HCI and CSCW

I will use this category for particular books in HCI and CSCW (both broadly construed) that I have found remarkable. It will be a very idiosyncratic list, for sure.

David Jury. Graphic Design Before Graphic Designers: The Printer as Designer and Craftsman 1700-1914. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2012.

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For the information visualization aficionado, this is a thoroughly delightful volume. The profession of graphic designer did not formally emerge until the early 20th century. But the emergence of moveable type printing enabled a flourishing of graphic design. Features such as type fonts, layouts, and illustrations saw endless creativity, largely in the hands of craft printers themselves. Jury’s volume traces these activities in this lavishly illustrated volume. I’d characterize the book as of the espresso sub-genre of coffee table books. But the sophisticated text and figure captions warrant the placement of this book in the scholar’s den, not just the espresso table.

Thomas S. Mullaney. The Chinese Typewriter: A History. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2017.

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You may be surprised to find this under HCI, but that is what it is fundamentally. First, this is the first of two volumes on the history of information technology in China: the next one will focus on computing in China. But even the focus on typewriting is fundamentally about HCI. What is the sensible interface for a user trying to type Chinese characters, which of course are nothing like the alphabetic or syllabic character systems of most of the rest of human writing systems. So much of the story is about how to characterize characters, and of course this applies to much more than typing: dictionaries, phone directors, card catalogs, not to mention telegraphy and other information technologies. It’s a fascinating story, and Mullaney tells it with great erudition that is not clouded by dull story telling. He introduces us to all kinds of fascinating people involved in the story. There is also the unsophisticated and jingoistic characterization of ridiculous solutions to Chinese “typing” that was prevalent in Western media, even up to the present. While there were many impressive and highly innovative attempts at a Chinese typewriter, the form that dominated into the PRC period was where a tray of characters were arranged to that the typist could select individual character slugs from the tray to make an impression on the paper. While there were rational schemes for how to organize such trays, during the Maoist regime huge numbers of innovative typists customized their trays to form an early instance of predictive texts, locating characters close to each other that co-occurred frequently in actual  texts. All of this long before sophisticated computer systems that would employ similar methods. And the other innovation was to view data entry as a way of retrieving what you wanted, rather than effecting a 1-to-1 mapping of your keystroke to what appeared on the page. This fundamental insight of course played out later in all kinds of information technologies. I recall on one of my trips to China in the 1990s, I saw a Chinese typewriter on display. I had no idea at the time of the amazing and rich history surrounding that device. I am eagerly awaiting the sequel to this excellent volume, also to be published by MIT Press.

Lucy A. Suchman. Human-Machine Reconfigurations: Plans and Situated Actions (2nd Ed.) New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

41usamhtg7l-_sx331_bo1204203200_When Plans and Situated Actions appeared in 1987, it had a major effect not just on HCI, but on a wide range of fields perhaps best classified as cognitive science. It opened many eyes, including mine, to a new perspective on how to think about people and machines that permanently changed my thinking. This volume is a fascinating update of the earlier book. It includes the text of the earlier volume, but with voluminous notes and comments. It also has new chapters. It is a brilliant way to build upon the earlier work. If you know the earlier work, you will learn much from the updates. If you are new to this, you are in for a major treat.