Readings' list

Kaptelinin, V. 1996. Creating computer-based work environments: an empirical study of Macintosh users. In Proceedings of the 1996 ACM SIGCPR/SIGMIS Conference on Computer Personnel Research (Denver, Colorado, United States, April 11 - 13, 1996). SIGCPR '96. ACM Press, New York, NY, 360-366

The author interviewed 12 people: the interviews focused on the strategies people use in customizing their personal computer resources.

Operating systems provide users with basic facilities for building their interactive environments, they provide the necessary building blocks and let the users do the rest.

The objective of the study was to see if there are typical problems people have in creating and using their virtual workspace.

The specific issues were identified by applying basic concepts and principles of activity theory. According to Action Theory the most important aspects of the use of an artifact are:

  1. the system of goals
  2. the whole set of tools available to the individual
  3. the social context of activity

Interview topics:


Deliberate design vs. spontaneous adjustment of virtual workspaces

The structure of virtual workspace is only partly determined by deliberate planning.
On some occasion design which initially looked unmotivated and inefficient turned out to be optimal for the task at hand.

The shift focus of activities to the computer

Over the several years most participant shifted from paper work to computer work and by now the computer was the central part of their activity.

Accessing files: the desktop vs. hard disk window

Each participant created his own view of the file system: desktop, folders on desktop, the hard disk folder and a folder on the hard disk window.

There are several reasons why people don't want items on the desktop. Some practical, such as it is obscured by windows, some psychological, such as a clean desktop means less urgent things to do.

Others prefer to use desktop for reasons such as a more direct access to needed files.

Ongoing and finished projects: single work area vs. multiple work areas
Few users had a single folder for all projects together while others had a folder for each different project. In this last case it worked both as a working area and storage.

Ongoing and finished projects: single work area vs. multiple work areas.
The desktop can keep only a single project, while several people work on multiple projects: so it is difficult to switch among them.
Use of aliases is limited.
The LABEL menu that allows the use of color on folder was rarely used.
People working on only one project did not report problems with the system.
People working on several projects instead reported problems, lack of support in particular for
-restoring an environment after a shutdown
-Cleaning up at the end of a project: creating a new folder (for users using multiple folders). or cleaning up the area for single folder users.
Cleaning up is not easy for certain files whose use or final destination is uncertain: those files end up lingering around and the user develops a kind of perceptual filter.

The personal/public dimension
Working area: private
Finished project: public

Electronic documents and physical documents
Users work both with electronic and paper documents: physical files were organized along the same lines as computer files.

Planning and self management
Really few users used the computer to help them manage their activities.

The study revealed several problems:
The author suggest possible solutions:


During this interesting study the main focus of the author was to analyze how the users were organizing their information in the workspace, considering the location of the documents, the relationship between documents and activities, and evidence of activities flow.