Research into the process of designing new technologies has undergone considerable changes over the past twenty years. Various trends in the field of Human and Computer Interaction have challenged the traditional engineering-style, top-down approach and the associated cognitive methodology that regards individuals as making rational decisions and plans according to an abstract model of the world.
A number of these trends highlight the need to ‘incorporate understandings of the social world into interactive systems. ‘Social computing’ is an umbrella-term under which some researchers from different schools of thought have found a common goal in research directed towards understanding how new technologies can be better integrated with, and support, existing social dynamics.
Embracing the multidisciplinary approach of social computing involves various challenges. While facilitating a dialogue among members of a research team can be difficult at times, harder still is forging the dialectic relationship between a theoretical understanding of a concept and a concrete design. The link between theory and practice does not often emerge in a logical sequence during the design process, but it can be better understood if the designers have cause to reflect on this connection and the skill to articulate this to others.
In this context, the authors organized a series of workshops whose goal was to facilitate a dialogue between researchers involved in social computing. Focusing on specific observed situations through discussion and design activities became the glue connecting theoretical and practical thinking. It also highlighted how the peculiarities of a socio-cultural context, together with the motivations, backgrounds and personal experience of researchers influence the emergence of specific themes and design plans.
Finally, design, when used as a tool to explore a complex topic of research, can itself give rise to innovative interpretations of current research and design practice.