SICE professors publish book highlighting importance of theory and design in HCI

Bardzell Book Cover

Shaowen Bardzell and Jeffrey Bardzell, both professors of informatics at the School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, have published Critical Theory and Interaction Design, which features essays and classic texts showcasing how critical theory and interaction design can inform one another and how they can contribute to our deepest needs for connection, competency, self-esteem, and wellbeing.

The 900-page book is being published by MIT Press and includes an in-depth introduction and 40 chapters in which leading human-computer interaction researchers identify a classic reading from critical theory and philosophy, and write a commentary on its applicability to HCI and design.

“There had been a series of workshops at major HCI conferences over the years about themes connected to critical theory and interaction design: workshops that turned to literary theory to understand user experience, for example,” Jeffrey Bardzell says. “There was a growing sense that the field was changing, that computing was changing--with mobile devices, entertainment computing, interactive and social media. How are great user experiences fashioned? What is ‘experience’ anyway? How might aesthetic notions of composition, Gestalt, perceptiveness, imagination, delight, and empathy shape the purpose and the process of interaction design--rather than being an afterthought, a ‘prettying up’ of the interface after all the real decisions are made?

“We realized that we needed a resource for other interaction designers and HCI researchers who want to engage this work. We went back and forth over different book concepts and formats before we had the idea to invite HCI researchers to identify an important reading from critical theory that has influenced their work, and then to write a commentary on that reading about its uptakes for HCI.”

The authors worried that critical theory’s contribution to HCI would be limited if the only people who could engage in it already have an academic background in the subject. They aimed to invite researchers and practitioners throughout the field of interaction design to take some of critical theory’s intellectual practices into their own interaction and design practice.

“With Critical Theory and Interaction Design, we wanted to meet our audience where they already were: accomplished researchers and practitioners of interaction design, the vast majority of whom already have or are working on advanced degrees in computing, design, and media-related disciplines, and who are interested in engaging critical theory in a more serious way,” Shaowen Bardzell says. “The impact we hope to have is to facilitate that engagement, to encourage more interaction design researchers and practitioners to integrate critical theory into their work, and, ideally, to revitalize critical theory itself.”

The book has been five years in the making, and it counts Erik Stolterman, senior executive associate dean and professor of human computer interaction at SICE, among its contributors.

“This project has been a labor of love,” Shaowen Bardzell says. “Some have argued that as the novel was the dominant cultural form of the 19th century, and cinema was the dominant form for the 20th century, so interactive digital products are now expected to be one of if not the dominant cultural form of the 21st century. It is exciting to be in the thick of that. We offer our work and ourselves as friends to those in field who want to walk with us.”

For more information on Critical Theory and Interaction Design, visit the book’s website.

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