The HMI Center

Research in IT design


IT design deals with the design of computer-based artifacts and media from a human perspective. It builds on knowledge in computer science, usability and user-oriented design within human-computer interaction, and design knowledge and traditions within other fields such as the aesthetic arts.

Research about IT design must not only take account of the usability of products in a narrow sense, but also how artifacts and their use are integrated in a social context. Within the area of HCI there has been a gradual shift in focus, from low-level aspects of the interaction and controlled laboratory experiments, to an emphasis on situated use, with qualitative methodology and field studies in the users' natural environment as important ingredients. This shift of perspective has emerged along with the growth of the research area of CSCW, computer supported cooperative work. In this field it has become commonplace to emphasise the essential ties which exist between the nature of workplace activity and the organizational and inter-organizational context of work. Accordingly, IT design today needs to address interaction with technology in the broadest relevant context and must not confine itself to low level or small scale or short term features of artifacts and their usage.

In research about IT design, expertise and methodology for studying human communication are increasingly important, both for understanding and studying the situated use of computer artifacts generally, and for analysing the rapidly growing applications of information technology for communication and cooperation.

IT-based media for communication and cooperation

Within the areas of communication and cooperative work, IT has acquired an ever more central role. The rapid development of local and global networks of communicating users has completely changed the situation in software design, creating a demand for transparent and powerful mediating artifacts and shared environments. The challenge is to create tools for work and recreation for large groups of non-computer experts, while taking into account existing practices both in traditional and new media.

An important part of the research area deals with the use of computers as a medium for cooperation and learning. Another part focuses on the process of communication itself and how it should be facilitated with new media, considering and building upon earlier theories and experience. Knowledge of multimodal interaction and communication are important prerequisites, as well as supporting application areas such as language technology and hypermedia.

Design methods and theory

Research about IT design requires that the design process itself is placed in focus for analysis and reflection. Here, theories and methods for design developed within other disciplines are an important source of inspiration. For example, there exists much work in architecture, urban planning and industrial design on the nature of design itself, how appropriate scenarios can be selected to encourage envisionment and impact assessment on the part of those people whose lives will be influenced by a new design project, and how "reflective practice" on the part of designers can be supported.

Recent approaches to user-oriented IT design have focused on methods involving collaboration within interdisciplinary and practice-related design teams. It is important to build on the specific competence developed in Scandinavia when it comes to conducting a dialogue with users during the design process. An important goal to address will be the development of a systematic methodology for combining different methods in IT design, such as system design, industrial design and aesthetic design processes so that effective design and development programs can be formulated.

Personal IT artifacts and services

Future development within the field of information technology depends to a great extent on how the technology can be adapted to the needs of individual users and groups. This research theme deals with issues about user adaptation of IT artifacts, and how IT artifacts and services can be designed to fit special groups of users with different knowledge and skills.

One part of the area concerns fundamental issues in how systems and interfaces can be customized and adapted, both by the user herself and with the active participation of the system.

Another part deals with applications in the field of agent technology, e.g. personal digital assistants and intelligent robots. These systems can, more or less independently, analyse large bodies of data or navigate in complex information spaces to reach the user's goals. There is a great need for models of how humans can control and interact with such technical systems.

A third part concerns the development of tools and services for special groups, such as people with different types of disabilities. Here, IT has a great potential for facilitating daily life for large groups of people, e.g. with regard to their communication with the environment. In this area as well, applications within related fields such as multimodal interaction and language/speech technology comprise important ingrediens.

Research on Real-Time Interaction (RTI)

Systems for real-time interaction collect, analyze and present information for human decision making and human actions in real time. With the term Real-Time Systems we refer to systems such as:

  • process supervision in advanced manufacturing and telephone maintenance.
  • intelligent transportation, such as for optimal on-hand-road routing of trucks, and medical equipment for treatment and supervision in patient care.

These processes are dynamic and change states continuously. Therefore, decisions generally have to be made in a sequence, where one decision depends on the previous decision. Couplings among sub-systems often have the effect that performed operations influence not only intended processes, but other processes as well, which makes control more difficult. Collaboration between co-workers, introduces another task variable, since work patterns are not set, but may vary depending upon the different schemes for collaboration and task assignments. Major goals of RTI-research are to develop efficient and safe control systems and to improve availability, productivity and quality. There are three important application areas: process control, intelligent transportation and telematics.