"Theories With a Purpose: Help for Building Stuff"


It might be said that we are now in the third golden age of human computer interaction (HCI). HCI has achieved worthwhile product designs, methods, university training programs, and now has it’s own industrial base of practitioners. But I think we could go even farther. In this talk, I want to try out an idea for how HCI could make better use of its theories. First, I reflect on what theories can actually do for us in HCI. To clarify a common area of confusion, I try to disentangle theories in science from technology development. Then I consider what we can learn from some settings where effectiveness and practicality are emphasized in the extreme: the maker movement in technology and the constructivist movement in education. This leads to a kind of practical species of theory that I shall call Theories with a Purpose. I then set about to reconstruct what the HCI discipline, HCI education, HCI research, and HCI design methodology might look like from the Theories with a Purpose point of view. Hopefully, thinking of theories in this way could add arrows to our practitioners’ quivers and shields to our researchers’ Arduinos, the better to create the interactive stuff of HCI’s third golden age.


As far as he knows, Stuart Card may have pursued the first direct program at CMU in Human-Computer Interaction — a program involving Ph.D. qualifiers in both psychology and computer science. Allen Newell then hatched a plan to form the Applied Information-Processing Psychology Project at Xerox PARC with Newell, Card and fellow graduate student Tom Moran, Newell serving as consultant. Card, Moran, and Newell wrote the first book to use human-computer interaction in its title, The Psychology of Human-Computer Interaction.

Over the next 35 years, Card pursued research in HCI, eventually with his own group, User Interface Research. Card’s interest is the theory and design of new forms of human-machine interaction. His study of input devices led to the Fitts's Law characterization of the mouse and to the mouse's commercial introduction. Other work by him and his group led to a dozen products, each tied to some HCI theory. He has over 90 papers, 50 patents, and three books in the field of human-computer interaction. He is a Fellow of the ACM, and the recipient of the IEEE Visualization Career Award and the ACM CHI SIGCHI Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2007, he won the Bower Award and Prize from the Franklin Institute for his theoretical studies. He is also a member of the National Academy of Engineering. Currently, he is a Consulting Professor in the Computer Science Department at Stanford University.