Chapter 6. A THEORY OF COMPUTER SUPPORT
While Heidegger’s analysis of understanding provides the opportunity for a theory of computer support of innovative design, his analysis must be operationalized if it is to guide the development of useful software systems. This task of operationalizing Heidegger’s categories will be undertaken here, resulting in the outline of a theory of computer support for interpretation in design.
What does it mean for a computer system to support the processes of interpretation that designers use in their work? Chapter 6 addresses a number of the central issues of this question:
6.1. As argued in the previous chapter, a people-centered approach is needed in which designers using software are in control of determinations of relevance, application of representations, modifications of reused structures, and other matters of judgment that cannot be reduced to computational mechanisms. The analysis of interpretation in Part I distinguished three characteristics of interpretation: (a) its situated, (b) perspectival, and (c) linguistic nature. Each of these three characteristics involves the modes of (1) reuse and (2) innovative modification. Computer software should provide support for each of these three characteristics of interpretation in both modes.
6.2. (a) Experience with graphical and textual tools for designers has shown that computer systems can be useful for capturing explicit understandings of design situations. Additional media—including pen-based sketches, pictures, videos, and audio commentary—can also be useful for this. With each of these media it is important that they be sufficiently expressive to meet the demands of designers. Ideally, computer control of the media should not be much more intrusive than use of a hand-held pen. The advantage of the computer is that it can coordinate representations of the situation in these media in computationally powerful ways in order to support the designers’ interpretations. (b) One way a computer system can help organize information is through systems of perspectives. Each designer, design team, or design case can have its own perspective for gathering related information. A general perspectives mechanism can provide computational support for storing and viewing information in categories defined by the designers to support their organizational and collaborational needs. (c) Language is as important a means of externalizing design ideas as is sketching. It serves to make the ideas explicit and to communicate them, so their problems and opportunities can be discovered. A computer-based language facility can help to store and communicate definitions and interrelationships of terms. To the extent that the language can be processed by the computer, it can serve as a means for communicating with the computer and defining or refining mechanisms of control and operation.
6.3. Plasticity of knowledge representations is critical for offering designers the necessary control over the computer system and over their designs. As mentioned in the preceding paragraphs, the media, perspectives, and language must all be expressive and malleable. This facilitates reuse of previous design constructs, because approximate solutions to an innovative need can be reused from computer memory and modified by the designer for application to a current case. By capturing past design elements and allowing them to be flexibly modified and reused in new designs, the computer support system in effect embodies a model of the process of interpretation. Each characteristic of the interpretive process is modeled in computer representations and mechanisms: the situation, perspectives, and language. The explicit nature of the computer model aids the designer’s reflection, offering objects to make discoveries with.These issues of support spell out in practical terms the kinds of mechanisms needed to support interpretation in design. These points determine what related systems to consider in Chapter 7 and what features to look for in those systems. Then, Part III describes Hermes, a substrate for design environments that implements illustrative instantiations of these support mechanisms.
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