Theory Where that ACD thing fits

13 Nov 2008 - 1:33pm
647 reads
Peter Merholz

This discussion on UCD/ACD has been both frustrating and enlightening.
The single biggest thing it demonstrates to me is just how thin our
understanding of theory is, and the impact that theory has on how we

What do I mean by theory? Theory is a robust conceptual framework that
undergirds a practice. In the discussion of ACD, I was surprised how
long it took for someone to mention Activity Theory, because talking
about ACD without talking about Activity Theory is like talking about
biology but neglecting evolution.

Now, Activity Theory is an extremely robust conceptual framework for
considering how people work, and their relationships to elements in
their environment. Activity Theory is not about "looking at
activities" and designing for them.

User-Centered Design is predicated on a cobbled together set of
theories, most of them coming out of the HCI community, which has been
heavily influenced by cognitive psychology. So you have things like
distributed cognition, perception, information processing, etc. Since
the dawn of the Web, there's also been significant inroads by the
Library and Information Science community (Information retrieval,
metadata, etc.).

I think it's problematic that so many people are working in the
context of these theories and don't even realize it, because folks
then don't know how these assumptions are coloring their approaches. I
don't know if the answer is that everyone gets grounded in theory --
that can be stultifying. But there's no way to get anywhere with these
methodological discussions without appreciating the theory underlying


On Nov 13, 2008, at 3:13 AM, Jared Spool wrote:

> On Nov 12, 2008, at 5:56 PM, David Malouf wrote:
>> If I were designing it from a UCD perspective, I do care, or that the
>> person is elderly and needs large print, or any other demographic
>> type
>> information.
> Just for the record, properly done UCD wouldn't care about
> demographics. It would care about behaviors.
> It doesn't matter what age someone is. If they need large print to
> complete their objective, they need large print, independent of age
> (or income group, geographic location political persuasion, gender
> preference, dental history, dislike of sushi, . . .)
> Jared
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