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Artifact as Theory- Nexus: Hermeneutics Meets Theory-Based Design

Carroll, J. M., and Kellogg, W. A. (1989). “Artifact as Theory- Nexus: Hermeneutics Meets Theory-Based Design,” CM  SIGCHI Bulletin—Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on  Human Factors in Computing Systems: Wings for the Mind  (20:SI), March, pp. 7-14.

In this paper Carroll and Kellogg present an approach to argue for the inclusion of psychology into the analysis of HCI. Although dated, at the time of publication (1989), the discipline was under threat of marginalisation or even eradication in the design process. The paper through an analysis of systems argues that HCI artifacts make claims about the cognitive processes of their users. Although the paper does not explicitly state the claim, Carroll and Kellogg are analysing the affordances of the system to map out or assert what the artifact say about humans. The paper highlights the subjectivity or hermeneutic analysis of systems by users as unique instances, but also the narrowness of returns using quantitative methods from psychology.

The paper argues that designers, through the creation of HCI artifacts, state claims about the user and how they wish the user to interact with the system. They understand that the subject may react in different ways to the system, but that the system as a design object makes cognitive claims which are inscribed by the designer into the artifact. This is an early paper which argues towards a proceduralist understanding of systems, but is important in building towards claims that games as systems make claims about their ideal players (proposed for the TRACE article)

Useful Quotes

“successful HCI designs embody an assortment of psychological claims, that virtually every aspect of a system’s usability is overdetermined by independent psychological rationales inherent in its design.” (p. 8)

“HCI artifacts embody psychological claims in contexts of use: aspects of the interface engender psychological consequences and in this sense make claims about the user’s behavior and experience. ” (p. 8)

“We acknowledge that such a description cannot be exhaustive; we seek merely to articulate the leading claims of an artifact.” (p. 8)

“Usability is psychologically overdetermined both by the individual claims embodied in specific techniques and component artifacts and by the relations among these parts and among the claims they embody. This is the sense in which we see HCI artifacts as a nexus of psychological theory: the myriad claims and their interrelations are given coherence through their codification in the artifact.” (p. 8)

“a claim inherent in an artifact is an assertion; it is part of the psychoiogical rationale for the design. However, the claims embodied by an artifact are empirical claims, and it is finally an empirical issue whether the claims are true.” (p. 9)

“We believe that theory-based design is possible in HCI with a sufficiently rich view of artifact as theorynexus. However, the property of psychological overdetermination discourages hope for simple, deductive bridges from theory into design. Rather, we envision a reciprocal relation between the articulation and rearticulation of a set of psychological claims and the iterations of design.” (p. 13)

“The hermeneutic vision is correct in stressing the multiplicity of relevant interpretations of situations, users and artifacts, but too easily conflates multiplicity and infinity, settling for indeterminate subjectivity. Our view is more disciplined in assuming that there are bounds on interpretations (i.e., they are grounded in psychology and made with respect to a task analysis) and that interpretations are valuable insofar as they produce systematic and falsifiable results.” (p. 13)

“The essence of this approach is to view artifacts not through the filter of an isolated theoretical abstraction (e.g., a grammar-in-the-head) nor, without abstraction, as an unbounded collection of idiosyncratically interpreted, specific instances, but to recognize and analyze the multiple, simultaneous psychological claims and theories embodied by the artifact.” (p. 13)

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