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Interaction Design for Complex Problem Solving - 1st Edition - ISBN: 9781558608313, 9780080508955

Interaction Design for Complex Problem Solving

1st Edition

Developing Useful and Usable Software

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Author: Barbara Mirel
Paperback ISBN: 9781558608313
eBook ISBN: 9780080508955
Imprint: Morgan Kaufmann
Published Date: 3rd November 2003
Page Count: 395
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Table of Contents

Preface Introduction Part One - Understanding the Work 1 What Makes Complex Problem Solving Complex? 2 Usefulness: Focusing on Inquiry Patterns, Task Landscapes, and Core Activities 3 Filling in the Gaps: Integrating Usefulness Into User-Centered Design Part Two - Solving Problems in Technical, Social, and Co-emergent Systems 4 Keeping the System Up and Running 5 Getting IT Right 6 Criteria, Constraints, and Choices for Optimizing the Mix 7 Examining Design Strategies and Choices for Optimizing the Mix 8 Decision-Making in Complex Socio-Technical Systems of Patient Care 9 Designing for Usefulness Across Cases Part Three - Thinking Strategically 10 Next Steps: Politics and Positioning of Usefulness Appendix A


Software for complex problem solving can dazzle people with advanced features and alluring visuals, but when actually put to use it often disappoints and even frustrates users. This software rarely follows the user's own work methods, nor does it give people the degree of control and choice that they truly need.

This book presents a groundbreaking approach to interaction design for complex problem solving applications. The author uses her vast field experience to present a new way of looking at the whole process, and treats complex problem solving software and web applications as a distinct class with its own set of usefulness demands and design criteria. This approach highlights integrated interactions rather than discrete actions, clearly defines what makes problem solving complex, and explores strategies for analyzing, modeling, and designing for exploratory inquiries.

Key Features

·In depth case studies ranging from IT troubleshooting to marketing analysis to risk assessments in healthcare show exactly where and what goes wrong in real world activities and how to improve them.

·Presents a system and framework for analyzing complex work and takes the mystery out of eliciting patterns of work and their meanings.

·Offers new perspectives for support and new design strategies for building the right models into programs so that they effectively address users' dynamic work.

·Allows designers to turn findings into useful designs for problems that require users to create new knowledge but with no one right answer and with many methods of reaching solutions.


Software and user interface designers, usability specialists, user experience analysts, interaction designers, software/systems engineers


No. of pages:
© Morgan Kaufmann 2004
3rd November 2003
Morgan Kaufmann
Paperback ISBN:
eBook ISBN:


If your team already has someone responsible for the HCI of your products, encourage them to read this book and discuss the resulting issues with you. In the context of a team it might also be helpful to make this book a team study effort so that you all better understand those extra constraints on the total product that are necessary to convert excellent software into excellent usable software. --from a review by Francis Glassborow on Barbara Mirel has spent years studying users for whom simple software solutions aren't sufficient. Interaction Design for Complex Problem Solving is the first book to tackle the thorny problem of developing software that is both usable and useful for users who have complex problems to solve. With clear explanations, detailed case studies, and thoughtful ideas about how to proceed, this is an excellent resource for designers, developers, and usability specialists. --Janice (Ginny) Redish, Redish & Associates, Inc. At last we have a text to help interaction designers, technical communicators, and programmers understand (rather than defeat) the complexities of users engaged in knowledge work in real-world contexts. Barbara Mirel's Interaction Design for Complex Problem Solving weaves theory and practice into a coherent, rich framework for thinking about, researching, and designing powerful and useful systems. --Johndan Johnson-Eilola, Clarkson University Barbara Mirel cracks open the problem of software usefulness with vigor and ambition. Her rich analysis of real-world problem-solving scenarios yields insight into previously neglected general and domain-specific aspects of complex problems. From these she generates much-needed advice for designing intelligently useful software. "Mirel's models for examining complex problem solving are interesting, and the implications for her argument are clear...Thus, this text is a new argument toward that push and a reshaping of our outlook toward design, formalized research methods, usefulness, and usability in general, which makes this text a densely rich read worth several explorations." - Victoria Sharpe - Technical Communication --T. R. Girill, University of California, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory "The book is well worth reading. It provides a broad-based critique of oversimplifying approaches that is hard to beat and a level of sophistication about complex problem solving that would be hard to match. I am positive that I will return to it and cite it frequently as I continue to work through similar issues in my work." - Clay Spinuzzi - University of Texas at Austin

Ratings and Reviews

About the Author

Barbara Mirel

Barbara Mirel is a visiting associate professor and research investigator at the University of Michigan where she teaches information visualization. Recently she has worked as a senior manager of human factors at a data visualization software company, a Member of the Technical Staff at Lucent Technologies, and Director of User Experience at Scient Corp. With teammates, she holds a patent for Visual Discovery design. Barbara is the recipient of numerous research grants for usability studies and has worked as a consultant to Fortune 500 companies across the country.

Affiliations and Expertise

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA