Research interests

Morten Hertzum

My research interests are within human-computer interaction (HCI), computer supported cooperative work (CSCW), information seeking, and healthcare informatics. More specifically, my research has concerned the following topics.


Usability - the concept and its evaluation

The concept of usability. The term usability is ubiquitous in human-computer interaction. Rather than one established meaning of usability, there are, however, multiple images of usability, each providing a partial view. We have described six images of usability: universal usability, situational usability, perceived usability, hedonic usability, organizational usability, and cultural usability (IJHCI2010a). For the three aspects of usability in the ISO9241-11 definition we have found that information about one aspect - such as efficiency - does not enable us to say much about other aspects - such as effectiveness and satisfaction (CHI2000). Based on repertory-grid interviews we have investigated the personal constructs people employ in talking about their experiences using systems; that is, their personal usability constructs. We have done this for users and deveopers (IJHCI2011), for usability professionals (IJHCS2012), and for all three groups combined (INTERACT2013).

Usability evaluation. Usability evaluation methods are central to user-centred design and must themselves be thoroughly evaluated. We have found that evaluators who evaluate the same system using the same usability evaluation method tend to detect substantially different sets of problems in the system. This evaluator effect has been documented for thinking-aloud studies, cognitive walkthroughs, and heuristic evaluations (CHI1998, HFES1998, HCII1999, IJHCI2001, CHI2002, BIT2014). We also see indications that relaxed thinking aloud, which is probably the single most influential usability evaluation metod, affects behaviour and mental workload (BIT2009), and that classic thinking aloud is reactive in the presence of interruptions (IJHCI2013b) and influences perceived time (HF2015). We recommend heeding the focus of usability tests on concrete use and, therefore, discourage thinking about usability tests as a kind of interview (Interactions2016). As a supplementary measure of mental workload we have investigated the ratio of perceived time to clock time (IJHCI2013a). Also, the severity of usability problems is difficult to assess reliably but important to problem prioritization and to ensuring that usability evaluations have an impact on design (IJHCI2006). Some years ago, a review of museum web sites suggested a lack of user-centred design and usability evaluation (ARMU1998). Recently, crowdsourcing has made unmoderated usability sessions possible, and they appear to be similar to moderated sessions in terms of the content of users' verbalizations (IJHCI2015) and the number of usability issues encountered (BIT2014).

Cultural usability. The production, evaluation, and use of information technologies are international activities, but there are indications that prominent usability evaluation methods developed in Europe and the US do not transfer unproblematically to countries such as India and China. We have investigated how cultural background may influence thinking-aloud studies (IWC2009) and how people from different nations and stakeholder groups construe usability differently (CHI2009, HCII2007, IJHCI2011, IJHCS2012, INTERACT2013). We have also investigated differences in the structure of Danish and Pakistani university websites, and how these differences affect website usability (IRIS2011selected).

Ease of use vis-à-vis security. One particular tension in the concept of usability is between ease of use and security. This tension has led to an interest in usable security, which is about matching security principles and demands against user knowledge and motivation. At the concrete level, we have assessed the security and ease of use of Danish e-banking systems (AJIS2004) and worked with minimal-feedback hints intended to help people remember their passwords (Interactions2006).


Information seeking

Collaborative information seeking. There is compelling empirical evidence of the collaborative nature of much information seeking, but most retrieval systems and many information-science models still depict information seeking as an activity performed by individuals. Collaborative information seeking can be defined as the combined activity of information seeking and collaborative grounding (IPM2008). A field study in the film-archive domain illustrated that collaborative information seeking is common and discussed the prospects of supporting it by means of a collaboratory (CoLIS2002). A study of the medication process showed that most breakdowns in collaborative information seeking in this domain are breakdowns in collaborative grounding (IPM2010). We have also investigated the links between collaborative information seking and organizational procedures (CIS2015) and between collaborative information seeking and expertise seeking (JDOC forthcoming).

Expertise seeking. In a recent review we defined expertise seeking as the activity of selecting people as sources for consultation about an information need (IPM2014). Such people sources are, however, not in opposition to documentary sources. Rather, we find that engineers look for documents to find people, contact people to be pointed to documents, and interact socially to avoid explicit information searches (IPM2000). Further, engineers seem to turn to people because they often need creative discourse, trusted opinion, and commitment rather than mere facts (ISIC2000). Relative to the importance of people as information sources few systems support people finding. We have suggested personometric mapping as one approach to developing people-finding systems (CoLIS2005).

Trust. Previous work of engineers' information-seeking behavior has led to the formulation of a least-effort principle stating that in choosing their information sources engineers are primarily affected by source accessibility, not source quality. Based on field data we have argued that trust is central to engineers' choice of information sources. This challenges the least-effort principle by suggesting that engineers' preference for close-by sources can be explained as a choice of sources that are perceived to be more trustworthy, i.e. sources with a higher perceived quality (IWC2002, I&O2002).


Information visualization

Overview. The notion of overview is focal to information-visualization research. We have reviewed this notion and emphasized the difference between overviews, in the sense of interface components, and overviewing, in the sense of an awareness of an information space (IJHCS2011). It appears to be a frequent, but questionable, assumption that if overviews are provided then overviewing will ensue. Interfaces that aim to support overviewing often provide facilities for filtering the visualized information. We have compared three ways of visualizing the application of filters: blocking, blurring, and color-coding (IJHCS2013). We have also proposed that in collaborative settings information seeking often proceeds as visual overview, oral detail (IJHCS2015).

Fisheye menus. Fisheye menus have become a prominent example of fisheye interfaces, yet they contain several non-fisheye elements and have not been systematically evaluated. We have tried to untangle the impact on usability of various design decisions in fisheye menus. The most striking result is that conventional hierarchical menus appear to be superior to fisheye menus (TOCHI2007).

Visualizing search. In searching a medium-sized collection, we find that browsing is faster than querying. Also, querying based on a Venn diagram interface leads to faster performance than conventional Boolean queries. These differences are obtained without differences in the quality of the participants' solutions of the experimental tasks. However, using a paper copy of the information collection the participants complete tasks faster and reach higher-quality solutions than using the electronic modes of information retrieval (TOCHI1996).


Organizational implementation

Digital Post. We have evaluated the adoption and organizational implementation of the the Danish e-government system Digital Post. While it is formally stated that Digital Post will be the major channel for communication between municipalities and citizens, the use of the system was still far from this objective three years after its deployment (ECIS2014). Local government staff are mainly positive about Digital Post at the level of their overall relationship with the system, but at the level of concrete incidents they report a number of situations in which the system decreases the service delivered to citizens (GIQ2016). Relatedly, another study looked at the organizational implementation of document management systems in Danish central government (IIP1995).

Electronic patient records. We have evaluated the use of several healthcare systems after they have been in operation for some time. The evaluations differ regarding the amount of use, the user experience of the system, and the organizational implications. A speech-recognition system for making entries in electronic patient records was judged by physicinas to decrease the quality of records and increase the time physicians spent producing the records (IJHCS2009). An e-health system for asthma self-management was not adopted by asthmatics, apparently because the system's image of the user was incompatible with the users' image of themselves (PCEH2009). Additional evaluations of the organizational implementation of healthcare systems appear in the section on healthcare informatics, see below.

Pilot implementation. An important activity in working with the organizational implementation of information systems is pilot implementation. We have contrasted pilot implementation and prototyping and discussed the challenges involved in conducting pilot implementations (CAIS2012). Our work on pilot implementation is part of our work on effects-driven IT developmenet, see below.


Healthcare informatics

Emergency-department whiteboards. Creating and maintaining an overview is important to hospital clinicians especially at wards that treat acute patients. At emergency departments (EDs) whiteboards are a central tool for supporting clinicians in creating and maintaining the overview they need in their work. We have conducted a field study of the use and role of dry-erase whiteboards at EDs (JCSCW2011), field and interview studies of the organizational implementation of an electronic whiteboard at four EDs (IRIS2010selected, PDC2012b), a survey of clinicians' expectations toward electronic ED whiteboards (IJMI2011), and before/after measurements of the work-practice changes associated with the introduction and use of an electronic ED whiteboard (MIE2012, HIJ2013, HIJ2016). We also investigated the coordinative unit consisting of the whiteboard and the coordinating nurse (IJHCS2015), the effect of the electronic whiteboard on the noise level at the EDs (EOJ2013), and the possibility of using the whiteboard data to visualize and counteract crowding (EOJ2016, EOJ2017).

Electronic medication record. System adoption is often delayed or hampered by barriers. We have evaluated the gap between actual and mandated use of an electronic medication reord after it has been used for 1.5 to 4 years (MIE2008, EJISE2012). Reasons for the identified gap has been discused in terms of breakdowns in collaborative informative seeking (IPM2010). In an action-research study we followed up on the gap by performing interventions to improve the actual use of the electronic medication record at a selected ward and by measuring the effect of the interventions (GROUP2009).

Other electronic patient records. We evaluated the effects of the clinical-process module of an electronic patient record on three clinical activities at a stroke unit. Compared to the use of paper records, the clinical-process module, for example, reduced physicians' mental workload (IJMI2008). Also, a study of icons indicating the status of blood tests concluded that the icons passed by most of the complexity of the blood-test process (MEDINFO2013) and mostly remained unseen by the physicians (CSCW2015). Studies of several other healthcare systems appear in the section on organizational implementation, see above.

Home-care work. Home care is an example of a highly mobile work setting. We have investigated the role of rhythms in home-care work as well as in individual home-care workers' command of their work (GROUP2005).


Effects-driven IT development

Effects-driven IT development. We propose to supplement functional specifications with specifications of the effects desired from using a system and assessments of whether these effects are achieved. The aim of effects-driven IT development is to provide an instrument for managing IT projects by making it possible to work systematically toward developing efficient solutions that meet customer goals. We have described effects-driven IT development (SJIS2011) and summarized our experiences from our empirical projects (BSIISD2011). A central element of effects-driven IT development is a sustained focus on usage effects, which extends an iterative, participatory-design approach into the implementation of IT systems (DI2012, PDC2012b). While we consider effects-driven IT development applicable to a wide range of IT projects, we have mainly investigated it within the healthcare domain (NordiCHI2004, SHI2005, PDC2006, PDC2008, PDC2010, CUEDDP2013). Several of our studies have focused specifically on the use of effects in organizational implementation (GROUP2009, EJISE2012, PDHIT2017b).

Pilot implementation. An activity central to effects-driven IT development is pilot implementation. We have defined pilot implementation as "a field test of a properly engineered, yet unfinished system in its intended environment, using real data, and aiming – through real-use experience – to explore the value of the system, improve or assess its design, and reduce implementation risk" and discussed the challenges involved in conducting pilot implementations (CAIS2012). Learning from pilot implementations is situated, messy, and therefore difficult (HIJ forthcoming). We have also investigated the use of pilot implementations as a means of user involvement in participatory design projects (OZCHI2014b).

Further information about effects-driven IT development is available in Danish at the project website.


Document management and retrieval

Classification and its consequences. In managing recorded information such as documents we need access points into the collections. A study of access points into a collection of legal texts shows the need for flexible classifications, which on the one hand provide an ordering shared by all users and on the other hand are adaptable to the specific needs of individual users and to changes that occur over time (EJIS1993). Another study analyzed how a classification scheme for managing the requirements for a software system was brought about and how it entered into constituting the requirements specification process (JCSCW2004).

Managing and using documents. To design document management systems we need to understand how documents help people accomplish their tasks. For this purpose we have delineated six roles documents play in professional work (ECSCW1999). Our basis for identifying the six document roles were, among other things, our previous studies of document management practices: a study of how biochemists in an industrial R&D lab manage the documents they keep in their offices (IRIS1993) and a study of how Danish central government institutions manage their documents (IIP1995).

Retrieval from structured documents. We have investigated how people intertwine searching and reading during retrieval of information from hierarchically structured software manuals (INTERACT2001). This work is to help us understand when a cluster of text chunks that match a query should be returned as individual hits and when it is preferable to return a single, superordinate chunk that provides an entry point to the entire cluster. The work on best entry points for structured document retrieval has been continued in relation to a collection of Shakespeare plays (IPM2006a, IPM2006b).

Multimedia information retrieval. Based on a number of information requests received by a large film archive it has been analyzed what types of information needs real users have and how these needs are expressed. Findings include that the requesters make use of a broad range of need attributes in specifying their information needs. These attributes relate to the production, content, subject, context, and screening of films (JDOC2003).


Information systems development

Conceptual design. One study investigated how a small-scale classification scheme for managing system requirements was brought about and how it entered into constituting the requirements-specification process (JCSCW2004). Another study analyzed how scenarios attained a central role in a conceptual design by providing a descriptive, task-based account of the users' work (IJHCS2003). In terms of providing tools for designers, we have sketched the design of a low-tech tool for supporting the generation and management of an inclusive set of system requirements (TMCE2000).

User-centred design. The complexities of software design have consequences for user-centred design. These implications concern the articulation of a system design, the pressure to produce progress, and the challenges of collaboration (EIS2007). To work systematically with the articulation and organizational implementation of systems, we have proposed a sustained participatory-design approach (PDC2008) and are devising effects-driven IT development. A specific element of participatory design concerns how users are selected for participation. We have investigated whether representative samples of users are traded for advocates and champions (IWC2011).

Design in use. Design does not end prior to use but rather continues, in some form, after systems have entered into operational use. We have studied the participatory aspects of such design in use under the rubric of participatory continuing design (PDHIT2017a).

Outsourcing. The distribution of development activities across multiple development organizations has become widespread. We have studied Danish financial organizations' offshore outsourcing of information systems development to Indian development organizations (BSIISD2011a). In one of these studies a minimal-interaction strategy was seen as a solution to the cultural and maturity inequality between the client and vendor organizations (BSIISD2011b).

Situated methods for design. We have investigated design as a situated activity and described a series of situated design methods (SDM2014a), one of them specifically aimed at supporting design students in focusing their design projects (SDM2014b). In continuation of this work, we have started to devise a framework for reflecting on design processes (OZCHI2014a).


Pointing with mouse and touchpad

Target precuing. In point-and-click interfaces the location of targets is sometimes known to the user before visually identifying it, and sometimes not. We find that target precuing affects trial completion time, reaction time, and multiple movement kinematics and that it affects pointing with the mouse and touchpad differently (IJHCI2013c). These results, for example, complicate cross-study comparison of pointing performance because the tasks used in such studies often differ considerably in the precues they provide.

Age effects on pointing performance. We have investigated young, adult, and elderly participants’ performance when pointing with mouse and touchpad (IJHCI2010b). Adult participants performed better than both young and elderly participants in that adult participants made fewer errors than young participants and completed trials quicker than elderly participants. Moreover, young participants were quicker than elderly participants. All three age groups were slower and made more errors with the touchpad than the mouse.

Cell cursors. Touchpad devices are widely used but slower than pointing with a mouse. The TouchGrid, an instance of what we term cell cursors, replaces moving the cursor through dragging the finger on a touchpad with tapping in different regions of the touchpad. The touchpad regions are recursively mapped to smaller display regions and thereby enable high-precision pointing without requiring high tapping precision (BIT2005). Two further variants of cell cursors - box and pie cursors - have been investigated as examples of cursors that dynamically change their cursor activation area (IJHCS2007).