Using historical research in HCI/Ubicomp

"Historical Analysis: Using the Past to Design the Future" by Wyche, Sengers and Grinter is an article about how the discipline of history similarly can contribute to research about human-computer interaction and ubiquitous computing. The authors takes the example of a specific context, domestic environments, to show that history can go beyond inspiring "new form factors and styles such as retro" by providing "strategies that, like anthropology, unpack the culture of the home and, like art-inspired design, defamiliarize the home".

The process is described as the following:

" First, we analysed historical texts to identify major themes in the development of technologies (often automation) for the activities under investigation, in our case housework. Second, we gained a broader understanding of the existing technological design space through the search of patents. Third, we developed a personal sense of the changing nature of housework through examination of primary sources from popular culture. Finally, as part of broader fieldwork we gathered oral histories from older people, using a designed, material artefact that reflected the popular history of housework to stimulate memories and reflections."

And here's how they saw a contribution:

"It was effective in helping us understand the subtle changes that have resulted with the introduction of new domestic technologies and in opening new space for design. Although the historical texts already revealed themes pertinent to ubicomp design (i.e. labor-saving debate and technology’s gendered character), by drawing on popular texts, patents, and interviews with elders as well, we learned things that could not easily be gleaned from texts alones. (...) With current interest in restoring felt experience as central to design, we believe that historical analysis is an important source for becoming aware of sensual aspects of experiences that have become lost but could be addressed in new forms of technology design. (...) In addition to revealing how felt qualities are altered with the introduction of new technologies, another benefit of our historically grounded approach is its potential to inspire radically novel design concepts. A collection of speculative design proposals resulted from our process [see 30 and 36 for details]. Like ethnography, history forces designers to become more aware of their preconceptions about a topic."

Why do I blog this? Working on the history of game controller, I am currently putting together a list of references about the role of history and historically informed approaches in (interaction) design research. This paper gives some interesting pointers about it.