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The fellowship

This site provides an overview of my Leverhulme Fellowship project (ECF-2012-642), running part time from April 2013 to June 2017.

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Overview

The fellowship aims to deliver significant methodological research examining innovative uses of Interaction Design (IxD) practice as a form of inquiry in interdisciplinary research.  Working at the boundary of the arts and sciences, the research is grounded in the ‘radically interdisciplinary’ field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), which is rife with complex challenges for collaboration [10]. Focusing on the uses of IxD techniques to facilitate dialogue and understanding between research stakeholders, the fellowship aims to develop insights for guiding the application of IxD practice in methods of communicative exchange.

February 2012

Rationale

IxD is a relatively young discipline and is defined as the practice of computer-related design for human interaction [1, 7].  IxD developed in the 1980s as an extension to HCI, following the emergence of computers as consumer products.  As the use of computers spread from the scientist’s laboratory to the workplace, home and beyond, IxD gained significance as a means to address broader issues of ‘user experience’, embracing not just the usability of computers and their intelligibility to non-experts, but also their wider meaning and subsequent value to people [9].

Given that digital technologies now pervade all aspects of life [3], HCI research must strive to understand user experience in multiple and wide-ranging contexts, across diverse populations.  To do this (in both academic and commercial contexts) requires expertise from multiple disciplines such as engineering, the information, behavioural, social and medical sciences, education, and the arts and humanities [8].  The recently completed Equator IRC Project is a good example of efforts to pioneer this kind of interdisciplinary HCI research [2].

Much as interdisciplinarity is promoted in HCI research, a practical challenge emerges of exactly how to establish working relationships between stakeholders with such ‘radically’ differing epistemological orientations.  Finding common ground can be difficult.  Consider, for example, a collaboration between an anthropologist, a software engineer and a teacher around developing a digital learning tool; in this context, questions may be raised about what ‘interdisciplinary’ approaches mean for how knowledge is generated, and how different expertise can productively be brought into dialogue.  Output from the Equator IRC, by example, highlighted this challenge.

Whilst design practice has traditionally been positioned within HCI as a research outcome, recent associated discourses have begun to reflect on what the potential research contribution of IxD could be [4, 5].  This reflection incorporates discussion on the roles that designers may adopt in the research process, and how design practice and artefacts may serve to produce knowledge.

Certainly, the IxD contribution may be framed differently in commercial and academic contexts; in the latter, research outcomes may be typically oriented to the production of knowledge rather than artefacts (specifically products) [4, 5].  Recent calls to explore IxD as a form of inquiry, in studies of ’Research through design’ [12] (see also [10]) have acknowledged that the practice-based process of design fosters creativity and collaboration, producing embodied, experiential forms of knowledge with significant research value.  This highlights a significant opportunity to explore how IxD practice may be used as a form of inquiry to facilitate and enhance communication and sense making.

Research Challenge

This project aims to comprehensively explore and critically reflect upon IxD practice as a form of inquiry in the field of HCI, raising the following research questions. (1) How can IxD be applied and valued within interdisciplinary research as a form of inquiry to foster dialogue and understanding between stakeholders?  (2) What forms of knowledge can interaction designers contribute to interdisciplinary research?  And: (3) What is the research contribution of IxD-as-inquiry that results from supporting stakeholder dialogue and understanding?

Approach

Inspired by ‘dialogical’ approaches to HCI, pioneered by McCarthy and Wright [6; 11], this fellowship will explore IxD, its practice and its products, as a medium for supporting a dialogical space within stakeholder relationships, between (at least): (i) researchers and designers and (ii) researchers and research stakeholders including users and consumers.  It will explore the pursuit of ‘dialogical understanding’ along different trajectories: (i) to ‘make sense’ of the research subject, including reasoning about who and what a design could serve; and (ii) to identify and articulate considerations for the design of products to address and respond to a problem space.  Contextually grounded in the field of HCI, the project will be positioned further within the academic context of using IxD in inquiry, and academic collaborations with commercial and public sector stakeholders.

References

[1] Bagnara, S. & Crampton Smith, G. (2006) Theories and Practice in Interaction Design. Mahwah, NJ: LEA

[2] Equator Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration (IRC): http://www.equator.ac.uk/

[3] Greenfield, A. (2006) Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing. Berkeley, CA: New Riders

[4] Kolko, J. (2011) Thoughts on Interaction Design. Burlington, MA: Morgan Kaufmann

[5] Lowgren, J. & Stolterman, E. (2004) Thoughtful Interaction Design. Cambridge: MIT Press

[6] McCarthy, J. & Wright, P. (2004) Technology as Experience. Cambridge: MIT Press

[7] Moggridge, B. (2007) Designing Interactions. Cambridge: MIT Press

[8] Rogers, Y., Sharp, H. & Preece, J. (2011) Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction. London: Wiley

[9] Winograd, T. (1997), ‘The Design of Interaction’, in P. Denning & B. Metcalfe (eds.) Beyond Calculation, The Next 50 Years of Computing. Springer-Verlag

[10] Wright, P., Blythe, M. & McCarthy, J. (2006). ‘User experience and the idea of design in HCI’. Interactive Systems. Design, Specification, and Verification. LNCS, 3941, 1-14

[11] Wright, P. & McCarthy, J. (2010) Experience-centred Design: Designers, Users and Communities in Dialogue. San Rafael: Morgan and Claypool

[12] Zimmerman, J. Forlizzi, J. & Evenson, S. (2007) Research through design as a method for interaction design research in HCI. In Proc. of Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’07). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 493-50.