User-Centered Technology

A Rhetorical Theory for Computers and Other Mundane Artifacts

By Robert R. Johnson

Subjects: Technical Communication, Science And Technology, Communication
Series: SUNY series, Studies in Scientific and Technical Communication
Paperback : 9780791439326, 195 pages, October 1998
Hardcover : 9780791439319, 195 pages, November 1998

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Table of contents

List of Figures




Part I. Situating Technology

1. Users, Technology, and the Complex(ity) of the Mundane: Some "Out of the Ordinary" Thoughts

2. Refiguring the End of Technology: Rhetoric and the Complex of Use

Part II. Complicating Technology

3. Not Just for Idiots Anymore: Practice, Production, and Users' Ways of Knowing

4. Human Factors and the Tech(no)logical: Putting User-Centered Design into Perspective

5. Sociology, History, and Philosophy: Technological Determinism Along the Disciplinary Divides

Part III. Communicating Technology

6. When All Else Fails, Use the Instructions: Local Knowledge, Negotiation, and the Construction of User-Centered Computer Documentation

7. Technical Communication, Ethics, Curricula: User-Centered Studies and the Technical Rhetorician



Presents a theoretical model for examining technology through a user perspective.


Winner of the 1999 Best Book presented by the National Council of Teachers of English NCTE Awards for Excellence in Technical and Scientific Communication

User-Centered Technology presents a theoretical model for examining technology through a user perspective. Johnson begins with a historical overview of the problem of technological use from the ancient Greeks to the present day—a problem seen most clearly in historical discussions of rhetoric theory. The central portion of the book elaborates on user-centered theory by defining three focal issues of the theory: user knowledge, human-technology interaction, and technological determinism. Working from an interdisciplinary perspective, Johnson uses rhetoric theory to present a definition of user knowledge; human factors engineering to illuminate the ideological presuppositions built into technology design; and history, philosophy, and sociology to explain technological determinism, possibly the greatest impediment to user-centered technology development in modern times. The latter part of the book applies user-centered theory in two contexts: the nonacademic sphere, where the writing and design of computer user documentation is discussed, and the academic sphere, through a discussion of how user-centered concepts might drive university technical communication and composition curricula.

Robert R. Johnson is Associate Professor of English and Director of the Master's Program in Technical and Scientific Communication at Miami University.


"I believe that this book is a unique contribution to the field. The argument, based upon insightful analyses of a variety of sources, is enlightened. Robert R. Johnson has clearly revealed that the vast bulk of relevant research on technology and use/learning has been dominated by either system-centered or text-centered views. In addition, he places the evolution of these views in their theoretical/historical contexts. That alone is enlightening. But his analysis of the user-centered view is also a significant contribution because it provides a foundation, a rationale, if you will, for certain disparate but promising developments in ongoing efforts to adapt technological innovations for wide-ranging use. " — Stephen Doheny-Farina, Clarkson University