Interaction design


Keywords: ethnography, workplace studies, CSCW (Computer-Supported Collaborative Work), CSCL (Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning), communicative affordances, unobtrusive conversational management


Another of my applied interests concerns Interaction Design. I find it motivating to come up with ideas for design of communication tools that address some of the problems identified in my research, relating to creating conversational coherence in multiplex and multimodal communication situations. This is in line with research conducted within fields such as Workplace Studies, Computer-Supported Collaborative Work (CSCW) and Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL), where often an ethnographic approach is used to identify design-related aspects which can be further developed in user-centered design processes. Within these fields, sometimes Conversation Analysis is used to pin down issues relating more specifically to interactional and conversational patterns, as is the case in my research.


By focusing on Communicative Affordances, it is possible to identify the qualities designed into the tool which have the greatest influence on interactional patterns. The model of Communicative Affordances which I plan to present in my thesis might be useful in such a design process.



An example: Unobtrusive conversational management


As an example of how my research might inform interaction design, here is a description of an envisioned tool for unobtrusive conversational management which I presented in the article “Multiplex conversations afforded by technology”. This suggestion for design addresses how we might deal with the many interruptions we are surrounded with as modern communicators, and how we might try to avoid information overload. I hope to be able to provide more examples of suggestions for design in relation to the different studies and in the final thesis.

The informant in my study mainly used instant messaging (ICQ) to communicate with some close friends, and Internet Relay Chat (IRC) to communicate with members of a work-related community. The findings of my study indicate that the alerts you receive in some instant messaging programs when someone has sent you a message can be both advantageous and disadvantageous. On a positive note, they allow you to multitask, as you can be sure that you do not miss out on the messages received, and on a more negative note, they have strong interruptive power. IRC, on the other hand, is less intrusive, in that you do not receive any alerts. However, another type of stress might result from constantly trying to keep track of what is being said by all the other participants in the chat, while simultaneously working on other things or conversing via other channels.

One way of designing for unobtrusive conversational management would be to collect alerts, both from instant messaging conversations and from conversations in more open channels, such as IRC, in one interface. The following section, taken directly from the article, describes the envisioned tool in more detail:


[…] In order to allow for multiplex conversations that do not interrupt the other activities in which one is involved, one option would be to gather all information about requests for replies in one separate interface. Here, ICQ alerts could be listed without distractingly popping up on screen, and also information about other conversations could be easily accessed at times chosen by the informant. Similarly to a cell phone where one can choose different ring tones and sound levels, this interface should preferably be user-configurable so that one could choose level of intrusiveness depending on conversation. For some conversations, one might want intrusive sound alerts when a new message has appeared in order not to miss anything, whereas for others it is better with less intrusive notifications to avoid constant interruptions. If distant participants knew about this feature, they could also feel more confident that they would receive replies in due time. However, in order for this interface to be of use in multiparty conversations like IRC, one would have to find ways of effortlessly categorizing messages as containing general or specific address, also in the open channels.”