that most people live in their daily work situations. So we should probably do something....
Erik

Charlotte Lee said...

Hi Erk, I have been doing research on professional work and complex systems. It definitely feels like I’m doing something that is “weird” for HCI but I am pressing ahead because I believe It is important.

Erik Stolterman Bergqvist said...

HI Charlotte
Good to hear from you. And it is great that you do this kind of work. I am also happy to hear that you seem to verify my argument, that there is a blind spot in HCI research. Well, then we have to change that :-)
Erik

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