• Cultural analysis and what designers need to know - A Case of sometimes too much, sometimes too little, and always too late

      Dillon, Andrew (New York: Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), 1998-02)
      This item is an invited response to Bader and Nyce (1998) Theory and Practice in the Development Community: Is there room for cultural analysis? It is not the definitive copy. Please use the following citation when referencing this material: Dillon, A. (1998) Cultural Analysis And What Designers Need To Know - A Case of Sometimes Too Much, Sometimes Too Little, and Always Too Late. ACM Journal of Computer Documentation, 22,1, 13-17. Bader and Nyce's article raises intriguing issues that have concerned researchers in HCI and user-centered systems design for much of the last decade: to what extent can a deep social science methodology influence the process of technology design usefully. Their conclusion, that cultural analysis yields knowledge perceived to be of little value by system designers, is in my view, largely correct. However, while I share their conclusion, I do not accept their rationale. In the present paper I will attempt to demonstrate that the root of the problem lies less with the system designers than the inappropriate application of the specific social science methods Bader and Nyce invoke, which itself can be traced to their overly narrow view of the design process and their assumption that cultural analysis is the most useful social scientific method. It appears to me that Bader and Nyce's analysis rests firmly on one key point: developers make epistemological errors. These errors thus systematically bias designers' output and hence color their designs. The authors describe two such error types. The first is that classic problem of designers assuming that users are somewhat like them, and hence the designers' judgments of what constitutes good design will logically be shared by the intended users. The second type of error reflects the designers' views of social life being describable in terms of rules, albeit complex rules, which enable interaction to be predicted. This key point of epistemology needs to be examined critically since much of what follows in the Bader and Nyce article, and my response, flows from it.