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User-Centered Technology. A Rhetorical Theory for Computers and Other Mundane Artifacts By: Robert R. Johnson. Chapter One. Users, Technology, and the Complex( ity ) of the Mundane: Some “Out of the Ordinary” Thoughts. From Politica by Aristotle.

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user centered technology

User-Centered Technology

A Rhetorical Theory for Computers and Other Mundane Artifacts

By: Robert R. Johnson

chapter one
Chapter One

Users, Technology, and the Complex(ity) of the Mundane: Some “Out of the Ordinary” Thoughts

from politica by aristotle
From Politica by Aristotle

“…the user, or, in other words, the master, of the house will even be a better judge than the builder, just as the pilot will judge better of the rudder than the carpenter, and the guest will judge better of the feast than the cook.”

purposes of the book
Purposes of the book
  • Focus on everyday users of technology
  • Raise issues and ask questions about technology
  • Reflect on interactions with technology
  • Develop theory through user-centered concepts
  • Engage with social, ethical, and political arguments in relation to technology
key terms chapter one
Key Terms (Chapter One)
  • Mundane
  • Users
  • User-centered
  • Know-how
  • Cultural ambiance
  • Technique
without a voice
Without a voice…

Going back to the quote from Aristotle at the beginning of the chapter, we must realize that the user’s voice is an important one.

Johnson is attempting to use the art of rhetoric to awaken users to enter into a dialogue about technology.

user centered
  • Draper and Norman describe it like this:

“The emphasis is on people, rather than technology, although the powers and limits of contemporary machines are considered in order to know how to take that next step from today’s limited machines toward more user-centered ones.”

user centered continued
User-centered (continued)
  • Johnson wants to take it a step further by placing the study of user-centered technology into a historical context. (Think: Aristotle)
cultural ambiance
Cultural Ambiance
  • All artifacts are affected by the social sphere, the cultural ambiance, thus making technological artifacts and systems dependent upon, instead of autonomous of, human intervention.


(Notes, Page 12)

black box point of view
“Black Box” Point of View
  • “Computer users, thus, are more often viewed as idiots who must have technologies “dumbed down” to their level, a level that has no knowledge of its own—only that knowledge that is handed down by those who made the object in question.” (Page 13)
chapter two
Chapter Two

Refiguring the End of Technology: Rhetoric and the Complex of Use

key terms chapter two
Key Terms (Chapter Two)
  • End
  • Complex of Use
  • Interface
  • Rhetoric
  • System
  • User-Friendly
  • User’s Situation
prometheus and fire
Prometheus and Fire
  • Johnson uses a mythological reference to illustrate the meaning of ends by relating the story of Prometheus’ gift of fire to mankind. He emphasizes the user-centered approach the titan used by showing the humans how to use his gift to harness nature for their desired ends. (Page 18)
  • He essentially gave them the power of technique (ways of making) and the technology (artifacts that come from the making)
rhetoric good or evil
Rhetoric…Good or Evil?
  • Often times, rhetoric has the negative connotations of “empty words” or “ the use of language to deceive”
  • A positive and powerful definition of rhetoric is “the art of creating (inventing), arranging, and delivering language for the purpose of evoking action upon the part of an audience
  • The main difference in the two definitions is based upon the perceived ends desired by the rhetor. Hence, the end of rhetoric as art is in the hearer.
the dichotomy of technology
The dichotomy of technology
  • In school we are taught that technology offers great solutions that help us avoid hardships and make our world “what it is today.”
  • We also read works that warn about the dangers technology can pose to us through works of fiction and nonfiction.
  • Johnson argues that this dichotomy is “reductive and simplistic,” but worth exploring.
technological paradox
Technological Paradox

“We are enamored of the things that technology can promise, but we simultaneously live in fear of the power that unchecked growth and dissemination of technology has over our lives. We want technology to help us get where we want to go, but we feel uncomfortable if we are unable to control the direction and speed of the journey.” (Page 20)

questions this paradox raises
Questions this paradox raises:
  • How is this [having a hand in the direction and speed of technology] possible?
  • How can individuals or small communities have an effect upon the growth of technology—those technologies that we see as getting out of control or moving beyond reasonable limits?
neglectful ends of technology
Neglectful ends of technology
  • The interest of the developers who hope to gain from it,
  • The interest of the disseminators who likewise hope to reap the fruits of its success,
  • Those who develop and then release a technology into the public sphere with little or no concern about its end whatsoever.
proposed ends of technology
Proposed ends of technology
  • Johnson proposes that the end of technology shift its focus to the user: those humans (virtually all of us) who interact with various technologies on a daily basis in our public and personal lives.
another important note on users
Another important note on users

“Users, being human, operate in a world where things are constantly “coming into being.” Thus technologies must be described or explained through a lens of contingency, probability, and/or mutability that accounts for shifting contexts and situations.” (Page 24)

the system centered model of technology
The System-Centered Model of Technology
  • The artifact or system is primary.
  • Developers know its design, dissemination, and intended use best.
  • The technology, the humans, and the context within which they reside are perceived as constituting one system that operates in a rational manner toward the achievement of predetermined goals.
the system centered model of technology continued
The System-Centered Model of Technology (continued)
  • It is so embedded in our ways of thinking about technology that sometimes user-centered design approaches are actually formulated from system-centered ideologies.
  • See figure 2.2, page 30
  • The user is required to acquire a “user’s model”
  • No role for the designer after the initial development of the system (Page 29)
users role in system centered approach
Users’ role in system-centered approach
  • Ancillary or nonexistant: the system is the source and ultimately the determiner of all.
  • The designer goes through the process of prototyping which results in an artifact reflective of the designer’s image of the system.
  • The interface between user and artifact is often addressed at the end of development when little can be adjusted.
user centered questions
User-centered questions:
  • What tasks will the user be performing within the given situation?
  • How would the user represent these tasks within that situation?
  • Are the tasks visible in the situation of use?
  • Can the users see what they are doing or are the tasks hidden behind an opaque or clumsy interface?
the user centered view of technology
The User-Centered View of Technology
  • Argues for the user as an integral, participatory force in the process and placing the user at the “center” of the model.
  • Surrounding the user: Interface, Artifact/System, Designers’/Artisans’ Image, User’s Situation.
  • Users are active participants in design, development, implementation, and maintenance of the technology, but aren’t the sole or dominant forces. They merely are offered the opportunity to take part in a negotiated process of design, development, and use.
the user centered view of technology continued
The User-Centered View of Technology (continued)
  • Technology is created through a process of “give and take” that places users on a par with the developers and the system itself: a space within which users and developers can learn to value each other’s knowledge and accept the responsibilities of technological design and development in new, shared ways.
work cited
Work cited

Johnson, Robert R. User-Centered Technology: A

Rhetorical Theory for Computers and Other Mundane Artifacts. Albany: SUNY Press, 1998.