Interaction in a Social Context

by Nick de Voil 3. May 2012 20:15
I've been interested for some time in how usability can be extended into, and integrated with, the field of enterprise systems design - not just in terms of the surface details of user interface, but also  at a deeper level of what Ronald Stamper calls "organisational semiotics", trying to get away from the Model Human Processor and taking into account things like social psychology, social anthropology, cultural analysis and discourse analysis.

The latest edition of Interfaces magazine has an intriguing article called Enterprise Usability Architecture, which talks about integrating usability with enterprise architecture. The interesting part comes at the end, where it says that "social models of HCI fill a gap that exists in both disciplines". It refers to the "Model of Interaction in a Social Context (MISC)".

This aroused my curiosity. I had never heard of MISC, and nor had Google, but eventually I found it in the PhD thesis of one of the article's authors, Sarah McDaid: "A model for human-computer interaction based on human-human communication in a social context".

MISC is an ambitious model identifying seven "layers" of the human-to-human communication process: task, presentation, session, control, cognition, effector and physical. Without going into all their meanings here, suffice it to say that this scheme is very helpful in showing some of the things that are often left out of consideration, both in ineffective person-to-person communication, and in traditional systems design. MISC then goes on to identify elements for consideration at each level. Some of these are familiar - for example, the Task level includes consideration of Goals, Sub-tasks etc. But others are less so. At the Presentation level, Roles, Relationships, Responsibilities, Social Rules and Social Norms are considered. The Session and Control levels deal with conversation structure.

Most interesting for me is the so-called Cognition layer. As McDaid writes, "This layer endeavours to take account of the personality and life-experiences of the participants and the impact that this has on their interpretation of the proceedings around them. These elements of the model are principally derived from work done in the field of social psychology." It includes elements like personality, emotional state, causal attribution, stereotyping and meta-perception.

The article in Interfaces does not specify how any of this is to be integrated into enterprise architecture, but I like McDaid's agenda and I do believe that this is a useful framework from which many good things might come.