Readings' list

Ravasio, P., Schär, S. G., and Krueger, H. 2004. In pursuit of desktop evolution: User problems and practices with modern desktop systems. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact. 11, 2 (Jun. 2004), 156-180.


Field study of sixteen users to analyze daily user practices on document classification and retrieval. Descriptions of problems found and proposal of solutions.


The organization of personal information resources can be divided in four basic underlying tasks:

  1. Information classification
  2. Information categorization
  3. Information filing
  4. information retrieval.

This study aims at providing an up to date analysis of user practices.


  1. Users’ intuitive ideas of the organization of their personal information space do not match with the strict hierarchical data storage paradigm given by the file system.

  2. Users consider it difficult to find a distinct piece of information within their own personal information space (in contradiction to Nardi et al. [1995]).

  3. Users have clear ideas as to what is wrong with a system from their points of view, and of how to improve it. They are able to actually (verbally) express their ideas on these matters.

Research Questions

  1. What are the habitual practices employed in the area of classification and retrieval, respectively?

  2. Do the users employ the desktop (i.e. the plane of the screen) in some structured way?

  3. If so, for what?

  4. And, in what way?

  5. What types of inconveniences and problems do users encounter during daily computer use?

  6. What are the users’ strategies to cope with these problems?

  7. From the users’ point of view: What is wrong with the user interface utilized today?

  8. What are users’ suggestions for the system’s evolution?

Previous work


Semi structured interview, videotaped, in field.

Interview guidelines:

  1. Habitual sequence of activities at work.
  2. Classification and maintenance
  3. Use of desktop screen plane
  4. Search habits and strategies

Results for Classification

Observed Classification Practices

Archiving: average age six months to eight years. Users consider archives important

Maintenance: it was considered an important activity.

Use of hierarchical structures: new subfolders when 3 to 7 docs on the same subject or when the user wants an overview. Classification and storage are considered  on-going processes.

Proper classification is perceived as difficult. 

User interface issues: 


User interface

Underlying system


Results for Retrieval

Observed Search Practices

Searching the web vs. searching "My personal information space". Why are web searches attractive?



Search tools are to complicated. Users are able to brush up on their general knowledge of the general organization of their information space while searching manually.


Two different categories of problems for the users:

Skills are an important factor for working with the desktop systems.


Interviewer proposed solutions to today's problems:

  1. Annotations as a new type of information
  2. Store docs in publicly available formats
  3. Content search
  4. Simplify the UI of searching tools

Authors also proposed abstract metaphors, database underlying structure for file systems