Research interests and vectors

Over time

For IBM and Avon Products (1965): Contract accounting application which let contract managers model the world as they, rather than systems developers, saw it. Users as experts and essential to system development.

Programming language structures, at MIT (1968): created representations of program execution centered on conceptual models of computation

Ambit-G at MIT Lincoln Laboratory (1968): TX-2 interactive graphic applications based on interaction through drawn symbols

ROSS, for BBN (1973): air traffic control simulation exploratory application which separated and integrated normative and observed vehicle motion

Hermes, for BBN (1975): e-mail application which let users extend message semantics by defining new message fields

Operability, with Lucy Suchman, for Xerox (1981): observational studies of operating a copier, which including work on user’s conceptual models of machines, following instructions, the evolution of understanding, and the management of trouble.

Trillium, for Xerox (1981): user-interface design application which let designers extend their language of design by creating parameterized interaction objects

Rooms, with Stuart Card for Xerox (1986): workstation infrastructure which recognized and supported multi-tasking, by let users define-through-use and manage concurrent windows configurations

Buttons, for Xerox (1986-1988): user-constructed interaction objects that let users design, capture, share and invoke their common or repeated operations, thus extending the semantically-open construction of coding into user space

For Xerox, at PARC and EuroPARC (1980-1988): Social science as essential for system development

For Fitch (1989): design as essential for system development

Computation in design, with John Rheinfrank and Shelley Evenson, for Fitch (1989): design consultancy including the integration of interactional elements in the structure and language of systems design

Architecture of user interface, for Xerox (1991-1994): Incorporation of a technology- in-use perspective into a corporate-wide technical architecture

Discourse architecture, for Apple (1995): structural components of computer operating systems to support the user’s concurrent interaction with many applications running in a coherent workstation environment.

Pliant computing, with Jed Harris (1999): analysis of the need and possibilities for addressing evolving and socially-produced ontologies in system development

For Rivendel Consulting & Design (1997-2002): analysis and system development for workplace design for fluid and distributed work

For Pitney Bowes (2002-2010): in-practice analysis of corporate advanced product creation from a technology-in-use system development perspective, leading to development practices that integrate user value, technical possibility, financial attractiveness and corporate capability.

Designing for the Unanticipated (2008): Analysis of the place and practice of regularity and exception in socio-technical systems.

Conceptual Models (2011; with Jeff Johnson): modeling as applied to the users’ concept of the interaction of a system; produced the book Conceptual Models: Core to Good Design, Morgan & Claypool, 2011.

Evolutionary development (2010 – present; with Jed Harris): Applying the principles of evolution that have worked well for eons and more recently for large scale software (open source) to aggregated development of all kinds at scale.


The Computation in people’s activities

For what purpose
  • Modelling activity
  • Supporting activity
  • Controlling activity
  • Changing world
  • Changing users wishes
  • Changing technical possibilities
  • Changing financial frame
  • Changing corporate capabilities
Socially produced
  • Multi-perspective
  • Collaboration
  • Competition
Differentially produced
  • Creators / suppliers
  • Administrators
  • Colleagues
  • User

The nature of interaction

  • Conceptual models as key
  • Tools as part of work
  • The physical as integral Multi-tasking as central
  • Trouble as integral
  • Learning as integral
  • Social interaction as constitutive

Systems development

Integration of science, design and engineering in system development

The social as essential in systems
  • The emic view
  • Observational methods
Systems in use
  • developer’s context is user’s center
  • embedding of system in user’s activity/work
  • codevelopment of systems and activity/work
Development continued in use
  • Users as designers
  • Backchannel from users to designers (Hermes)
  • Users as developers (tailorability)
Conceptual models
  • essential part of application development
  • separation from tasks, presentation, implementation
  • support for coherence in management of  application development
Melding of concerns in product development
  • user value
  • technological feasibility
  • financial attractiveness
  • corporate capability and fit
Evolvable systems
  • Emergent (cf. defined) ontology
  • Ontological drift
  • Social ontology
  • Pliant computing
  • Designing for the Unanticipated
  • Evolutionary development

In corporations

  • Melding of concerns
  • Relationship of research and business
  • Knowledge management


  • For rapid prototyping of software
  • For Distributed Collaboration


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.