Full Seminar Details

Dr. Colin Potts

Georgia Institute of Technology, USA

Dr. Colin Potts
Human-Computer Cohabitation
This event took place on Monday 23 May 2005 at 09:30

Information technology is designed, but for most of us most of the time it is part of our natural environment. Design intent and requirements play less of a role in our experience of IT than the affordances that technology presents in contexts of use, affordances that we negotiate and work around and which we exploit in novel ways. In this talk, I survey three recent examples of research in which IT is taken as given.

The first traces the evolution of telephony features available to domestic subscribers over a period of 50 years and reveals that affordances, and the concomitant benefits and burdens change character in distinctive patterns throughout the evolutionary record. There are implications here for designers of ubiquitous IT. The second interrogates the user interfaces of popular desktop applications to obtain the ontologies that these interfaces reveal. The results require us to go beyond the charge that such programs are "bloated" with unnecessary features. The third examines the assumptions about personal privacy values revealed by commercial web sites and the experience of browsing the web.

Survey and experimental results reveal that average users do not align their online behaviours with their espoused values and concerns. In all three cases, rather than immediately asking the question "How can we design more usable technology?" we ask the questions "What exactly is this technology, what concepts and values does it embody, how do people adapt it and adapt to it, and how did things get this way?" In all three cases, we see that the best intentions of designers lead to the need for secondary and tertiary features that protect users from abuses or complexities that emerge as the technology evolves and becomes environmentally entrenched. These are facts of life; they are not temporary obstacles that can we can overcome by inventing new HCI devices and principles or by getting the IT vendors finally to listen to us. I will conclude with a prospectus for research in HCI that argues that intervention is our ultimate aim but that it must follow from a deeper understanding of information affordances and their evolution.


Since 1992, Colin Potts has been associate professor of computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology, College of Computing (Interactive Computing Divsion) and is a member of the Graphics, Visualization and Usability Center and Cognitive Science program at Georgia Tech. He has degrees in psychology from University of Durham (B.Sc.) and Sheffield University (Ph.D.) He worked for a long-defunct software company in London and for the research and development consortium MCC (Austin, Texas). In between he was lecturer at Imperial College, London (Department of Computing).

Watch the webcast replay >>

View all past events

Maven of the month logo - Photo of Prof. Ricardo Baeza-Yates

Maven of the Month

We are also inviting top experts in AI and Knowledge Technologies to discuss major socio-technological topics with an audience that comprises both members of the Knowledge Media Institute, as well as the wider staff at The Open University. Differently from our seminar series, these events follow a Q&A format.

Past events


Knowledge Media Institute
The Open University
Walton Hall
Milton Keynes
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)1908 653800

Fax: +44 (0)1908 653169

Email: KMi Support


If you have any comments, suggestions or general feedback regarding our website, please email us at the address below.

Email: KMi Development Team