Friday, July 29, 2005


is activity theory growing up?

Don Norman has a much discussed article in the current SIGCHI interactions on "activity centered design." I haven't seen the actual article, as I am still waiting for my copy of interactions to arrive. Typically, my copy is sent from the States via an Arctic detour to Sweden before heading south toward Antarctica to reach me in New Zealand. In the interim I have to read Norman's bootleg copy of the article he posted on his website.

I'll avoid commenting on the obvious polemic of the article (that UCD can be harmful), and instead focus on Norman's mention of activity theory (AT). I happened to study HCI at one of those woolly-minded universities that have been enthusiastic about AT. If you don't know much about AT, I can't explain it suscintly, other than to say involves a lot of triangles. There are these triangle-within-triangle diagrams that look like some sort of esoteric mapping of astral planes. Indeed, AT has been so theoretical, metaphysical even, that the rumor was that SIGCHI routinely rejected papers about AT, considering them too impractical. Now Don Norman is writing in the SIGCHI flagship publication mentioning his "own brand of 'Activity Theory,' heavily motivated by early Russian and Scandinavian research."

I am very interested to learn more about Norman's personal brand of AT. I'd enjoy a discussion shorn of triangles and Marx.

There has been some recent interesting AT-grounded work done that appears modestly practical. I've seen AT applied by several people to work-flow processes. Let's hope AT emerges from the fog of theory into the light of application.

I'd be interested in hearing more about the practical applications of AT. I wrote this morning a response to peterme's post about Norman's article and the mention of AT.
Hi Andrew

Here is a paper (PDF) on work flow I find uses AT to yield insights on a very practical topic. There is still a lot of theory, but it is much more down-to-earth than most AT.
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