Review: HCI Remixed

Thomas Erickson and David McDonald have put together an interesting selection of essays in HCI Remixed: Reflections on Works That Have Influenced the HCI Community . In a sense, this book is the B side to Bill Moggridge’s book Designing Interactions in that it tells the history of interaction design, but in a less linear way and minus all the “IDEO invented the world” propaganda.

The format of the book is that each essay takes a piece of Human-Computer Interaction/Interaction Design history and discusses it at length. Sometimes the essays are personal, sometimes not. There are some great stories and connections to be found here, and the works span from the familiar (Tufte’s Envisioning Information to Engelbart’s The Mother of All Demos) to many papers and projects I’d never even heard of. In fact, one of the flaws of the book is that ideally it would have contained the original papers that are being referenced when possible so that readers didn’t have to track them down individually.

Some of the writing is a bit dry (many of the contributors are academics after all), and too often (like many academic papers) the essays are just strung together bits of other papers. But there are some standouts:

  • Bill Buxton’s experience with the NRC Music Machine. Doing music composition in the early 1970s.
  • Wendy Ju on the importance of demos: “A great demonstration is not hype, but proof.”
  • Erickson himself on Jane Jacobs: “There is no substitute for knowing the particulars.”
  • Elizabeth Churchill on King Beach’s article “Becoming a Bartender” and its effect on her understanding of cognition.
  • Austin Henderson’s essay on Lucy Suchman’s “Office Procedures as Practical Action:” “Don’t try to make the program model the world; instead make it into a tool that helps me do my work, including modeling the world as I want it.”
  • And Terry Winograd’s tribute to the great Henry Dreyfuss (even though he does slip a plug for IDEO in there).

As long as you don’t fetishize it, looking to the past can be a great way to get (and retain) inspiration for the future. Many of these HCI classics are worth tracking down, and I feel like I have a better sense of HCI history after reading this book. Perhaps you would too.