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Artifacts as Theories: Convergence through User-Centred Design

Dillon, A. (1995) Artifacts as Theories: Convergence through User-Centered Design. Proceeding of the 58th Annual ASIS Conference, Medford NJ: ASIS, 208-210

This paper proposes a new framing of Information Systems design and HCI design  which draws on User-Centred design but instead of embedding in the discourses of Psychology and Social Sciences argues towards a mixed methodology drawing on the Sciences. The aim is towards a more Scientific model for design research.

There are issues in this paper in its focus on the utility of the output and has a traditional view of the design process at odds with the approaches of Speculative Design practice, but offers a method, or approach which thinks of the artefact or object as a testing of a hypothesis rather than an outcome of the research process. This work could combine well with some of the work of Frayling (1994) in Design as Research. The emphasis of the paper is on the User, which could be problematic when applied to a player, and also judging the outcomes or prototypes against user/player needs might be problematic when applied to game design due to the lack of “need” or utility in the game object.

Useful quotes
“The adoption of the user-centered philosophy is certainly desirable but the catch-cry of ‘know the user’ is insufficient if it is equated solely with the production of prototypes or the quick running of a user-trial towards the end of the design process.”

“Popper argued that all observations are theory impregnated and that scientists make progressive attempts at understanding a problem by formulating theories that are subjected to attempted refutations. From this perspective, theory and empiricism are intertwined inseparably, and while we never demonstrate the ‘truth’ of an answer or theory, we can improve our understanding of the world by modifying theories that are shown to be false. For Popper, the strength of a discipline can be gauged in terms of the willingness of practitioners within it to formulate testable hypotheses about the domain of inquiry.”

“In the sense that design is problem solving, the artifacts that are created represent conjectures on the part of the design teams involved. That is, they are (on one level) the embodiments of theories about the users and the tasks they will be performing with the tool (artifact) being developed. By extension, the usability trial can be viewed as an attempted refutation of the theory, carried out in order to improve it and render it more robust.”

“In effect, this stage of design necessarily precedes all else and should result in an agreed view of the required tool to be developed. Designing the tool then follows by formulating a set of functions that will meet those requirements. At this point, the HCI community can provide evidence from existing studies or run experiments to provide new data on the most appropriate means of presenting these functions. The tool or artifact then is seen as the embodiment of the theory of what is required in that context.”

“The artifact as theory approach indicates that we need to find a means of adequately describing humans as existing in contexts of use (i.e., performing tasks with tools in certain environments) that draws on psychological, sociological and educational theories but is expressed in a form that enables useful conceptualization of human socio-cognitive activity at the earliest stages of design.”

Further reading
Popper, K. The Logic of Scientific Discovery , Third Edition (London: Hutchinson, 1972)

Frayling, C, (1994), Research in Art and Design (Royal College of Art Research Papers, Vol 1, No 1, 1993/4) Other. Royal College of Art, London

Published inPhD