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An international peer-reviewed journal

New Frontiers in Usability for Users' Complex Knowledge Work

Barbara Mirel

Journal of Usability Studies, Volume 3, Issue 4, August 2008, pp. 149-151

Article Contents


Two years ago, Mike Albers organized and held a workshop on the usability challenges of computer-supported complex work. The enthusiasm generated by that workshop led to this special issue of Journal of Usability Studies (JUS). This special issue explores the problem of how to make human-computer interactions simpler for dynamic knowledge work. Along these lines, many experts in exploratory analysis agree that answering the following questions is a top priority for the coming decades:

The three articles in this issue take an important first step in tackling these questions. All of them strive to clarify why knowledge work is distinctively challenging by understanding how people perform their complex work. The authors of all three articles find that work typically considered well-structured is, in fact, not well-structured. Moreover, mistakenly supporting it as such has the following adverse effects:

To identify support that users need but do not get from their technologies, all three articles address certain decision points in users' work. The articles examine users' complex tasks and decisions at very different scales, in distinct domains, and with varying attention to levels of expertise. Yet they share the following findings and themes:

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