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Theory-Driven Design in HCI. Mary Czerwinski Microsoft Research. Overview. Why theory, especially now? Brief history of HCI, psychology and theory The importance/role of theory Examples of theory-driven research How to do theory Summary of benefits of theory to HCI.

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theory driven design in hci

Theory-Driven Design in HCI

Mary Czerwinski

Microsoft Research

  • Why theory, especially now?
    • Brief history of HCI, psychology and theory
  • The importance/role of theory
  • Examples of theory-driven research
  • How to do theory
  • Summary of benefits of theory to HCI

UIST 2004

cocktail party phenomenon
Cocktail Party Phenomenon
  • Cocktail party problem
    • How is it that out of a sea of voices we can focus on a single conversation?
  • Cocktail party effect
    • Moray (1959)
      • While you are usually unaware of identity of words in a non-attended conversation…
      • A notable exception is your name

UIST 2004

attenuation theory of attention treisman 1960
Attenuation Theory of Attention (Treisman, 1960)
  • Blocking out the irrelevant content easy until….
  • It’s semantically meaningful or important to you

Hey, Mary!

UIST 2004

guidelines for speech communication applications cockpits etc
Guidelines for Speech Communication Applications, Cockpits, etc.
  • Provide a mechanism to “pull” one voice into focus
    • Mostly focusing on physical attributes of the message
  • Do not present too much information simultaneously
  • Provide enough time for the user to fully fuse streams if necessary

UIST 2004

user centered theories in hci
User-Centered Theories in HCI
  • The Psychology of Human-Computer Interaction, by Card, Moran and Newell (1983)
  • Simon and Newell’s contributions to psychology, AI and HCI
  • Cognitive and perceptual psychology theories codified into guidelines
    • A LOT of theory from this era is used in HCI design practice today

UIST 2004

and then time stood still
And Then, Time Stood Still…
  • Advances to GUI desktops arguably stalled
  • Lots of evolution on designs but less new theory
  • Do we need it?
  • Where are the breakthroughs?


UIST 2004

theoretical guidance missing
Theoretical Guidance Missing…
  • Social proxemics and etiquette?
  • Multi-cursor interaction?
  • New mental models?
  • New metrics for productivity and acceptance?
  • New artifacts?
  • Privacy?
  • New input approaches?

UIST 2004

tomorrow today
Tomorrow Today
  • Brain-computer interaction devices like BrainGate
  • Controlling objects with thought is becoming a reality
  • Good science—new theories?

UIST 2004

  • FDA approved implantable chips
  • RFID tags
  • Rooted in the skin for accessing medical records
  • Privacy issues are becoming pervasive in our research
  • Philosophy->Theory-?

UIST 2004

a tools stage of hci
A Tools Stage of HCI
  • (Painting by Zdenek Burian)
  • Cro Magnons occurred ~40,000 years ago
  • Hunted mainly with spears, (bow and arrows were later developed).
  • Made tools from blades of Flint stone, used for preparing animal skins.

UIST 2004

shneiderman why theories in hci
Shneiderman—Why Theories in HCI?
  • Descriptive: clarify terms, key concepts
  • Explanatory: reveal relationships and processes
  • Predictive: about performance and situations
  • Prescriptive: convey guidance for decision making in design by recording best practice
  • Generative: enable practitioners to create, invent or discover something new

UIST 2004

examples of theory driven research
Examples of Theory-Driven Research
  • Just a few examples
  • Not exhaustive!
  • Still, a tough task to identify well-known examples across all types of theory

UIST 2004

explanatory theory example
Explanatory Theory Example
  • Norman’s seven stage model from POET (1988)
  • An approximate model with a continuous feedback loop
    • Forming the goal
    • Forming the intention
    • Specifying the action
    • Executing the action
    • Perceiving the state of the world
    • Interpreting the state of the world
    • Evaluating the outcome

UIST 2004

using the model predictively
Using the model predictively…
  • Miyata & Norman (1986)
    • Predicted interruptions between task execution and evaluation as less harmful when multitasking
    • Untested
  • In 2000, we decided to test this using IM and multiple tasks
    • Examined planning, execution and evaluation phases of tasks

UIST 2004

attention based principles of notifications
Attention-Based Principles of Notifications
  • Early in a task was the worst time to interrupt if you want user to remember
  • Make notifications situation-aware
    • Look for cognitive breakpoints in users’ interactions.
  • When possible, use smart monitoring
    • Monitor the user (what stage in task?)
    • Content of interruption—similar is better
      • Obvious privacy issues, etc.

UIST 2004

predictive theory examples
Predictive Theory Examples
  • Large display research (Tan, Czerwinski & Robertson, 2001-2003)
    • Most early research carried out around cockpit design
    • New hardware often necessitates the need for new software/interaction
    • Serendipitous gender and spatial cognition findings based on theories of perception and cognition

UIST 2004

dsharp display
Dsharp Display



UIST 2004

prescriptive theory examples
Prescriptive Theory Examples
  • Example: Gestalt Theory of Perception (similarity, closure, good continuity, proximity/figure-ground)
  • Example: Feature Integration Theory (Triesman et al., 80s), guided visual search and pop out effects
  • Utilized well in design guidelines today

UIST 2004

information visualizer system
Information Visualizer System



UI Artifacts






Larger Workspace

Denser Workspace



Interactive Objects

Cognitive Coprocessor


Highly Interactive



Assimilation Costs






UIST 2004

ACT-IF (Pirolli & Card ’99)
  • Theory based on information foraging, sensemaking and the scatter/gather approach
  • Published in Psychology Review

UIST 2004

generative theory examples
Generative Theory Examples
  • Shneiderman: “The future of HCI must be tied to more effective generativetheories that enable HCI to become the bright shining source of innovation; a much stronger role than the usability testers and refiners of ideas initiated by others.”

UIST 2004

buxton s 3 state model of graphical input 1990
Buxton’s 3-State Model of Graphical Input (1990)
  • Model inspired Mackinlay, Card & Robertson (1991) to write “A Semantic Analysis of the Design Space of Input Devices”
  • Hinckley et al. (1998) extended the ideas to add notation for continuous properties during state transitions of devices

UIST 2004

pointing and fitts law the abc s of user interfaces predictive and generative
Pointing and Fitts’ law – The abc’s of user interfaces (Predictive and Generative)
  • Fitts’ law

UIST 2004

zhai et al laws of actions
Zhai et al.: Laws of actions
  • Pointing
  • Crossing
  • Steering
  • Thank you Shumin!

UIST 2004

crossing more than dotting the i s
Accot& Zhai 2002Crossing – more than dotting the i’s
  • Why crossing?
    • increasing interaction “vocabulary”
    • Pen based computing
  • How does crossing compare with pointing?
  • What is the theoretical foundation of crossing?

UIST 2004

systematic comparison
Accot & Zhai, CHI 2002

Target type:pointing vs crossing

Constraint direction:collinear vs orthogonal

Continuity: continuous vs discrete

Systematic comparison

UIST 2004

law of steering
Accot & Zhai 1997, 1999, 2001)



Law of steering

Rashevsky 1959, Drury 1971;Accot & Zhai, 1997, 1999, 2001

UIST 2004

law of steering general form




Law of Steering - General form

TC = a + b IDC




UIST 2004

Computing off the desktop
  • Desktop computing “workstation” interface foundation
    • Large and personal display
    • Input device (mouse)
    • Typewriter keyboard
  • HCI Frontier – beyond the desktop
    • Interfaces without display-mouse-keyboard tripod
    • Numerous difficult challenges

UIST 2004

Zhai, Hunter, Smith 2000; Zhai, Sue, Accot 2002, Drews




Word connectivity

Human Movement Study: Fitts’ law

MT = a + b Log2(Dsi/Wi + 1)



































English Letter Corpus(News, chat etc)

“Fitts-digraph energy”

Metropolis “random walk” optimization

Alphabetical tuning

Alphabetically Tuned and Optimized Mobile Interface Keyboard


UIST 2004

limitations and hints from atomik
Limitations and hints from ATOMIK
  • Tapping one key at a time – tedious. The stylus can be more expressive and dexterous.
  • Does not utilize language redundancy/statistical intelligence.
  • People tend to remember the pattern of a whole word, not individual letters.

UIST 2004

metrics development subjective duration assessment
Metrics Development—”Subjective Duration Assessment”
  • HCI and iterative usability metrics
    • Performance (task times, success rates)
    • Preference (user satisfaction questionnaires)
  • Usually correlated, but not always
  • Users notoriously “positive” w/ratings
  • Neilsen & Levy (1994): need an average of 5 on a 7 point scale

UIST 2004

ziegarnik effect 1927
Ziegarnik Effect (1927)
  • People remember uncompleted tasks better than completed
  • Weybrew (1984) used time estimation
    • People overestimate time on unfinished tasks
    • People underestimate time on completed tasks
  • Van Bergen (1968) task has to be engaging or more difficult to get the effect

UIST 2004

spool 2001
Spool (2001)
  • Found a strong correlation between perceived download time and whether users successfully completed their tasks on a site
  • When people accomplish task on a site, they perceive that site to be fast, and vice versa
  • Goes against emphasis on fast download times only, need to support user’s task most

UIST 2004

so are we in good shape
So Are We in Good Shape?
  • Obviously, great work has come out of theory in HCI
  • Do we need more?

UIST 2004

why i think tomorrow s hci needs theory
Why I Think Tomorrow’s HCI Needs Theory
  • We’ve come full circle
    • Many new tools used both singly and by multiple people
  • Theory is one of the most important things we should be doing as a discipline
    • Not everyone needs to do it, but some of us have to!
  • A way to guarantee progress
    • Invite new disciplines to work with us
    • Cognitive neuroscientists, biologists, ethicists?

UIST 2004

how to do theory
How to Do Theory?
  • Whittaker, Terveen & Nardi (2000)
    • Adopt a reference task agenda
    • A set of well-defined “tasks” that candidate systems could be evaluated against like TREC
  • Even skeptics (Landauer, Carroll et al., Bannon) agree on the importance of having an adequate  descriptive base for HCI as a prerequisite for more theory development

UIST 2004

engestrom s activity system model 1987
Engestrom’s Activity System Model (1987)
  • Most human activities are collective ones taking place in rich social environments
  • Model used to explain collective activities and cooperative work, including cultural conventions and established rules

UIST 2004

activity theory and hci
Activity Theory and HCI
  • Transformation of tools, rules and divisions of labor is key
  • Utilized more in CSCW community
  • Exacty how Activity Theory is operationalized in studies is a common problem
  • Can provide a framework to reinterpret the concept of user needs and society

UIST 2004

challenges to theory building
Challenges to Theory Building
  • Advancing technology
  • Influence of individual differences
  • Contextual effects
  • Longitudinal effects
  • New metrics needed
    • But paradigms exist that can be leveraged

UIST 2004

it s good for your career
It’s Good for Your Career!
  • Top 10 Most Frequently Cited CHI Authors
    • Stu Card (484 citations)
    • Bill Buxton (351)
    • Thomas Moran (344)
    • Ben Shneiderman (322)
    • Hiroshi Ishii (298)
    • Brad Myers (287)
    • Jakob Nielsen (286)
    • Allen Newell (222)
    • Jock Mackinlay (217)
    • George Robertson (215)

UIST 2004

  • Benefits of a theoretical approach to HCI:
    • Move our community toward a solid, scientific discipline
    • Identify gaps in the design space
    • Engage in a communal discussion about design
    • Career advancement
    • Innovation

Holy Grail for HCI

UIST 2004

thank you
Thank You!

UIST 2004

tom erickson s poem
Tom Erickson’s Poem
  • Theory Theory: A Designer's View Theory weary, theory leery, why can't I be theory cheery? I often try out little bits, wheresoever they might fit. (Affordances are very pliable, though what they add is quite deniable.) The sages call this bricolage, the promiscuous prefer menage... A savage, I, my mind's pragmatic, I keep what's good, discard dogmatic.
  • //
  • Oddly now, I'm theory cheery -- I find I have a theory theory! Neither holy grail, nor deep disgrace, theory's useful in its place, (Framing, talking, predicting, bonding, evoking discourse--Others responding) Like goals and methods, plans and actions, theory's situated, not pure abstraction. So make your theory a public way, where passers by may pause and stay

UIST 2004