Cunningham, Kirkscey, Renolds-Dyk, Small, Tran & Tucker. “Rhetorical Grounding and an Agile Attitude: Complex Systems, Multi-Genre Testing, and Service Learning in UX” Journal of Usability Studies. Vol. 10, Issue 4, August 2015 pp. 182-194.

  • The authors note that despite a body of “foundational” literature in UX design, many studies don’t fit nicely into the best practices from the discipline. As such, the authors recommend UX folks “allow themselves the space for adaptation” to better meet client needs. The authors synthesize an “Agile attitude” build on principles from rhetorical theory, including: Kairos, user-centeredness (audience), genre and rhetorical context. The authors conclude that service learning opportunities allow students in the academy to access these kind of kairotic UX practices.
  • Main claim: “As an outcome of that experience [of working for multiple audiences by developing improvisational UX methods] this article reports and reflects on two issues: (a) how usability researchers both respect and subvert a discpline’s ‘best practices’ based on the rhetorical nature of usability testing and (b) how embedded service learning can be a strong academic and industry bridge connecting the ideals of theory and best practices to the practical realities of serving a client” (183).
  • Article/study trajectory: “In this article, we explore the complex nature of our project on theoretical and practical grounds, focusing in part on the rhetorical features of the situation. We then describe the effects such complexity had on the design of our usability testing procedure, the outcomes of the test, and the lessons we learned regarding agility and the value of a service learning project bridging the academic and industry divide” (ibid).
  • With respect to my own method of tracing cultural-historical use and UI topoi, “Designers felt the GUI was intuitive, expecting the product’s target audience – usability practicioners – to have pre-established mental models based on popular usability-related software package already in use” (184).
  • The authors engage Vatz (1973) and Bitzer (1968) but not Edbauer in discussing the rhetorical situation as an objective or subjective experience. This has analogs in user-centeredness vs. task-centeredness vis-à-vis UX testing.
  • The authors use RGS (though don’t acknowledge it as such), especially Artemeva, to consider the ways that an individual responds to the genres already in play – in this case, they position the GUI/prototype as genre (184). They do this to argue that, “We likened these different stages of development [of the hardware & software] to a challenge of having multiple genres but only one rhetorical situation” (185).
  • The authors provide a rich, detailed method section for their usability test in this article (186-88).
  • The authors use the term “mental models” (see Staggers & Norcio for more info in HCI context) to gesture toward pattern libraries or common navigational structures (189).
  • In their recommendation section, the authors argue that Usability Practitioners should, “Consider the usefulness of rhetorical theory when unpacking complex usability situations” (191).

Important Sources

  • Redish, J. (2007). Expanding usability testing to evaluate complex systems. Journal of Usability Studies, 2(3), 102–111.
  • Redish, J. (2010). Technical communication and usability: Intertwined strands and mutual influences. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 53(3), 191–201. doi:10.1109/TPC.2010.2052861
  • Barnum, C. M. (2011). Usability testing essentials. New York: Morgan Kaufmann.
  • Spinuzzi, C. (2005). The methodology of participatory design. Technical Communication, 52, 163–174.
  • Johnson, R. R., Salvo, M. J., & Zoetewey, M. W. (2007). User-centered technology in participatory culture: Two decades “Beyond a narrow conception of usability testing.” IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 2(4), 320–332.