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The logic of annotated portfolios: communicating the value of 'research through design'

Lookup NU author(s): Professor John Bowers


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This paper examines Research Through Design as an orientation to so-called 'Third Wave' Human Computer Interaction (HCI). A number of recent critical reflections are reviewed and the 'disciplinary anxieties', which this approach to HCI has aroused, are discussed. Drawing on Feyerabend's philosophical scepticism over methods and contributions to the Sociology of Science, it is suggested that design research might build its own 'limited rationality' rather than be brought in line with supposed norms for good research or criteria for rigour and relevance of unfamiliar provenance. To this end, a concept of 'annotated portfolio' is advanced, and detailed, as a means for capturing the family resemblances that exist in a collection of artefacts, simultaneously respecting the particularity of specific designs and engaging with broader concerns. The concept is demonstrated through annotating nine well-known pieces created by the Goldsmiths Interaction Research Studio. Treating this collection as an annotated portfolio highlights, formulates and collates interaction design issues in this work in a novel manner. On this basis, annotated portfolios are proposed as a viable means for communicating design thinking in HCI in a descriptive yet generative and inspirational fashion, without having recourse to standards of 'theory' which fit design practice uncomfortably.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Bowers J

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Publication status: Published

Conference Name: DIS 2012: Proceedings of the Designing Interactive Systems Conference

Year of Conference: 2012

Pages: 68-77

Publisher: ACM Press


DOI: 10.1145/2317956.2317968

Notes: It is often argued that digital media are entering a ‘third wave’, from individual computing machines, through networked computers, to miniaturized, embedded and ubiquitous devices. Research on the design of such technologies in the field of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) is also often periodised in three waves, under the influence of a paper written by the author in 1995 (see below). Third wave HCI concerns the use of contemporary technology in non-work settings and topics such as lived-experience, intimacy, pleasure and embodiment are commonly addressed, often through methods of ‘research through design’ (RtD), an approach that the author’s work is notably associated with. RtD, in the author’s practice, creates fully-fashioned artefacts, which are studied in use for several months, sometimes years, as vehicles for exploring design ideas, in particular for novel forms of interaction or digital media design. Annotated Portfolios addresses a major issue in the critical reception of RtD – how research oriented around the creation of artefacts can provide some form of accumulated knowledge for research in HCI, design and digital media. Drawing on arguments in the Sociology and Philosophy of Science, the concept of 'annotated portfolio' is presented and demonstrated through annotating nine well-known pieces which the author has had a role in creating over the last 10 years. Annotated Portfolios was presented at the major international conference which focuses on design-led approaches to the development of digital technologies. This led to an invitation to write a version for the leading professional magazine in the design and computing world, Interactions The article comprised the cover story of the magazine and provided its cover art, and provoked correspondence and replies in the subsequent edition. Cooper, G. and Bowers, J., (1995). Representing the user. In Thomas, P. (ed.), The social and interactional dimensions of human-computer interfaces. New York: CUP.

Library holdings: Search Newcastle University Library for this item

Sponsor(s): Association of Computing Machinery

ISBN: 9781450312103