Context, Definition & Power

This article summaries my main takeaway from HCDE 505 - Computer Assisted Communication, one of my favorite courses @ HCDE.

These three fabulous words capture the essence of my takeaway (or bias): Context, Definition & Power.

Context matters a lot. When talking about things, consider its context as well.

This always holds true for me, and I find it quite valuable when doing design works and reading paper.

Design works? It is kind of interesting to see so many “ideal” course projects focusing on tiny little points without thinking about the context that embraces it — for example, the context of how the needs of various stakeholders come into play in design, how a product fits into a bigger picture (the ecosystem), and how the organization (you are designing for) functions and etc. I know it is always wise to keep the idea scoped and start from the core stuff, but it may still worth taking the bigger context into account when doing the design. When dots and dots are connected as parts of a net, things get way more complicated — it is nearly impossible to focus on a single dot to figure out a solution that is intended to be used for the whole net.

As for reading paper, context means “boundary” to me, which is related to the applicability of the research findings — in what contexts the findings hold true, and in what contexts they can possibly go wrong — although for most the time, there is no clear line in-between.

When conveying an idea (e.g., “tag”) — define it: what it is, what it isn’t, and maybe — what it could be.

This successfully turns me into a jerk who keeps asking people — “what do you mean by saying ‘xxx’”? To be frank, it is always nice to be an evil advocator like this, as it happens a lot that your teammate and you are referring to totally different things using the “same” word.

Power is associated with “Speak up”. Colin says, when you keep silent, you are offering the power to those who speak up.

Xiaobo Wang also mentioned this in his book Silent Majority. While embarrassingly, I still find it hard to speak up, or even talk about my ideas / thoughts aloud in class (Hmm, in English though. I am making excuses. :p)

Thanks to Colin and this course, I fell in love with reading theories and at the same time — exploring how theories can inform design decisions. Also, it is always great fun (I really don’t know why) to see what other people are doing, in terms of writing up what they’ve found or failed to prove in numbers of pages with standardized styling.

Following are my favorite concepts / issues / theories learnt from this course:

  1. Social translucence
  2. Crowdsourcing
  3. Privacy
  4. Social-technical Gap
  5. E-politics
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