Rogers, Y. HCI Theory: Classical, Modern and Contemporary. Part III

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The fifth chapter (Modern theories) of the book covers cognitive approaches that differed from traditional cognitive psychology, as well as social approaches that emerged as reactions against dominant cognitive approaches. In addition activity theory and grounded theory are handled as examples of other important theories form the same epoch.

The alternative cognitive approaches include external cognition, distributed cognition, and ecological cognition. These approaches widen the focus from mental processes to include environment and also position parts of “information processing” to external resources such as rules, procedures etc. Interestingly the roots of contextual design are traced to Distributed Cognition for Teamwork (DiCoT) method which was developed to ease out the difficulties of applying distributed cognition approach. All these alternative cognitive approaches have had an important impact on HCI. However, their significance has been decreased by new approaches that managed to widen the scope of HCI further by for example emphasizing the context and including experiencing in addition of goal oriented tasks as core user actions.

The social approaches covered in the chapter include situated action, ethnomethodology, and CSCW theories. Situated action and ethnomethodology emerged as counter forces to cognition focused approaches. They both emphasize the context in which the user acts. The approaches have been very influential to HCI and because of them a “turn to social” can be identified in the historical view of HCI. The main problem of social approaches has been in processing the rich detailed descriptions of people work and activities into design implications and guidelines.

The fifth chapter is much longer and also more detailed overview of the most important modern theories of HCI than the fourth chapter was about the classical ones. As a result the chapter can also be used as a tool to select or find approaches that are related to one’s own research or could inform it. Naturally, the descriptions of different theories are short and condensed but the extensive literature references give good points to continue digging into most interesting themes.

Rogers, Y. HCI Theory: Classical, Modern, and Contemporary.Synthesis Lectures on Human-Centered Informatics, May 2012, Vol. 5, No. 2

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