1.4. PARALLELS WITH ART HISTORY 7
in HCI. Hence, my position in this book is to adopt a broad-brush approach to theory in HCI.
Instead of restricting myself to using the term “theory in the narrow scientific tradition, I have
chosen to show how theory, in all its forms and guises, has been adapted and contextualized in HCI
practice.
1.4 PARALLELS WITH ART HISTORY
To frame the history of HCI theory, I borrow, loosely, from the periodiz ation of the History of
Art, characterizing it in terms of three parallel movements: Classical, Modern and Contemporary.
I critique Classical theoretical developments and the role they have played in the field, followed by
an overview of Modern and Contemporary theories. Previous attempts to characterize the history
and the significant developments in HCI have conceptualized them more generall y in metaphorical
terms of waves, paradigms or circles (e.g., Bødker, 2006; Gr udin, 1990; Harrison e t al., 2007). My
intention of adding yet another framing to the mix this time as parallels to epochs in the History
of Art is to provide a different historical lens, which, I think, lends itself to understanding the
way different theories have come and gone, and the zeitgeist behind their development. The parallel
with the History of Art is at the level of distinctive periods, such as Classicism and Modernism that
denote the style and philosophy of the art or theory produced during each of them.
Classical Art began with the Greeks and Romans and their interpretation and formal repre-
sentation of the human form and the environment in which it exists. It adheres to artistic principles
and rules laid down by painters and sculptors. Much training was required to become an artist of
classicism. Well-known movements included Gothic, Baroque, Flemish and Pre-Raphaelite. Mod-
ern art took over in the late 19th century and lasted until the 1970s. This period is associated
with art in which the previous classical traditions were thrown aside in the spirit of new ideas and
experimentation, rethinking the nature of materials and the function of art. Notably, there was a
move towards abstraction. For instance, Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, André Derain and Raoul
Dufy totall y transformed the Parisian art world with wild, expressive landscapes and figure paint-
ings. Contemporary art then emerged in the 1960s/70s and is still with us today as the dominant
movement. There are many different kinds of contemporary art, including well-known ones such as
pop art, performance art and postmodern art and more obscure ones such as VJ art, cynical realism
and superstroke. Collectively, contemporary art is considered to be more self conscious and socially
conscious than previous eras, concerning itself with popular culture and political developments of
the time, including feminism, multiculturalism and conceptualism.
Similar to these three periods of art history, the defining spirit or mood of the three eras of
HCI theory can be viewed as being underpinned by the ideas and beliefs of the time. The Classical
HCI period imported cognitive theory in a rigorous and constrained way; the Modernist HCI period
saw a broader and colorful palette of approaches and uses of theory from social, phenomenological
and cognitive science while the Contemporary period became more value-led, drawing from a
range of moralistic and societal-based perspectives. Each has significantly extended the discourse of
HCI research.
8 1. INTRODUCTION
However, at the same time, many of the theoretically based approaches that have been pro-
mulgated in each period have had only a limited impact on the practice of interaction design. Why
is this so? The book discusses this dilemma and concludes that HCI theory is now at a crossroads.
It c an continue to address moderatel y sized issues (i.e., small HCI) or it can try to tac kle even
bigger challenges (i.e., big HCI). While modernist theories can continue to deal with micro HCI,
having an input into the design of new experiences and technologies, different kinds of theories are
needed to better articulate and ground macro-HCI, to encompass the complex challenges facing
society (Shneiderman, 2012).
In the next chapter, I provide a brief overview of how HCI grew alongside the technological
developments that were taking place. In Chapter 3, I summar ize the various roles and contributions
theory has made to HCI. Then in Chapters 4, 5 and 6, I provide an overview of the three periods of
HCI theory. Chapter 7 discusses the reasons behind the success and failures of theory being applied
in practice. Finally, Chapter 8 looks to the future, asking where theory will go next.

Get HCI Theory now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.