I have defended my thesis and propositions on November 19, 2001 at 16.00 hours in the Aula of the Delft University of Technology.
Designing Interactive Systems: a perspective on supporting ill-structured work
The thesis is available as a PDF file (~5Mb) (in English), as are the propositions (in Dutch). Hardcopy can be ordered by sending email to me or through its ISBN 90-407-2248-X at the publisher: Delft University Press.
I have made a presentation for a colloquium at the university which provides a high-level summary of the thesis. Note that the assumptions in this presentation still need to be revised.
The main objective for the research described in my doctoral thesis is to:
to explore how explicit attention to work context early in the design process can be used to improve the usability of interactive systems for ill-structured work
This objective is based on the following observations:
- the productivity paradox seems to apply in particular to support for ill-structured work,
- problems with interactive systems supporting ill-structured work are particularly hard to diagnose and fix,
- design is the least supported part of the development process, and
- most currently available support for design is aimed at the later stages of design (i.e., interface design), instead of the initial stages of design (i.e., design of the structure and interaction of the system).
To meet the research objective, ill-structured work and its context needs to get a central place in the design process. Only then can usable interactive systems be designed, because it is the design process which determines structure and interaction, and it is this structure and interaction which in turn determines the usability of the interactive system in relation to the work. The question is how this attention for ill-structured work can explicitly be introduced into the design process:
1. How can support for ill-structured work directly influence the structure and interaction of the interactive system during design?
It is important to stress that support for ill-structured work is only partly ac complished through the actual interface of a system. The structure and inter action of the system as a whole are at least as important. To foster the latter a design representation should not use elements directly relating to the interface of the system:
2. How can support for ill-structured work be explicitly described during the design process, without reverting to interface components or abstractions of them?
For the research objective to be met in a practical way, the work descriptions and associated methods and principles need to be actually usable and provide proper support themselves. Often this is not the case. This usability is partic ularly important during the design process, because people from different dis ciplines work together during this process. Hence:
3. How can be ensured that these work descriptions can and will be used in a multi-disciplinary design team?
Finally, creating a small yet perfect island in the design process does not make much sense either. Integration of all parts of the development process is im portant, because only then can it be actually used as part of a complete devel opment process:
4. How can results from the analysis process be used as input to the work descriptions, and how can the work descriptions be used as in put for the remainder of the design process?