Tracing Genres through Organizations: A Sociocultural Approach to Information Design

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Overview

In Tracing Genres through Organizations, Clay Spinuzzi examines the everyday improvisations by workers who deal with designed information and shows how understanding this impromptu creation can improve information design. He argues that the traditional user-centered approach to design does not take into consideration the unofficial genres that spring up as workers write notes, jot down ideas, and read aloud from an officially designed text. These often ephemeral innovations in information design are vital components in a genre ecology (the complex of artifacts mediating a given activity). When these innovations are recognized for what they are, they can be traced and their evolution as solutions to recurrent design problems can be studied. Spinuzzi proposes a sociocultural method for studying these improvised innovations that draws on genre theory
(which provides the unit of analysis, the genre) and activity theory (which provides a theory of mediation and a way to study the different levels of activity in an organization).After defining terms and describing the method of genre tracing, the book shows the methodology at work in four interrelated studies of traffic workers in Iowa and their use of a database of traffic accidents.
These workers developed an ingenious array of ad hoc innovations to make the database better serve their needs. Spinuzzi argues that these inspired improvisations by workers can tell us a great deal about how designed information fails or succeeds in meeting workers' needs. He concludes by considering how the insights reached in studying genre innovation can guide information design itself.

The MIT Press

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What People Are Saying

From the Publisher

"Spinuzzi takes issue with many in the user-centered design community, arguing that much of the work emerging from it implicitly assumes a 'worker-as-victim, designer-as-hero'
perspective. To counter this view he argues strongly for an approach that respects and builds on the worker's own agency and abilities, showing how the workers themselves adjust the system in a myriad of ways in order to fit the system to their activities. A thoughtful, and at times provocative,
read."--Liam J. Bannon, Director, Interaction Design Centre, University of Limerick

The MIT Press

" Tracing Genres through Organizations offers communication designers and information architects a fresh and important perspective on users in organizations.
Moving deftly between theory and practice, Spinuzzi suggests methods for designing communication spaces that are not merely used but inhabited, adapted, and extended by their users. A must-read."
Johndan Johnson-Eilola, Director, Eastman Kodak Center for Excellence in Communication, and
Professor of Technical Communications, Clarkson University

The MIT Press

"*Tracing Genres through Organizations* offers communication designers and information architects a fresh and important perspective on users in organizations. Moving deftly between theory and practice, Spinuzzi suggests methods for designing communication spaces that are not merely used but inhabited, adapted, and extended by their users. A must-read."--Johndan
Johnson-Eilola, Director, Eastman Kodak Center for Excellence in Communication, and Professor of
Technical Communications, Clarkson University

The MIT Press

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262194914
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 10/1/2003
  • Series: Acting with Technology
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 258
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Clay Spinuzzi is Assistant Professor of Rhetoric at the University of Texas, Austin.
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Table of Contents

Series Foreword
Preface
1 Introduction: Tyrants, Heroes, and Victims in Information Design 1
"Writers, Writers Everywhere": Positioning the User in Technical Communication 5
Fieldwork-to-Formalization Methods: Observing Workers, Modeling Behavior 10
Official and Unofficial Solutions 18
2 Integrating Research Scope 25
The Problem of Unintegrated Scope 27
From Artifacts to Genres 37
From Genres to Genre Ecologies 47
From Genre Ecologies to Genre Tracing 50
3 Tracing Genres across Developmental Eras: The ALAS Activity System 59
Studying Genre Ecologies in Cultural-Historical Terms 63
Overview of the ALAS Activity System 71
Before 1974: Preautomation Accident Location and Analysis 74
1974: Mainframe-ALAS (IBM 3090 Mainframe) 83
1989: PC-ALAS (DOS) 92
1996: GIS-ALAS (Windows) 104
4 Tracing Genres across Levels of Scope: A Study of PC-ALAS Use 113
Genres and Destabilizations: Issues in Tracing Genres across Levels of Scope 114
Tracing Genres in the ALAS Activity System 122
5 Embedded Contradictions: Two Studies of GIS-ALAS Genre Hybrids 159
Importing Genres, Making Hybrids, Forming Contradictions 160
GIS-ALAS at Work 171
GIS-ALAS at School 186
6 Designing Open Systems: Possible Trajectories for ALAS Genres 201
Open Systems: A Definition and Three Examples 203
Redesigning ALAS as an Open System 211
Notes 225
References 229
Index 241
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