Learing, Doing, & Producing: The User’s Situation

In User-Centered Technology: A Rhetorical Theory of Computers and Other Mundane Artifacts (SUNY, 1998), Robert Johnson advocates for a paradigm shift in design from that of the long-standing system-centered approach to that of a user-centered method.

As an extension of the “rhetorical situation” that Bitzer introduced in the late 1960’s, Johnson’s conceptualization of the user’s situation involves three high-level processes through which an individual proceeds as they interact with an artifact.

Learning, doing, and producing.

Since I have immersed myself in the management of our employee break room (Food For Thought), my efforts to develop empathy for our retail customers is catalyzing a shift in my situational perspective from a system-centered to a user-centered understanding of the product.

The notion of in situ design is resonating with more volume and clarity with each subsequent task I perform as a user of the products my team designs. As I “learn” the system I’m attempting to be aware of how explicit knowledge is becoming more tacit over time.

As I “do” things with the system,  muscle memory takes hold of processes that were once slow and awkward, and I feel myself being able to focus more on the content of my work, and less on the content of the interface. The computer hasn’t become invisible (in Norman’s sense of the phrase), but it does seem to be moving in that direction on certain levels, such as when I’m creating new items in the database that I want to include in forthcoming orders.

As a user this represents a very satisfying level of techne to have reached. As a designer, it represents an opportunity to automate the process, thereby absolving users of mere data entry tasks at this vector of work. One consideration that complicates this process for me on an ethical level is how the automation process would impact the users’ sense of value if a skill they have achieved and honed over time for their organization is suddenly supplanted by an automated process.

Can there be a logical scaffolding up to a fresh new level of knowledge and know-how for users, or does the skill that gets replaced by automation represent a threshold beyond which a user’s current competencies, at least within this domain of work, do not align?

There is so much to parse through here, and I haven’t even addressed “producing” yet. More to come…

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About burtaycock

Father of 2 great boys, interaction designer, doodler, student of life.
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