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The future of claims

In preparing to write a book about claims, I have the opportunity and obligation to expound upon what I think is the future (more like present-future) of claims.

To varying degrees, all of these arguments more generally apply to design rationale–but I think claims are particularly well-suited to solve many of the traditional problems with DR (as expounded upon in the first bullet).

Here are some current thoughts:

– Fixing design rationale with claims. Are claims the perfect instantiation of design rationale? Probably not! (Though anyone who has worked with me might be convinced that I feel differently.) Even though claims seek to hypothesize rather than expound the truth, there’s always a danger that they will be read as truth. A key step: Defining claims to getting rid of upsides and downsides–they are too polarizing and can lead to bias. Replace them with bullets or (partial) ratings to allow the designer to decide what’s an upside and downside within the context of the design or to rate them based on the current project’s needs. (One person’s bug is another person’s feature.) Thus leave open for debate whether an effect is an upside or downside.

– Identifying relationships between claims. The ability to understand the alternative, complementary, and contrasting ideas is key to enabling design. It’s particularly hard to do that at the level of a paper or a product–their nuances make it hard to compare them in a meaningful way. It’s not easy to do so with claims, but at least it seems possible. Visionaries like Otlet and Nelson recommend letting people identify relationships between claims-like chunks of knowledge. At the heart of Wahid’s thesis was the notion of claims relationships. Mathematical models can refine and quantify the relationships to highlight them to designers (e.g., Chewar’s approach to index based on critical parameters then use experimental results or designer surveys to rate the claims). There seems to be progress toward this goal.

– Identifying quality claims among a sea of mediocrity. Since claims are used in brainstorming, there necessarily will be a great many claims of questionable quality: claims that are incomplete, ill-conceived, too specific to a problem/domain (who cares if the claim is specific to some other domain; perhaps quality experienced designers can understand cross-domain relevance but most can’t), too general to be of use (the “fortune cookie” problem; the claim reads like a fortune cookie meant to appeal to everyone but instead being of little use). One solution: use the “god of claims” approach to identify claims of reasonable quality. Another solution: let the masses decide through votes or other recommendations.

– Making claims more accessible. Claims are pretty accessible compared to papers, patterns, and program review–but it’s still a daunting task for designers to look through long lists of claims toward finding the right ideas. One approach to mitigate this problem is to use pictures as a bridge to each claim; that is, to represent each claim with an easy-to-interpret picture (as in my Wahid/Branham work). This allows designers to process large numbers of claims quickly, connecting the ideas to their own problems. Another idea is to limit the number of claims and focus on high-quality ones (as in Francois’ ongoing MS thesis work). This enables the designer to focus on a smaller number of ideas; a more pattern-like approach, for better or worse.

– Automatic extraction of claims from databases. The databases could include professional papers, chat/meeting logs, blogs, case studies, scenario libraries, or other such repositories. If done with high quality, it would cut down on the high costs (and low immediate benefits) of generating claims sets. Numerous people have pursued or seem to be pursuing this idea: Janet Burge is working on this as the focus of her NSF CAREER grant to use speech recognition to decompose meeting transcripts; Ray McCall expressed interest in doing it; Jintae Lee seems to have done some of this in business settings.

This is probably a post that I’ll go back and edit. Emerging from these ideas are categories for issues claims (and design rationale) need to address to be more effective: creation, quality assurance, use/reuse. But there’s lots of other work that needs to be done in this area.

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