Masterclass on Human Computer Interaction

Date: August 27 2002
Location: Free University of Amsterdam, Room 08A04, Main Building, De Boelelaan 1081
Host: dr. G. van der Veer (VU)


  • 09.45 - 10.00 "Introduction" by Gerrit v.d.Veer (VU)
  • 10.00 - 12.00 "The Design of Socio-Technical Practice" by Austin Henderson
  • 12.00 -13.00 Lunch
  • 13..00 -14.15 "Changing Requested System Requirements" by Johan Hoorn
  • 14.15 - 14.30 Break
  • 14.30- 15.45 "Design for new cultures of use - scenario as a method to bridge the gap" by Cristina Chisalita


If you want to participate, please send an e-mail to and inform us whether you take the lunch or not

Deadline August 22 2002


1. The Design of Socio-Technical Practice
The past decades have seen huge improvements in computer systems but these have proved difficult to translate into comparable improvements in the usability and social integration) of computers. We believe that the problem is a deeply rooted set of assumptions about how computer systems should be designed, and about who should be doing that design. Human organizations are continually evolving to meet changing circumstances of resource and need. In contrast, computers are quite rigid, incapable of adaptation on their own. Therefore when computer systems are incorporated into human organizations, those organizations must adapt the computers to changing circumstances. This adaptation is another human activity that technology should support, but our design philosophies are oddly silent about it. Central to the problem is the approach that technologists adopt to the design of "systems" by training, interest and practice, they instinctively separate the technical system from its context of use. In particular this very partial viewpoint tends to limit solutions to those that are centrally technical, and is blind to users as system elements that are fully connected to the changing needs and values of the circumstances that the system serves. This talk explores the origins of these problems in the norms developed for managing human organizations, proposes partial solutions that can be implemented with current systems technology, and speculates about the long-term potential for radical improvements in system design. It proposes that the evolution of socio-technical practice must be fundamentally "pliant".

About the speaker Austin Henderson's background is in computer science (Ph.D., MIT), with experience in design and ethnography. His 30-year career in Human-Computer Interaction includes user interface research and architecture at Bolt Beranek and Newman, Xerox research (both PARC and EuroPARC) and Apple Computer, and strategic industrial design with Fitch. He has worked in small research terms, managed research projects and laboratories, and led larger multi-divisional collaborations. Currently he is the principal of Rivendel Consulting & Design, working with corporate customers on interface, product and strategic design, with a focus on explorations of ill-formed and emerging questions through observation, interactional interviewing, and reflective intervention. These methods develop rich access to participants' and clients' views of their activity. This serves as a basis for co-producing new perspectives and technical frameworks, and addressing the issues in the design of socio-technical systems and practice. Austin is also a principal in Pliant Research, a research effort pursuing basic research in overcoming formality in computing. Professionally, Austin has participated in the activities and leadership of ACM's Special Interest Group on Human-Computer Interaction (ACM/SIGCHI) for over 15 years, including Serving as Chair.

2. Changing Requested System Requirements
To facilitate an adequate requirements management, concepts of Groupware Task Analysis are connected to fluctuating business goals and processes, safeguarding the fit between requirements on the one hand and processes and goals on the other. This is done by introducing a mechanism from emotion psychology that explains how events can change attribute values of internal concepts such as objects, tasks, agents, and roles. To bypass the idiosyncrasies of time, an attempt is made to isolate the components of goals and processes that are fixed in so far as they are connected to changing task environments. Such an achievement would be helpful to resolve the mix-up of tongues among the disciplines involved in system design (e.g., ethnography, psychology, arts, ergonomics, and computer science). Identifying the fixed components in changing business processes and goals would add to creating a designers' Esperanto as it were.

About the speaker Johan Hoorn has a background in PsychoLinguistics. He is currently a Postdoc in the Software Engineering Department of the Vrije Universiteit, working in a project to relate business goals and business processes to requirements engineering and task analysis.

3. Design for new cultures of use - scenario as a method to bridge the gap
In design for novel situations the main issue frequently turns out to be the step from the current situation to the intended context of use. If the artifact to be developed would ever be implemented, this would change the world of the prospective users. Or the design focuses on future situations, where the context of use will be different of today's world anyhow. The main message of our approach is that design in such cases should step beyond the specification of the artifact. In fact the base of the specification should be the envisioning of the context of use. In the case of interactive systems this frequently turns out to be a radical change from the existing situation. New technology in many cases effects the human organization, as new functionality results in re-structuring human roles. Moreover, technology effects procedures of work, and often comes with changes in the physical conditions of work (think of mobile telephones). We propose to look at this situation as design for new cultures of use. In fact, the context of use in these cases is equivalent with a new work culture. Only if we have ideas of what the new situation of use could be, and what this would mean for the intended user, would it make sense to focus on any details of technology. Meaning in fact is created differently in different cultures of use based on the common ground in the context of use, so we need to make sure that we take this into account if we investigate the understanding of prospective users. At least the intended context of use should be made clear to these users. So we need to confront prospective users, or people who can be considered equivalent to these, with a vision of this new context and culture of use, even before any details of the technology have been developed. Designing for novel cultures of use requires the investigation of the meaning of the artifact in use for the prospective users. Scenarios trigger people to develop mental models of imaginary worlds, and are, hence, ideal vehicles to study users' mental models of technology in use long before the details of the technology itself are specified. This approach focuses on the future world as understood by the user, not on the feasibility of the technical solutions. We will go in detail about the requirements of scenarios for the type of early design we discussed. We will refer to several types of scenarios as elaborated in the literature (e.g., Carroll's recent books in this field). The scenarios as we need for this design process are generally vague about aspects of the technology (where functionality is the only part that matters in the early cycles of design). We will show examples where the scenario was prepared by sketching the context of use and providing a mock up of a device (e.g., a cardboard box with some unlabelled buttons) where the prospective users were invited to act out their interpretation of actual use.
Finally, we will show some examples of this approach as applied in design in industry and in public administration design, where we have the possibility to participate in design activities that develop in parallel (and mostly are related to) changes in the organizational culture.

About the speaker Cristina Chisalita is a Ph.D. student at the Department of Software Engineering of the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam. She graduated in Cognitive and Organizational Psychology at the University of Cluj, Romania.