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Thinking visually, engaging deeply

January 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Imagery provides opportunities to encourage thinking by enabling people to identify key aspects of an image and relate their own expertise to it. A well-chosen image can inspire new ideas, spark memories of prior experiences, highlight potential issues and drawbacks, and provide a point for conversation and debate. Eli Blevis has an interactions article, CHI workshop, and regular course at Indiana University that explores the impacts of digital imagery in HCI and design. In his article, he describes digital imagery as a form of visual thinking, where visual forms are used to create content and make sense of the world.

We turned to imagery as a way to inspire groups of designers to think broadly and engage meaningfully with each other during the design process. We looked for ways that images could serve as a starting point for group design activities, and as a gateway to other design knowledge. Specifically, we are interested in how imagery can be used to enhance claims during early-stage design. Claims, conceptualized by the classic Toulmin (1958) book and introduced to HCI by Carroll and Kellogg (1989), present a design artifact together with observed or hypothesized upsides (+) and downsides (-); e.g., a public display of information (+) can notify large groups of people about things of shared concern, BUT (-) often become unattractive, densely-packed discordances of data. Claims are accessible when compared to much denser knowledge capture mechanisms like papers, patterns, and cases. But it is still a daunting task for designers to look through long lists of textual claims toward finding the right ideas.

Our approach to mitigate this problem is to use imagery as a bridge to each claim. We chose to represent each claim with an image, selected not just because it captured a key aspect of the claim but also because it allowed designers who viewed it to include their own interpretation of the technology and the context.

Information exhibit

Information exhibit image used in design sessions

We have used a set of around 30 image-claim cards in design activities (e.g., brainstorming, storyboarding), using the image cards both in printed and digital form. The benefits of the images-first approach were numerous. It allowed designers to process large numbers of claims quickly, connecting the ideas to their own experiences and expertise toward solving a design problem. It supported collaboration among designers through the shared understanding centered around the images. It encouraged broad speculation down paths not captured by the claims, sometimes resulting in new and different directions. A set of papers led by Wahid at Interact, DIS, and CHI capture the lessons and tradeoffs.

All of this is in keeping with the nature of a claim, whose original intent was as a falsifiable hypothesis (Toulmin, 1958; Carroll & Kellogg, 1989). However, a purely textual claim risks narrowing the associations of the reader to the words in the claim, and thus limiting the design considerations and even alienating designers unfamiliar with the text of a claim. It is through imagery, and specifically through images as the initial shared view in a design session, that designers can make sense of a problem and create meaningful and informed content.

Tim Tebow, Steve Jobs, and the Lord Almighty

January 23, 2012 Leave a comment

Tim Tebow thanks his god after every football game. Tebow plays the most difficult position in the game—quarterback—and he’s not particularly good at it. But he won a lot of games this season, enough to get his team (my local-for-the-year Denver Broncos) into the playoffs and victorious in the first round—before the Broncos got stomped.

Many people seem really mad at Tebow regarding his open faith. But lots of athletes thank their mothers…do we take that as an affront to the mothering of our own mothers, almost all of whom didn’t raise children who won major sports championships? And what about those interviews with the local person who just turned 100, or the latest “oldest person in the world”—do we begrudge those people’s enthusiasm that they lived so long because, e.g., they eat a green bean and ‘mater sandwich with mayo every day, or because they smoke a cigar every Sunday night, or because they wake up every morning at 5am. And what about the recently deceased Steve Jobs? In reading his Walter Isaacson bio he was an asshole: he denied fathering his daughter for many years, he cheated his friends, and he was pushed out of the company he founded. Yet his bio spent many weeks at the top of the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list. Hopefully most of us will realize that you don’t have to be a Jobs-level jerk to lead a successful company, and we can pick and choose the elements of his life (and Clinton’s, and Giuliani’s, and Tebow’s) that seem important and relevant to us.

When reporters give Tebow a platform to speak, he can attribute his success to whatever factors he wants. Of course there will be people are wrong, or who take it to a ridiculous level. It’s up to us as careful readers and intelligent beings to decide whether these people are successful because of certain aspects of their lives, or despite them, or just concurrently with them.

Categories: Uncategorized

Book review: The Heretic’s Guide to Best Practices

January 23, 2012 5 comments

The Heretic’s Guide to Best Practices: The Reality of Managing Complex Problems in Organisations, by Paul Culmsee and Kailash Awati, examines how groups of people can work to define a complex problem and to identify possible solutions. The book is divided into three sections: the first part argues why “best practices” often fail in the face of wicked problems; the second examines how people can work together (with a focus on dialog mapping, issue-based information systems (IBIS), and Compendium), and the third provides case studies illustrating successes and lessons learned from the authors’ work experiences. I found the middle section to be the most interesting and enlightening: it included motivation and history behind dialog mapping, with lots of illustrative examples and key citations balanced by alternative approaches. Much of the book centered around Compendium use and examples, the free IBIS-based dialog mapping tool I discussed in a previous post. In case you worry that the authors don’t eat their own dog food, a great many of the figures were generated by Compendium—reflecting intermediate steps of how a manager can address wicked problems using the tool.

The book represents an interesting pairing of authors. Paul Culmsee is a consultant who probably knows more about dialog mapping and Compendium than anyone (except maybe Jeff Conklin of gIBIS fame, who wrote a glowing foreword to the book with high praise for Culmsee). Kailash Awati is an information systems manager, with a couple of Ph.D. degrees and experience at several levels in academia. Both Culmsee and Awati blog prolifically, and many of their blog posts fed nicely into this book (a trick I’m using to prepare my book). People familiar with their styles will find their key writing styles featuring irreverent humor, pop-culture references, and in-depth examples prevalent in this book. (At times, though, I feel their pop-culture irreverence would be better if rooted in fact; e.g., the real Clippy story is interesting and perhaps relevant, and people and stories behind the development are still out there.)

There were a few major weaknesses of the book (though in the spirit of “wicked-ness”, many of these drawbacks to me may be neutral (or advantages!) to you, so take them as such). The index is very weak (less than 3 pages for a book approaching 400 pages). I’d love to look up what they have to say about strong reciprocity, or whose views of claims they discuss, or their view of McCall’s PHI approach to wicked problems, or their thoughts on positions in IBIS, or numerous other topics—but such a short index just doesn’t provide adequate support for a lot of important queries. In addition, I often find that books suffer from a certain myopia when it comes to the authors’ favored approaches, though there’s somewhat less fan-dom in this book than is seen in many books of this type. They certainly show a favoritism to IBIS and Compendium, but it’s the authors’ prerogative in writing a book to choose approaches to focus on and how much to talk about the weaknesses of a favored approach. More generally, they took the “depth over breadth” approach in this book, with heavy details about a few approaches rather than touching on a more inclusive set. It’s great to see examples, but not at the exclusion of alternatives. Somewhat telling, the references list contains only 122 references—there’s no mention of the work of Schön, Toulmin, McCall, Moran, Carroll, or others who have had important (nay, foundational) things to say about the topics in this book.

So who should get this book? The book targets technology managers who are looking for a way to address complex problems, and plenty of software professionals (e.g., ones who want to “deprogram” their managers) could benefit from it as well. Certainly anyone who uses Compendium or, more generally, embraces IBIS as a design approach or wicked problems as a problem classification should read it. If you like Jeff Conklin’s book, then (dare I say it?) I bet you will like this one even more. To grossly oversimplify, this is like Conklin’s book but moreso: more motivation and framing of the problem type, lots more examples, 5 years more of experiences and Compendium advances, more history of where these ideas came from, and more positive and negative examples of Compendium’s utility. If that sounds appealing, you should get a copy of this book.

The evolution of claims

January 18, 2012 1 comment

This post seeks to trace the evolution of the claim in human-computer interaction (HCI), from its introduction in the Carroll and Kellogg (1989) paper through the appearance of three books, Carroll’s Making Use (2000), Sutcliffe’s The Domain Theory (2002), and Rosson and Carroll’s Usability Engineering (2002). (A chronological list of key papers is provided at the end of this post.) The definition and role of “claims” shifted significantly during that time period; I’m seeking to identify some of the evolutionary shifts from 1989 to 2002. This list isn’t meant to be complete, but rather it seeks to highlight the most important evolutionary points in the conceptualization of the claim.

Three phases highlight the progress in this evolution:
– Carroll and his colleagues at IBM T.J. Watson in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They were seeking ways to design not just toward creating a single design, but toward crafting a theory-based approach to design to enable designers to build on each others’ work in a meaningful, scientific way. This work continued until Carroll left for Virginia Tech, at which time his focus largely shifted to collaborative computing (save for a few papers that seemed to draw on his IBM work).
– Sutcliffe and Carroll’s collaboration, highlighted by Sutcliffe’s sabbatical time at Virginia Tech. Sutcliffe had been working for many years on knowledge abstraction in software design, and, like Carroll and his group, he was inspired by potential roles for theory in HCI.
– Three summative works led by Carroll, Sutcliffe, and Rosson. Each presented a different view of the role of claims—in the fields of design, engineering, and education, respectively.

Claims were introduced to the field of HCI in Carroll and Kellogg’s “Artifact as theory nexus” paper at CHI 1989. They seemed to base their definition on Toulmin’s 1958 use of the term, in which he established claims as a hypothesis-centered approach to crafting arguments. The Carroll and Kellogg paper seeks to move beyond the narrow focus of cognitive-based theories that were prominent in the 1980s (that focused on low-level phenomena like keystrokes) by introducing the a hermeneutic approach based on psychological claims, the effects on people of both natural and designed artifacts. Claims were the central part of a task-analysis framework, an attempt to position the design and interpretation of HCI artifacts as a central component of HCI research. This approach was intended to bridge the gap from research to innovation—reconciling the “hermeneutics vs theory-based design” conflict in the title. Several examples in the paper showed how developing an understanding of a claim—the artifact and its possible effects—can point out how much we have to learn and can encourage us to draw broader conclusions. Many of these issues, in particular the connection of claims and claims analysis to the task-artifact cycle, is elaborated in a Carroll, Kellogg, Rosson 1991, but the ideas were first presented in the 1989 paper.

A 1992 BIT paper by Carroll, Singley, and Rosson provided the first in-depth view of the tech transfer of UE results (though see the Moran and Carroll 1991 special issue and 1996 book described below). It connected the Scriven view of mediated evaluation to claims upsides and downsides, positioning claims as a contributor in the field of design rationale. In so doing, it expounded upon claims as a way to reuse knowledge, by encouraging designer consideration of specialized vs abstract claims. The expectation was that designers could use claims to “avoid throwing away thoughtful empirical work”. They avoided Grudin’s paradox, stating outright that design rationale (including claims-centric design rationale) was not an automatic mechanism, but requires additional human thought to yield a reusable knowledge unit.

A 1992 TOIS article by Carroll and Rosson opined that HCI should be an action-science “that produces ‘knowledge-in-implementation’ and views design practice as inquiry”. The paper argues that the task-artifact cycle is an action-science because designers must respond to user requirements by building artifacts with upsides and downsides—i.e., claims. This paper distinguishes the scenario/claim roles as such: “Where scenarios are a narrative account, claims are a causal account.” It argues that scenarios provided a situation narrative, but they are too rich, hard to classify, and hard to reuse (arguments brought up again and addressed to varying degrees by Sutcliffe, Chewar, and others). It is the claim that establish the link to action-science by facilitating design analysis, providing a mechanism for generalization and hypothesis, and explicitly recognizing potential tradeoffs.

A 1994 IJHCS paper by Carroll, Mack, Robertson, and Rosson provided a software-centric scenario-based design approach, with Point-of-View (POV) scenarios drawing parallels to object-centric/object-oriented development. This paper represents the most process-based, engineering-focused, and software-generative view of scenario-based design—both until this time and thereafter. Although claims play a fairly minor role in this paper (only appearing in step 4, leveraging the upsides and downsides in analysis and hillclimbing), there seemed to be opportunity for a much larger role: identifying objects, specifying interactions between objects, supporting inheritance, etc. There was also initial discussion of an education focus for POV scenarios, SBD, claims, and such—but it was not elaborated, and the 2002 Rosson and Carroll textbook described a more simplified approach to teaching design. This paper seemed to be hypothesized starting points that were not fully pursued by the authors—rich for mining by Sutcliffe, Chewar, and others in the years to come.

Moran and Carroll’s 1996 Design Rationale book (elaborated from their 1991 special issue of the HCI Journal) is pointed to as a landmark in the field of design rationale. It draws together contributions from Jintae Lee, Allan MacLean, Clayton Lewis, Simon Buckingham Shum, Gary Olson, Gerhard Fischer, Colin Potts, Jeff Conklin, Jonathan Grudin, and many others. Of relevance to the topic of claims is the introduction (by co-editors Tom Moran and Jack Carroll) and a Carroll and Rosson chapter. These chapters exhibit connections in their work to Horst Rittel (wicked problems, IBIS), Francis Bacon (deliberated evaluation), Herb Simon (environment and behavior), and Donald Schön (contexts of experience)—putting forth the most synthesized view of the position of claims within the design community. Some of the psychological themes, particularly those of Simon, are elaborated in Carroll’s 1997 journal paper in Annual Reviews of Psychology.

A 1999 Sutcliffe and Carroll IJHCS paper summarizes the joint efforts of the two authors on the use of claims as a knowledge capture and reuse mechanism. It delved into the possibility of using claims as a reuse mechanism, a concept touched upon in previous work but never described in sufficient detail. The paper introduced a formatting and classification scheme for claims (and scenarios) to enable their reuse, including a process and alternate pathways for claim evolution. Among the augmentations was the first explicit connection to its derivation history and background theory (i.e., where it came from), leading to the first claim map that can reflect parentage, original/evolving context, motivation, evidence, and possibilities for reuse. Also of great importance was the acknowledgement of work left to do: methods for indexing, tool support (hypertext links, structure matching), and the need for buy-in (and stay-in) incentives.

Sutcliffe’s 2000 TOCHI paper seeks to address the irrelevance of HCI in industry, particularly with regard to a theory-based engineering approach. The paper seeks to identify ways to deliver HCI knowledge in a tractable form that is reusable across applications—and, more importantly, across application areas. The paper argues that claims could provide a bridge if reuse scope was improved; specifically, if there were generic versions of claims and artifacts, and if there were mechanisms for matching claims to new application contexts. The bulk of the paper provides a three-step process to accomplish this: steps for creating more generic claims, mechanisms for cross-domain reuse, and approaches to recognize broader implications. Parts of these are elaborated in Sutcliffe’s book (described later) and in the dissertations of Christa Chewar and Shahtab Wahid. Other important products of this work are the notion of claim families, a claims-patterns comparison, and an explicit recognition of the importance of claims as “designer-digestible” knowledge (one of my favorite phrases).

This series of papers culminated with three books that offered very different visions of design, with very different roles for claims. I plan to elaborate on these books in a future post, but here’s a brief summary of each. Carroll’s 2000 Making Use book pulled together his vision for scenario-based design for scientists, with an eye toward the discovery process. Claims are used to augment the scenario-based design process, highlighting key aspects of the design (and leaving the generalization of claims as an exercise for the designer). Sutcliffe’s 2002 The Domain Theory provides a reuse-centric view of software engineering, extending the vision of Rittel and the design rationale literature and approaches. The role of claims is to make concrete Domain Theory’s high level of abstraction (too high, according to critics) by leveraging the high utility (but low flexibility and poor reuse) of claims. Finally, Rosson and Carroll’s 2002 Usability Engineering textbook advocates scenario-based development as a teaching tool, with claims and claims analysis a complementary and guiding technique to scenario development during each stage of design. It presents claims in a simplified, stripped-down manner (for better and worse) meant to be highly accessible for students. These books kicked off a period of scientific application, engineering refinement, and creative design that has continued in the years since they appeared.

Chronological bibliography:
== S. E. Toulmin (1958). The Uses of Argument. Cambridge Press.
== J. M. Carroll and W. A. Kellogg (1989). “Artifact as theory-nexus: Hermeneutics meets theory-based design.” In Proceedings of CHI, pp. 7-14.
== J. M. Carroll, D. A. Singley, M. B. Rosson (1992). “Integrating theory development with design evaluation.” Behaviour and Information Technology 11, pp. 247-255.
== J. M. Carroll, M. B. Rosson (1992). “Getting around the task-artifact cycle: How to make claims and design by scenario.” ACM Transactions on Information Systems 10 2, pp. 181-212.
== J. M. Carroll, Mack, S. R. Robertson, M. B. Rosson (1994). “Binding objects to scenarios of use.” International Journal of Human Computer Systems 41, pp. 243-276.
== J. M. Carroll (1997). “Human-computer interaction: Psychology as a science of design.” Annual Reviews in Psychology 48, pp. 61-83.
== A. G. Sutcliffe and J. M. Carroll (1999). “Designing claims for reuse in interactive systems design.” International Journal of Human-Computer Studies 50, pp. 213-241.
== A. G. Sutcliffe (2000). “On the effective use and reuse of HCI knowledge.” ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction 7 2, pp. 197-221.
== J. M. Carroll (2000). Making Use: Scenario-based Design of Human-Computer Interactions. MIT Press.
== A. S. Sutcliffe (2002). The Domain Theory: Patterns for Knowledge and Software Reuse. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
== M. B. Rosson and J. M. Carroll (2002). Usability Engineering: Scenario-Based Development of Human-Computer Interaction. Morgan Kaufman.

Books capturing the American Southwest

January 11, 2012 1 comment

One of the things I like to do to get a sense of a new place where I visit is to read some of the local literature, an activity I’ve pursued during my sabbatical at the University of Colorado, Boulder. I define “local” fairly broadly—to include Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico—where I’ve done most of my traveling while out here. I’ve been fortunate to get recommendations (and book loans!) from neighbors, acquaintances, and local bookstores. Here are some of the more memorable books recommended to me.

John Nichols’ The Milagro Beanfield War describes a battle over water rights in northern New Mexico. The primary focus is on the development and portrayal of characters (archetypes? stereotypes?) that reflect the independent spirit of a community of people who mainly want to be left alone. In the afterword to my edition of the book, Nichols notes “I hadn’t planned out the novel; I just started typing.” And it kind of shows, for better and worse, with a loosely-connected slow-moving story about amusing people doing odd things. And if you only have two hours, you can watch the well-received Robert Redford film adaptation of the book (disclaimer: I’ve not seen it yet).

Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang has something of a similar tone, focusing on a group of people who share little more than a strong sense of environmental responsibility in the face of building, dam, bridge, and road construction in the southwest. Brought together on a rafting trip, they decide the way to exhibit their love of nature is to destroy all aspects of the construction: the buildings and bridges and such, as well as the bulldozers and other machines that aided in their construction. Like the previous book, this one is more about the development of the characters and the portrayal of the landscape rather than telling a story—which can be a good thing if you want a sense of the American southwest.

From a very different genre is Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop. It’s not often that a book can give away the ending in the title and still be worth reading, but this book manages to do just that—mainly because it’s more about the characters and the land than a story. It’s loosely based on a true story about Catholic priests sent to the American Southwest in the mid-1800s, and it does a great job of capturing the great difficulties in traveling across the desolate landscape of New Mexico (which still isn’t trivial, even with a giant GPS-equipped minivan). Cather paints a picture of the landscape that still exists today—reading this book will provide a nice preview if you’re planning to spend time in this area.

Timothy Egan’s The Worst Hard Time, which I talked about extensively in a previous post, captures life in the dust bowl (parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas) around the time of the Great Depression. The local towns around here named the book the area’s common book, leading to lots of interesting events with reflections passed down from those who survived during this era. It’s a good book made better by the events that were held in the area.

There are a couple of Boulder authors who came highly recommended by our local independent book store, the Boulder Book Store. Marlys Millhiser’s best-known book, The Mirror, was my favorite of the recommendations. It’s a sci-fi/horror mix about a young woman who switched places with her grandmother, leaving the the granddaughter to navigate the early 20th century with late 20th century knowledge and skills. But the most interesting aspect was in tracing and reflecting upon the evolving lifestyle in Boulder and the surrounding areas during the 20th century. Millhiser has written a number of other books, including a popular series of mysteries. And on the topic of mysteries, I read one of an extensive series by Boulder author Steven White and looked through a couple of others—they seemed like the usual mystery novels, but with references to Arapahoe Avenue and King Soopers and such sprinkled through them. If you like books by authors like John D. MacDonald and Dean Koontz and Robert Parker, then White’s mysteries (and Millhiser’s) will probably appeal to you. It’s not my favorite genre though, so I’m a bad person to comment on it.

So that’s the “local” reading I’ve done—comments and suggestions greatly appreciated.

Categories: Book reviews