Towards an activity-oriented design method for HCI research and practice

Mwanza, Daisy (2002). Towards an activity-oriented design method for HCI research and practice. PhD thesis The Open University.



During the last two decades, designing for usability has been the focus of attention when developing computer systems. However, the dynamic nature of human use of computer systems has meant that designing for 'usefulness' or 'fitness for purpose' is increasingly becoming the primary concern for systems developers. Central to this concern are issues underpinned by the social context in which a computer user operates.

Within the field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), this situation led to a search for appropriate theories for conceptualising these design concerns. Whilst Activity Theory has been identified as a suitable framework for conceptualising these user perspectives, the lack of a standard methodology for applying it to HCI research and practice has meant that many systems developers have failed to benefit from the richness of this framework. The objective of this thesis was therefore to develop an Activity Theory based methodology for HCI research and practice. This thesis, contributes the `Activity-Oriented Design Methodology' (AODM) both as a practical and analytical methodology for using Activity Theory within HCI design. AODM incorporates four methodological tools namely:

- The `Eight-Step-Model'
- The `Activity Notation'
- The technique of `Generating Research Questions'
- The technique of `Mapping AODM Operational Processes'

AODM tools were constructed from empirical work carried out as part of this research. Empirical analysis of work practices in two organisations was conducted for a period of two years using Activity Theory. This empirical work formed the basis for validating AODM. AODM tools support the systems design processes of gathering, analysing and communicating (through modelling) research and design insights from an Activity Theory perspective. It is argued that AODM provides a valuable practical and analytical methodology for operationalising Activity Theory within HCI so as to support early phases of systems design: namely, requirements capture and evaluation.

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