HCI Design Research and HCI Design Practice – What are Their Relations?

I have always argued for the strongest possible relations between HCI research and HCI practice. For example: ‘The HCI discipline can be summarised as: the use of HCI knowledge (acquired by research) to support practices (of design and evaluation) seeking solutions to the general problem of HCI (humans interacting with computers to do something, as desired/ to perform tasks effectively, as desired) (1). My own research (along with many others) has acquired such knowledge (in my case) in the form of design models, methods and principles to support practice.

However, I have always been acutely aware of the gap between knowledge acquired by HCI research and its application by designers. Bellotti reported empirical support for such a gap in her study of commercial system interface design projects (2). She concluded that: ‘The study suggests that HCI design and evaluation techniques, although potentially valuable to commercial design, are not applied in practice’. A comparable study of London HCI Centre designers (the commercial arm of the Ergonomics Unit) reached the same conclusion. Later, in 1997, I cited Bellotti’s paper, concluding that: ‘In terms of the capability maturity model (3), HCI fails to support design practices, which are either ‘defined’, ‘repeatable’, ‘managed’ or ‘optimised’.

My view has remained unchanged, in spite of the intervening years. In my 2010 Festschrift, I wrote: ‘….I would like to celebrate the world of HCI. Obviously, students, practitioners and researchers, who identify themselves with HCI and who together make up the HCI community. But also IT professionals, outside the community, who do not identify with HCI; but who actually design so many of the interfaces in use to-day. Most IT interfaces continue to be designed and implemented by such professionals. We forget them at our (professional) peril.’

Further, I expressed the hope that: ‘HCI research improves the effectiveness of the design knowledge, which it acquires to support HCI design practices (a hope shared by festschrift authors – knowledge, which is ‘more assured’ (Carroll), ‘more reliable’ (Dix) and ‘offering a better guarantee’ (Hill)). Anyone who doubts this need should seriously consider:

1. How much interface design is performed by IT professionals, outside the HCI community;

2. How little HCI actual design, as opposed to related studies or evaluation, is carried out by individual HCI practitioners (as consultants) or even by those working as teams in large organisations; and

3. How much design is performed with little or no reference to HCI design knowledge (of any or no conception), other than perhaps evaluation. But how is this much-needed improvement in HCI design knowledge to be achieved? In my view, it can only come about, if HCI research and practice diagnose more design problems and prescribe more design solutions and in so doing evaluate the effectiveness of HCI design knowledge (of whatever kind).’

However, lots of HCI water has passed under the bridge in the last 25 years or so. Also, I am a researcher and not a practising designer. A timely reconsideration of the relations between HCI research and practice – past, present and future, seemed a good idea for the website to address. By sheer good fortune, I was in contact with Victoria Bellotti at this time and she agreed to an e-mail exchange on the topic. Victoria is both a very successful researcher and designer and, of course, set the ball rolling in 1988 with her paper cited earlier. We should be so lucky.


Bellotti, 1988

Carroll, 2010

Dix, 2010

Hill, 2010

Long, 2010

Long and Dowell, 1989

Paulk et al., 1993