Why ‘Practice’ doesn’t always make perfect

In the paper “The turn to Practice in HCI” Kuuti et al. describe the need to create an organised foundation within the field of HCI which would ensure academic cohesion amongst its varied disciplines. The two models proposed are the ‘Interaction Paradigm’ with a focus on short-term, direct human to computer interactions and the ‘Practice Paradigm’ which assesses the influence of long-term factors and contexts within which the interaction takes place.

The increasing pervasiveness of technology, such as mobile phones, has necessitated a shift in focus towards the assessment of long-term environmental influences on the way we interact and assimilate technology into our everyday lives. The proposed solution towards this shift is the ‘Practice’ approach, as its foundations can be seen in several different methods of activity analysis across various fields of research. Kuuti et al. argue that this would make it the ideal ‘springboard’ for the multidisciplinary HCI researcher as it has common ground amongst the varying disciplines.

However, despite the fact Kuuti et al. don’t shy away from the inherent risks of long-term analysis, they also don’t provide a concrete example of how the Practice paradigm works in practice. At which point should the analysis of societal, environmental and cultural factors end? Is the importance of the short-term interaction lost to the study long-term influencing factors?

A proposition to remedy this issue would be to give both approaches equal consideration. Sun and May [1] have an interesting take on how both the Interaction and Practice paradigms can both be used to evaluate user experience. The Interaction model had its place in helping to assess user reaction to interface and usability issues, whereas Practice helped in investigating wider ranging factors such as system functionality and the effect of usage contexts. Both models contributed towards the research findings, so elevating one above the other would only serve to reduce complexity of results which informed their research.

Overall, the paper does not define if Kuuti et al. prefer ‘Practice’ over ‘Interaction’, but the phrasing of the paper’s title ‘A “Turn” towards practice’ could infer that Practice is being promote over Interaction. If the argument Kuuti et al. wish to make is that the world is sprawl of interconnecting factors and influences, then reducing our base of research seems counterintuitive. Instead, would it not be better to propose a “toolbox” which benefited from the rich interdisciplinary knowledge and techniques of the researchers involved in HCI? These other disciplines do not exist within a vacuum and have real world applications with their own advantages and disadvantages. The overall idea is still one of cohesion, but with a focus on drawing from the strengths of variation and helping researchers to make their own informed decision about methods of research.



[1] Xu Sun and Andrew May, “A Comparison of Field-Based and Lab-Based Experiments to Evaluate User Experience of Personalised Mobile Devices,” Advances in Human-Computer Interaction, vol. 2013, Article ID 619767, 9 pages, 2013. doi:10.1155/2013/619767

Author: Megan Venn-Wycherley

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