Yesterday I read the cover story of the latest edition of ACM’s Interactions magazine: Reimagining HCI: Toward a More Human-Centered Perspective. The author describes a refocusing within HCI from evaluation of interfaces through system design and into “general sense-making of our world.” He calls for a refocusing in HCI towards “new forms of living with and through technologies that give primacy to human actors, their values, and their activities.”
Given that my doctorate concerned understanding user experiences towards designing better systems, it’s unsurprising that I found myself nodding in agreement — particularly given my concerns about unintended negative impacts from technology, an issue relevant to HCI and User Experience, but also to Web Science (which after all, encompasses unintended societal impacts of technological changes).
(Quick example: many of us now live in an ‘always-on’ culture, in which we expect one another to be constantly online, and feel guilty when we ourselves are offline. This arose from technological changes: the spread of smartphones, the widespread availability of affordable data contracts, and the rise of social technologies from email to social networks.)
I want to talk about Web Science here. Relatively early on in the article, Bannon remarks upon how issues such as ‘reliability’ are not purely technical, but are “inherently sociotechnical” — a phrase which put me in mind of Wendy Hall’s framing of Web Science as “the theory and practice of social machines.” However, he also remarks:
This panoply of ideas, critiques, art, designs, and reflections at times sits uneasily with a more scientific research agenda. There is something about the kinds of questions being raised that makes us realize this mixing of scientific knowledge, on the one hand, and design expertise, on the other, can create uneasy bedfellows.
Web Science is broader than “scientific knowledge plus design expertise” but the concept of tension arising from multiple domains is not unfamiliar here. Bannon goes on to cite Winograd, who reportedly argues that the challenge for interaction design is combining:
- practical aspects from engineering
- human concerns that guide design
- social science perspectives on our world
Well that sounds familiar. Combining such facets may well be a challenge for interaction design, but it’s a challenge for Web Science, too. HCI is not Web Science; Web Science is not HCI. Nonetheless, it’s no surprise that interdisciplinary efforts to work in sociotechnical areas will share certain challenges.
So what — and how? — can these communities learn from one another?